Newport statue to commemorate Welsh suffragette Lady Rhondda

Sculpture of campaigner to be unveiled next year as one of five in Monumental Welsh Women project

A statue of a Welsh suffragette who was jailed for setting fire to a postbox, survived a shipwreck, and played a key role in the fight to allow women into the House of Lords is to be erected in Newport.

The statue of Margaret Haig Thomas, Lady Rhondda, is being created by the figurative sculptor Jane Robbins and will be unveiled in the city where she worked and campaigned a century ago.

It is the fourth to be commissioned by the Monumental Welsh Women project to celebrate the achievements of Wales’s hidden heroines – women whose contributions to Welsh life and culture have been largely overlooked because of the era in which they were born.

The first, commemorating the extraordinary life of Wales’s first black headteacher, Betty Campbell, was unveiled in Cardiff in September last year.

Lady Rhondda was a suffragette, a global businesswoman, a journalist and editor, and a lifelong campaigner for women’s equality. She spearheaded suffragette campaigns in the south Wales city of Newport, where she set fire to a postbox.

Her 40-year campaign for female peers’ rights resulted in women being able to sit in the House of Lords, though she was not able to take her own seat as she died before the law she fought for was changed. In 1915, she was returning from the US onboard the ocean liner Lusitania when it was hit by a German torpedo andsank. She clung on to a wooden board and survived.

Helen Molyneux, from Monumental Welsh Women, said: “Lady Rhondda’s achievements were vast and diverse – from her political campaigning to her pioneering business accomplishments, to her influential journalism.”

Robbins’ previous works include a bust of the suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst for the Pankhurst Centre in Manchester, and a statue of Linda McCartney in Campbeltown on the Kintyre peninsula in Scotland.

Robbins said: “As a female sculptor I’m a rare breed – sculpture is a male-dominated world. I like to think Lady Rhondda would approve of me being chosen to create her statue.”

Though based in north-west England, Robbins is proud of her Welsh roots. Her father was born in Wrexham, and her grandfather Ted Robbins was the secretary of the Football Association of Wales. All Jane’s work is cast at a foundry in mid-Wales.

Monumental Welsh Women was founded to address the absence of statues of Welsh women in Wales. Its mission is to erect statues honouring five Welsh women in five locations around Wales in five years.

The second Monumental Welsh Women statue unveiled was that of Elaine Morgan, the evolutionary theorist and dramatist, in Mountain Ash, Rhondda Cynon Taf, in March. The third, of Cranogwen, the master mariner and poet, will be set up next summer.

Lady Rhondda’s statue is to be unveiled in 2024, and one of the political activist Elizabeth Andrews will follow in 2025.


Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

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