Five years ago I wrote about the rather testosterone heavy collection of statues in Parliament Square which includes such luminaries as Winston Churchill, David Lloyd-George and Nelson Mandela. Since then, there has been the addition of Mahatma Gandhi in 2015, and a couple of weeks ago was the unveiling of the square’s latest bronze resident, which I wanted to mention.
This year (2018) marks the 100th anniversary of ‘The Representation of the People Act 1918’ which was passed by the then coalition government to reform the electoral system in Great Britain and Ireland. Prior to 1918, only adult men who owned property had been eligible to vote. These new laws gave universal suffrage to all men in the UK over the age of 21, and crucially, for the first time, women …albeit with a number of caveats. The right to vote was only granted to women over the age of 30 who were registered property owners with a value over £5, or married to someone who was. About 8.4 million women who had previously had no political voice, now had the right to vote. It would be another 10 years before women had equal suffrage to men, but none-the-less, the Act of 1918 was a huge step forward in the march for women’s rights and was the result of decades of campaigning.
Some of the women instrumental in pushing the cause, such as Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Sylvia and Christabel used high profile direct action to grab attention and highlight inequality. Emily Davison, died in 1913 from injuries sustained after she threw herself beneath King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby and Mary Richardson slashed a painting at the National Gallery. Many women were imprisoned or went on hunger strikes for their cause.
One woman, who was a leading figure in the women’s suffrage movement, shunning militant and provocative tactics for moderation and debate was Millicent Fawcett, and she was honoured recently with a statue in Parliament Square. Not only is it the first statue of a woman to be placed on this prominent site outside the Houses of Parliament, but the first to be made by a woman; Turner Prize winning artist Gillian Wearing.
Fawcett spent a staggering six decades of her life fighting for equal rights, and is depicted carrying a banner which reads “Courage calls to courage everywhere”, a line from a speech she gave following the death of Emily Davison. The plinth on which the 8ft 4inch statue of Fawcett stands, bears the faces of 59 others who also fought tirelessly for women’s right to vote.
It seems almost fitting that Millicent Fawcett died in 1929 at the age of 82, a year after women were granted the vote on equal terms to men; the cause she had spent her entire adult life fighting for.
Last week, the latest artwork to be installed on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth was unveiled. It is called ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist’ by Michael Rakowitz and is made from 10,500 empty Iraqi date syrup cans. The sculpture recreates ‘Lamassu’; a winged deity which stood guarding a gate near modern day Mosul from c700BC until 2015 when it was destroyed by Isis. It is just one of 7,000 such objects either destroyed or stolen from Iraqi museums or archaeological sites since 2003. For over a decade, Rakowitz has been attempting to recreate these objects as part of an ongoing project.
London has a plethora of statues of what I tend to just call ‘Dead White Men’ and when Trafalgar Square was originally developed in the first years of the 1840s, four such statues were planned. Charles Napier, Henry Havelock and King George IV can still be seen today, but the final statue of King William IV was never installed due to insufficient funds. Designed by Sir Charles Barry (Houses of Parliament), they got as far as constructing the plinth before calling it quits. I imagine it was always anticipated that the requisite money would be found, but 150 years later and London was still no nearer to getting its statue on what had become known as the ‘fourth plinth’.
In the mid 1990s, Prue Leith, then Chair of the Royal Society of Arts suggested something should be done about Trafalgar Square’s lonely plinth, and five years later, artist Mark Wallinger’s sculpture ‘Ecce Homo’ became the first artwork to find a temporary home there, gazing down on the tourists and pigeons.
Since 2005, the fourth plinth has become an official commission, a stage for rolling artworks which Londoners get to vote for. In recent years, many of the artworks have sought to reflect their immediate environment or the history of the square. Hans Haacke’s ‘Gift Horse’ (2015) brought together the National Gallery through English painter George Stubbs, alluding to the equestrian statue that should have adorned the plinth originally, whilst quite literally being tied to the London Stock Exchange through a ticker tape ribbon. Elmgreen & Dragset’s ‘Powerless Structures, Fig.101’ depicting a boy on a rocking horse turning away from the other statues; quite possibly suggesting we should look towards the future rather than constantly back at the past (which we do) began its shift in 2010. Yinka Shonibare’s ‘Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle’ (2010) was obviously a direct nod towards Horatio Nelson who stands high over Trafalgar Square. The sails of Shonibare’s replica ship, the HMS Victory were made from patterned textiles typical of African dress, hinting towards the legacy of British colonialism and the expansion of the British Empire made possible by Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar.
There’s been a couple of slightly more irreverent sculptures such as last years ‘Really Good’ by David Shrigley which I was a fan of, but I like the fact that Rakowitz’s current offering is casting the net wider and tackling the wholesale loss and destruction of historical and cultural artefacts on a vast scale; a catastrophe made possible after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, in which our own government was complicit. At a time when people seem to be looking inwards and isolationism and nationalism are rampant, I’m pleased that Michael Rakowitz has been given a prominent stage for the next couple of years to hopefully encourage us to look up, widen our horizons and give people the opportunity to reflect on just one small repercussion of what is termed the ‘fog of war’.
I look forward to discussing it with people in the future and see what visitors to London make of Trafalgar Square’s latest adornment.
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.