Updated: Aug 24
The four bronzes of Emily Williamson travelled south last week to two highly significant RSPB reserves in contrasting habitats.
The Lodge at Sandy, Bedfordshire, has been headquarters to the RSPB since 1961. This is where the archives are stored from Emily's early anti-plumage campaign. Here, author Tessa Boase first pieced together this untold story of Victorian eco-activism, sifting through old pamphlets, letters, reports and photographs for her book Etta Lemon. Today, against a backdrop of woodland, grassland and heathland, RSPB staff continue Emily’s urgent work in nature conservation.
Campaign Chair Andrew Simcock was joined on 17 August by sculptors Billie Bond and Clare Abbatt, who shared their interpretation of the Emily story with RSPB staff (the finance team pictured, below), birdwatching visitors, and a crew from Anglia TV. 'Andrew is doing a fantastic job,' agreed Clare – not least because the combined weight of those four bronze maquettes is 44.4kg.
Two days later on 19 August, the maquettes popped up at windswept Dungeness on the Kent coast. The RSPB’s first nature reserve was set up in 1932 by co-founder Etta Lemon (born nearby, in Hythe). Etta was fiercely protective of the reserve’s vulnerable nesting seabirds, preyed on by egg-collectors. She created a system of ‘Watchers’: the RSPB’s first ever wardens. The magnificent Etta Lemon – 'the Dragon' – is to be remembered at Dungeness with a hide and a trail.
Andrew and Tessa were joined by shortlisted sculptor Eve Shepherd, whose expertise fascinated young visitors.
‘What tools did you use to make the statue?’ asked eight-year-old Elsie-Louise Redshaw of Lydd – ‘and how did you make the hair?’
‘Well,’ said Eve, ‘first you make a sausage. Of clay…’
Eve was thrilled to spend the day answering questions about her design and the wider Emily story. ‘It’s important to hook them in while they’re little; to get them asking questions not only about public sculpture, but about the birds Emily was trying to protect.’
Dora Glass, 12, of Hastings, got to work on our Emily activity booklet, designing a 'bad bird hat' piece of propaganda, then an eco activism poster to protect hedgehogs.
‘It’s great to see the levels of engagement by visitors of all ages,’ said Andrew. ‘Eight year old Elsie-Louise, for example, was delighted that she could vote in the competition. She really enjoyed comparing the photograph of Emily with the four designs.’
The local Dungeness shingle pebbles came into their own as paperweights as the wind increased in intensity. But the sun shone, and a steady flow of visitors – alerted by Radio Kent – kept us busy all day. Pictured below: Eve Shepherd; the team at RSPB Dungeness headed by Gareth Brookfield and Louise Kelly, plus Eve and Tessa.
COMING UP: The four Emilys are now travelling to East Anglia. Catch up with Andrew and the maquettes at RSPB Minsmere, Suffolk on TUESDAY 24 AUGUST, and RSPB TItchwell Marsh, North Norfolk, THURSDAY 26 AUGUST.
Maquette tour pictures by Andrew Simcock.