Gluttony and grave robbing – Pye Corner in Smithfield

the golden boy of pye corner

Stroll up Giltspur Street towards Smithfield Market and look up to your left at the building on the corner of Cock Lane. In an arched niche in the wall of a late 20th century office building is a golden statue of a chubby little boy.

This is the ‘Golden Boy of Pye Corner’, a 17th century wooden sculpture (gilded in the 1800s, but previously painted naturalistically) which, according to the Historic England listing also formerly had wings, making the young chap something of a cherub.

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Prince Albert’s Mega-kitsch Memorial

Of course the damn thing is utterly absurd.

Every criticism of high victoriana – over-sentimental, over-decorated, over-elaborate to the point of fussy, over size – applies in spades. If it were half the size it would be laughable. And yet … it’s magnificent; utterly absurd, but magnificent.

This is the Albert Memorial, that sits in Hyde Park like a gothic Thunderbird 3 about to launch.

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The Teenage Queen Victoria

If I say “Queen Victoria” I’m guessing that the picture in your head is of the late-age monarch, ‘we are not amused’-era, dressed in mourning black; the old, short, rotund, queen empress.

This version of the ‘old queen’ is perhaps most famously seen on Sir Thomas Brock’s Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace. Unveiled in 1911 by her grandson Geroge V with another grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, in attendance), she stares sternly down The Mall, the marble embodiment of the Empire that would last the ages (spoiler alert: it didn’t).

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Equestrian Statue of Ferdinand Foch, Grosvenor Gardens

equestrian statue of ferdinand foch by george malissard

WHAT: Ferdinand Foch

WHERE: Lower Grosvenor Gardens (map)

BY WHOM: Georges Malissard

WHEN: 1930

Within the (slightly grotty) public space of Lower Grosvenor Gardens, facing the forecourt of Victoria Station, is the statue of a man on horseback.

This is Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929), Marshal of France, ‘Generalissimo’ (Supreme Commander) of the Allied Forces in WWI, and the only Frenchman to be made a Field Marshal of the British Army.

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The Henry Fawcett Memorial, Embankment Gardens

WHAT: Henry Fawcett Memorial

WHERE: Victoria Embankment Gardens (map)

BY WHOM: Mary Grant

WHEN: 1886

There are numerous late Victorian statues and memorials in Embankment Gardens, the very pretty public park that occupies the land reclaimed from the Thames by Bazalgette that lies between the Adelphi and the river.

Walking through there recently (admiring the extraordinary beds of tulips) I was intrigued by the memorial to Henry Fawcett because a) the subject is obviously blind and b) it is inscribed “erected … by his grateful countrywomen”.

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The Statue of General Wolfe, Greenwich Park

WHAT: Statue of James Wolfe

WHERE: The Royal Observatory, Greenwich (map)

BY WHOM: Robert Tait McKenzie

WHEN: 1930

From the statue of James Wolfe, next to Wren’s Royal Observatory up the hill in Greenwich Park, the whole of London seems to stretch before you. Down in front of you is Inigo Jones’s Queens’ House (‘the first classical building in England’), then the Old Royal Naval College running down to the river. Across the water are the myriad towers of Canary Wharf which, if you compare with the scene from this 1996 BBC2 short presented by Jools Holland, has grown beyond all measure over the past 25 years.

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The South Bank Lion

For the past several months I’ve been taking groups of cruise passengers on a Winston Churchill tour – five days encompassing Chartwell, Bletchley, Blenheim, the Cabinet War Rooms and various spots in London. 

They stay at the Marriott County Hall (the former home of the London County and Greater London Councils) and, each morning, climb onto a coach just on the south side of Westminster Bridge, dropping off at the same spot each evening.

The stop is slap bang next to the magnificent fellow seen above, the South Bank Lion, since 1981 a grade II* listed monument, but with a history stretching back nearly 200 years.

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No Pasaran! The Jubilee Gardens Memorial

no pasaran the international brigades memorial in jubilee gardens london

The British and other foreign fighters travelling to Ukraine to resist Putin’s invasion are an echo of 85 years ago, some 35,000 non-Spaniards (2,500 from Britain) joined the ‘International Brigades’ to go to Spain to fight for the Republican forces against Franco’s Nationalist rebels in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).

Some 50 years later, in October 1985, a memorial to the British members of the International Brigade was unveiled in Jubilee Gardens on the South Bank by the then Labour Party leader Michael Foot.

Called ‘No Pasaran’ (“they shall not pass”, the call to arms in a speech at the start of the Battle of Madrid in 1936) it is a bronze by the sculptor Ian Walter. On one face of the plinth is an inscription honouring “The 2100 men and women who left … to fight side by side with the Spanish people” (526 of these were killed) and on another  “they went because their open eyes could see no other way”, and adaption of a line from Cecil Day Lewis’s poem ‘The Volunteer’. 

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The statue of William IV, Greenwich

WHAT: Statue of William IV

WHERE: Greenwich Park (map)

BY WHOM: Samuel Nixon

WHEN: 1844

Poor old William IV. The last of the Hanoverian kings of Britain, he is all but forgotten today, succeeded as he was by his niece Victoria (whose name is virtually a synonym for the entire 19th century), and preceded by his brother, the rakish, obscenely extravagant George IV (who gave us the Regency).

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