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Notes on the Geography of The United Kingdom: London 3: Memorials

Another approach to London: still historical but this time looking not at the handling of the nation's trade but at the city's monuments, most erected to honour the people--almost all men--who created or maintained the empire that made that trade possible. London may have more such monuments than any other city. It was, after all, the world's biggest city at a time when honoring great men was itself an idea at its apogee.

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We begin at the Eleanor Cross, the successor to the long vanished Charing Cross. Charing Cross is the zero point for measuring distances from London--including the six-mile radius for the area that cab drivers must know. The cross was designed by E.M. Barry in 1865. He was also the architect of the Charing Cross hotel in the background. Yes, the two top stories are a sorry addition from the 1950s. Great decade in some ways but crummy in others.

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Pride of place presumably goes to the monarchy, here with the Victoria Monument by Thomas Brock, 1911.

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Appropriately for an maritime power, the base is quartered with wide-bellied ships while the angels of justice, truth, and charity stand on the level above, with the queen. What thoughts ran through the minds of King George and Kaiser Wilhelm when they jointly dedicated this memorial to their grandmother?

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Prince Albert tips his hat at Holborn Circus. The building behind him is the headquarters of Sainsbury's.

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Edward VII at Waterloo Place.

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His fame down only a notch from royalty, Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square is an enlarged copy by William Railton of the columns of the temple of Mars Ultor in Rome. Completed in 1843, the 98-foot shaft is made of Devon-granite blocks 10 feet in diameter. The reliefs on the base show the battles of St. Vincent, Copenhagen, and the Nile, as well as Nelson's death aboard the Victory.

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The capital is bronze melted from the guns of the Royal George, a Royal Navy flagship that in 1782 sank while anchored near Portsmouth; 800 men died.

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A very similar, very different, and much older column. This is the London Monument, a 202-foot tower designed by Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666. Hence the flame-shaped copper urn at the top. A circular staircase leads to a viewing platform now screened to prevent jumpers.

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London Monument; by danish sculptor Caius Gabriel Cibber, city in flames on the land, inhabitants in consternation; on ruins, a woman crowned with a castle but holding a dword; she is supportedd by Time heolping her and providence pointing to the figures above the clouds; King Charles II , in roman attire, stands on Anabathrum in Roman habit; three women next to him: Liberty, Ichnographia with rules and compasses, , Imagination with wings on her head; behind the king, scaffolding to indicate work in progress, under the kings feet, Envy enraged, blowing flames to renew the fire; lion has one foot tied up anc curbed by left hand of FOrtitute; muzzle of cannon denotes loss and misforture; next to king is Mars with chaplet indicated an honourable peace after the war. From Description buy Robert Seymour in A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster... 1733

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Close to Nelson's Column, this is a statue of General Henry Havelock, a hero of the Indian Mutiny. That title doesn't have the clout it once did, and in 2000 the mayor of London caused a mini-scandal by demanding the removal of the statue on the grounds that he didn't have a clue who Havelock was. A hundred and forty years earlier, the statue had been paid for by public subscription to honor a man who, dying in the besieged Lucknow residency, is supposed to have said at the end, "See how a Christian can die."

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General Robert Napier at St. Paul's.

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The Duke of Wellington gets some fresh air next to the Bank of England on Threadneedle Street.

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Clive stands just outside what was the India Office.

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His career is illustrated at the base of the monument. An early triumph: "At the siege of Arcot."

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Clive is shown in a grove on mango trees on the eve of the Battle of Plassey, where Clive won Bengal.

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The inscription reads: "Receives the grant of Bengal Behar and Orissa at Allahabad."

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Two officers watch the Horse Guards Parade from plinths.

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One is General Frederick Roberts, Baron Roberts of Kandahar, born in Kanpur (Cawnpore) in 1832 but rising to Commander-in-Chief of the British army in 1900.

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He succeeded Garnet Wolseley, the "model of a modern major general," who, as one biographer writes, through no fault of his own "never actually commanded a unit in the field against an equal adversary" and who certainly didn't want to be succeeded by "Bobs," a hero to the rank-and-file.

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A more pensive figure: Charles Gordon, killed at Khartoum. Reviled as a fool by Lord Cromer, master of Egypt, Gordon carried Victorian moral certainty to a fatal extreme.

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Here he seems to rest at St. Paul's. In fact, his body was never recovered from Khartoum.

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An appropriately fatigued Douglas Haig, British commander at the Battle of the Somme.

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From the other side, he looks more resolute, befitting Pershing's assessment of him as "the man who won the war."

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Drowned aboard HMS Hampshire, Kitchener has his own chapel at St. Paul's.

