A statue of Kitty Wilkinson – Liverpool’s “Saint of the Slums” – is to be unveiled at St George’s Hall this week by one of her descendents.
The unveiling will be performed by the Reverend Elizabeth Storey who is Kitty Wilkinson’s great, great, great niece.
The marble statue will be unveiled in a ceremony on Thursday 20 September.
“It is a great privilege to be asked to unveil the statue,” said Mrs Storey. “Kitty Wilkinson has always been part of my life. We were brought up as children learning about her and her work and it is right that she should be honoured.”
It will be the first statue of a woman at the Hall and will join 12 marble statues surrounding the Great Hall depicting Victorian and Edwardian men. A number of niches, where the statues stand, have remained empty since the last one was completed in 1911.
Campaigners have long argued that women’s contribution to the city has not been recognised sufficiently through public art and that women, who have played an important role in the city’s history, should be honoured
In 2010, as part of the city’s 800th birthday celebrations, the City Council decided to rectify the lack of statues of women and it was unanimously agreed that Kitty Wilkinson, whose efforts led to improvements in hygiene and the advancement of health care in Liverpool, should be honoured.
Kitty allowed her home to be used as a wash-house during the cholera epidemics of the 1830’s. She also took in homeless children and taught that cleanliness was the main weapon against disease. She opened Britain’s first public washhouse in Upper Frederick Street in 1842.
A competition was held and London-based sculptor Simon Smith was selected by a panel chaired by former councillor Flo Clucas, advised by independent specialists and the city’s public art officer.
Simon Smith said: “St George’s Hall is a Grade I listed building and any new additions would require a sensitive response. I was advised by English Heritage that the preferred material for the sculpture would be marble, in keeping with the other statues in the Hall.
“The commission was quite a challenge given there was only one photograph available, probably taken towards the end of her life, and an image of her in the window of the Lady Chapel in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral.
“A further challenge was to undertake the representation of an individual from a working class background in the context of the pantheon of male dignitaries represented in the hall and to make her look as if she belongs there.
“Kitty Wilkinson was, by all accounts, compassionate and determined. It was important that my sculpture conveys these virtues. I think I have produced a dignified and subtle sculpture of an immensely practical and caring woman.”
Councillor Wendy Simon, City Council cabinet member for culture and tourism, said: ” Kitty Wilkinson was an inspiring figure whose work will long be remembered. The city is celebrating one of its most remarkable women and we are providing a fitting tribute to her – and it is great that one of her descendent should be unveiling the statue.
“I hope this will be the first of a number of statues to mark Liverpool’s outstanding women and redress the gender imbalance we have in our memorials.”
The sculpture of Kitty Wilkinson is carved from Carrara marble sourced from the Michelangelo caves in Italy. The commission took Simon Smith two years to research the material, source the marble, and carve the work. The commission has been achieved for £100,000.
A total of 35 artists submitted expressions of interest. Three were shortlisted for interview and prepared costed design proposals for consideration by the Selection Panel. Simon Smith’s proposal was the unanimous choice.
Independent specialist advisor John Larson said: “The maquette that Simon entered for the commission was distinguished by the overall simplicity of its design. With an over life-size sculpture it is important that the overall effect is not obscured by minor detail. This quality also means that it will fit in better with the other sculptures in the hall and will not upset the balance of the display.
“The design of the figure also displays a quiet determination and energy which would seem to evoke the character of Kitty. The clothing is appropriate without being too specific.
“The portrait will be effective at a distance and also evokes a commanding character.”