Tag Archives: London statues

Duke of Wellington Steps

Just over two hundred years ago on 21st June 1815 Major Henry Percy staggered into Mrs Boehm’s house in St. James’s Square while a ball was in progress. Major Percy covered in dust and carrying captured French Colours in each hand had had an arduous three days.

He arrived just as the first quadrille was lining up looking for the Prince Regent to tell him of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo.

Three days previous Wellington’s aide-de-camp had remained at Wellington’s side on the battlefield, having his horse killed under him, becoming one of just three of the General’s staff not injured in the battle.

On Wellington’s orders he was despatched to England to bring news of the victory. The journey to Ostend took a full day, then embarking on a ship that lay becalmed mid-Channel. Taking to a rowing boat to reach the English coast and finally riding post haste to London. After calling at 10 Downing Street he was sent to St. James’s Square to deliver news personally to the Prince Regent.

Arriving at the ball the music stopped as he dropped on one knee before the Prince proclaiming “Victory, Sir! Victory!”

Wife of the nouveau riche merchant Mrs. Boehm bore a grudge of the man who stopped her ball writing:

Well, I must say it! Of course one was very glad to think one had beaten those horrid French, and all that sort of thing. But still I always shall think it would have been far better if Henry Percy had waited quietly till the morning, instead of bursting in upon us, as he did, in such indecent haste.

Wellington by contrast would be feted as England’s greatest commander. His house Number 1 London (taken to be the first house encountered on arrival at the capital) is a museum. Around London there are many other monuments: the Wellington Arch in Hyde Park Corner, his sarcophagus in St Paul’s Cathedral and an equestrian statue of him outside the Royal Exchange [above] in the City of London to name but a few.

Steps

He would become Prime Minister and a member of the newly founded Athenæum Club at Waterloo Place. In 1830 – six years after the club was founded – Prime Minister Wellesley suggested the club should erect some mounting stones to assist in getting on and off horses. Then in his 60s, the Duke would not have been as able as he once was so the stones would have encouraged a more graceful dismount.

Over 180 years later, the stones remain on the kerb, although these days unused.

On the inward facing side, a rusty plaque reads: ‘This horseblock was erected by desire of the Duke Of Wellington 1830.’

Dick Whittington’s Cat

Normally at this time of year children would have been taken to the Panto, giving them an introduction to cross-dressing, crass jokes and mild peril. One of the established characters in this uniquely British tradition is Dick Whittington.

In the year that Dick will not be appearing on stage, also marks the bi-centenary of the Dick Whittington Stone, which has sitting upon it a black cat.

Traditionally Knowledge boys and girls touch the cat’s head to bring them luck at their next Appearance. Much like the tests to become London cabbies, the history of this monument is shrouded in mystery.

Everyone knows the story of Richard Whittington who having failed to make his fortune started to leave London and climbing up Highgate Hill heard the bells of St. Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside some 4 1/2 miles away (he must have had some pretty acute hearing) and took the peal to be giving him a message to return to the City.

The traditional rhyme goes:

Turn again, Whittington,
Once Lord Mayor of London!
Turn again, Whittington,
Twice Lord Mayor of London!
Turn again, Whittington,
Thrice Lord Mayor of London!

He returned with his cat and the popular pantomime character was born.

The reality of this iconic site is more complicated but closer to actual events. The 1821 stone we see today was not the original. An engraving in Beauties of England published in 1776 reported that ‘the stone is a small pyramid mounted upon a larger pediment’, and was thought to have marked the spot of a leper hospital that stood opposite.

This stone was reported to have been sawn in half and placed on each side of Queen’s Head Lane, Lower Street, Islington (I understand that Lower Street was renamed Essex Road).

The current stone, inaugurated in 1821, is in two segments and was restored in 1935, even so, its inscription telling of medieval merchant and City dignitary Sir Richard Whittington is almost illegible:

Whittington Stone.
Sir Richard Whittington,
Thrice Lord Mayor of London.
1397. Richard II.
1406. Henry IV.
1420. Henry V.
Sheriff in 1393.

The cat surmounting the stone arrived later, in May 1964, when Dennis Biddett unveiled the cat upon the stone. The cat was carved by Jonathan Kenworthy, in polished black Kellymount limestone, looking back at London.

