Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Cul­tural Cru­sader

AN 18th-cen­tury vis­i­tor to Rome de­scribed the city’s pop­u­la­tion as be­ing made up of a quar­ter priests, a quar­ter peo­ple who do noth­ing, a quar­ter who do a lit­tle work and a quar­ter stat­ues. Although Athena isn’t ex­actly sure how that for­mula could be ap­plied to Lon­don in 2017, there is no ques­tion that the city’s statue num­bers are grow­ing at an alarm­ing rate.

Now, Athena must ad­mit that she’s par­tial to a statue her­self: af­ter all, the Parthenon once housed a much larger than life-sized trib­ute to your favourite god­dess and, to­day, she en­coun­ters her­self in sculpted form around the world. How­ever, the over-mon­u­men­tal­i­sa­tion of Lon­don threat­ens to erode some of our best-loved civic spa­ces and, in the process, will also triv­i­alise many of our ex­ist­ing stat­ues, mon­u­ments and com­mem­o­ra­tive sites.

The lat­est con­tro­versy in this sphere has swirled around pro­pos­als to erect a statue of Mar­garet Thatcher on Can­ning Green in Par­lia­ment Square, where the Iron Lady would share top billing with the now largely for­got­ten Ge­orge Can­ning (Prime Min­is­ter for four months in 1827) and the rather bet­ter re­mem­bered Abra­ham Lin­coln. Mea­sur­ing 10ft high plus plinth and cost­ing £300,000, the Thatcher statue is, for the time be­ing at least, not go­ing to be erected.

Some ex­pressed fears that the statue might be a tar­get for ‘left-wing van­dals’, but a more sub­stan­tial ob­jec­tion ap­pears to be that the daugh­ter of the late Prime Min­is­ter feels that the statue’s lack of a hand­bag is a se­ri­ous fail­ing. It was once ob­served that trousers spelled the death of mon­u­men­tal stat­u­ary and, in that spirit, Athena tends to ob­ject to the in­cor­po­ra­tion of mod­ish ac­ces­sories such as hand­bags, mo­bile phones or sun­glasses on pub­lic mon­u­ments; how­ever, the wishes of the Thatcher fam­ily need to be re­spected.

We are also not sure that the pro­posed Thatcher statue reaches the qual­ity thresh­old that we should aim for in such prom­i­nent works of art. The sculp­tor Dou­glas Jen­nings did wor­thy work por­tray­ing Ge­orge Clooney and An­gelina Jolie at Madame Tus­saud’s, but some may per­haps find his Lady Thatcher lack­ing the dis­tinc­tion that such a prom­i­nent and near per­ma­nent fix­ture should have. Not that the menagerie of politi­cians in Par­lia­ment Square should in any way be re­garded as an ex­em­plary dis­play of sculp­tural bril­liance. Per­haps the pre­pos­ter­ous memo­rial to Lloyd Ge­orge— a mag­nif­i­cent cape with a man at­tached— is ger­mane for the Lib­eral who lu­di­crously de­clared that ‘Hitler is one of the great­est of the many great men I have met’.

Nev­er­the­less, Athena would like to sug­gest a 10-year mo­ra­to­rium on all mon­u­ment build­ing in cen­tral Lon­don. This would give a com­mem­o­ra­tively ex­hausted pop­u­lace time to have a proper de­bate on who and what should be mon­u­men­talised, where and how.

‘There should be a 10-year mo­ra­to­rium on mon­u­ments in cen­tral Lon­don’

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