Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Duke of York Column - the unloved statue


During a recent stroll along The Mall, I realised that I have missed a statue (or should I say monument) in my 5 statues to note in the Royal Wedding Procession Route post. Other than Victoria Memorial, Prince Frederick, Duke of York's memorial, just off The Mall or the southern end of Lower Regent Street is easily the most prominent one. It is definitely the most interesting one though.

One thing is for sure, you can't miss the Duke of York column (as it is commonly known). For one, the 124 feet column gives Lord Nelson column at Trafalgar Square (170 feet) and the Monument (202 feet) at Monument Tube station a run for their money. Though it is shorter, by the virtue of locating at the top of a wide stairway, it appears to be the tallest for some.

The monument, completed in 1834, is mired in controversy. According to London's Strangest Tales, Prince Frederick was so widely detested when he died that no one was willing to fork out a penny for anything to commemorate him. In the end, a single day's pay was docked from every soldier in the army to pay for the £25,000 monument.

The man, who was remembered as the Duke in the popular nursery rhyme The Grand Old Duke of York, was known for his unsuccessful campaign against the French at Flanders and mounting debts at the time of his death. The joke goes that his 14 feet statue needed to be place high enough to avoid his creditors.

On a morbid note, the base stones of the Duke of York column where tourists and Londoners love to rest upon was also where many poor souls' bodies smashed to bits in the 19th century. For there is a hollow stairway up the column leading to a view gallery right at the top and it was opened to the public back then (admission cost 6d each). After the suicide of a French musician in 1850, the authorities finally had enough and encased the gallery in an iron caging. Even so, the viewing gallery has been closed to the public for decades.

Standing high and dry, I guess the Duke's having the last laugh afterall.

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