Equestrian statue of Prince Albert

From a post of 3rd May, 2014 by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association:

“Several months ago, the grade II listed monument of Prince Albert by Charles Bacon (c.1822-1886), which has stood at the centre of Holborn Circus since it first was unveiled by the Prince of Wales on 9th January 1874, was hoisted from its pedestal and removed for cleaning. It has recently returned, conservation complete and was freshly unveiled on 29th April this year by Alderman Fiona Woolf CBE, The Right Honourable The Lord Mayor of the City of London. The monument did not go back to its former site, however, but has been relocated 20 metres to the west of it between the two carriageways in Holborn, because of traffic accident concerns.

The City had wanted to erect a monument commemorating the work of Prince Albert and in 1868 a London merchant, Charles Oppenheim, came forward conveniently offering to pay for it, but his probity was questioned by some and, perhaps as a result of this, he subsequently formally withdrew the offer. The matter appeared to have been dropped, but then a further offer to provide the monument was made in a letter of 1869 through the sculptor, Charles Bacon of Sloane Street, to the Lord Mayor with the condition attached that the Corporation should pay for the pedestal. This time, the proposal was accepted and the monument went ahead. Whether the statue was in fact still funded by Oppenheim remains a mystery…For those who would like to read more about this intriguing commission, Dr. Philip Ward-Jackson’s Public Sculpture of the City of London in the Public Sculpture of Britain series provides a thorough detailed account.(pmsa publications)…

Other works by the little-known Charles Bacon include the statue of the Arctic explorer, Sir John Franklin, at Spilsby in Lincolnshire and the equestrian statue of the politician, John Earle-Drax at Olantigh Towers, Wye in Kent, the pose of which, with top hat raised, served as precedent for this equestrian monument of Prince Albert. Bacon received a fee of £2,000 for the Holborn monument which is his most important sculpture by far. 

The statue has met with mixed reviews…The Art Journal of 1874, for example, commented sceptically that on the ‘principle that one must not too narrowly examine a “gift horse”, we abjure criticism.’

Prince Albert is portrayed dressed as a Field Marshal mounted on his charger, Nimrod, and doffing his plumed hat in what Byron calls ‘a most unmilitary manner’, but one which makes him ‘the politest statue in London.’ The Sunday Times columnist of the day, known as ‘Rambler’, by contrast, was outspoken in his criticism: ‘The Thames Embankment is a magnificent work, so too is the Holborn Viaduct, which would be an ornament to the City if it were not for the nonsensical figure of Prince Albert taking off his hat to it as if it were a lady .’…

The bronzes were cast in what was probably the first major art-foundry in England, Messrs Young and Co. of Pimlico. These founders were later to sue Charles Bacon for outstanding payment for works which included this statue of Prince Albert. The monument was erected in Holborn Circus by Messrs. Field, Poole and Sons of Westminster.

Designed in 1867 by the civil engineer, surveyor and architect, William Haywood, who had also worked on the Viaduct, Holborn Circus marks the point where six roads converge on the border of the City of London and the Borough of Camden. It is a notorious black-spot with the highest accident rates in both the City and Camden. The monument is being moved because this will improve sight lines at the junction and reduce the accident levels.

It seems that the Circus was always an impractical and dangerous place…

At the unveiling ceremony in 1874, The Town Clerk of London had described the reasons the site had been selected for the monument: ‘The advantages of this site are that the statue can be seen from St. Sepulchre’s Church, a distance of about 400 yards; from Holborn, a distance of 500 yards; from St. Andrew’s street 200 yards; and from Charterhouse street 250 yards; in fact, it terminates the vistas of all those thoroughfares.’

Aesthetically the Circus and the monument had its admirers…

…the Circus suffered heavy bomb damage in the Blitz and the building line praised by Dickens has been all but lost due to both the bombing and the demolition of buildings over the years. Many of us, for example, remember the department store, Gamage’s closing in 1972 and the subsequent redevelopment.The result is that much of Haywood’s design has already been lost.

There was some opposition to the recent re-siting of the monument based on the opinion that it should remain at the heart of the Circus. A point of view that one can relate to, but not perhaps one which is wholly realistic…it was felt that the monument should remain as close as possible to the Circus, facing as originally intended towards the City which had erected it.”

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