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A hikers library: London’s statues, sculptures and monuments

Three Points of the Compass recently twice ventured out on the Jubilee Walkway in London. This is just one of many trails in that great city. There is much to enjoy on a London walk, not least the various statues, sculptures and public works of art. While there is considerable online resource that offers information on these, there are also many useful books. Here are just four volumes from my shelves that have frequently informed me of those encountered.

A statue of the great postal reformer Rowland Hill, was encountered on a night walk of the Jubilee Walkway
A statue of the great postal reformer Sir Rowland Hill, was encountered on a night walk of London’s Jubilee Walkway

There are a lot of books out there that look at various statues,sculptures, monuments and public art in London. Some volumes look at various types, sculptors and artists, style, themes, or just concentrate on specific areas of London. Three Points of the Compass has a very modest selection of volumes, from reference to pocket sized, and looks at these here. All are of interest and the final volume especially may be helpful to the curious pedestrian wanderer.

There has recently been considerable discussion and agitation amongst those who should know better, attempting to remove history or have it ignored. This is nothing new. That revolutionary, Ken Livingston, once suggested the removal of statues to Napier and Havelock from Trafalgar Square as nobody knew who they were. A little knowledge goes a long way, if only in perhaps encouraging the ignorant and intolerant to be more inclusive, understanding and respectful of our nation’s history, both good and bad, rather than attempting to rewrite or cancel it.

London’s Immortals :

If ever you was to own a single volume on London’s commemorative statues, this is it. It is large- 23cm x 29.5cm x 3cm. Indicative of it now being over thirty years since published, of it’s 314 illustrations, just 37 are in colour. But for statues, colour images could perhaps be regarded as of less import. Chapters are divided by subject. One later chapter is especially sad- ‘Vanished Statues’. There is also a section on ‘where to walk’ which includes maps. These would require copying over as this book is far too large to remove from the home. This no dry-as-bones tome, there are many snippets of information included that rise this above simply being a date and fact checking reference work. All of London’s outdoor, free-standing commemorative 160 or so statues, erected up to 1988, are included. It is unlikely that any reference work, be-it printed or online, could ever include all of London’s statues. There are, after all, over 370 on the Houses of Parliament alone.

London's Immortals, by John Blackwood
London’s Immortals, by John Blackwood

While the small selection of four books pulled from my shelves give some coverage of the rich history surrounding London’s monuments, the bibliography, sources and photographic acknowlegements also included within London’s Immortals are wide-ranging and point at many obscure yet important primary and secondary reference works, including relevant files at the National Archives.

London's Immortals, inside
London’s Immortals, inside

Some of the imagery and detail included in London’s Immortals is fascinating- preliminary drawings, artist inspiration, manufacture, erection and public ceremony, cleaning and contemporary comment. A recommended volume for anyone interested in the subject.

Statues can divide opinion. Many attempt to place present values and morals upon figures of another time. Even if looking at the lifespan of a particular person, they may have divided opinion even then. This, of course, being no reason to attempt to wipe history from memory. To learn a little of a statue is to learn a little of ourselves. Oliver Cromwell was England's only military dictator. He had a King beheaded and was hated by the Irish due to the brutality of his troops. Yet he also built up Britain's navy, was the first ruler to accept Jews, issued edict banning duelling, cockfighting and even swearing. Controversial to the end, the positioning, and even existence, of his statue at the 'new' Houses of Parliament was a cause of vehement disgreement amongst MPs
Statues can divide opinion. Many attempt to force current values and morals upon another time. If we look at the lifespan of a particular person, they may have divided opinion even then. Just as today’s lauded figures will likely divide opinion tomorrow. This is, of course, no reason to attempt to wipe history from memory. To learn a little of a statue or monument is to learn a little of ourselves. Oliver Cromwell was England’s only military dictator. He had a King beheaded and was hated by the Irish due to the brutality of his troops. Yet he also built up Britain’s navy, was the first ruler to accept Jews, issued edicts banning duelling, cockfighting and even swearing. Controversial to the end, the positioning, and even existence, of his statue at the ‘new’ Houses of Parliament was a cause of vehement disgreement amongst MPs

London’s Statues and Monuments:

London's Statues and Monuments by Peter Matthews
London’s Statues and Monuments by Peter Matthews

The author of London’s Statues and Monuments worked for many years for the London Tourist Board and as a Blue Badge Guide, building up an impressive knowledge of the city’s history. There is a lot crammed into this 15cm x 21cm volume and Peter Matthews has been careful to usually only include the most essential of information on each featured statue or monument. However if there is a juicy (read controversial) aspect to a statue then this has warranted a fuller description. Plinths are frequently excluded from images in order to concentrate on the meat and bones of the subject and images of a particular detail of a statue has occasionally been included rather than the whole.

This is an updated version of a previous work and now includes many erected between 2012 and 2017. 28 areas are individually covered and with the aid of a street map (not included) it would be possible to work through each of these in turn

London's Statues and Monuments, inside
London’s Statues and Monuments, inside

It is unsurprising that this book sits on my shelves for it comes from the Shire stable that I hold in high regard. Originally published in 2012 as Shire Library No. 599, this is a much revised edition from 2018 and follows their ethos of factually correct volumes written in approachable fashion by experts in their field.

