Steps to Statues 🚶♂️
During #Lockdown in an attempt to stay healthy and sane I accepted a steps challenge and tried to do some walking whilst working from home. As walking without purpose seems a bit dull, I tried to walk or cycle each day to a local statue -a result of my current obsession with statues arising from the fact that I am jointly charged with commissioning one for the Jack Leslie Campaign. And of course scrutiny of statues is an opportunity to re-examine history.
I found that although I had seen most of these statues before, each on closer inspection or research had something of interest -I hope you agree. It’s a work in progress.
DAY 1 -THE SPRIGGAN
A Spriggan is mythical creature from Cornwall, and this delightful sculpture was put up in 1995 by Marilyn Collins (read more here)
DAY 2 – MYSTERY SCULPTURE IN ELTHORNE PARK
Elthorne Park is my local park, it’s urban, and has within it a peace garden (see note 1 below ) and a football pitch where I once tackled Johann Cruyff-but that’s another story! It also has this mysterious and rather wonderful piece pictured above -I’m trying to find out more about it! Let me know if you have any info.
DAY 3 SIDNEY WATERLOW, Waterlow Park (Highgate)
Waterlow (1822 – 1906) was an English philanthropist and Liberal Party politician, as well as Lord Mayor of London, principally remembered for donating Waterlow Park to the public as “a garden for the gardenless”. The statue was constructed by Frank Taubamn, and shows Waterlow holding a hat, umbrella and key. From a gap in the railings on the Southern part of Waterlow Park you can peek into Highgate cemetery and see a bust of Marx (see below). Within the park is Lauderdale house-2 small statuettes by steps
Day 4- MARY WOOLSTONECROFT
This statue, which I visited with my KN colleague Emily Elliott (2) has created some controversy! It was, like the Jack Leslie statue, crowdfunded after an admirable fundraising campaign. But the work has divided opinion, particularly in the use of nudity for an icon to feminism. The statue follows soon after the first female statue (and the first by a woman) to grace Parliament Square – suffrage campaigner (and Wollstonecraft fan) Millicent Garratt Fawcett, I decided to visit that at the weekend , for comparison (see day 6 below)
DAY 5 -HIGHGATE CEMETERY
Highgate Cemetery (3) is an amazing place- a nature reserve, Containing Victorian catacombs and of course plenty of statuary. It is maintained by a conservation “friends” group The best statues and history are on the West side (worth booking for a tour) but the most visited is that of Karl Marx on the East. With the cemetery closed to visitors when I started this challenge, I took the above photo from Waterlow Park (see day 3 above) through a gap in the railings. (The cemetery has since re-opened -here are some of the Highgate Cemetery “menagerie” -including Wombwell’s Lion (note 3 below)
DAY 6-PARLIAMENT SQUARE
There are numerous statues in Parliament Square, many of which are relatively recent additions, including Millicent Fawcett:
Its an amazing statue. The names and images of 55 women and four men who supported women’s suffrage appear on the plinth (see detail above) It was made in 2018 by Gillian Wearing, following a campaign and petition by the activist Caroline Criado Perez. (Read more about the statue campaign and the rival campaign for a Pankhurst statue here.)
