Famous Londoners Who Should Have Statues

By M@ Last edited 24 months ago
Famous Londoners Who Should Have Statues

In 2016, a statue to Mary Seacole was unveiled outside St Thomas's hospital, following a 12-year campaign to memorialise the nurse. It got us thinking: what other worthy Londoners deserve to be immortalised in bronze?

Here are a few (admittedly idiosyncratic) suggestions, in decreasing order of seriousness. Feel free to nominate your own statue-worthy Londoners in the comments below.

Charles Dickens

One of many Dickens memorials in London. But no statue.

The last will and testament of Charles Dickens is very clear on the subject of statues. "I conjure my friends on no account to make me the subject of any monument, memorial, or testimonial whatever. I rest my claims to the remembrance of my country upon my published works...".

His wishes have been spectacularly and copiously ignored. Statues of Dickens can be found in Sydney, Philadelphia and his birth town of Portsmouth (the inauguration of which was attended by dozens of the novelist's descendants). London contains more memorial plaques to Dickens and his work than anyone else, as well as a large mural (above), a bust in Holborn Bars and, of course, the house museum. And yet there is still no statue here to this most Londony of Londoners. Please sir, we want some more.

Rosalind Franklin

The discovery of the structure of DNA ranks as one of the most important landmarks in human history. Its elucidation led to a cascade of discovery that continues to this day.

James Watson and Francis Crick usually grab the glory. They shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for Chemistry with Maurice Wilkins of King's College. Because Nobels cannot be awarded posthumously, a fourth researcher was never properly honoured: Rosalind Franklin, also working at King's, collected the all-important data that led Watson and Crick to the double helix. She died in 1958. Her story was revived in the 2015 play Photograph 51, yet there is no permanent memorial beyond a somewhat inadequate plaque on King's College (above). The forthcoming opening of the Francis Crick Institute in King's Cross surely offers the perfect opportunity to honour her contribution to modern medicine.

Vincenzo Lunardi

The first person ever to fly in England did so in London. Think about that. We have memorials to pet cats and vanished pubs, but nothing to commemorate the liftoff of the first aeronaut in the country. Maybe it's because the pilot wasn't a local boy.

On 19 September 1784, Italian Vincenzo Lunardi rose above the capital in a hydrogen balloon. His take off point was from a field near Moorgate, in the grounds still held by the Honourable Artillery Company. Along with a bemused dog and cat, he enjoyed a 26-mile flight to Ware in Hertfordshire. The landing site is marked with a plaque, but there is no memorial near his point of ascent on the edge of the Square Mile. A statue of a Georgian balloonist would look rather dashing, don't you think?

Lord Kitchener

The statue to Mary Seacole once again highlighted the paucity of memorials in London to people from ethnic minorities. The calypsonian Lord Kitchener is surely a worthy candidate. The musician came over from Trinidad and Tobago on the Empire Windrush in 1948, and immediately (literally) captured attention with his upbeat song, London is the Place For Me. A statue to Lord Kitchener would also furnish the setters of pub quizzes with an interesting question: London contains two statues to different individuals with the same name — what is that name? The existing Lord Kitchener statue in Horse Guards commemorates the first world war Field Marshall, still famous from the Lord Kitchener Wants You recruitment posters of the same era.

The Gilbert Scotts

Few, if any, families have made so great a mark on the capital as the Gilbert Scotts. George and grandson Giles, in particular, gave us the St Pancras Hotel, the Albert Memorial, Waterloo Bridge, Battersea Power Station, Bankside Power Station (Tate Modern), the House of Commons Chamber, the red phone box and dozens of other buildings besides. More recent scion Richard Gilbert Scott created Guildhall Art Gallery. How about a family tableau, in which bronze versions of the Gilbert Scotts are packed into a phone box?

Phyllis Pearsall

Nothing reflects London quite like the A-Z map. It's an icon of the capital. The 80-year-old publication was founded on the sweat and toil of one person: Phyllis Pearsall. Mrs P reputedly walked some 23,000 streets, or 3,000 miles, to collect the data for the maps. OK, it's quite possibly an exaggeration bordering on a myth, but she remains a figurehead of urban exploration and personal graft. Give her a statue, we say.

Muhammad Ali

Following the great boxer's death, Chris Eubank mooted the idea of a public sculpture in Hyde Park. Eubank even offered to stump up his own money to pay for the memorial. Could it happen? London isn't averse to commemorating the citizens of other countries. Our city already contains statues to Yuri Gagarin, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela. Hell, there's even a Ronald Reagan statue in Grosvenor Square. So why not a bronze Ali? The champ spent a lot of time in London, and is undoubtedly a hero to many.

Harry Potter

The Boy Who Lived didn't quite live in London — his home was in Little Whingeing in Surrey. Plenty of key scenes from the epic series are set in the capital, however. The enormous popularity of the Platform 9 3/4 gimmick at King's Cross shows that there'd be an appetite for a full-on wizarding statue. And it's not as if London is shy of immortalising its fictional heroes. The Peter Pan sculpture is among the city's most cherished, while the bronze replicas of Sherlock, Paddington and Winnie are much Instagrammed.

James Bond

Alongside Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes, James Bond is London's other super-heavyweight contribution to modern pop-fiction. 007 and the capital go way back. The original novels imply that James is the descendant of Sir Thomas Bond, the historical figure who gave his name to Bond Street and whose family motto translates as 'the world is not enough'. A statue in Bond Street, or outside Leicester Square casino would go down well with the tourists. The only problem: which Bond actor should be depicted?

Fenton the Dog

One of London's first true internet stars, Fenton the errant dog lit up our screens a few years ago, with his deer-chasing antics in Richmond Park. Fenton! Fenton! Between various YouTube uploads, the marauding mutt has had around 20 million viewers, which makes him 10 times more popular than the last episode of Top Gear. He definitely deserves a statue.

Margaret Thatcher

In a dispassionate, objective world, the UK's first female Prime Minister and longest-serving 20th century PM would certainly seem like a good candidate for a public statue. In the real world, very few people are dispassionate when her name is mentioned. Any outdoor memorial would be an attractive target for the many who despise the former Tory leader — witness the fate of an existing statue in Guildhall Art Gallery. One far-off day, when those who lived through her premiership are gone, she may yet be immortalised in bronze. But not yet.

Last Updated 13 January 2017