London’s Monuments, from Boudicca to Byron to Guy the Gorilla:

This is, quite literally, a pocket sized volume, or at least of a size that could be slipped into a bag if spending a weekend in the metropolis. Measuring 10.5cm x 15cm, with 394 pages, it is also quite chunky. Images are in colour and tiny, but are to the most part adequate for determining that the one you are stood in front of is, indeed, the one in the book.

London is divided into 17 districts that can be explored with the contained maps, plus a cursory glance at selected statues ‘Distant and Alone‘. Perhaps most useful to the layman is the index that sets monuments out by both general indexing and by subject. In this manner, a personal subject of interest- good or bad, courageous or cowardly, can be located.

London's Monuments, by Andrew Kershman
London’s Monuments, by Andrew Kershman
London's Monuments, inside
London’s Monuments, inside

Like every volume shown here, the author of London’s Monuments has not shied away from including the contentious, and why should he. Time alters perception- “one man’s hero is another man’s villain”, he reminds us that when the statue to Nelson Mandela was erected by the then Greater London Council, this did not go down well in some circles, such as the Conservative Government of Margaret Thatcher, who still regarded him as a terrorist at the time

The pocket sized London's Monuments informs us that the imposing statue of Edward VII by Sir Beram Mackennal, bears: "little resemblance to the real King, who was fatand only encountered horses at the races"
The pocket sized London’s Monuments informs us that the imposing statue of Edward VII by Sir Bertram Mackennal, bears “little resemblance to the real King, who was fat and only encountered horses at the races”. While the statue to the Duke of York atop an immense column beyond, was paid for by stopping one day’s wages from every soldier in the British Army

walking london’s statues and monuments:

walking london's statues and monuments. by Rupert Hill
walking london’s statues and monuments. by Rupert Hill

Subtitled- ‘an illustrated tour of London’s public art in 13 fact-filled walks‘, this is somewhat different to the previous volumes above. There are a number of different subject or theme based tours of London and this volume, part of a series published by New Holland, contains thirteen tours of London visiting over 400 statues, monuments and other points of interest en route. Each tour has a clear street map included on which subjects of interest are noted. Instead of photographs, pen and ink, with colour wash, sketches are included, making it an attractive volume. This could quite easily be used ‘in the field’ as it measures just 15cm x 21cm.

The author was a City solicitor and his attention to detail is exemplified in the accompanying detail on statues and monuments encountered alongside clear directions for each tour. The very great majority of the tours in this book are fairly short, varying in length from 2km (1 1/4 miles) to 9.5km (6 miles) with an emphasis on shorter tours.

walking london's statues and monuments, inside
walking london’s statues and monuments, inside

Books from my shelves:

London’s Immortals, John Blackwood. Savoy Press. 1989. 380pp. ISBN:0-9514296-0-4

walking london’s statues and monuments, Rupert Hill. New Holland Publishers. 2010. 160pp. ISBN 978 1 84773 599 7

London’s Monuments- from Boudicca and Byron to Guy the Gorilla. Andrew Kershman. Metro Publications. 2007. 394pp. ISBN 978-1-902910-43-7

London’s Statues and Monuments, Peter Matthews. Shire Library No. 839, an imprint of Osprey Publishing Ltd. a division of Bloomsbury Publishing. 2018. 264pp. ISBN PB:978-1-78442-256-1

Michael Ayrton's Minotaur is visited on walk 10 in walking london's statues and monuments. Three Points of the Compass photographed it on a night walk of the Jubilee Walkway in 2021
Michael Ayrton’s hulking and well-endowed Minotaur is visited on the 5.4km (3 1/2 mile) walk 10 included in walking london’s statues and monuments. Three Points of the Compass photographed it both on a day and a night walk of the longer Jubilee Walkway in 2021

All of us have a few books that we like to rely on, or to which we frequently return. Here are links to some of mine

2 replies »

  1. “There are, after all, over 370 on the Houses of Parliament alone.” Do you mean the city of Westminster?
    That would be an interesting list to compile all the statues in London.
    I use the Oliver Cromwell example a lot and Churchill is a good one because the Australians hate him with a certain amount of justification. Malcolm Gladwell on his podcast has done a few episodes on the important moments in US history and they are really interesting because a great celebrated moment is not necessarily what you think it is. He also has an episode on a statue which is really interesting as you even get to hear the opinion of both the people depicted.
    I think a lot of the time it is lack of knowledge. They wanted to take down Baden Powell because of his links to Hitler however the truth is the Government forced him to play along which is why you get the Hitler Youth because his only stipulation was that they not be called Scouts.
    It is fairly easy to get a copy now so a very interesting read is Scouting For Boys, 1908 edition. I suppose in the modern world I do have to warn people you do have to get past the trigger moments for what may be one of the best handbooks for life. You have to read the 1908 edition in some form as in the 60s the left got to it and it is not the same book. Every time I see scouts in scruffy uniforms I can almost here BP turning in his grave.
    Some of my most revisited books can be found for free (Inc Scouting for boys) here http://www.thedump.scoutscan.com/nonfict.html. I think between Scout books and Sherlock Holmes basically that old Stand style I have developed a desire to be able to what Jools does in that journaling with pictures style. Now all I have to do is get decent handwriting and learn to draw.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Blackwood informs us in his introduction to London’s Immortals that there are 370 statues on the Houses of Parliament buildings alone, not the wider City

      Liked by 1 person

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