Parliament Square

 


The stone figures in Trafalgar Square and down Whitehall are mostly little-known military men and Kings who are probably better forgotten. In contrast, those in Parliament Square are more recent, better known, often more lifelike and fresher in our collective memory. I have to start with....

Churchill (of course) 

Winnie was voted Britain’s greatest man in a 2002 BBC poll . Hmm. Maybe. While people at the time acknowledged his talents as a leader in wartime, They were sceptical about whether his views and character would suit the peace thereafter. As soon as the war was over he called an election, which he lost in a landslide to Clement Attlee' s progressive and reforming government.

In this politically correct world it is inevitable that he scores black marks, He was a reactionary and a racist, but at the time many were. Not modest either, he is where he is because that is the spot where, in life, he dictated where his statue should be and it isn’t the original which was thought to make him too much like Mussolini. Now, I think he looks like another sworn enemy of humanity, Dr Who’s adversary, the cyberman Sontar. [I reckon that Attlee also deserves a prominent statue, but he was far to think himself entitled to one!]

Sontar the Cyberman

Amazingly, although revered, he only has a single proper and very nice pub named for him in London, in Kensington Church Street. Churchill that is, not Sontar. 

David Lloyd George

Heading anti-clockwise, you see Lloyd George, known as the Welsh Wizard a long time before Gareth Bale turned up. Maybe that is why he is depicted as an elderly Harry Potter.  

He was a funny, charming man who did well as Britain’s PM during and after the First World War. Unlike most of his predecessors he had a modest start in life with no aristocratic forbears or fancy education. At his school in Llanystumdwy the first lesson was presumably pronunciation. This might explain why he kicked off what Attlee's government later turned into the Welfare State. When he died, Churchill opined that ‘when the English history of the first quarter of the twentieth century is written, it will be seen that the greater part of our fortunes in peace and in war were shaped by this one man’.  

Lloyd George

His star has dimmed since, not least because his judgement faded in his later years and the womanising of 'the goat' and his duplicity of  were scandalous even then; putting even Boris Johnson’s exploits in the shade. My suspicion is that a lot of contemporary accusations of political (not personal) corruption such as selling peerages came from stone throwers in glass houses. In fact, both parties indulged in it, starting a tradition that has endured. 

No pubs for David or, for that matter, almost anything else. Odd. 

 Jan Smuts.  

An interloper whose presence might surprise you, even if you know who he is. Smuts led the South African Boers against the British in the Boer war and at one stage interrogated young Winston Churchill who had been captured. That can't have involved electrodes and the rack half a a century later, when World War Two kicked off, he was a supportive ally to the extent that it was proposed that, should Churchill be incapacitated during the war, he would take over as Prime Minister. His presence here, seemingly roller skating, was instigated by Churchill. so . In fact the two got along well, with Churchill saying that ‘Smuts and I are like two old lovebirds moulting together on a perch, but still able to peck’. 

Smuts

He was an active supporter of apartheid and although he was far from being the worst of them, it is unsurprising that his is countrymen were not so forgiving an renamed the eponymous airport in Johannesburg. 

Palmerston

Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, Pam to many, was a patriotic and jingoistic imperialist who  was undoubtedly a political star and an effective albeit unclean PM. 

At the outset of his career, he tried unsuccessfully to bribe his way into getting a seat as an MP, something he only achieved later when he wrangled the right to represent the ‘pocket borough’ of Newport on the Isle of Wight, achieved on condition that he never went there.    

Palmerston

While he seems to have done a good job in juggling the European balls, most of the bad things you associate with the Empire seem to have had his imprint and it doesn’t help to know that he objected to voting reform and evicted several thousand of the tenants on his Irish estates during the potato famine.  

He anticipated Lloyd George and Boris, as a bit of a lady's man. ‘Lord Cupid’ they called him and legend has it that he died at 80, ‘on the job’ with a maid on his billiards table.  He does look the part, doesn’t he? I particularly like the way that the colour of his coat matches the pigeon on his head. 

 He scores three London pub and the resident cat in the Foreign Office is still named after him.

 Edward Smith-Stanley. The 14th Earl of Derby. 

Who? Never heard of him? OK, me too. Why is he here? Well, in his own time, he was another big cheese who had three spells as Prime Minister, albeit short-lived and never enjoying a parliamentary majority. He wasn’t an energetic PM but a good speaker who introduced useful positive constitutional reforms and by all accounts quite an expert on the gee-gees.  

Derby

My photo of Derby was (like most) rubbish, so this one comes from a contemporary newspaper. Great whiskers! 

 familiar story, proper toff, aristocrat by birth, Eton, Oxford etc.. He too gets the accolade of a pub named for him on the Kilburn High Road and another in Peckham, obviously in his guise as Earl of Derby. Only an idiot or Council architect would call a pub the Edward Smith-Stanley.  To me, that seems enough. Unmemorable statue for a worthy but unmemorable bloke. Take note, John Major. 

Benjamin Disraeli / Earl Beaconsfield

Few people will have heard of Earl Beaconsfield but many will know of his alter ego Benjamin Disraeli, an ethnically Jewish but Christian conservative who had two spells as Prime Minister in Victoria’s reign. In his own words he attained Big Cheesedom by ‘climbing the greasy pole’ and played a huge role in fractious European politics and implementing a series of socially positive reforms. (The rapping poet from Brighton is Dizraeli. Don’t confuse the two).

