Plans for an Edith Rigby statue in Preston and a look at the new outdoor market
PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 May 2018
Developments underway and planned around the city are celebrating its proud heritage and building for the future
A century ago women were fighting and dying for the right to vote and despite all the societal change, fast forward a hundred years and the battle for equality is still raging. The centenary of the passing of the Representation of the People Act, which gave some women the right to vote, was marked in February and there will be more commemorations in December, on the anniversary of the first General Election in which women were allowed to take part.
And now a campaign has been launched to recognise the role played by one Preston woman in bringing about the change in Government policy.
There is already a blue plaque on the wall of Edith Rigby’s Winckley Square home but it doesn’t give an awful lot away. It doesn’t tell you, for instance that she was a notable and notorious fighter of the suffragettes’ cause, who became the first secretary of the Preston branch when it formed in 1907 and was a firm believer in direct action.
Nor will you learn that she was the wife of a doctor, who was criticised by her neighbours for treating the servants with civility and brought more shame on the area when she gave herself up to police and was imprisoned after burning down Sir William Lever’s bungalow at Rivington and blowing up the Exchange Buildings in Liverpool. And it doesn’t say that she also daubed the Earl of Derby’s statue with tar and a ‘Votes for Women’ poster but escaped the long arm of the law by dressing in male clothing and riding off on a bicycle – making her, it is believed, the first Preston woman to ride a bike.
Now, Preston Mayoress Tricia Rollo – herself a keen cyclist – is leading the campaign for a statue of the redoubtable Edith Rigby. ‘We’re hoping to have the official launch before the end of May and to start a crowdfunding appeal,’ she said.
‘I like the idea of a statue of her sitting on a bench so people can sit with her and interact with her. She was one of us, so I don’t think it would be appropriate for her to be raised up on a plinth.
‘We’d like to use local materials and local people to create the statue, but we’re quite a way from making those decisions yet.’
Peter Taylor, the former chief executive of Galloways Home for the Blind, is also involved in the campaign and he added: ‘History has been written by men and the vast majority of statues are of men. Edith Rigby is Preston’s unsung hero. We feel, in this centenary year of some women getting the vote, that she should be honoured with a statue.
‘We have been flabbergasted by the initial response but until we know how much money we have raised, we won’t know what sort of statue it will be. Various ideas have been put forward, but we’ll have to cut our cloth accordingly when we know how much we’ve got.’
Preston-based businessman Michael Conlon has already pledged £1000 to the campaign and the father of two daughters said: ‘This is something I have been banging on about for a number of years. We now have a committee and we’re launching a crowdfunding page. It would be great if it could happen in this centenary year.
‘She started a school for mill girls, founded the Women’s Institute down the road in Hutton and she really is someone to admire. I’m staggered that she was in prison seven times and endured forced feeding. How many of us could say we would be able to cope with that? She was a very impressive lady.’
Michael’s building firm, Conlon Construction, was founded by his father and uncles almost 60 years ago and among their recent projects was the renovation of Preston Market.
‘I’m Preston through and through and as a Preston company it was great for us to win the market tender,’ Michael said.
As part of the £4m renovation project, the Victorian market canopy now has sleek glass walls and the stalls have been given a stylish makeover. A bar has opened in the market and a performance area created under the canopy.
‘The market has been fantastic, it’s hard now to imagine what it was like 18 months ago,’ added Michael. ‘People need to be encouraged to use the city centre or we’ll end up with a ‘doughnut town’ with busy shopping parks around the edge and a hole in the middle. But they can be encouraged back with a bit of thought and planning.
‘The city council are doing wonders and they chose that old structure to be revamped and to become the focus for the whole area.’
Nikki Keefe has run her stall on the market for the last nine years, but it’s a family business; her mum is on her Redman’s stall yards away, selling meat and pies. That stall was started by Nikki’sgreat-grandmother.
‘We’ve seen a lot of new faces since the new market opened, even with the awful weather we had in the first week,’ Nikki said. ‘I think the new market’s great – not everyone agrees, there are a lot of people in Preston who don’t seem to like any change – but we’re seeing more people coming in, and more young people as well. I love it, I think it’s going to be great.’
Over a coffee near Nikki’s stall, Adrian Phillips, Preston City Council’s Director of Environment, said: ‘There is nowhere else in the city centre you can get the range of food you’ll find at the market – supermarkets try to create this artificially but we have the real thing.
‘The fantastic canopy is an amazing piece of engineering from 1875 and to put in a modern structure like this is unique – there’s not a market like this anywhere else.
‘We were struggling to attract younger people to the old market but this market has already fulfilled the ambition of attractive and increasing the age range, particularly at weekends. We have taken something that was uninspiring and created something really nice that people want to go to.’
The next stage of the development will see the demolition of the neighbouring indoor market hall to make way for a multi-screen Imax cinema and the car park will also be replaced. Other plans for the area include a new hotel in the old Post Office building and a boost in the amount of city centre living.
John Crellin, the city council’s Head of City Development, added: ‘We are building an exciting city centre and momentum is growing and there are now unprecedented levels of development underway and in the pipeline. People are realising there are some very good investment opportunities here.
‘The quantity of retail in the Tithebarn Project [a multi-million pound Grosvenor Estates shopping development that has now been shelved] would have been difficult to sustain in the current climate. Things are challenging for retail and the High Street so we have to think what else we can do to draw people in to the city centre.
‘The Tithebarn Project would have changed Preston in a way it won’t change now but we are picking the best elements of that project and delivering them one by one; The market, the refurbishment of the Guild Hall, the Harris Hotel in the old Post Office building which will hopefully be open in September, and there are more things in the pipeline.
‘Future projects will include work around the railway station which needs to be adapted because of HS2 – with longer, higher platforms, for instance – so we will be looking at the best uses for the land and buildings in that area. We have got to have an open mind about how that area functions.
‘We’ll be launching our city centre transport plan in the next couple of months as well, and we’ll be looking at potentially pedestrianising Friargate and improving links between the city centre and the university.
A creative hub
Ruth Heritage grew up in Inskip and returned to Preston almost a decade ago after time away working in London and Manchester as a documentary film maker. She set up the arts company They Eat Culture nine years ago and they have recently moved into new premises in the city centre, gifted to them by Michael Conlon.
The People’s Production Lab is now based in a building on Guildhall Street which was formerly used as a boys’ school and as council offices. It is largely empty now, but will soon be alive with creativity.
‘We will have lots of different types of making activity,’ Ruth said. ‘We are creating a space for people to be creative – everything from woodwork to film making and state-of-the-art VR an AR – and we’re also taking art and theatre into communities around the city.
‘We are making the argument that a space like this is important for the city – a creative hub where people can use space and facilities. We want to make bigger, more ambitious work and to help more people in the creative arts be sustainable. There are spaces like this in cities all over the world, so Preston should have one.’
To find out more, go online to theppl.co.uk.