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.
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.
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.
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.
London’s Statues and Monuments:
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
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.
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
walking london’s statues and monuments:
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.
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
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