Following on from last week’s post, we look at a couple more London memorials to The Bard, playwright William Shakespeare…
• Leicester Square: Returned to the West End square last year following its restoration (and the square’s redevelopment), this statue of Shakespeare – claimed to be the only outdoor one in London – was designed by architect John Knowles in 1874 when the square was constructed. Now Grade II-listed, it depicts Shakespeare leaning on a pedestal, pointing to a scroll which reads “There is no darkness but ignorance”, a quote from Twelfth Night. An inscription on the plinth upon which Shakespeare stands, refers to the laying out of the square by Albert Grant and doesn’t mention the playwright at all. The statue stands in the middle of a fountain, upgraded as part of the recent overhaul of the site. PICTURE: Carcharoth/Wikipedia.
• Primrose Hill: Shakespeare’s Tree on Primrose Hill was originally planted in April, 1864, to mark the 300th anniversary of his birth. An estimated 100,000 people marched to the site to watch the tree planting by poet Eliza Cooke and actor Samuel Phelps which was organised by the Workingmen’s Shakespeare Committee – apparently in response to the lacklustre efforts of a government-backed committee to mark the anniversary. The tree stood for 100 years before it died and was replaced with an oak sapling planted in 1964 actress Dame Edith Evans. A plaque which was attached to the tree detailing when it was planted has long since gone but there is talk of some sort of a permanent new memorial on the site.
There are other numerous places in London where Shakespeare – and his works – are remembered in London. One of our favourites is based in Love Lane and recalls the work of John Heminge and Henry Condell is getting Shakespeare’s works out to the world (for more on this, see our previous post here).
In our final post in this series next week, we take a look at some of the key London locations mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays.
For the last in our series of curious London memorials, we’re looking at one which isn’t quite what it seems.
At first glance, the granite plinth topped by a bronze bust of William Shakespeare which stands in gardens at the junction of Love Lane and Aldermanbury in the City, looks like yet another tribute to the Bard.
But take a closer look and you’ll read that the inscriptions in fact refer to John Heminge and Henry Condell, two actors and friends of the Bard, who were responsible for collecting his works and giving them “to the world”.
The two men were partners with Shakespeare at the Globe and it was they who were behind the publication of his First Folio in 1623. They were both buried here in what was formerly the churchyard of St Mary Aldermanbury (first destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and then again in the Blitz although the surviving walls were later rebuilt in the US – more on that another time), Heminge on 12th October, 1630, and Condell on 29th December, 1627.
It’s worth quoting the inscription on the memorial – and there is a lot of it – at greater length. “The fame of Shakespeare,” it reads, “rests on his incomparable dramas. There is no evidence that he ever intended to publish them and his premature death in 1616 made this the interest of no-one else. Heminge and Condell had been co-partners with him in the Globe Theatre Southwark and from the accumulated plays there of thirty-five years with great labour selected them. No men living were so competent having acted with him in them for many years and well knowing his manuscripts. They were published in 1623 in folio, thus giving away their private rights therein. What they did was priceless, for the whole of his manuscripts with almost all those of the dramas of the period have perished.”
The memorial was erected by Charles Clement Walker, of Shropshire, in 1896. Walker, who has his own memorial in Northampton Square in Clerkenwell, was a Justice of the Peace for the counties of Salop and Stafford and a native of the parish of Clerkenwell.
The bronze bust of Shakespeare was by Charles Allen.