This morning I was standing in Piccadilly Circus awaiting the arrival of a family from Boston for a walk around Westminster. There's a very famous statue in Piccadilly which everyone calls 'Eros'. Funnily enough, it was built as a fountain (not a statue) and was never officially called Eros, but I think, the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain. Whilst I was standing there, a Police car pulled up, a couple of Police Officers got out, wandered over to Eros (I'll call it Eros too) had a look up at him, then got back in their car and drove off. Obviously, my interest was firmly piqued, so I investigated and discovered that this morning, Eros was looking a bit different, he was wearing a gas mask.
Later in the morning we were standing outside Buckingham Palace and noticed that the statue of Queen Victoria also had some sort of gas mask. Around lunch time, Jason, who was on the walk, pointed at the statue of Horatio Nelson on top of his column in Trafalgar Square, exclaiming that Nelson also had a gas mask. Of course he did. We obviously discussed who could be responsible and what were their reasons ... deciding that it was some kind of protest about air pollution. It would seem that we were correct.
Early this morning, under the cover of darkness, Greenpeace activists scaled quite a number of statues around the capital, fitting each of them with their own unique and specially made gas mask; highlighting the need for improved air quality. Winston Churchill, Queen Boudicca, Oliver Cromwell and Thierry Henry are now all part of the same club. I hadn't even known that footballer Thierry Henry even had a statue ... so that was news to me.
It would seem that the Greenpeace teams responsible for adding these accessories to the statues, did so with utmost care so as not to cause damage, and on top of that, you'll notice that each of the gas masks were designed specifically for the recipient. Horatio Nelson's mask includes an anchor and ships wheel, reflecting his sea faring prowess, whilst the mask worn by Eros is replete with hearts. Each mask was apparently made by artist Chris Kelly.
London is often in the news due to its high levels of pollution, so it's perhaps no surprise with the Mayor of London and London Assembly Elections about to take place next month that Greenpeace have chosen this moment to highlight the capital's pollution problem in a daring, visual and striking way, encouraging people to sign their clean air petition, calling for Prime Minister David Cameron to develop a clean air action plan.
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.
August is upon us and my first walk of the month was with the Weinstein family from Israel. Here they are outside the church of St Dunstan in the West on Fleet Street, not to be confused with St Dunstan in the East, which has become, with a little help from bombing during the Blitz, a walled garden. In case you are in any doubt of the proximity of the church to Fleet Street (two words that were for decades a byword for the newspaper industry), the wall adjoining the churchyard is emblazoned with old newspaper titles. The statue behind them is of Elizabeth I, which I mentioned a bit ago in a post about London statues and their stories.
In the afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting Gurudhan and Jennie from the States. I had the feeling they might be nice, as it had been suggested they come on a walk with me by their friend Dylan (also very nice) who had joined the east London walk earlier in the year and taken a few photos along the way. As they were the only two that had booked, we ended up doing a completely different impromptu walk that began at St Katharine Docks near to the Tower of London, then worked our way through the City of London to St Paul's ... and back again. Here they are standing by Tower Bridge, having just passed through Dead Man's Hole.
The walk can't have gone too badly, as they decided to come back for the Sunday east London walk, joining a group of eight people ... sorry nine people if you include five month old Arya. Here they all are standing on Curtain Road, which featured on a piece I posted ages ago, with 'then and now' photos of Shoreditch. The 'then' photo of Curtain Road was taken in 1900, when it was the hub of London's furniture trade.
Youngest - Arya
Tallest - Petra
Best laces (on footware) - Anja
Best Moustache - No winners
Best beard - Gurudhan
Each Friday, or at least, most Fridays, I do a Friday quiz over on the Bowl Of Chalk Facebook Page. Last Friday's question related to the statue below, of John Wilkes, which would appear to be the only statue in London that has a squint, because not surprisingly, John Wilkes did have a prominent squint.
It got me thinking, that I've discovered that many of London's statues which people wander past every day have interesting, strange or mildly absurd stories attached to them, so thought I'd share a few of my favourites with you here ... in no particular order.
This statue of Elizabeth I nestles up in the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West on Fleet Street, and made in 1586 during the Queen's own life time, originally stood on the old Ludgate, but was saved during the Fire of London, and later placed in its current position. (It's currently hiding beneath scaffolding, and won't be seen again until the autumn). The statue however, in 1929 received its own income, when Dame Millicent Fawcett, an English Suffragist and early feminist left £700 to the statue in her will.
It is said that when this statue of George Washington (which stands to the north of Trafalgar Square, outside the National Gallery) was given to us as a gift in the 1920's by the people of Virginia, they sent with it, a load of American soil to be placed underneath, as Washington had stated that he never wanted to set foot in England.
This statue of Queen Anne stands very prominently outside the main entrance to St Paul's cathedral. It's not the original, made in the 1700's by Francis Bird, but a Victorian copy made by sculptor Richard Claude Belt. According to author Tom Quinn, Belt was forced to make the statue from prison after he was imprisoned for fraud having already been commissioned to make the statue. It could be entirely possible as Belt did spend 12 months behind bars at about the same time.
This statue of Charles I just south of Trafalgar Square is the oldest bronze equestrian statue in Britain, made during Charles' life time. After the unfortunate Monarch had his head chopped off in 1649, a metalsmith called John Rivet was ordered to melt down the statue and turn it in to trinkets, which people could buy as macabre souvenirs of the execution. However, Mr Rivet evidently melted down something else, realising perhaps that fortunes might change, and kept the statue hidden until Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 and bought it back. Incidentally, you can see Nelson's Column in the background, which comes furnished with its own fascinating stories.
Prince Frederick, Duke of York
This 137 ft statue overlooks St James's Park and the Mall. Frederick was the second eldest son of King George III and when he died, every member of entire British army forewent a days pay to help raise the funds for the statue. Depending on which sources you read, they either did this gladly, or were forced to, as no one was willing to fork out the £21,000 needed to build it. Either way, when it was eventually finished in 1834 it was joked that the statue was so high up, so the Duke could escape his creditors. He died, £2 million in debt.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.