Monday, 8 March 2021

Mary Lines, the University of Westminster and the curious case of the third plinth

The third plinth
March 21st 2021 marks the centenary of our Polytechnic (now University of Westminster) women departing for France to participate in the first Women's Olympiad. To mark this we are running a project, entitled Writing Between the Lines, which involves ten student poets celebrating the stories and achievements of these fantastic women. These interventions will be performed, displayed and published, and will begin to rectify an absence of acknowledging women in our sporting history which up to now has not been fully visible. The project begins by celebrating these ten women athletes but aims to develop to embrace the crucial importance of women to the University more generally. Symbolically the beginning of the project is marked by us celebrating one specific member of these ten athletes, Mary Lines, the first star of womens' athletics after the first world war. 
The Foyer, 309 Regent Street

We note an absence above, but in the grand foyer of 309 Regent Street (above), the Headquarters of the University of Westminster, there is another absence. If we look at the board of the Studd Trophy an impressive list of Polytechnic Harriers can be seen, but no women are listed. At the same time, we have an important place in London's Olympic history, but women were in fact largely occluded from the Olympics until 1928.  Our foyer is a beautiful space but there is a further specific absence. If you look carefully in the room there are three plinths, on two on the 'Gallery' side you will see busts, of Hogg and Studd, very important figures in our history.

Bust of Quintin Hogg
Bust of J.E.K. Studd

Above the entrance to the cinema on the other side there is a third plinth, but this has been empty for years, see the photograph at the top of this blog. Drawing on the concept of the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square we mark the centenary of the 1921 successes of our Polytechnic women at the Womens' Olympiad by recognising Mary Lines, on behalf of all Polytechnic women, on the third plinth in the Regent Street foyer. This will be lit on 21 March 2021 to mark the centenary of the departure from Victoria station and remain lit for the period of the competition and until the centenary of their return.