The historic city of London is filled with monuments of all kinds: to politicians, heroes, kings, and queens. Many blend into the background, just some more overdressed statues on plinths looking down at the traffic. Here are five unusual monuments that really stand out.
Animals in War Memorial
While London is full of war memorials, this one on Park Lane next to Hyde Park is a bit different, as you can see from this Wikimedia Commons image. It’s dedicated to all the animals who served in war. Used as mounts for cavalry or as beasts of burden, they suffered and died alongside their human comrades. The inscription says:
“This monument is dedicated to all the animals
that served and died alongside British and allied forces
in wars and campaigns throughout time
They had no choice”
The Golden Boy of Gluttony
This fat little naked guy commemorates the Great Fire of 1666, when much of London burnt down. The plaque claims the fire was caused by the “sin of gluttony”. Located at the corner of Giltspur and Cock Lane, the fire stopped just short of here. That’s a shame because the old inn that stood on this site was the scene of sins far greater than gluttony. At a time when the only bodies surgeons could get for study were those of the executed, “resurrection men” would steal the recently buried from graveyards and lay them out for sale in the upper floors of the inn. The practice became so widespread that cemeteries had to post armed guards.
Simply called “Monument”, the 202-foot column at the corner of Monument St. and Fish St. Hill also commemorates the Great Fire. Unlike the people who erected the Golden Boy, the builders of this memorial blamed the Catholics. The anti-Catholic plaque was removed in 1831. The column’s height is significant-it’s the exact distance from the pillar to the house in Pudding Lane where the fire started.
Monument was designed by the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren (who also designed St. Paul’s Cathedral) and was completed in 1677. It sports a bright golden flame at the top and an observation tower with splendid views reachable by 311 steep steps. Making it all the way up earns you an official certificate proving your accomplishment. The platform became a popular place for distraught Londoners to hurl themselves to their deaths; more people died at the Monument than from the fire itself until a protective screen was installed.
Dramatically set alongside the Thames Embankment between Waterloo and Hungerford Bridges is something you don’t expect to see in London-an ancient Egyptian obelisk covered in hieroglyphs. The name is misleading. It wasn’t erected by Cleopatra but rather by Thothmes III around 1500 BC. Two centuries later Ramses the Great added some inscriptions boasting of his military prowess. When Cleopatra was redecorating Alexandria in 12 BC she had the obelisk moved there.
It was donated to the British Empire in 1819 by Muhammad Ali, viceroy of Egypt, as thanks for the English kicking Napoleon out of Egypt. Getting it to England proved problematic. They didn’t even try until 1877, when the obelisk was encased in a metal cylinder and towed out to sea. It was lost in a storm in the Bay of Biscay only to be spotted by another ship floating peacefully on the waves. The chips out of its bottom are courtesy of German bombing during World War One.
Watts Memorial in Postman’s Park
Next to the 18th century church of St. Botolph-without-Aldersgate on Aldersgate Street stands Postman’s Park, a tranquil oasis amid the rush of the city. A curious feature of this park is the Watts Memorial, erected in 1900 by a parishioner who wanted to honor those who had given their lives while trying to save others. Each hero or heroine is given a plaque briefly telling their story. The accumulated effect of the dozens of plaques is deeply moving.
Visiting monuments is one way to travel on a budget. All except Monument are free, and they tell you a lot about British history and worldview. Are going to London? Check out AOL Travel’s London guide!