Astor 100 has meant a huge amount to me personally, primarily it has been a wonderful tribute to the life, legacy and work of my grandmother Nancy Astor, as well as giving me the opportunity to work alongside the enormously informed and amazingly talented Dr Jacqui Turner! I am so very grateful that we as a family are so fortunate to have had Jacqui Turner lead the Astor100. Her knowledge of our grandmother certainly rivals and probably exceeds that of all Nancy’s grandchildren’s combined knowledge.
Nancy Astor Statue
Jacqui and I were on the selection panel to choose a sculptor for a statue of my grandmother, having chosen the talented Hayley Gibbs, we then followed the project through for a year, from the initial drawings to the pouring of the bronze. Jacqui and I made frequent visits to Hayley’s studio and to the foundry throughout the year. Together we had the responsibility of signing off the statue, a big responsibility as Nancy has many grandchildren, all with their own strong opinions and more than happy to voice them!
Stella Astor, Hayley Gibbs and Emily Astor
Throughout this entire journey I was grounded by the historically accurate input of Jacqui, whether it was, her shoe size, her clothing, her hat, we made the decision that she had to wear gloves, her pose, her position, personal likeness and how the general public would look at the finished statue through their own eyes. The statue now stands outside The Astor’s former house on Elliot Terrace in Plymouth overlooking the Hoe, a much loved place of both my grandparents.
This statue will be a wonderful lasting legacy to our grandmother, for someone who once said she would like litter bins to be placed around her beloved city of Plymouth, in order to keep it clean and tidy, I cannot imagine her thoughts on there being a statue of herself, she would I know want there to be a litter bin nearby!
We as a family were also proud that GWR chose to name one of their trains after Nancy and I had the honour of unveiling the train.
The Astor Papers
Astor 100 has given me the opportunity to learn so much, not only about my grandmother, but about the fascinating and daunting challenges she faced day to day being the first woman to take her seat in Parliament, together with being a wife and mother of six children. I have been very fortunate to work at the archives at the University of Reading, Special Collections, sieving through documents, letters, newspaper clipping as well as photographs.
We knew that Nancy could be considered a controversial figure and she needed to be represented accurately as a rounded person, as a whole with all her complexities.
Also, it is so interesting to me that at the time Nancy was sitting in Parliament before the granting of the federal vote in America. She was a MP in Britain before her sisters could vote at home in America!
Virginia and A Life in Photographs
Nancy Astor was born in Virginia and I have come to understand more fully what her journey from there to England must have been like, as I have been lucky enough to spend time in Virginia recently, I am on the board of a school, which my grandmother was one of the founder of. Many of her Langhorne relations over the past one hundred years have attended this school and the school chapel was built by her father in memory of her mother.
These visits to Virginia have allowed me to research more in her home state, visiting her relations, friends, houses and archives in which I have found further information. This led me to follow my personal passion and love of old photographs, I then put together a small book of photographs to coincide with Astor100, NANCY ASTOR – A LIFE IN PHOTOGRAPHS.
The initial idea was that future generations of Nancy’s grandchildren would be able to look back at her life through photographs. It is accompanied by some text as well as many quotes of Nancy. The quotes are what I so enjoyed discovering as she had a fierce wit her entire life. My favourites are her signing a letter to her father, “Affectionately the battle Ax “and “Much love, and though I’ve the tongue of a shrew, and many vices, I adore my cranky old Pa “
This wit appears to have surfaced early on as a young girl, perhaps as she was one of eight children she felt she needed to be heard from an early age. She was the fifth child of eight, competing for her own place in the family. She and her siblings were all very accomplished riders and there was nothing Nancy enjoyed more as a child and young adult, than spending the day riding, she and her horse jumping over huge fences! Parts of her childhood no doubt helped her face the challenges of political life and cope with sitting alone as a woman for almost two years amongst more than five hundred men in the House of Commons.
The Astor 100 has been a wonderful journey to remember and celebrate the achievements of a woman. I would like to thank not only Jacqui for all her wonderful, diligent hard work throughout the year but also her great students who have done so much to contribute to the year being successful.
Emily Astor is a photographer, author and Nancy Astor’s granddaughter. She worked with John Grigg on his highly visual, informal biography of Astor and with a photographer’s eye has produced a personal collection of photographs for her current book ‘Nancy Astor: A Life in Photographs’ which can be purchased from the Museum of English Rural Life. Emily was also the family consultant for the Nancy Astor statue, lending a personal eye to the sculpture and has generously supported the Astor100 programme in the UK and in Virginia.