Parliament Square was first constructed by Charles Barry in 1868, and despite its name (the 'square' part), became the first modern day roundabout in 1926. It sits flanked by Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, St Margaret's Church, the imposing Westminster Abbey, the Supreme Court and numerous government offices. Despite its location, it is notoriously difficult to access, and unless you're prepared to play chicken with the ceaseless waves of traffic (which I wouldn't recommend), your best bet is to use the crossing on the Abbey side. There are ten statues in the vicinity, and eight on the square itself, but who are the eight on the roundabout?
Starting in front of Big Ben, you'll find a statue that I really like; the rather bullish, compact figure of Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), wrapped in an overcoat, with stick in hand. The statue, by Ivor Roberts-Jones was due to be unveiled by the Queen in 1973, but when it came to it, she let Churchill's widow, Clementine do the honours. During the May Day demonstrations in 2000, Churchill was unceremoniously given a new haircut, a Mohican, fashioned from a piece of turf.
Next up is David Lloyd George (1863-1841) who was Prime Minister from 1916-1922. Again, I really like this statue. It's by Glynn Williams and with Lloyd George's coat billowing and his hat held in his right hand, it seems incredibly modern and dynamic. This could be because in the grand scheme of things, it's pretty new, unveiled by Prince Charles in 2007. Lloyd George was a Welshman, and true to form, he is standing on a plinth made of Welsh slate. The statue itself was a contentious issue, as David Lloyd George some what blotted his copy book by selling honours to boost his party funds.
After passing the statue of David Lloyd George you will come across a statue of a man who looks like he has been caught in the midst of ice skating. The likely-hood of this being the case is minimal as it shows Field Marshal Jan Christian Smuts (1870-1950) who was the South African Prime Minister during WWII and the only person to sign the peace treaties ending both the First and Second World Wars. Similar to his Welsh neighbour, he stands on a plinth made of South African granite.
Moving on from Smuts, we delve back in time to a statue that was erected in 1876 by Thomas Woolner. It is of former Prime Minister, Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmeston (1784-1865). Nicknamed 'Pam', he was by all accounts a bit of a ladies' man, and died two days before his 82nd birthday. Apparently his last words were "Die, my dear doctor? That's the last thing I shall do!".
Moving to the left, you'll find Edward George Geoffrey Smith Stanley, otherwise known as the 14th Earl of Derby (1799-1869) who became the first person to hold the position of Prime Minister three times and is still to this day, the longest serving leader of the Conservative party. He also helped to abolish slavery and interestingly, the statue was unveiled by Benjamin Disraeli in 1874. Disraeli, is now his next door neighbour in the square. There are four reliefs around the plinth, which depict various important moments in Derby's career.
So, Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield (1804-81) was Prime Minister twice and a favourite of Queen Victoria. The statue is generally regarded as being an incredibly good likeness, which is perhaps not surprising seeing as the sculptor, Mario Raggi had made his bust from life, shortly before Disraeli died. On the photograph below you can see the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the background. It's a copy of a statue in Chicago by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and occupies the same patch on the other side of the road as the statue of George Canning.
Next up we have Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850), resplendent in a pair of incredibly tight trousers; a man, who many people forget served twice as Prime Minister. The main reason for this is that he is predominantly associated with formulating the first united police force in 1829, which is also why policemen and women today are still known in the UK as 'Bobbies'. Bob, being short for Robert of course ... in case you didn't known that.
Last but not least is a man who needs no introduction, and is the only one on Parliament Square who is still alive (at the time of writing). It is of course Nelson Mandela who was born in 1918 and former president of South Africa. The statue was apparently originally intended to be situated outside South Africa house by Trafalgar Square, but was erected in its current position in 2007. Mandela was there himself for the unveiling, no doubt wearing a similar floral shirt to that worn by his statue.
