Like most of us I’m having to find things to fill my time during this Coronavirus lockdown, and so as A London Miscellany Tours is currently mothballed, I’m taking the opportunity to spend my time researching. During this time I was reminded of last summer when I visited Battersea Park, the first time in probably 50 years. Having walked towards the river I came to the area around the Old English Garden.
One of the many statues that can be seen in the park is of a very cute cuddly terrier called Brock. I must admit that I didn’t pay it that much attention and certainly didn’t take a closer look to read the inscription on the plinth.
The summer passed as did the remainder of the year, and it was not until lockdown took effect that I was to understand the full significance of the statue. I began to read about the history of the area and looking through the chapter on the park, came across a picture of the aforementioned Brock. Since his unveiling in 1985, this loveable chap seems to have garnered his fair share of controversy, however, that pales into insignificance when compared against a predecessor, the eponymous Brown Dog of this tail (sorry couldn’t resist that one).
The affair in question relates to political controversy about vivisection that was front-page news in England from 1903 until 1910. It resulted in riots, battles between the Police and medical students, a libel case and finally a Royal Commission.
The events started in 1903 with allegations that, in the February, William Bayliss of the Department of Physiology at University College London performed an illegal vivisection, before an audience of 60 medical students, on a brown terrier dog. Bayliss stated that the dog was fully anaesthetized, a claim countered by Swedish activists. The procedure was condemned as cruel and unlawful by theNational Anti-Vivisection Society. Outraged by this statement, Bayliss, whose research on dogs led to the discovery of hormones, sued for libel and won.
Anti-vivisectionists commissioned a bronze statue of the dog as a memorial, which was unveiled on the Latchmere Recreation Ground, just south of Battersea park across Battersea Park Road in 1906. Medical students were angered by what they saw as its provocative plaque.
In Memory of the Brown Terrier
Dog Done to Death in the Laboratories
of University College in February
1903 after having endured Vivisection
extending over more than Two Months
and having been handed over from
one Vivisector to Another
Till Death came to his Release.
Also in Memory of the 232 dogs
Vivisected at the same place during the year 1902.
Men and Women of England
how long shall these Things be?
Over the next year, there were frequent reports of vandalism of the memorial and the need for a 24-hour police guard against the so-called anti-doggers (which has a slightly different connotation today!)
On 10 December 1907, hundreds of medical students marched through central London waving effigies of the brown dog on sticks, clashing with suffragettes, trade unionists and 300 police officers, one of a series of battles known as the Brown Dog riots. The fighting continued for hours before the police gained control. At Bow Street magistrate’s court the next day, ten students were bound over to keep the peace; several were fined 40 shillings, or £3 if they had fought with police.
Questions were asked in the House of Commons about the cost of policing the statue, which required six constables a day at a cost of £700 a year (£85,674 in today’s value). London’s Police Commissioner wrote to Battersea Council to ask if they would pay some of the cost but the argument was batted back and forth for the next 3 years without any conclusions, however, the attempts at vandalism continued and the police presence was maintained. Some Battersea Councilors suggested the statue be encased in a steel cage and surrounded by a barbed wire fence.
Suggestions were made through the letters pages of the Times and elsewhere that it be moved, perhaps to the grounds of the Anti-Vivisection Hospital. The British Medical Journal wrote in March 1910:
May we suggest that the most appropriate resting place for the rejected work of art is the Home for Lost Dogs at Battersea, where it could be “done to death”, as the inscription says, with a hammer in the presence of Miss Woodword, the Rev. Lionel S. Lewis, and other friends; if their feelings were too much for them, doubtless an anaesthetic could be administered.
By November 1909 it appears that Battersea Council wanted to rid themselves of the controversy and started to make plans for the statue’s removal. Once this leaked out there were protests in support of it remaining, and the 500-strong Brown Dog memorial defence committee was established. Twenty thousand people signed a petition, and 1,500 attended a rally in February 1910.
The protests were to no avail. Just before dawn on 10 March 1910 four council workmen removed the statue, accompanied by 120 police officers.
A fortnight later, 3,000 anti-vivisectionists gathered in Trafalgar Square to demand the statue’s return, but by then Battersea Council had turned its back on the affair.
The statue was at first hidden in the borough surveyor’s bicycle shed, according to a letter his daughter wrote in 1956 to the British Medical Journal, then reportedly destroyed by a council blacksmith, who melted it down. Anti-vivisectionists filed a High Court petition demanding its return, but the case was dismissed in January 1911.
Fast forward 75 years from the removal to the unveiling of the statue of Brock created by Nicola Hicks in December 1985. Originally the new statue was situated just behind the pump house in Battersea Park and was commissioned by the National Anti-Vivisection Society and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. The inscription reading
This monument replaces the original memorial of the brown dog erected by public subscription in Latchmere Recreation Ground, Battersea in 1906. The sufferings of the brown dog at the hands of the vivisectors generated much protest and mass demonstrations. It represented the revulsion of the people of London to vivisection and animal experimentation. This new monument is dedicated to the continuing struggle to end these practices. After much controversy, the former monument was removed in the early hours of 10 March 1910. This was the result of a decision taken by the then Battersea Metropolitan Borough Council, the previous council having supported the erection of the memorial. Animal experimentation is one of the greatest moral issues of our time and should have no place in a civilized society. In 1903, 19,084 animals suffered and died in British laboratories. During 1984, 3,497,355 animals were burned, blinded, irradiated, poisoned and subjected to countless other horrifyingly cruel experiments in Great Britain.
Immediately criticism arose when it was described as “a coquettish contrast to its down-to-earth predecessor” In a strange echo of 1910 the statue was removed by the Borough of Wandsworth in 1992 supposedly as part of a park renovation scheme. Anti-vivisectionists started a campaign for its return, suspicious of Wandsworth’s explanation of its removal. It was reinstated in the park’s Woodland Walk in 1994, near the Old English Garden, a more secluded spot than before.
In 2003 historian Hilda Kean added to the criticism saying that she saw the old Brown Dog as upright and defiant: “The dog has changed from a public image of defiance to a pet“. The new Brown Dog, should be seen as “heritage”, is too safe; unlike its controversial ancestor, she argues, it makes no one uncomfortable.