Tag Archives: London’s statutes

Cock Sure

The great thing about the Fourth Plinth is that for me, having run out of money when originally laying out a square, pragmatically the Plinth was left unadorned for over one-and-a-half centuries.

At the time of Trafalgar Square’s construction the founder of the modern police force, Sir Robert Peel described as “the finest site in Europe” (he presumably hadn’t been to Venice).

[T]he Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square has had its fair share of curios these past few years: a ship in a bottle; boy on a rocking horse; and as I saw one night, a man standing aloft practicing his golf swing.

The art work – a giant blue cock – that now surmounts the Plinth is a glorious anachronism of the Square’s other incumbents.

If asked to name its other statues most would say ‘Nelson’. Although he stands over 17 ft high we can only gaze up his not inconsiderable nostrils standing up on his lofty position. Cabbies might tell you of the world’s smallest police station in the square’s south-east corner, but who could name any of the other public figures adorning Trafalgar Square?

The three equestrian statues of 19th century notables standing on the other plinths on is of Sir Henry Havelock (he of Indian Mutiny fame) by William Behnes who so driven by debt and drink was literally found one night in the gutter with three pennies in his pocket. The second Sir Charles Napier had his statue paid for by the squaddies of the British Army, but the sculptor of King George IV’s statue Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey who had expected to receive £9,000 for his efforts, with the King promising to contribute one-third, died before receiving a penny.

So what does Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock mean? Well, it’s about as meaningless to 21st century Londoners as his equestrian companions he shares on this most famous plaza.

It might be a version of the French national symbol taunting Britain’s national hero, killed by the Frenchies at his moment of victory, or a statement about masculinity in all its absurdness.

But for me it’s just an incredibly stupid-looking farmyard animal painted in a beautiful blue and put there for no reason what so ever. Which among all London’s public statues, many of which we know nothing or care less about their identity, makes a refreshing change, and its intrinsic comedy makes me smile every time I pass.

Statues’ anatomy-2

Achilles’ Penis


Achilles Statue in Hyde Park was cast in 1822 from cannons taken in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo and presented by ‘The Women of England’ as a tribute to Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. It was the very first statue of a naked man on public display in London. Originally anatomically correct, if you get my drift, but after the aforementioned women realised that all parts of a man’s anatomy scale up in size proportionately, a fig leaf was added later to save blushes. The addition has been chipped off twice – in 1870 and 1961, probably to see what’s underneath. If you look closely at the image you can just see the join.

Haig’s Urinating Horse


Douglas, 1st Earl Hag who commanded the British forces in 1915 during the first world war, but has since been denigrated for his mismanagement of the battle of Passchendale, his critics were quick to point out that the hind legs of his horse suggest not propulsion but urinating.

Prospero’s bum


On the first floor directly over the entrance with its statute of Prospero and Ariel is the council chamber, the statute depicting from Shakespeare’s Tempest, Prospero sending Ariel, the spirit of the air, symbolises the future of broadcasting to the world. Eric Gill its sculptor it would seem had other ideas. He insisted on carving the statute in situ. Standing on scaffolding above the entrance, female employees on arriving would be greeted by the unwelcome sight of London’s first ‘builder’s bum’ for Gill wore a monk’s habit with nothing underneath. When completed Prospero was found to have a girl’s face carved upon his bottom, the image facing the council chamber. As for Ariel being sent out into the world, he would appear rather well endowed for that, for such a young child.

King William III’s mole


Equine statutes litter London’s landscape, but one in St. James’s Square illustrates just how dangerous riding horses can be: this statute of King William III was erected in 1806 and there is something strange about it. A small molehill lies at the feet of Sorrel, the King’s horse. What is the molehill for? The answer is that William is said to have died of pneumonia, a complication from a broken collarbone, resulting from a fall off his horse. Because his horse had stumbled into a mole’s burrow. William was the Protestant King brought to England from Holland to replace the last Catholic: King James. James’s supporters and all Jacobites then and now still toast “the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat”. The mole that killed a king. The saying “Dutch Courage” also comes from William III’s reign.

Statues’ anatomy-1

The posing artist

Situated next to the Blue Fin Building on Bankside is what looks at first glance to be a simple bronze statue standing on a stone plinth. However, the mischievous figure will observe the world around him and react to passers-by by mimicking poses they strike in front of him. The playful sculpture will even create his own poses if left alone. The work entitled Monument to the Unknown Artist is the work of Greyworld who have produced many automatomic installations one of their most famous works is The Source, a 32 metre installation seen daily on TV as it opens the London Stock Exchange’s trading day every morning.

Albert’s little number


A huge Gothic edifice erected to the memory of Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria, is decorated with sculptures which reveal an extraordinary but quite unintentional set of coincidences. There are 61 human figures (Albert died in 1861); there are 19 men (Albert was born in 1819); there are 42 women (Albert died at age 42); and there are 9 animals (Albert had 9 children).

Handel’s ear


The statue of Handel in Westminster Abbey has someone else’s ear. The sculptor, Louis Francois Roubillac, thought that Handel’s ear, though without doubt musical, was rather ugly. So he used as a model the ear of a certain Miss Rich, which, though not at all musical, was sculpturally perfect.

Fertility’s finger


In the gardens of Smithfield stands the statue of a young woman wearing a solid gold wedding ring. The ring was found by the market superintendent in 1924, and when no one claimed it, he had it soldered onto her finger, because as she had been standing there, supposed to represent fertility since 1873, he thought it was high time she got married.

Angel of Christian Charity


London’s most famous statue and probably its most loved is always surrounded by visitors, being at the heart of the West End. A beautiful naked boy Eros – Greek mythology for intimate love – shooting an arrow, what could be more romantic?

Described after it’s unveiling in 1893 as a “striking contrast to the ugliness of the generalities of our street sculpture” it has remained in Londoner’s hearts. Unfortunately the statue depicts Anteros his rather boring brother whose concern was unselfish and reflective charity and nothing to do with love.

The statue surmounts a memorial fountain for philanthropist the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury who campaigned to stop child labour in factories.

[E]ros’s bow is directed not at his lover’s heart but towards the public’s social conscience. Some say it was originally pointed towards Shaftesbury in Dorset, and as a play on words the arrow or “shaft” pointed down and would be “buried” in the ground.

Sculptor Alfred Gilbert used as his model a 16-year-old studio assistant called Angelo Colarossi from Brook Green, and unlike the heavy bronzes of the day composed the statue of 15 light separate aluminium castings – wings, head, torso, legs – using the new-fangled Delville Costner process. This allowed the daring pose on tiptoe possible, in bronze he could not stand up unsupported, a problem many have in Piccadilly Circus on Saturdays nights.

Little realising its symbolism Londoner’s have adopted this beautiful statue as representing its cultural and romantic heart. How appropriate is it that the figure celebrating unselfish and reflective charity should be placed at the centre of the world’s capital that welcomes people from all nations to its bosom.