Washing History

Empty Plinth, Cavendish Square

2020 saw a spate of statue removals throughout the UK. Characters no longer deemed to be politically correct were consigned to the storeroom or in one case the dockside of history.

I came across this empty plinth in Cavendish Square, and wondered who it was that had upset public opinion.

Looking at the plinth I saw that it was dedicated to the Duke of Cumberland, I read the inscription

The Duke of Cumberland

This Equestrian Statue was erected by Lieutenant General William Strode In Gratitude for His Private Kindness In Honor To His Publick Virtue.

The Duke of Cumberland probably better known as “The Butcher of Culloden” due to his uncompromising treatment of the Jacobite forces after the battle of Culloden in 1746 and his ruthless campaign against their sympathisers in it’s aftermath wasn’t the sort of man who you immediately associate with public virtue.

This threw me a bit, had Ms Sturgeon and her Parliament had some input in removing this frankly rather loathsome character from his plinth to allay Scottish public sentiment?

It wasn’t until I got home that the full story emerged. The statue was placed in Cavendish Square in 1770. It was neither beautiful nor universally popular, and by 1868 it was looking distinctly shabby. The Duke of Portland, whose owned the land that the Square sat on had it taken down with a view to having it recast, but due to popular feeling focussed through Tory pressure in Parliament meant it never happened and the statue disappeared. So it appears public sentiment against nefarious characters is not a new thing.

However, during my research I came across some photographs of a statue that sat on top of the plinth during the early 2010s, which seemed to show a facsimile of the original statue, this left me scratching my head. What happened to statue number 2?

The soapy Duke of Cumberland in 2013

In 2012 Korean artist Meekyoung Shin created a replica of the statue but instead of the normal medium of stone, the “Butcher” was crafted from soap. She anticipated its gradual and scented erosion within a year, but her expectations were exceeded as it was finally demolished in 2016. During the intervening four years the Duke gradually deteriorated, losing limbs and looking shabbier with each passing month, which must have cheered the heart of any right minded Caledonian.

Not a leg to stand on.

Published by endean0

Hi, I'm Steve, a London tour guide and owner of A London Miscellany Tours, a guided walking tour company who specialise in small number tours of the greatest city in the world!

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