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Sir Malcolm Campbell, Soapsud Sybil, Sir Joseph Bazalgette

by Sarah Staton

Sir Malcolm Campbell, Soapsud Sybil, Sir Joseph Bazalgette, 2024 

by Sarah Staton, commissioned by Tideway

Artist Sarah Staton has been commissioned by Tideway to create a series of three freestanding sculptures in cast stone and bronze, located at Acton Storm Tanks adjacent to the Canham Road boundary.

These sculptures at Acton depict distinctive historical figures associated with the site, their heads mounted on tall, slim cast jesmonite columns, each standing approximately three metres high. The sculptures respond to the material palette, architectural forms and details of the adjacent Bedford Park and echo the triangular plan of the Acton site. The sculptures will be street facing and located just within the compound, either side of the gates.

The heads: On one column Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s head with distinctive moustache celebrates Acton as the Western starting point of the Tideway tunnel system. The second column is topped with the face of an unknown washer woman, ‘Soapsud Sybil’, referring to ‘Soapsud Island’, Acton’s entrepreneurial 19th century home laundries. The washer woman’s face will be cast in bronze. The third column will feature Sir Malcolm Campbell, the early 20th century speed record breaker who drove cars built by the Napier Motor Works, which once adjoined the site. Campbell’s head will be adorned with distinctive bronze goggles.

The permanent Tideway commissions respond to the site-specific narratives set out in the Tideway Heritage Interpretation Strategy. The cultural meander for the West section is – Recreation to industry: Society in transition, the site-specific narrative references the manufacturing industry located in the area. In the 1860’s the South Acton area adjacent to Stamford Brook, became known as ‘Soapsud Island’, and was characterised by the female led home-based laundry businesses servicing the new large houses of Kensington and Notting Hill. Over time, the bigger laundries became factories with power washing machines while the smaller laundries declined. A number of these efficient ‘factory laundries’ are retained in the area to this day.

Historically, other manufacturing businesses located in the area include the Napier Motor Works which adjoined the Storm Tanks site until closure shortly after the Second World War. The company was one of a number of vehicle manufacturers to establish factories at Acton, which was described in the 1920's as ‘Motor Town’. By 1956 The Times considered Acton to be one of the two largest concentrations of industry south of Birmingham. Campbell’s Sunbeam Arab ‘Blue Bird’ was built by Napier & Co at Acton and it was in this car that Campbell broke the land speed record in 1924.

The artwork