I love traveling to London and visit our great city at every chance I get. Unless I have a specific agenda, like taking the kids somewhere special, or visiting a specific place with friends, I take the train to a setting off point and then walk around the city. I then take routes and roads that many pass by, not getting the train again until it’s time to head home. This gives me the advantage of seeing sights that some tourists, visitors and Londoners miss out on.
For this blog I am going to concentrate on some of London’s outdoor statues. Not the typical ones that everyone knows about, like those of Winston Churchill, Admiral Nelson, Nelson Mandela, Sherlock Holmes, Eros, Queen Victoria and the like. I am concentrating on the ones dotted around the city, that are normally passed by, without any thought. And there are many.
London is home to thousands of statues, memorials and sculptures, dating from 1586 until the present day, spread across the City of London and its 32 Boroughs. These range from Statues of famous monarchs, leaders and statesmen to animals, fictitious characters and disposable sculptures.
The oldest statues, said to date from 1586, are those of King Lud, Androgeus and Theomantius, which are situated at St. Dunstan-in-the-West Guild Church, Fleet Street, along with a statue of Queen Elizabeth I, which dates from around 1670.
The newest statue to be found in London, which excludes the myriad displays on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth, is that of naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, which was unveiled on 7th November 2013. This was exactly 100 years to-the-day after Wallace’s death.
Patricia ‘Penny’ Penn (1914-1992) campaigned against the demolition of historic buildings, throughout the 1970s, and was a campaigner for good causes in her local area. She was also a cat lover. So, in 1997, her local community donated a sculpture in her memory. It was the sculpture of a cat and was erected in Queen Square Park & Garden. Unhappily, the sculpture was stolen in August 2007 but a replacement was erected in May 2009. The sculpture is called ‘Sam’
Many people will have passed ‘Ariel’ without seeing her. Others will have spotted her, but not known who she was. ‘Ariel’ sits atop the Bank of England and looks down Princes Street. She is taken from Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ and represents the spirit of the Bank of England.
Then there’s the memorial to the Special Operations Executive (SOE), which was unveiled in October 2009. The SOE was set up on 22nd July 1940, with a remit to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe against any of the Axis powers. Plus, they were to help with any resistance movements in any way they could. ‘Churchill’s Secret Army was disbanded on 15th January 1946. The memorial stands in front of Lambeth Palace, on the Albert Embankment.
‘Monument to the unknown artist’ stands behind the Tate Modern, on Bankside. At first glance he doesn’t appear to be a particularly good work of bronze. In fact, I only took a photograph because he looked as though he was ‘wearing’ woven clothes. Then the strangest thing happened. He moved. At this point I thought it was a real person, but no. This statue is animatronic and was designed to mimic people and even come up with its own poses. Obviously, with the British weather, it does break down a fair bit, but if your passing go and have a look. The plaque on his plinth reads;
NON PLAUDITE / MODO PECUNIAM
(Don’t Applaud / Just Throw Money)
If you visit London on any day of the year, you are likely to see some form of Public Art. This could be a sculpture hanging from a building, a sand sculpture along the south bank, a Polar Bear made of ice slowly melting in the open air, murals on the pavements and building walls and any number of other things.
So, the next time that you visit our great city avoid the underground and take a walk. Stroll into the parks and up the alleys and discover the sights. Look up, as well as behind you, as you never know where the next statue will appear.