Parliament Square through to Victoria Tower Gardens

Parliament Square

Parliament Square is the area by the Houses of Parliament, where Whitehall ends. There is much of interest to these pages. The statues are in the central green area and on the periphery of the Square. They provide an opportunity to compare different approaches to portrait sculpture. The powers that be have thoughtfully blocked off the pedestrian access to the centre, but by crossing in front of the traffic lights on the Abbey side it is possible to get there.

Perhaps the most important figure, in terms of sculptural interest, is the Palmerston by Woolner, the Pre-Raphaelite sculptor. The figure is most naturalistic in pose, and has his hand held out as if illustrating some point in conversation. George Canning is the earliest statue (1832), by Richard Westmacott. There are two figures by Matthew Noble: Peel (1851), in contemporary clothing looking round and well-fed, and Lord Derby (1874), again in contemporary dress but with a cloak for added authority. This latter statue has good high-relief bronze murals around the base, showing episodes in the statesman's life. Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield (1883) is by Mario Reggi, and looks good in Roman costume with a wreath, and the sculptor has given him a characterful craggy look. The Lincoln is a copy of the statue in Chicago by Augustus St Gauden. Of thin aspect and in contemporary dress, it is distinctively of its period and contrasts to the approach chosen for, say, the already-mentioned Canning, where the aim is a Roman patrician-like statue in classical robes.

There are two statues of the present century. Jan Christian Smuts (1958) of South Africa is by Epstein (see Modern Sculptors page). The pose is arresting - Smuts walks with his hands behind his back, tilted forward in mid-step, his chin sticking forward accentuating his forward motion. The Churchill (1973) is by Ivor Roberts-Jones, and this brooding, massive and well-posed statue must be considered one of the most successful of the times.

Among the buildings surrounding the Square, the Middlesex Guildhall is noteworthy for its architectural sculpture by H. C. Fehr, one of the best sculptors working around the turn of the century. Above the main entrance, friezes to left and right seemingly show coronation scenes. Above, the keystone position above the door shows an interior view of the hall, and the base of the tower above the portico has 2 angels with shields. The spirit of the decoration is medieval, but these friezes have a late 19th Century look to them, and the actual art nouveau date of the building is given by the ideal faces and busty figures of the angels on the side of the building at balcony level. In fact the Middlesex Guildhall was erected from 1906-13, the architect being J. S. Gibson. Pevsner calls the style 'Art Nouveau Gothic', and it appears to have been one of the very last Gothic buildings put up in London. The building is worth walking completely round - the small medieval style gargoylic beasts continue on the other side, and the rear includes a 17th Century doorway set into the wall, a remnant of the Tothill Fields Prison which previously stood on the site.

Next to the Middlesex Guildhall is a red brick and terracotta building housing the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. It is by Alfred Waterhouse and dates from the late 1890s. Also viewable from Parliament Square, in what becomes Victoria Street, is the large and very French bulk of the Methodist Central Hall (by Lanchester and Rickards). Rather good swirly spandrel figures of angels in relief, by the sculptor Henry Poole.

Alongside the Houses of Parliament

The road alongside the Houses of Parliament, with Westminster Abbey opposite, is Old Palace Yard. The first statue is Oliver Cromwell, a somewhat over-fussy work by Hamo Thornycroft dating from 1899. It looks good from the front (note the small lion below) but is too 'chunky' when seen obliquely. On the same side is the impressive Richard the Lionheart (1860) by Marochetti. He is seated on his horse, with sword raised, and the whole effect is greatly heroic, although the Art Journal commented that it was 'a fine statue, but one which is so entirely unfinished that we should never regard it otherwise than as a sketch'. The position is not good, and it must be borne in mind that the earlier version of this statue stood facing outwards in front of the Great Exhibition building. On the opposite side is a thick and heavy statue of George V, not very imaginative, made of a highly fossiliferous limestone. The sculptor was William Reid Dick (1947). By way of contrast is Henry Moore's lumpy abstraction Knife Edge - Two Piece (1962). Over everything looms the Palace of Westminster itself, by the architects Barry and Pugin, which presumably is the ultimate in 'Victorian Gothic'. The Victoria Tower is covered with sculptural detail and many many stone figures in medieval fashion, designed by Pugin and successful by means of their number and arrangement. They can be examined most closely at the public entrance to the House of Commons, and looking into the base of the Victoria Tower.

Victoria Tower Gardens

Proceeding further, Victoria Tower Gardens is the small open space behind the Houses of Parliament, fronting on to the River Thames. There is an important sculptural group here, The Burghers of Calais (1895) by Rodin, placed here in 1915. As well, a not very grand statue of Mrs Pankhurst, the Suffragette, by A. G. Walker and dating from 1930. Walking away from the Houses of Parliament end leads one to the Buxton Memorial Fountain, a shrinelike construction made from a variety of coloured granites and softer stones, with floral decorations, gargoyle lizards, colourful miniature mosaics of animals and birds. The whole effect is most jewel-like. The construction dates from 1865, and it was only moved to its current position in 1957, having been at Parliament Square until 1940. It is by the interesting Gothic architect S. S. Teulon. The furthest end of the Gardens has a stone wall with two modern style goats with kids, and gives a good view back towards the Houses of Parliament.

The buildings along the road next to the Gardens (Millbank) are worth a look. Walking back from the far end, first is the ICI building (by the architect F. Baines, 1928). High up are sombre stone figures, and there are various heads, shells and peacocks above the principal windows. The main entrance has a recessed low relief bronze Britannia, a bearded crowned head above the door (one of the better of its ilk) and amusing water-horses to either side. W. B. Fagan was the artist. No. 4 Millbank has stone figures seated above the door at the corner to Great Porter Street; they are somewhat idiosyncratic, comprising a male nude with axe, and a female draped figure with over-brawny arm and a nicely exploratory toe on her outstretched foot. The sculptor was Albert Hodge.

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