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.
The Statues of Parliament Square
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.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.