See London's Only Boss-Eyed Statue

By M@ Last edited 24 months ago
See London's Only Boss-Eyed Statue

This fine figure of a man is John Wilkes, campaigner, MP, newspaper editor and Lord Mayor of London. The statue stands just inside the City, on Fetter Lane, surrounded by the New Street Square development.

In contrast to that bland office enclave, Wilkes was one of the biggest characters ever to rise in our fair city. A beacon for liberty and freedom of speech, and a constant thorn in the side of the establishment, he lived most of his life in hot water. He was imprisoned for libel on several occasions (including a spell in the Tower), and twice kicked out of the House of Commons. The public loved him. They even bought teapots.

Copyright. British Library.

He also had a Wildean fondness for quips. When the Earl of Sandwich told Wilkes he would die either on the scaffold or of the pox, our man retorted with the famous put-down:

"That must depend on whether I embrace your lordship’s principles or your mistress."

(He eventually died of an obscure wasting disease.)

Wilkes continues to inspire to this day. His statue on Fetter Lane was erected in 1988 by a group of devotees. Look closely at the face, and you'll see something unique among London statues*.

Wilkes's eyes point in different directions. The boss-eyed countenance is accurate to life. You can see it in just about any drawing or painting of the man.

Given the enormity of Wilkes's career, it seems churlish to focus so much on his eyeballs, so we'd absolutely recommend a spot of reading if you're not already familiar with his story. And if you're in the Holborn area, track down the cross-eyed statue. He'll even talk to you, if you've got a smartphone.

*To be completely honest, while this statue is often feted as 'London's only boss-eyed statue', we're not convinced anyone's ever checked them all out to decide whether it really is unique.

Last Updated 04 January 2017