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He also overlooks the Horse Guards parade and stands with his back to No. 10, Downing Street.

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Hangers-on: the war correspondents who didn't make it home from the Sudan.

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The founder of the profession.

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John Lawrence, who survived the Indian Mutiny and later became India's second viceroy. He eventually retired to 26 Queen's Gate, just west of the Victoria and Albert Museum. He stands here at Waterloo Place.

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Could that possibly by him on the right, looking down from the heights of the old India Office and keeping an eye on Clive?

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Lawrence's brother Henry, who along with Havelock died at Kanpur (Cawnpore). His is the tombstone there with the famous words, "He tried to do his duty." Here he appears in antique garb at St. Paul's.

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Yards and yards of fabric wrap that "most superior person," George Nathaniel Curzon, Viceroy of India and later (it must have seemed a cut in rank) foreign secretary of the British government. He stands outside Carlton House Terrace, as if trying to remember which house is his. (The answer is No. 1, just to his right.)

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He doesn't appreciate the joke.

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Always keeping an eye out. We've come to the explorers, in this case David Livingstone, his neck shaded from the African sun while he peers from a niche in the building of the Royal Geographical Society. The building was occupied in 1913, but the statue did not appear until 1953.

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Just around the corner but decades earlier a statue of Ernest Shackleton was unveiled in 1932. He is bundled up against the Antarctic blast, which, along with Livingstone, explains the joke about this being "hot and cold corner."

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Sheltered inside the Natural History Museum, Frederick Selous, naturalist, collector, big-game hunter, author. A German sniper killed him in East Africa in 1917.

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The oddest and perhaps the most intense of them all: Richard Francis Burton rests in a Bedouin tent here at the Mortlake Cemetery, South Warple Way, London SW 14. He landed here after India, Arabia, the upper Nile, South America, and the Levant.

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A consummate touch of Victorian sentiment, ever at risk of shading into morbidity: a viewing window and a ladder, the better to see the simple wooden coffins of Burton and his wife.

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The cloister of Westminster Abbey has several monuments to the colonial services. Here's one of them. The words are by George Cunningham, who had a long career in India's North West Frontier Province. Some years before the plaque was unveiled, a companion inscription appeared at the base of the Jaipur Column in Delhi. That one read: "In Thought Faith, In Word Wisdom, In Deed Courage, In Life Service, So may India be great."

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A word for the Sudan.

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A comparable plaque in the St. Paul's crypt.

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Close by.

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And all the others.

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The softer side of empire: Reginald Heber, Lord Bishop of Calcutta. He lasted in India all of three years before succumbing in 1826 while on a tour in the south. This statue is in the crypt of St. Paul's, but a twin stands in the nave of St. Paul's, Calcutta.

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The famous Piccadilly statue called Eros but perhaps more accurately Anteros, selfless love. It dates to 1893 and commemorates the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, who had died in 1885 after a lifetime of parliamentary advocacy in support of England's working class.

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The statue in the foreground is Florence Nightingale, first prominent for her work during the Crimean War, memorialized behind her. To her left is Sidney Herbert, one of her confidants.

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She was not as gentle as the image suggests.

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Joseph Lister, whose germ theory and use of carbolic acid in wounds dramatically reduced infection.

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Arthur Sullivan hardly notices the grieving damsel, who looks like she could use one of his sweeter tunes.

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One guess. He sits in the Natural History Museum, of course.

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A couple of practical men: James Greathead, an expert in tunneling and a major figure in the history of the London Underground.

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Isambard Kingdom Brunel, civil engineer extraordinaire, enjoys the sunshine in the Embankment Gardens.

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Politicians next to last. Cromwell stands protected by the best security money can buy.

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Gladstone, where the Strand becomes Fleet Street.

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A fountain at Cheyne walk. Just try to get a picture of it without traffic. And who is recalled by the inscription at the base?

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Not quite an unknown, Sparkes retired to London in the 1850s, bought a house at 16 High Street, Bromley, named it Neelgherries (Nilgiris, that is), and corresponded with Charles Darwin. At Sparks' death he apparently left his wife a fortune of 140,000 pounds.

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A more sober monument at Trinity Square Gardens, near the Tower of London. By Edward Maufe, the sunken garden behind the wall lists the 24,000 names of the men of the merchant marine who died at sea during World War II. (An adjoining memorial by Edward Lutyens recalls those who had died in the previous war.) Maufe may not be well-known, but he was the UK's principal or chief architect to the Imperial War Graves Commission for over 25 years and as such shaped a hundred beautiful but somber places.


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