10 curious London memorials recapped (and vote for the one that most moves you)…

We’re kicking off a new special series next Wednesday but in the meantime we thought we’d recap our latest series – 10 (more) curious London memorials, and the previous series, 10 curious London memorials…

So, first for the 10 (more) curious London memorials list…

10. Memorial to 16th century navigators…

9. The Speke Monument…

8. The SOE Memorial…

7. D’Oyly Carte Memorial…

6. 7 July Memorial…

5. National Police Memorial…

4. ‘People of London’ Memorial…

3. William Wallace Memorial…

2. Animals in War Memorial…

1. Kindertransport memorial…

And, for the first curious London memorials list, which we ran way back in 2011…

10. The Bard or not The Bard?

9. The Golden Boy of Pye Corner

8. Edith Cavell Memorial

7. Tower Hill scaffold memorial

6. The Buxton Memorial Fountain

5. Eros (or the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain)

4. The Suffragette Memorial

3. Charing Cross

2. The Albert Memorial

1. Watt’s Memorial in Postman’s Park

Hope you’ve enjoyed them. We look forward to bringing you our next series from next Wednesday…

10 (more) curious London memorials…10. Memorial to 16th century navigators…


In the final of our series looking at London memorial, we head out to Shadwell in the city’s east where on the bank of the Thames, we find a memorial tablet dedicated to a group of 16th century navigators who set sail from near this point.

Located in Edward VII Memorial Park, the tablet can be found – rather oddly – on the landward side of the Wapping cupola, built to disguise a ventilation shaft and spiral staircase for the Rotherhithe road tunnel which opened in 1908 (the road is the A101). The cupola has a twin on the other side of the river in Rotherhithe.

Erected in 1922, the memorial specifically names arctic explorers Sir Hugh Willoughby, Stephen Borough, William Borough, and Sir Martin Frobisher but then goes on to state that it is also dedicated to the “other navigators who, in the latter half of the sixteenth century, set sail from this reach of the River Thames near Ratcliff Cross to explore the Northern Seas.”

Sir Hugh and his crew died while on an expedition in 1553 after becoming separated from the other ships on the expedition (Stephen Borough, master of one of the other ships, survived that expedition) while Sir Martin Frobisher made several unsuccessful attempts to find the North West passage in the late 1500s.

Ratcliffe Cross was a point on the northern bank of the river located just to the east of the park at the top of Ratcliffe Stairs and was an important navigation point for Thames watermen.

10 (more) curious London memorials…9. The Speke Monument…

Speke-MonumentWhile thousands walk past this obelisk in Kensington Gardens each day, few probably realise it commemorates the life of John Hanning Speke, a Victorian-era explorer who discovered Lake Victoria in East Africa and named its northern outflow as the source of the Nile.

The red granite monument, designed by Philip Hardwicke and made from stone quarried in Scotland, was paid for by public donations and sponsored by Sir Roderick Murchison, president of the Royal Geographic Society which had paid for two of Speke’s expeditions. It was installed in 1866 and is located near the junction of Lancaster Walk and Budges Walk.

Speke, who had been on several expeditions in Africa, had only died at the age of 37 two years before in relatively controversial circumstances. He was shot by his own gun only the day before he was to participate in a debate with another explorer, Sir Richard Burton, about the source of the River Nile (Speke claimed the source of the Nile was Rippon Falls which flowed out of Lake Victoria; Sir Richard disputed this claim – it was later proven correct). Some have claimed Speke’s death to be suicide; others that it was an accident.

The monument itself was circumspect with regard to Speke’s success – it didn’t directly credit him as being the discoverer of the river’s source. This was rectified in 1995 when a plaque giving credit where it was due was placed on the ground in front of the monument by the Friends of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

10 (more) curious London memorials…8. The SOE Memorial…

SOE-bigTucked away on Albert Embankment just to the north of Lambeth Bridge, this moving memorial was only unveiled in 2009 and formally honours the under-cover agents who worked for the Allies behind enemy lines during World War II.

The plinth is topped with a larger-than-life bust of Londoner Violette Szabo, sculpted by London artist Karen Newman. Szabo, who here gazes out across the Thames, was tortured and executed after being captured by the Germans while on a mission behind enemy lines following the D-Day landings.

SOEThe daughter of a French mother and English father, Szabo grew up in South London and, when World War II broke out in 1939, volunteered to work as an undercover operative in France as member of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).

She had successfully completed one mission and had returned to France for a second when she was discovered and sent to a prison camp where she was unsuccessfully tortured for information.

Posthumously awarded the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre, a plaque on the memorial says she was among the 117 SOE agents who did not survive their missions to France. As many as 407 SOE agents were sent on “sabotage missions” to occupied France to fight with the French resistance.

Surprisingly, this SOE Memorial was apparently the first public memorial to honour the work of the unit. Formed on the orders of PM Sir Winston Churchill, it consisted of agents from various countries who were devoted to the Allied cause. Its feats included a raid which destroyed a factory in the Telemark region of Norway where the Germans were trying to produce heavy water which is used in the creation of atomic bombs – an operation which receives a special mention on the memorial.