This and the iron railings are the only pieces we can date with some certainty, the story of the stone(s) is far more convoluted than I’ve described and can be read at IanVisits.

Featured image: Archant

The Lions of London

My father would tell me of a time at the London Zoo, where he worked as did his father before him, of an old lion inadvertently falling out of his cage. The old lion house [right] had the creatures raised on platforms about chest height which allowed for better viewing by the public.

The head keeper, who was not unacquainted to alcohol, decided to give his drinking partner a close-up view of an old arthritic lion.

[I]t was after losing time and upon opening up the cage, the ancient near toothless creature started to slide out. Witnesses claim to have seen these two inebriated individuals with the lion on their backs trying to push the creature back onto his platform.

With this little anecdote in mind, I’ve picked out London’s most famous large felines. But the first mention must be made of a book by Valerie Colin-Russ: London Pride: The 10,000 Lions of London in which the author has identified at least 10,000 representations of lions in the capital.

I’ll restrict myself to just a handful.

Trafalgar-Square

Landseer’s Lions

Queen Victoria’s favourite animal painter took some persuading to undertake the commission to sculpt London most famous lions. He insisted on having a still ‘model’ for his working drawings and eventually one of London Zoo’s male lions died and the body was duly delivered to the artist’s home. Landseer started sketching and all was going swimmingly that is until the neighbours complained of a rather strong smell, and Landseer’s model had to be removed. As a footnote, when you touch those mighty paws, they were modelled from a little domestic cat.

South-Bank-Lion

The Southbank Lion

This rather aristocratic creature has travelled more widely than his Trafalgar Square brothers, starting life outside the Lion Brewery. When the brewery was demolished in 1951 to make way for the Festival of Britain Exhibition, he was put outside Waterloo Station at the request of King George VI. Coade’s Lion got itchy feet and once more was moved to his present site at the southern end of Waterloo Bridge. The technical skills for Coade Stone, a kind of terracotta, have been lost with the death of the last member of the Coade family, almost indestructible by the weather and always remaining white, a fortune could be made if you practised those skills hard enough.

Thames-Lions

The Thames Lions

These lion heads line both sides of the Embankment, staring out over the River Thames. Their mouths hold mooring rings which are located higher above the water than would seem necessary. They are for mooring boats should the River rise above its normal level. This rhyme explains:

“When the lions drink, London will sink”
“When it’s up to their manes, we’ll go down the drains”

The lion heads were sculpted by Timothy Butler for Bazalgette’s great sewage works in 1868-70.

ZSL

The Wolff Statue

Returning to our start is this rather gruesome, slightly racist statue depicting an African man in a loincloth bearing a primitive weapon and sparring with a lion.

Quiet what that has to do with The Zoological Society of London. On its plinth is a plaque by way of explanation:

This statue by the sculptor Henri Teixeira di Mattos (1856-1908) was presented to the Zoological Society of London by Mr. J. B. Wolff in 1906

I suggest he should have presented the zoo with a simple animal sculpture.

One of my passengers seems to agree, Thandie Newton has taken to Twitter suggesting it: “enforces questionable representations of race . . . in these times I wonder if this should be in a public space, it saddened me to see. Representation is important.”

I think Mr. J. B. Wolff would have been wiser to present the zoo with a statue of a canine species – A wolf?

The squinting statue

Once given the accolade as ’the ugliest man in England’ John Wilkes’ statue on Fetter Lane faithfully reproduces his likeness and is thought to be the only cross-eyed statue to be found in London. Some of his other attributes: protruding jaw, dropsically ugliness, a pug-jawed appearance [see contemporary picture below], and spectacular drunkenness have not been reproduced standing upon his plinth striking a frankly rather camp pose.

[A] 18th century parliamentarian advocate of free speech and political liberty, his looks did not curb his rakish ways, a member of the notorious Hell Fire Club he would boast “I might be the ugliest man in England but leave me alone with your wife or daughter, and you’d better be back within 20 minutes or I’ll have talked my face away, and we’ll be upstairs”.

The fairly recent installation in 1988 could have been a precursor of the recent attempts to curb the British press with journalists’ homes being searched in the early hours and they having to wait months before learning whether charges were being brought against them.

When asked by Madame de Pompadour how far the freedom of the press extended in England, Wilkes the radical politician and journalist replied “that is what I’m trying to find out”. Famed for his acerbic wit, John Wilkes could almost be the model newspaper hack transforming him into a radical icon.