More Statues from Parliament Square:
In nearby Victoria Gardens is a copy (one of 12) of Rodin’s “Burghers of Calais”. Calais commissioned Rodin to create the sculpture which was completed in 1889 (this London version unveiled 19 July 1915)
DAY 7 -BOER WAR MEMORIAL, HIGHBURY FIELDS
A very high proportion of public monuments consists of war memorials of various types. To what extent they may be considered art may be the subject of some debate, but like most statues there will have been a commissioning process. The “Boer War” was the first to be significantly commemorated across the UK (not least in the amount of football stadia erected in early 20th Century with stands named after battle of Spion Kop)
The memorial at Highbury has faced calls to come down. My own view is that an information plaque should be added to provide context. The statue itself is by Bertram Mackennal, and to my mind a fine public sculpture in it’s own right. I also visited the Finsbury War Memorial, also called “Victory” on Spa Green (Thomas Rudge, erected 1921)
Day 8 -Neighbours
Public art, on a housing estate! (Highbury Quadrant estate, Islington) A Figurative sculpture by Charoux for the LCC on the recommendation of the Arts Council. Cemented iron, four feet high. Two figures, realistic, yet demonstrating an idealism of ‘working man‘. A “strong and humane representation that well suits its setting” (English Heritage) Read more here
Day 9 -Footballers, Emirates Stadium (Highbury)
There are very few BAME statues in London, let alone the UK, and there would be even less if we disregarded footballers (Note 4) Henry is one of five statues of Arsenal legends at Arsenal’s stadium. The statues are unattributed.
A list of football statues (very few BAME) is on wiki here (but not complete). There is an ongoing crowdfunded campaign for a statue of Jack Leslie (the first black footballer to be selected for England in 1925) -donate here
Day 10 -Oliver TAMBO
Tambo lived in Haringey when exiled from South Africa. Read more here– (article includes a photo of the statue which shows him originally holding a copy of the Freedom Charter, now missing!)
Day 11 – Dick Whittington’s cat, Archway
The statue of a cat was added in 1964 to the 1821 monumental Whittington stone” at the foot of Highgate Hill. It marks roughly where a forlorn Dick Whittington, returning home in despair from the city of London , turns back after hearing Bow Bells ringing out “Turn again Whittington, thrice Lord Mayor of London!” The cat sculpture is by Jonathan Kenworthy, in polished-black Kellymount limestone.
Day 12 -The Cockerel, Primary school, Hornsey Lane
The cockerel is a much-loved landmark outside what was Ashmount primary school. Both my sons attended this school so it was a daily view! Ashmount has relocated, and it’s sad to see that it’s replacement school on the site has let the cockerel badly deteriorate-I’ve written to them about this!
Day 13 -Trafalgar Square
Like most of us, I have been to Trafalgar Square many times without paying any heed to the statues on the 4 plinths (even when I paid attention and very much enjoyed the temporary installations on the “4th plinth” I would have struggled to tell you who the other three were). So this time I had a good look:
Of course the unmissable statue is Nelson, carved from Craigleith sandstone by sculptor Edward Hodges Baily. The story of the statues and famous column could be a whole blog, but you may as well just go to wiki. (See note 3 below for the Landseer Lions which surround the column)
I love this colossal statue of Ulysses, dedicated to Wellington and cast from melted-down cannon captured at Waterloo. The monument was funded by donations from British women totalling £10,000.
The sculpture was originally nude and caused controversy (see also Wollstonecraft 2020, above). This came from prudish Victorians, but allegedly also from the Duke who thought his manhood rendered too small. Either way, a fig-leaf was added! More on the monument here
Below: more statuary and monuments in Hyde park, including bottom left the July 7th memorial
OTHER STATUES– Well the above were those I visited during the two-week steps Challenge I undertook in September 2020. Below are some others I have visited before or since …I hope to be adding more statues to this blog as I find them, please feel free to check back if you would like to see more, or contact me if you can suggest more statues or monuments to visit.
1 The Peace Garden is named after Philip Noel-Baker, who was professor of law and a labour MP. He was also involved with establishing both the League of Nations after the First World War, and the United Nations after the Second World War. Maybe he should have a statue!
3 Highgate Cemetery One of the best monuments on the West side is that of George Wombwell, the Victorian who ran a travelling circus with a troop of lions-a statue of one now adorns his burial plot.
(Read more about Wombwell’s life and monument here)
There is a link from Wombwell to the lions at the foot of Nelson’s Column– Landseer had planned to use one of Wombwells deceased lions to model, but was delayed through ill-health, so by the time he got the animal it was partly decomposed! (In fact the whole commissioning was mired in controversy!)
4 BAME football statues