Mary Clarke was posthumously awarded the freedom of the city of Brighton and Hove
at a special council meeting at Hove Town on Thursday 14 December 2023. This followed a wonderful Reception for trustees of the Mary Clarke Statue Appeal and supporters, hosted by the Mayor Jackie O’Quinn.
Briony Goulden, Mary’s great-great-niece, and a trustee of the Appeal, accepted the honour, assisted by her daughters Sylvie and Lena. The two girls are Child Ambassadors for the Appeal.
The award was unanimously agreed by all three parties represented on the Council. Briony received the official certificate on behalf of the Mary and our Appeal. She thanked the council for its support and assistance over the years, in particular for its help in funding our bronze maquette made by sculptor Denise Dutton to the design of the proposed statue. The maquette was on display in the Council Chamber along with our embroidered banner, a poster of Mary and a seven foot cut-out of the proposed statue.
There were many moving speeches. Cllr Bella Sankey, the Labour leader of the Council and a campaigner for women’s rights and safety, moved the motion to honour Mary. She said: “It is only thanks to women like Mary that I can stand here, that women like me can enter politics and continue the fight for women’s rights.”
She added: “There is still so much to fight for. I want this award to be the first step in celebrating her legacy”…. “I want every girl and woman in our great city to know about Mary Clarke and what she did for us.” Cllr Sankey said that she hoped one day to see Mary Clarke’s statue in the grounds of the Royal Pavilion and Conservative councillor Carol Theobald and others agreed.
Councillor Theobald said: “Let us hope that the statue proposed for Mary for will come
to the Pavilion estate, as it is thoroughly deserved.” She recalled 2018, when the blue plaque for the WSPU was installed at the Quadrant, commenting correctly that it was a shame that: “…Mary had not been recognised among the women’s suffrage campaigners who were commemorated on the plinth of Millicent Fawcett’s statue in Parliament Square.”
Cllr Theobald highlighted the terrible violence Mary and her fellow suffragettes suffered at Black Friday, when so many were attacked and sexually assaulted.
Labour Cllr Amanda Grimshaw, who has long supported our campaign and is an active campaigner against domestic abuse, also made a moving speech. There was warm support too from Green Councillor Sue Shanks who said she hoped to see many more women given the freedom of the city.
Labour Cllr Alan Robins spoke passionately about the importance of the statue and
paid generous tribute to the campaigning work of the Statue Appeal. He especially highlighted the awareness raising work of the child ambassadors and the Mary’s Lamp girls’ group at Balfour School. Since the 2018 centenary, Cllr Robins has worked with us in advocating for suffrage plaques and the statue of Mary. He too supports it being erected in the Pavilion Gardens near the Museum to ensure it is seen by as many people as possible, especially children.
When Labour Councillor Mitchie Alexander rose to speak she surprised those present, not by making a speech, but by reading a very powerful poem she had written herself about Mary’s importance to women.
With Cllr Alexander’s permission, we hope to get the text of that poem and post it on the website
Statements of support were also read from the city’s three members of Parliament, Caroline Lucas, Peter Kyle and Lloyd Russell-Moyle, the first two of whom are Patrons of the Appeal.
After the meeting, Jean Calder, Chair of Trustees commented: “Our fundraising has
been hard hit, first by the COVID lockdown and then the cost of living crisis. This wonderful honour has raised Mary’s profile once again and will provide a renewed boost to the campaign as it relaunches in 2024. We are so grateful to the Mayor, Cllr Sankey and others for all their help.”
“Given an increase in foundry costs, including the cost of bronze, our target is now £60,000, of which we have raised £20,000, almost all of it from small individual donations.”