The memorial was officially unveiled by the Duke of Wellington on 4th October, 2009. One of the plaques on it states that the monument “is in honour of all the courageous S.O.E. Agents: those who did survive and those who did not survive their perilous missions”. “Their services were beyond the call of duty. In the pages of history their names are carved with pride.” Enough said.

For more on the history of women serving in the SOE, see Squadron Leader Beryl E Escott’s book The Heroines of SOE: F Section: Britain’s Secret Women in France.

10 (more) curious London memorials…7. D’Oyly Carte Memorial…

DOyly-CarteThis strange looking globe standing in Victoria Embankment Gardens just off Savoy Place may appear just another random piece of street art but in fact it’s a memorial to a man and his family who established the hotel now housed nearby.

Theatre impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte is known for having formed his own opera company – the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, it was known for staging Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Savoy operas’ –  and for having founded the Savoy Hotel, which stands across the road from the memorial’s location.

The memorial, which was placed here in 1989 to mark the hotel’s centenary, takes the form of an armillary sphere – a model of objects circling the earth – standing in the middle of a cistern.

The inscription accompanying the memorial states that it honors not only Richard D’Oyly Carte but also others – including members of his family – who have since been involved in the hotel’s management. There’s also a note on the rim of the cistern, stating that the garden was “given to London by the Savoy in celebration of its centenary” while inscribed on the armillary sphere’s rings are the words “Savoy Centenary 1989, ‘For excellence we strive.'” and a line from dramatist WS Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) – “Every season has its cheer, life is lovely all the year”.

10 (more) curious London memorials…6. 7 July Memorial…


It’s not immediately obvious what this series of upright stainless steel pillars standing on the eastern edge of Hyde Park has been placed there for.

But look a little closer and you’ll see inscribed upon a date which any long-term Londoner immediately recognises – 7th July, 2005: the day when a series of bombs claimed 52 lives on three trains and a bus at various locations around central London.

The memorial, designed by architects Carmody Groarke and engineering team Arup working in consultation with victims’ representatives, Royal Parks and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, consists of 52 pillars – one for each victim of the bombings.

The 3.5 metre high, 850 kilogram pillars are clustered together in four groups representing the four locations of the bomb attacks – Tavistock Square, Edgware Road, King’s Cross and Aldgate. They are marked with the times, dates and locations of the bombings and there’s also a 1.4 tonne stainless steel plaque upon which are written the names of the victims located nearby.

The RIBA award-winning memorial, which is located just to the north of the colossal statue Achilles and Hyde Park Corner, was unveiled by Prince Charles and Lady Camilla on the fourth anniversary of the attack in 2009.

For more, see the Royal Parks website www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/hyde-park-attractions/7-july-memorial.

10 (more) curious London memorials…5. National Police Memorial…


The unobtrusive box-like structure and adjacent glass pillar located on the corner of The Mall and Horse Guards Road in Whitehall is another memorial that is easy to overlook.

Unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II in 2005, it commemorates the 4,000 police officers who have been killed in the course of their duty in the UK and was commissioned by the Police Memorial Trust.

Police-Memorial-TrustThe trust was formed in the mid-1980s by the late film director Michael Winner following the shooting death of WPC Yvonne Fletcher, who was killed while policing a protest outside the Libyan Embassy in St James’s Square on 17th April, 1984.

The Trust ensured an individual memorial to WPC Fletcher now marked the spot of her death and was followed by further memorials to individual police officers before the trust began a campaign for a larger, national memorial in the mid-1990s.

As much as £2.3 million was raised from the public for the memorial which was designed by architectural firm Foster + Partners.

The memorial, which won a RIBA award, consists of a black granite clad wall with a glass chamber set into its face, inside which is a Book of Remembrance listing the names of all UK police officers killed in the course of duty (the pages of the book are apparently turned every two weeks). Above the chamber is carved the Metropolitan Police Crest.

The tall glass pillar which stands nearby in a reflecting pool was designed to pay homage to the blue lamps that once burned outside police stations.

For more on other police memorials in the UK, see www.policememorial.org.uk.

10 (more) curious London memorials…4. ‘People of London’ Memorial…


Amid all the grand war-related memorials of London, this rather humble memorial sitting outside the north transept of St Paul’s Cathedral in St Paul’s Churchyard can easily be overlooked. 

Known as the Memorial to the Londoners killed in World War II Bombardments or simply as the ‘People of London’ memorial as it’s called on the sculptor’s website, it commemorates the 30,000 Londoners who were killed during the Blitz  (not to be confused with the National Firefighters’ Memorial, known informally to many as the Blitz Memorial, which sits opposite the cathedral’s south transept and commemorates firefighters who died during the Blitz).

People-of-London---smallThe round memorial was carved from a three tonne block of Irish limestone and is set into paving (it was initially very shiny).

The gilded inscription which runs around the outside reads “Remember before God the people of London 1939-1945” while on top, written in a spiral, is an inscription written by Sir Edward Marsh – “In war resolution, in defeat defiance, in victory magnanimity, in peace goodwill”, the text of which was used by Sir Winston Churchill in the frontispiece to his history, The Second World War.

