Standing on the edge of Parliament Square opposite the UK’s home of government, this statue of the 16th US President was erected to mark the friendship between Britain and the United States of America.
The statue was proposed by the American Committee for the Celebration of the Hundredth Anniversary of Peace Among English Speaking Peoples to commemorate the centenary of the end of conflict between the two nations in 1915.
But World War I broke out and so it wasn’t until July, 1920 that this statue, a replica of a statue Auguste Saint-Gauden made for the city of Chicago and now Grade II-listed in its own right, was formally presented to then UK Prime Minister David Lloyd George by the US Ambassador and subsequently unveiled by Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught.
The 12 foot high, larger than life, monument – which includes a granite plinth – depicts Lincoln wearing a frock coat standing in front of his Grecian chair and about to give a speech. The original was completed in 1887 and was unveiled in Chicago’s Lincoln Park with Abraham Lincoln II, grandson of the President, in attendance as well as a crowd of some 10,000.
Interestingly, the UK wasn’t the only nation given a copy of the statue – a replica was also given to Mexico in 1964 and now stands in the Parque Lincoln in Mexico City.
There is also a replica at Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Illinois and in 2016, a newly cast replica of the statue was installed at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site – the former home and studio of the sculptor – in Cornish, New Hampshire. There are also numerous smaller replicas including a bust which is sometimes displayed in the Oval Office in the White House.
Located in one of the most prominent sites in London, Parliament Square is these days perhaps best known as a protest site for those wanting to attract Parliament’s eye. And while, unlike say, Trafalgar Square, many visitors to London may not know its name, its proximity to the Houses of Parliament, Whitehall, Westminster Bridge and Westminster Abbey means it’s rarely off anyone’s tourist agenda.
The history of the square goes back to 1868 when architect Sir Charles Barry (responsible for the design of the Houses of Parliament) designed a square to improve traffic flow in the area (and demolished many buildings – apparently the area was a slum – in the process).
The roads around the square featured London’s first traffic signals (it used semaphore arms rather than lights and was installed at the meeting of Great George and Bridge Streets) and in addition the square was originally the location for the Buxton Memorial Fountain which moved to its present position in Victoria Tower Gardens in 1940 (see our earlier post on the fountain here). In 1950, the entire square was redesigned by architect George Grey Wornum.
The square is home to a plethora of statues including former PMs Sir Winston Churchill, a relatively recent statue of David Lloyd George (pictured), Sir Robert Peel (also the founder of the Metropolitan Police Force – see our earlier post here), Benjamin Disraeli, the Earl of Derby and Lord Palmerston as well as South African PM Jan Christian Smuts and, (if you count the space in front of Middlesex Guildhall), US President Abraham Lincoln (a replica of a statue in Lincoln Park, Chicago) and former Foreign Secretary and PM George Canning. Among the last statues added was a nine foot high bronze figure of Nelson Mandela which was placed in the square in 2007 after an unsuccessful push to have it located in Trafalgar Square.
Among the most high profile of protests to have been held there is that of the late peace campaigner Brian Haw who camped on the square for 10 years until 2010. Among the most recent protests this year has been a colourful demonstration by beekeepers, calling for a ban on pesticides.