One of Hull’s most famous daughters paid tribute to another today as she unveiled a new statue of Amy Johnson.
Maureen Lipman - whose mother was born on St George’s Road, the same as the pilot - said it was amazing to think of Amy getting into a plane “like something you’d baste a turkey in” for 19 days en route to Australia in 1930.
The actress, whose daughter is named after Amy, added: “When you think women in 1948 had to get a husband’s permission to sign a bill, it is fantastic that she went out and did something women didn’t.
“She was a trailblazer. She was the first aeronautical engineer and that was kind of like being an underwater rabbi - it was completely unheard of. It is such an interesting life - it’s like she was here on this earth to change society in this large way and then she was just taken away in this tragic way.”
The life-size bronze, showing Amy scanning the skies as she strides out on the runway, is a rarity in public art - fewer than one in five listed statues are of women.
It has gone up in a new housing development on the site of the former Amy Johnson School. One of two by Ramsgate artist Stephen Melton, the other was unveiled a fortnight ago at Herne Bay, the closest landfall to where Amy died in a mysterious crash in January 1941. The Hull statue differs only in the quotes inscribed on it. One from her autobiography reads: “Had I been a man, I might have explored the Poles or climbed Mount Everest, but as it was, my spirit found outlet in the air.”
Its most striking features are its size - she was just 5ft 4ins - and Amy’s huge smile.
The statue quickly won admirers, among them Judy Chilvers, Amy’s niece who was born six-months after her aunt’s death in the Thames Estuary. Her death traumatised the family and for years it was hardly spoken about, but Judy remembers a story her mother told her about her big sister - Amy was two years older - coming and sitting with her when she’d been terrified by a mouse.
When the mouse reappeared, Amy insisted something was done about it: “Lots of people wouldn’t have bothered,” said Mrs Chilvers, whose middle name is Amy. “She was a bit of a rebel. She wanted to get rid of hats at school. What’s lovely is this statue is here and her legacy lives on.
“They have captured her joie de vivre. I think she enjoyed life. I think she was very happy when she was doing all those things. She didn’t like to be constrained.”
The statue was the brainchild of Jane Priston, who became fascinated by Amy’s story, and set up the Amy Johnson Project after going to live in Herne Bay. Jane said the fact there were so few statues to women “makes the bronze of Amy all the more special.”
She said: “A lot of the statues depict women in either a maternal or sexual way - it is even more rare to have a life-size historical figure other than Queen Victoria. The statue is what Amy would have wanted - females to be remembered for what they achieved. All too often we are not.”
The event which ended with a fly-past by three planes, including a Bucker Jungmann, which flew the exact reverse of Amy’s route in the 1980s, was the end of a three-month festival, marking the 75th anniversary of the pilot’s death. The statue and a new book - Amy Johnson - A Life in Pictures - would be part of its long-term legacy, said festival director Rick Welton.