I am a medievalist in the process of completing a PhD (involving medieval medicine). I travel as much as possible at home (UK) and abroad. I'm always ready for new experiences!
Published December 13th 2012
Powerful kings, forgotten figures, and heroic images
There are so many sculptures of kings and horses throughout London that it's difficult to distinguish them from each other or to work up a lot of motivation to visit. However, historical statues can be worthwhile attractions in their own right, if you know a bit about the object. The following five statues from Central London are familiar landmarks to the city-dweller, but are certainly worth a second glance.
Richard the Lionheart, Parliament
This statue of Richard I, a powerful medieval king linked with Robin Hood mythology and the Crusades, is located on the Westminster Abbey side of Parliament. Although it's a large and imposing piece, it can be missed by visitors overawed by Parliament and the Abbey. Apart from its general magnificence and good location for photo opportunities, this statue is also interesting for its connections with World War II. The statue was damaged by shrapnel from a German bomb, which is still visible around the pedestal.
Boadicea was Queen of the Iceni Britons and led a revolt against the Romans occupying London in AD 60. She is best known for burning London to the ground; although, the revolt was eventually defeated. This powerful figure of early British history commands her war chariot over the Thames at the entrance to Westminster Bridge.
Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square is a memorial to Admiral Horatio Nelson who died in the Battle of Trafalgar during the Napoleonic Wars. It is, of course, one of the most iconic and well-known of all of London's monuments. The busy Londoner crossing the square to work most likely has not had a chance to get up close with the lions surrounding the base of the column. Popular with tourists, it can be just as fun for locals to climb the base and get a photo with one of the lions. Once you're able to fight off the queue of tourists and scramble to the top of the pedestal, the views of the square are quite rewarding.
Compared to the triumphant, sword-wielding Richard the Lionheart, King George III looks a bit downcast on his tiny island amidst one of London's busiest intersections. Large trees, multiple street crossings, and buzzing traffic, as well as the imposing Texas Embassy restaurant nearby, compete for the viewer's attention, such that the small statue is often lost in the wider picture. It does seem appropriate that the English king who lost the American colonies should be juxtaposed next to an American-themed restaurant with the Lone Star flag fluttering above his head.
The giant statue of a nude and battle-ready Achilles may not immediately conjure up images of the First Duke of Wellington - the inspiration for the memorial. The statue is composed of melted down cannons captured from opposing forces at Salamanca, Vittoria, Toulouse, and Waterloo during the Napoleonic Wars. It is especially heroic and magnificent in the bright sunshine.
To see all the sculptures in one walk, begin at Parliament in front of Richard the Lionheart (1) and then walk about 5 minutes over to Boadicea (2) on Westminster Bridge. From the bridge, go to Parliament St. and follow to Whitehall (past Downing St. and the Mall) into Trafalgar Square to see Nelson's Column and the Lions (3). George III (4) is on Cockspur St. right off of the square. From Trafalgar Square, you can walk to Hyde Park Corner to see the Wellington Monument (5) by following Cockspur St. to Pall Mall, turn right on St. James's St., and then turn left on Piccadilly. From Hyde Park you can journey back to Westminster, thus completing a square around central London.
Alternatively, all these statues are easily accessible via tube (Westminster, Charing Cross, Hyde Park Corner stations). See London Transport for detailed maps and information about planning your journey. All these sites are within central London and not very far from each other. Depending on your walking speed and amount of time you want to dedicate to the attractions, set aside about an hour or two to complete the walk.