Now, assuming you've read this far, it can't have escaped your notice that there are currently no statues of females in Parliament Square. However, with this in mind, apparently at the unveiling of his own statue, Nelson Mandela noted that upon visiting the square with his fellow activist, Oliver Tambo, forty five years earlier, they had joked whether a statue of a black person would ever stand in the same vicinity of Jan Christian Smuts. Well, he lived to see that day. There's plenty more room, so it'll be interesting to see who's next.
When visiting London for the first time, it can be a bit tricky knowing what to do, where to go and what to see. However, I imagine that for the vast majority of these people ... if not all, seeing 'Big Ben' is very probably incredibly near to the top of their 'must do' list. It's situated in Westminster and I've discovered recently, that many people (upon seeing Big Ben) are surprised that it's actually attached to another building. The many replica Big Ben's that line the shelves of the mildly rubbish souvenir shops in central London, very much give the false impression that it is a stand alone clock tower.
The second surprise that first time visitors get, is to learn that 'Big Ben' is not in fact the name given to either clock, or the tower (it was renamed last year, the Elizabeth Tower) but the massive hour bell inside. As with most things in London its very existence and indeed the nickname which is known throughout the world comes with a story, a bit of controversy and also a sprinkling of uncertainty.
To rewind the clock (pun intended) a few years, the medieval Palace of Westminster or the Houses of Parliament as it is known was burned down in 1834 (that's another story). The epic rebuilding was undertaken by a guy called Charles Barry and in 1844, it was decided that it might be nice if a rather grand tower and clock were to be added to one end. To make life even more difficult it was also decided that the first stroke of the hour bell should register the time, correct to within 1 second per day and telegraph its performance twice a day to be recorded at the Greenwich Observatory. For this reason, clock makers were understandably reluctant to get involved and it was 10 years before a certain Edmund Becket Denison finally had his design completed.
The bell or bells, were an entirely separate problem and Barry had specified that only a 14 ton hour bell would suffice. No one in Britain had ever cast a bell that large, but Denison (not known for his bell making skills) refused to be outdone and insisted on not only his own design for the great bell, but the recipe for the bell metal. Like the initial contract to design and make the clock, bell founders were not chomping at the bit to bid for the contract. Eventually it was made by John Warner & Sons at Stockton-on-Tees and not only did the bell end up being a whopping 16 tons, but it cracked upon being tested. The task of casting the bell, then fell upon the shoulders of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and its master bellfounder, George Mears.
It took two weeks to break up the old bell, three furnaces to melt it down and once the mould had been filled with molten metal, took twenty days for it to solidify and cool. Transporting the bell (just shy of 14 tons) to Westminster was a major event. Traffic was stopped and sixteen horses dragged it through the streets which had been decorated and were lined with cheering crowds. It rang for the first time on the 31st May 1859 and it is at this point that the name 'Big Ben' first seeped in to public consciousness. It is said that as Parliament were trying to settle on a suitable name for the bell, Benjamin Hall, a large man, who was affectionately known as 'Big Ben' gave a rather long speech on the subject. At the end, someone shouted out "Why not call it Big Ben and have done with it?". It would appear, the name stuck.
Two months later 'Big Ben' cracked. The cause, is thought to be because Denison had used a hammer more than twice the weight specified by the more qualified George Mears. The bell was out of service for the next three years, a lighter hammer was fitted and the bell turned to present an undamaged section to the hammer, which still gives it the same (apparently) distinctive sound that we can hear today. Denison refused to accept responsibility for the mistake and blamed Mears. The whole saga ended in court ... twice and Denison lost on both occasions.
However, the very famous nickname given to the bell is often disputed. Just the other day, a friend of mine said "So ... Big Ben ... who do you think it's named after?". He believes it was named after the Victorian bare knuckle boxer Ben Caunt, who as a rather large specimen and heavyweight champion, was known as 'Big Ben'.
Don't forget, you can still visit the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, where they offer tours and an insight in to their unique 500 year history.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.