Plans to honour Rochdale’s most famous daughter are taking shape, with a sculptor being appointed to immortalise the late star of the stage and screen, Dame Gracie Fields.
The honour of creating a statue of the global icon, which will be erected in Rochdale town centre next summer, has been handed to Suffolk-based sculptor, Sean Hedges-Quinn. Sean was selected by a panel comprising representatives from the council, Rochdale Rotary Club and the Gracie Fields Appreciation Society, who have all been involved in bringing the project together.
Sean, who is known for his ultra-realistic sculptures and attention to detail, brings a wealth of experience, having created props for top films including Skyfall and three of the Harry Potter series, as well as sculpting well-known figures including Sir Bobby Robson and Nat Lofthouse.
He said: “It’s clear that Gracie is a big part of Rochdale’s history and I’ve really enjoyed the hours I’ve spent poring over film footage of her and reading up on her. She was incredibly popular and even the Royal family were fans; she had tea with the Queen Mother on a number of occasions. It will be great to see Gracie honoured in her home town, particularly as so few successful female public figures have statues dedicated to them.”
Gracie, who was made a Dame shortly before her death at the age of 81 in 1979, had a career spanning 60 years and was believed to be the highest paid actress in the world in the 1930s. She was born above a fish and chip shop owned by her grandmother, Sarah Bamford, in Molesworth Street. Sean has decided to capture her during the 1940s.
He said: “Gracie preferred the stage to the screen, so I want to depict her on stage. I really want to capture her energy and will bring out her mannerisms, such as the fact that she swished her skirt a lot when she was performing.”
Councillor Janet Emsley, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Community at Rochdale Borough Council, said: “Gracie Fields was loved all around the world and we are very proud to say that it all started here in Rochdale. It is really fitting that such a successful figure is being honoured in this way and this important figure in Rochdale’s heritage will stand proud amongst the beautiful historic buildings which frame the great town hall.”
The statue, which will be sculpted in clay and cast in bronze, will be around seven and a half feet in height and stand on a plinth four feet tall. It will be erected next summer on land between Packer Street and the town hall in Rochdale town centre.
The project will be funded by developer contributions secured by the council from Section 106 planning agreements and a donation from the Salford-based charity Grantscape.