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Edward Carpenter to get a city centre sculpture: Maggi Hambling will create a tribute to a Sheffield man ahead of his time

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Photograph from The Sheffield City Council Libraries and Archives Edward Carpenter Collection.

A new sculpture in Sheffield city centre will commemorate the life of radical activist Edward Carpenter.

Carpenter lived openly as a gay man decades before the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

He was also a poet and a socialist activist, influenced by the writings of Marx and Engels.

We feel his values resonate with many people today

"We wanted a memorial that provides both a concrete and spiritual focus for all who are inspired and influenced by him," said Mark Scott of campaign group The Friends of Edward Carpenter.

"Above all, we want a work of public art that has integrity and that will ensure a respectful place of memorial in the heart of Sheffield."

The group have commissioned the celebrated sculptor Maggi Hambling to create the work.

"My sculpture will respond to Carpenter's brave and ceaseless campaign for the emancipation of men and women regardless of background, sex or sexuality," said Hambling.

Previous sculptures by Hambling include 2003's 'The Scallop'. The striking work on Aldeburgh beach is a tribute to local composer Benjamin Britten.

Carpenter, who was born in Brighton in 1844, relocated to Sheffield as a young man. He became a leading figure in the trade union movement, and wrote the socialist song 'England Arise'.

His move to South Yorkshire was also motivated by his strong sexual attraction to working men.

"The thick-thighed hot coarse-fleshed young bricklayer with the strap around his waist," he wrote of an encounter with a sex worker in 1911.

"The bricklayer shall lay me: he shall tap me into place with the handle of his trowel. And to him I will utter the word which with my lips I have not spoken."

It was in Sheffield that Carpenter met his life partner George Merrill, a manual worker 22 years his junior.

The pair lived together for three decades, spending much of that time in a cottage at Millthorpe. Carpenter made a living by designing and producing sandals, before they became widely popular.

As well as LGBT rights, Carpenter championed vegetarianism, feminism and environmentalism.

He associated with artists and thinkers from the Arts and Crafts movement, including William Morris and John Ruskin.

He also exchanged letters with Havelock Ellis and E. M. Forster, both important figures in the UK's nascent gay rights movement.

Despite his links with the city, Sheffield has never had a permanent memorial to its adopted son.

"Edward Carpenter saw a future full of hope and a simpler way of life, a world free of sexism, class divisions, war, homophobia, a world where we live in a sustainable way," said Kate Flannery from the Friends of Edward Carpenter.

"Not only that but he fought for them and campaigned for change," she continued. "We feel his values resonate with many people today. That makes it extremely important that we honour his influence with a public memorial."

The location and form of Hambling's sculpture is being kept a closely-guarded secret.

Sam Gregory

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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