- Mark Taylor
Driving around the streets of London, taxi drivers pass statues of the great and the good day after day. Knowing their importance or value can sometimes be difficult to fathom……Queen Victoria proudly sits in all her corpulent glory in front of Buckingham Palace as a monument to monarchy, but cabbies usually refer to the Queen Victoria Memorial, as the wedding cake due to the tiered structure of the monument. There is a much smaller statue of Queen Vic on the north side of Blackfriars Bridge showing her in standing upright, rather than the regal throned affluence of the wedding cake, also known as, the QVM. There are many other statues peppered around the city. Taxi drivers are probably very familiar to the monuments clearly visible from the roadway, less so, those in parks or hidden from the highway’s view.
Belgrave Square is a wonderful example of where you have to drive slowly to catch the four statues located on the corners. Don Jose de San Martin, liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru, stands erect on the north eastern corner, south east sees the most visible, Simon Bolivar, founder of modern Bolivia, so revered, the nation bears his name, well his surname….Simonia doesn’t have grandeur of Bolivia. Christopher Columbus sits on the south westerly point. Born in Genoa 1451, he is by far the most famous, pioneering, seafaring, explorer. Ultimately, on the final corner, is Prince Henry the Navigator, 1394 to 1460. He was born in Porto and conveniently resides close to the Portuguese embassy, not to be confused with Prince Henry of the Netherlands. Portuguese Henry was an important figure in the developing of their empire. He was sailing around a hundred years before Columbus as the western seaboard nations of Europe i.e. Netherlands, England, France, Spain and Portugal began carving out their lucrative colonies whose footprints are clearly defined in today’s world. Before leaving opulent Belgrave sq. and all these foreign gentlemen remembered there, it’s worth thinking about poor old Chris Columbus’s remains being dragged around planet earth. He died in Valladolid, Spain, was initially buried in Seville, then his son who was governor of Hispaniola had his remains bought there before the French took over and his coffin was once more on its travels to Havana, Cuba. After American intervention in Cuba in the 1890’s, Columbus was returned to Seville. Many years after his death one of the world’s greatest explorers was still on the move!
Abraham Lincoln, currently staring in an Oscar nominated Hollywood blockbuster, has a statue in Parliament Square. Bizarrely, Abe has a chair right behind him. Why have a statue with a vacant seat?......There’s probably an answer out there……..somewhere…..
Also in Parliament sq. is an impressive Winston Churchill although a few years back, after rioting in the square, poor Winston ended up supporting a green Mohican hairstyle. Not the first statue to have comedy headwear. The Duke of Bedford in Russell Square regularly dons a traffic cone on his head thanks to student japes. Even Charles I astride his horse in Charing Cross/Trafalgar Sq. carried a banner for the Socialist Workers Party after more civil unrest before the authorities restored his dignity.
Queen Anne has a prominent gated statue in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral. She was the serving monarch as Christopher Wren completed his masterpiece around 1707. It is believed, Queen Anne wanted her statue inside the cathedral, but she was unpopular with government ministers, so her wishes were not met. She sounds like a game dame who enjoyed gambling, the close company of women, whom several would share her bed and liked over-eating. When she died, she was so fat her coffin was made almost square to house her ample body.
The memorial to Thomas More on Chelsea Embankment by Old Church Street is one of the few painted statues. This is due to it only being erected in 1969. Thomas More, also known as Saint Thomas More, was Henry V111 third Lord Chancellor, and was beheaded on the king’s instructions for failing to side with Henry against Papal Rome. Not the only one to have come to a grizzly end as the king became head of the Church of England.
Generalissimo Ferdinand Foch sits looking at The Shakespeare pub on Buckingham Palace Road, a requested and favoured set down point for taxi passengers using Victoria station. Frenchman Foch, ended up as the General of the Allied Armies towards the end of the First World War. The legend below his stallion reads; “I am conscious of having served England as my own country.” Seems like a good European……………
To finish, let’s go east, where we can find George Peabody and William Booth. Should you have an interesting story about a statue or monument and would like to point it out to readers of Cab Trade News? Please feel free to contact the paper.
George Peabody reclines in Royal Exchange Buildings. An American businessman, born in 1795, he was so shocked by the living conditions of poor and working people in London, he started the Peabody Buildings dwellings company providing social affordable housing. William Booth also did what he could to improve the lives of those on hard times or needing help. He started the Salvation Army, a charitable organisation run with military efficiency giving aid globally. He strikes an evangelical pose looking to the east from the beginning of the Mile End Road….God’s own Land.