Unveiled by the Queen Mother on 11th May, 1999, the memorial is the work of Richard Kindersley, whose other memorials include the Commonwealth Memorial on Constitution Hill.

Kindersley writes on his website, that the “position of the memorial adjacent to St Paul’s is most appropriate, as most people will remember the dramatic photograph of the Cathedral dome of the taken during a devastating attack in 1941.”

It was paid for by public funds raised following an appeal in the Evening Standard newspaper, launched in connection with the 50th anniversary of VE Day.

10 (more) curious London memorials…3. William Wallace Memorial…

William-Wallace-memorialHe was captured in Scotland but it was actually at Smithfield in London that the Scottish leader, Sir William Wallace, was put to death on 23rd August, 1305.

Erected in 1956 by “Scots and friends at home and abroad”, a plaque located on the wall of St Bartholomew’s Hospital overlooking the former execution ground commemorates the “Scottish patriot” Wallace, saying that from the year 1296 “fought dauntlessly in defence of his country’s liberty and independence in the face of fearful odds and great hardship”. It goes on to note that he was “eventually betrayed”, captured and executed “near this spot”.

Elsewhere the memorial reads: “His example, heroism and devotion inspired those who came after him to win victory from defeat and his memory remains for all time a source of pride, honour and inspiration to his countrymen”.

Having co-led the Scottish to victory against the army of King Edward I at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, Wallace was later knighted for his efforts and subsequently served as a Guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland.

Following his defeat at English hands in the Battle of Falkirk in 1298, he escaped and continued to evade capture until he was apprehended near Glasgow in August 1305. Brought to London where he was put on trial in Westminster Hall. Summarily found guilty of treason, he was stripped naked and dragged to Smithfield and it was there that he suffered the horrible death of being hung, drawn and quartered.

And while the 1995 movie, Braveheart, had Wallace crying out “Freedom” as he died, his last words are actually not recorded. His tarred head was subsequently displayed on a pike atop London Bridge while his limbs were sent to towns including Stirling in Scotland.

10 (more) curious London memorials…2. Animals in War Memorial…


This week we take a look at another of London’s war-related memorials but unlike the vast majority, this one, as its name says, commemorates animals, not humans.

Located in the middle of Park Lane near the intersection with Upper Brook Street on the eastern side of Hyde Park, the memorial is dedicated “to all the animals that served and died alongside British and Allied Forces in wars and campaigns throughout time”. Another inscription on the memorial reads “They had no choice”.

A further dedication at the memorial pays tribute to the “millions” of animals who have died in wars. “From the pigeon to the elephant, they all played a vital role in every region of the world in the cause of human freedom,” it says. “Their contribution must never be forgotten.” It’s been said that as many as eight million horses were killed in World War I alone.

It features a couple of bronze pack mules making their way through a gap in a curved, 58 foot wide Portland stone wall – themselves carrying reliefs of various animals including an elephant, horses, camels and pigeons – while on the other side is a bronze horse and a dog, looking ahead.

The memorial is the work of Somerset-based sculptor David Backhouse and was unveiled by Princess Anne in November 2004, the 90th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. It was apparently inspired by Jilly Cooper’s book, Animals in War, and commissioned by the Imperial War Museum. It was paid for by £2 million in public donations.

For more, check out www.animalsinwar.org.uk.

10 (more) curious London memorials…1. Kindertransport memorial

KindertransportWay back in 2011 we ran a series looking at some of London’s most curious memorials. We’ve decided to revisit that theme in our new special series.

To kick it off, we’re taking a look at a group memorial found just outside Liverpool Street Station and dedicated to the thousands of Jewish children who arrived in the UK as refugees over nine months in 1938 and 1939, having fled the Nazis in Europe after the anti-Semitic attacks of the Kristallnacht.

Called Kindertransport – The Arrival, the group of bronze statues representing children with their luggage having just stepped off a train at the station were unveiled in 2006 in Hope Square. A short stretch of railway tracks lays behind them.

The memorial is the work of Frank Meisler – himself a child who travelled on a Kindertransport train from Danzig – and bears an inscription: “Children of the Kindertransport. In gratitude to the people of Britain for saving the lives of 10,000 unaccompanied mainly Jewish children who fled from Nazi persecution in 1938 and 1939. ‘Whosoever rescues a single soul is credited as though they had saved the whole world.’ Talmud.”  It is dedicated by the Association of Jewish Refugees and the Central British Fund for Jewish World Relief.

Around the statue group are a series of blocks upon which is inscribed the names of the cities from which the children fled. They include the cities of Cologne, Hanover, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Munich, Danzig, Breslau, Prague, Hamburg, Leipzig, Berlin and Vienna along with others.

The statue is one of four, all created by Meisler, which have been erected along the route the children took to reach safety. Others can be found at the main railway station Gdansk in Poland, Friedrichstraße railway station in Berlin, and another in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Hope Square also contains another plaque which dedicates the square to the children of the Kinderstransport “who found hope and safety in Britain through the gateway of Liverpool Street Station”.

In late June, an event was held in the St James’s Palace to mark the 75th anniversary of the Kindertransport.