John-Wilkes-2_thumb.gif

Portrait of John Wilkes by Richard Houston, 1769

As an opposition Whig under George III, Wilkes loyally attacked the Government at every opportunity, but the MP for Buckinghamshire made himself better known when he founded the North Briton newspaper in 1762, which he then used to attack relentlessly the king’s chief minister, the Earl of Bute.

When in 1763 the North Briton suggested that Bute had Jacobite sympathies – and that he owed his power to an alleged affair with George III’s mother – the Government decided enough was enough.

The offending newspaper was deemed to contain seditious libel Wilkes was arrested and placed on trial where, to the king’s consternation; he was acquitted and awarded damages for false arrest. Wilkes had argued that he had only been exercising traditional English liberties, “a question”, he claimed in court “of such importance as to determine, at once, whether English Liberty be reality or shadow”.

Having won the battle, Wilkes found himself at war with the king and his ministers; in 1764 he was expelled from the House of Commons, again for seditious libel. Rather than fall foul of the law again he fled to France. When he returned four years later he successfully stood for the parliamentary seat of Middlesex.

The state responded by exhuming the old libel charge of 1764, for which Wilkes was fined and imprisoned. Released in 1769 to take his seat in the Commons, Wilkes, on arrival, was expelled from Parliament. He was immediately re-elected MP for Middlesex – and re-expelled. A third election was declared in favour of his opponent, a Government stooge who had actually polled fewer votes than Wilkes.

A small riot ensued with Wilkes’ supporters declaring ‘For Wilkes and Liberty’. Alas Wilkes was not re-admitted to Parliament until 1774 but his treatment promoted the formation of the Society of Supporters of the Bill of Rights in London.

While Wilkes was no saint, his defence of the freedom of the press and his attacks on arbitrary state power questioned the very relationship between Britain’s Governors and the governed – issues as important today as when Wilkes first raised them.

As a footnote: Abraham Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth is said to have been named after John Wilkes, and may have been a distant relative.

Picture: John Wilkes Statue by Richard Gillin (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Duke of Wellington Steps

Two hundred years ago on 21st June 1815 Major Henry Percy staggered into Mrs Boehm’s house in St. James’s Square while a ball was in progress.

Major Percy covered in dust and carrying captured French Colours in each hand had had an arduous three days.

He arrived just as the first quadrille was lining up looking for the Prince Regent to tell him of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo.

[T]hree days previous Wellington’s aide-de-camp had remained at Wellington’s side on the battlefield, having his horse killed under him, becoming one of just three of the General’s staff not injured in the battle.

On Wellington’s orders he was despatched to England to bring news of the victory. The journey to Ostend took a full day, then embarking on a ship that lay becalmed mid-Channel. Taking to a rowing boat to reach the English coast and finally riding post haste to London. After calling at 10 Downing Street he was sent to St. James’s Square to deliver news personally to the Prince Regent.

Arriving at the ball the music stopped as he dropped on one knee before the Prince proclaiming “Victory, Sir! Victory!”

Wife of the nouveau riche merchant Mrs. Boehm bore a grudge of the man who stopped her ball writing:

Well, I must say it! Of course one was very glad to think one had beaten those horrid French, and all that sort of thing. But still I always shall think it would have been far better if Henry Percy had waited quietly till the morning, instead of bursting in upon us, as he did, in such indecent haste.

Wellington by contrast would be feted as England’s greatest commander. His house Number 1 London (taken to be the first house encountered on arrival at the capital) is a museum. Around London there are many other monuments: the Wellington Arch in Hyde Park Corner, his sarcophagus in St Paul’s Cathedral and an equestrian statue of him outside the Royal Exchange [above] in the City of London to name but a few.

Steps

He would become Prime Minister and a member of the newly founded Athenæum Club at Waterloo Place. In 1830 – six years after the club was founded – Prime Minister Wellesley suggested the club should erect some mounting stones to assist in getting on and off horses. Then in his 60s, the Duke would not have been as able as he once was so the stones would have encouraged a more graceful dismount.

Over 180 years later, the stones remain on the kerb, although these days unused.

On the inward facing side, a rusty plaque reads: ‘This horseblock was erected by desire of the Duke Of Wellington 1830.’