Disraeli

In a friendly mood, you might see him as a pragmatic democrat and what is now sometimes called a ‘one nation conservative, a label he invented, rather than a cynical opportunist. All the while he was writing a series of novels, several of which were very popular in his own time. He combined ambition with a tendency to leak money so probably needed the sales Judging by 'Goodreads' stats suggest that his books are still far more widely read than Liz Truss' !. 

In an unfriendly mood, he looks to me rather like another Doctor Who villain, The Master. 

The Master 

Disraeli's great political rival was the liberal Gladstone who only merits a statue on the Strand. Once again being a Tory gets you the high seat. But at least Gladstone wins hands down on pub names, two-nil in London alone, and is remembered in a park as well.  

Millicent Fawcett

Next up is a woman! A woman! The first woman in this series and it took until 2018 to recognise that they hold up half the sky. Millicent Fawcett was a prominent campaigner for women's right to vote. Her fellow 'suffragette'  Emmeline Pankhurst is probably better known but was not preferred because of her more rumbustious tactics and frequent imprisonment.  

Millicent Fawcett 

What exactly does 'courage calls to courage everywhere' mean exactly? Unsurprisingly, no pubs. But Google did honour her 171st birthday with a doodle. 

Lincoln, Gandhi & Mandela  

Next up is a select bunch of post-colonial superstars. Aren’t we an open-minded lot! I bet Paris doesn’t have a statue of Ahmed Ben Bella! You know them all, so no extended pen pics here. But the statues of the first two are great, eschewing the grandiosity and pomposity that seemed to be de rigueur in much of the earlier stuff. Tussaud's eat you heart out.  

Lincoln 

Gandhi

Mandela

The paths of Churchill and Gandhi crossed. Did you know that Gandhi studied law in England for three years while living in Bromley by Bow? He must have dressed differently then! Later, Churchill declared himself to be alarmed and nauseated “to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Viceregal palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor.” Troubling, and it tells you a lot about both of them

I love Mandel's shirts and worry about Gandhi's knees. Have you ever seen a pair quite like them? 

In truth, Churchill had dangerously little knowledge of India His views on the politics of it all never really changed, but he did later develop more regard for Gandhi and his principles and expressed a desire to visit India one day. I can picture him now, on a beach in Goa with a spliff the size of one of his cigars.  

Again, unsurprisingly, there are no pubs named after them, but there are roads and even a 'Peace University' named for Mandela. It appears to be based over a shop in Alperton. 

After this, we go back to the Victorian and earlier (Tory) Prime Ministers of whom many ask ‘who?’.  

Canning  

Canning

Poor George. Until recently he was a record holder as the shortest ever serving Prime Minister. Then Liz Truss blew him out of the water. Unlike Liz, he had a decent excuse. He died. Before all that he had been a highly regarded foreign secretary, a patriotic and nationalist 'Irishman born in London' who thought that the best thing to do in Europe was to interfere a lot.  

Not all his decisions were wise. For instance, he must have opted for his outfit here. which might look OK on a Roman senator or even Gandhi, but on him looks ridiculous. Worse still, after a long running disagreement he accepted a challenge to a duel with another Minister, Lord  Castlereagh. The problem was that he had never fired a gun in his life, and Castlereagh was a good shot. Canning missed by a mile. It ran to form and Canning limped away with a bullet in his thigh. 

What Ho! This is Isaac Cruickshank's Cartoon of the affair from 1809

Canning scores  a London ‘gentleman’s club’, an Australian river and an entire neighbourhood in Liverpool, where I doubt he would have survived long in the outfit he is wearing here. And a pub; in that respect at least he beat Castlereagh.

Peel   

This isn’t the John Peel who ‘ye ken with his coat so gay’, but Sir Robert Peel, the founder of our universally adored Met police and the reason why they do not look like soldiers or carry guns. Instead, he saw them equipped with a nice blue coat and top hat, a rattle and the truncheon. They still use the latter of course. Maybe they should bring back the hat? 

Beyond that he was a big hitter and free-marketeer who founded the Conservative party from Tory ruins and was Prime Minister twice. His record is notable for several reverse-ferrets and his decision to impose an income tax in peacetime. 3%! Those were the days. 

Peel 

He scores two pubs, one in the City and the other in Kentish Town, plus others in less important parts of the country.   

While you here, spare a glance for the seldom noticed buildings behind the square. (Everyone else will be pointing there camera's the other way). Ignore the one on the right which is not shy about telling you that it is HQ for the real estate illuminati who are strangely influential in this country, but rather the gorgeous building on the left. 

This was once the Guildhall for the lost County of Middlesex, devoured by London years ago. It is the home of our Supreme Court. If you want to know how the County lived and died, see my post here: Middlesex

I am sure you will agree with the description of the design by the doyen of critics as an 'interpretation of Gothic, with an almost art nouveau flavour' or, failing that, by National Heritage as 'neo-Gothic with Flemish-Burgundian references'. But while we are nurturing our inner Goth, do admire the front fa├žade, shown in the pic below. Great carvings. Anywhere else, it would be a stand-out. Hot tip, in old London, lift your eyes from street level and look up. The tops of the buildings are often the oddest and most ornate. 






 



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