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London’s unusual statues and sculptures
Image Credit: Mary Seacole Statue in Guy's and St. Thomas' Hospital Garden

London’s unusual statues and sculptures

12 December 2017 Katie Da Cunha Lewin

London may be famous for many landmarks, but there are tonnes of weird and wonderful sculptures across the capital that are a must see for anyone who wants to experience the history of the city a bit differently.

There are clearly lots of historical monuments in London, from Nelson’s column to Winston Churchill, as well as various large figurative war memorials. However, there are also lots of statues that commemorate other kinds of lesser-known history. Just next to Bow church, is a statue of Prime Minister Gladstone. Though a statue of a PM is not necessarily unusual, the history of this particular statue is: the statue was erected by Thomas Bryant in 1882, a local Liberal and the director of a matchstick factory. His workers had recently been on strike, and believed their lost wages had been used to buy the statue. Many of the sellers were young women, who, legend has it, turned up to the event with cuts on their hands, and bloodied the hands of the statue. Ever since, the statue has had its hands painted red to represent this act of protest by these young women.  

The Alfred Salter sculpture, situated right next to the river in Bermondsey, is unusual in that it’s comprised of four separate individual pieces. Named ‘Dr Salter’s Daydream’, a statue of a Salter sits on a bench, whilst he waves to his wife Ada, daughter Joyce and family cat. Alfred and Ada worked tirelessly in Bermondsey to help fight poverty and give medical attendance to the needy.  This multi-sculpture monument is to their dedication to Bermondsey, as well as marking the tragedy that affected their lives; the early death of their beloved daughter. Though there are many moving statues in London, there is something very tender about this one, particularly the addition of the cat, so that this feels like a happy family moment.

Statues commemorating historical events or persons are more often than not of men, however, there are several statues in London that celebrate the achievements of women.  Margaret McDonald, for example, has a bronze statue in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. McDonald was a feminist and social reformer, who did lots of work with children and young people.  Though she died in her 40s, this statue commemorates that work through a statue that sits proudly in a famously political part of London.  A recent statue unveiled at Guys and St Thomas’ hospital 2016 is also worth visiting as it is the first in the UK commemorating a black woman.  Born in 1805 and originally from Jamaica, Mary Seacole was a nurse in during the Crimerian War, whose tireless work and compassion made her famous in her day, and a well-known historical figure ever since.  Though it may have taken her a long time to be publically remembered, the statue takes on a more poignant meaning in the context of the NHS today, reminding us of the importance of compassion and care.

Sculptor Henry Moore is often thought of as the father of postmodern sculpture, producing an astonishing amount of work in his lifetime. There are several of his sculptures situated across London, in parks and outside of various buildings.  There is, for example, an amazing example of his work in Kensington Gardens called ‘The Arch’. Made of travertine marble, this enormous arching shape shows Moore’s interest in shapes that looks simultaneously human and other. The Henry Moore Foundation even has an interactive map on their website where you can find out where there are Moore statues in London, as well as all over the world. 

Anthony Gormley’s unusual ‘Quantum Cloud’ sits near the Millennium Dome. The striking piece was commissioned specifically for the site, and completed in 1999, where it still sits to this day.   Gormley has several other pieces in the Quantum Cloud series, exploring the idea of human consciousness and the body, but this work takes on another quality in its display outside, asking about the barriers between ourselves and the world. There is also a rather unusual sculpture which is also a water fountain on the South Bank: Klaus Weber created a stone sculpture, made up of stone, from which comes a head that looks like a man vomiting.  Entitled ‘The Big Giving’ it poses questions about recycling, disgust and public behaviour.

There are plenty more strange statues in London, tell us your strange sculpture or statue recommendations in the comments below!

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