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Mary Seacole statue to be unveiled after 12-year campaign

Campaigners have raised more than £500,000 for the statue to nursing pioneer Mary Seacole

A statue commemorating Crimean War nursing heroine Mary Seacole will be unveiled in London on 30th June after a 12-year campaign. 

Ms Seacole, named the greatest black Briton in a poll in 2004, cared for wounded soldiers during the Crimean War as well as nursing victims of cholera outbreaks in Jamaica and Panama in the 1850s. 

A first for the UK

The Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal group has raised more than £500,000 for the bronze statue, which will stand in the garden of St Thomas’ Hospital and is the first statue to a named black woman in the UK.

More than 300 guests including England’s chief nursing officer Jane Cummings, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens and Unite general secretary are set to attend a private ceremony at the hospital today.

Deputy lieutenant of Greater London Baroness Floella Benjamin will unveil the almost 5-metre-high statue of Jamaican-born Ms Seacole.

Betjeman sculptor

The sculpture was designed and produced by Martin Jennings, who created the acclaimed statue of Sir John Betjeman at St Pancras station in London.

The lengthy campaign for the statue hit a setback last year when construction costs rose by £180,000.

But donations from nurses, the general public, and more than £240,000 from banking fines donated by the government, meant the fundraising target could finally be reached.

12-year campaign

Lord Clive Soley, chair of the appeal group, said: ‘After 12 years of campaigning, we are proud to finally grant Mary Seacole the acknowledgement she deserves for her selfless support of British soldiers and sailors. 

‘We are delighted to be unveiling the statue and would like to thank everyone who has supported the appeal, including the many nurses, schools and army units who were inspired to donate funds for the statue.’

Antidote to hate crimes

He added: ‘At a time when the police are reporting an increase in hate crime we think Mary’s story should serve as a reminder that Britain has always been supported by committed and brave people from around the world.’

Ms Seacole was born in 1805 and was praised for her care of soldiers during the Crimean War by The Times war correspondent Sir William Howard Russell.

An inscription with words written by Sir William features on the back of the statue.

Controversy

A group of historians and Florence Nightingale biographers wrote to The Times last week claiming that 'false achievements' have been attributed to Ms Seacole and that she was not a pioneer of nursing.

They said the statue should not be placed at the hospital, because it is where Florence Nightingale founded her nursing school whereas Ms Seacole has no links to the site. 

But Lord Soley told the newspaper that Ms Nightingale will not be undermined by the statue and ‘it is not one versus the other’.  

 

*An exhibition about the life of Mary Seacole and the creation of her statue will be open in  St Thomas' hospital garden. It will be open from 2-5pm on 30 June and 9am-5pm on 1 July.

 

 

 

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