New Radical War ring of bronze

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A Borders sculptress has cemented her reputation as one of Scotland’s foremost civic space artists.

Angela Hunter, who has a studio in Innerleithen, has created a stunning bronze of two clasped hands to commemorate one of the darkest events in Scottish social history.

Entitled the Radical War Memorial, enshrined in a bronze ring and mounted on a sandstone plinth, it was unveiled on Saturday in the Inverclyde town of Greenock where, nearly two centuries ago, eight townsfolk were killed in a bloody riot.

The youngest of the victims was eight-year-old James McGilp and the oldest was 65-year-old John MacWhinnie – and it is their hands, linked in solidarity, which are symbolised in Angela’s poignant work.

The backcloth is the so-called Radical War, also dubbed the Scottish Insurrection, which saw widespread strikes and demands for reform, particularly from weavers impoverished by economic downturn, across west and central Scotland.

The unrest spilled into Greenock on Saturday, April 8, 1820, when a party of these dissidents was being escorted to the town’s jail by the militia set up to crush the movement.

Locals took to the streets to protest and, on their way back from the jail, the militia responded to insults and stone-throwing by opening fire – killing eight townsfolk and wounding 10 others.

Galashiels-born Angela’s sculpture forms part of a £20,000 memorial which includes a wall, containing the inscribed names of the fallen, which was created by Broughton-based landscape designer James Gordon.

The work was commissioned by local regeneration company Riverside Inverclyde in partnership with Inverclyde Council whose Labour vice-chairman Jim Cloherty had led a long campaign for a permanent memorial.

“It’s a fantastic reminder of the rights that have been built up over the last 200 years and the need to ensure our trade union rights and rights as citizens are upheld,” said Councillor Cloherty after the memorial was unveiled by Greenock Provost Robert Moran.

Angela told The Southern: “It was a very moving occasion with a local drama group re-enacting the bloody event, and its relevance to the present day was palpable.

“It was a great privilege to be asked to shed some light on a part of Scotland’s secret history which we were never taught at school. I’m delighted with the way it has turned out.”

It is the latest high profile commission Angela has undertaken.

In 2005 she completed five bronze penguins in Dundee city centre and in 2009 she created the immense bronze – Turning the Bull – which graces the civic space in the Heart of Hawick.

In 2013, her bronze bust of rugby commentator Bill McLaren was unveiled at Murrayfield.