News recently that Parliament Square has its first female statue (more about that in an upcoming post) so we thought it timely to consider London’s oldest statue of a female.
It’s actually of a queen – Elizabeth I – and can be found on the facade of the Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West on Fleet Street in the City of London (also home to a rather famous clock).
Believed to have been made in 1586, the statue is said to be the work of one William Kerwin and originally adorned Ludgate.
It was moved to its current position over the church’s vestry door in 1760 when Ludgate was demolished due to road widening. Along with other statues from the gate, it had been given to Sir Francis Gosling who had it placed at the church.
The statue features a rather regal looking Queen, standing formally in royal robes with sceptre and orb.
We’re launching a new ‘Lost London’ special looking at some of the now disappeared gates of London. First up is Ludgate which once stood on the western side of the city.
The gate is believed to have been constructed in Roman times and is known to have been rebuilt a several times – once in 1215 and another time after it was destroyed in the Great Fire – before being demolished in 1760 to allow for the road to be widened.
The origins of the name – which is today commemorated in street names like Ludgate Hill and Ludgate Circus – are sketchy but may have been named after the mythical pre-Roman King Lud, who was, so the legend goes, buried underneath this portal (this myth was popularised by the 12th century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth). Others have suggested ‘lud’ is a corruption of ‘flud’ or ‘flood’ and the gate was so named because it prevented the city being flooded by the River Fleet. Another possibility is that ‘lud’ is simply an old English word for a postern gate, a small secondary gate.
Whatever the origins of its name, it has been suggested it was through Ludgate that William the Conqueror passed when first entering the city. In 1377 it became a prison for petty criminals like debtors and trespassers – serious criminals were sent to Newgate – and this lasted until its final destruction.
There is a blue plaque on the wall of the church of St Martin-within-Ludgate in Ludgate Hill marking where Ludgate once stood (pictured above). It is believed that some badly corroded statues standing under a porch at the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West on Fleet Street are of Lud and his sons and were taken down from the gate before its demolition. William Kerwin’s statue of Queen Elizabeth I which dates from 1586 sits in a niche on the front of the church is also believed to have been removed from Ludgate.
It’s generally believed that London’s oldest outdoor statue is that of King Alfred the Great which stands in Trinity Church Square in Southwark but there are a few others worth mentioning for their age.
But first, to the statue of Alfred the Great. Located now in Trinity Church Square, it is thought to have been made in the late 14th century (although it’s also suggested it could be much younger) in honor of the man who ruled Wessex in the 9th century and is often credited as being the first “king of the English”.
The statue (right) was apparently located at the Palace of Westminster before it was brought to its present location in 1823 at about the time the square was being laid out.
Others among London’s oldest statues is that of King Charles I sitting astride his horse and looking from Whitehall from its position on the southern side of Trafalgar Square.
Credited as being London’s “oldest equestrian bronze”, this statue is the work of French sculptor Hubert Le Sueur and was cast in 1633 (during King Charles I’s rule) at the behest of Richard Weston, one of the king’s favorites, who that year became the 1st Earl of Portland.
It was removed during the Civil War but later reacquired by the Portland family and, following the Restoration, was reinstalled on its current site – once that of the Charing Cross (see our previous entry for more details) – in 1675 by King Charles II.
Another of London’s oldest statues is that of Queen Elizabeth I which stands on the facade of the church St Dunstan-in-the-West in Fleet Street. This statue, which has been attributed to William Kerwin although other names have also been suggested, dates from 1586 (created during her reign) and decorated the west side of Ludgate until its demolition in 1760, after which it was apparently put into storage until being brought to the church in the 19th century.
Standing nearby in the vestry porch as statues of the legendary pre-Roman British king, Lud, and his sons, Androgeus and Tenvantius, which were also removed from Ludgate and probably date from the same period (about 1586).