10 Historic London Garden Squares…2. Parliament Square

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.

David-Lloyd-GeorgeThe 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.

For more on London’s statues, see Peter Matthews’ London’s Statues and Monuments.

Curious London memorials – 6. The Buxton Memorial Fountain

Standing in Victoria Tower Gardens at the southern end of the Houses of Parliament, not far from more high profile monuments such as Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais, is a memorial to those who fought for the emancipation of slaves.

The gothic memorial, designed by Samuel Sanders Tuelon, was erected in 1865 by MP Charles Buxton to commemorate the work of his father, Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton and his associates including William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Zachary Macaulay, Henry Brougham, and Dr Stephen Lushington – all of whom played important roles in the eventual passing of the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act.

Sir Thomas, a founding member of the Anti-Slavery Society along with Wilberforce and Clarkson, took over as leader of the abolitionist movement in parliament after Wilberforce retired in 1825.

The memorial, which looks a little like a smaller version of the Albert Memorial (without the figure within) and is actually a public drinking fountain, was originally erected in Parliament Square but was removed in 1949 and placed in its current location in 1957, marking the 150th anniversary of the 1807 Act which abolished the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The memorial originally bore eight statues representing the rulers of Britain from the Roman era to Queen Victoria but these were long since stolen. It as restored by Royal Parks in the mid-Noughties and unveiled again on the 27th March, 2007, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the same act.

PICTURE: © Giles Barnard