After spending last week photographing dead presidents, we thought it only decent to turn our services to former British prime ministers.
The Parliament Square Collection
Dead monarchs have Westminster Abbey; prime ministers have Parliament Square. There’s six of the blighters here, with a seventh – David Lloyd George – in the works if funding can be raised.
Canning by Richard Westmacott (1832); Peel by Matthew Noble (1851); Lord Derby also by Noble (1874); Palmerston by Thomas Woolner (1876); Disraeli by Mario Reggi (1883); Churchill by Ivor Roberts-Jones (1973)
The most remarkable thing about this hexad of leaders is their isolation. A very special bit of road planning has rendered this island of statues completely inaccessible to pedestrians – except for idiots like Londonist who are prepared to play Frogger with the traffic. We build these expensive memorials to great men (and they are all men in this square), only to make them unreachable. There’s something very ‘London’ in that.
Other permanent fixtures on the island include a memorial to Jan Smuts, and the infinite protest of Brian Haw. A second statue of Churchill, in conversation with Roosevelt, can be seen on Bond Street. Been there, stalked that.
Pitt The Younger, Hanover Square
Sadly, no monument to Blackadder’s ‘Pitt the Embryo’ just yet, but Britain’s youngest ever Prime Minister does have a memorial. Pitt’s tenure was long and momentous. He steered Britain through the upheavals of the French Revolution, brought about the formation of the UK and rebuilt the country’s finances after the American war. His bronze effigy, sculpted by Frances Leggatt Chantrey, has stood in the little-visited Hanover Square since the 19th Century.
The Iron Duke also featured in Blackadder, the TV series that did more for our nation’s awareness of history than a hundred Simon Schamas. Wellington, most famous for his victory at Waterloo and his fondness for dueling pistols, was also prime minister for a short while. His equestrian statue sits in front of the Royal Exchange. Another statue of ‘Europe’s liberator’ once stood atop the Wellington Arch, but was later deemed excessively and stupidly large, and got the boot (see what we did there?). That statue can now be found, rather easily, in Aldershot.
Four times prime minister William Gladstone certainly deserves to be immortalised in bronze. To the East of Aldwych, the grand old man stands in the company of warlords Hugh Dowding and Bomber Harris. The sculpture by William Hamo Thorneycroft (the man behind the Cromwell statue at Westminster and General Gordon in Trafalgar Square) dates from 1905, and includes a bounty of ancillary bronzework round the base.
Finally, the only post-war leader (if we ignore Churchill's second coming) on public display in London can be found outside the old library in Limehouse. Clement Atlee, who ushered in the NHS and a suite of other social reforms, stands in his old constituency, gazing along this awful stretch of Commercial Road.
Various other monuments about town commemorate prime ministers, but these are indoors and beyond the scope of this Stalk: Spencer Perceval (St Luke’s Church, Charlton); yet another Churchill (Guildhall); a second statue of Gladstone (within the Palace of Westminster); and the once-beheaded effigy of Margaret Thatcher, whose location is now uncertain (anyone know?). Several facsimile prime ministers can also be found within Westminster Abbey for the completer-finishers amongst you.
How’s our stalking? And Who should we stalk next? Let us know in the comments box.