Durham's Queen Victoria discovered in London Park

Statue of Peace is an allegorical portrait of Queen Victoria, claims a local historian

by Dr Philip Ward-Jackson

For a Londoner, who is also an art historian, things don’t get much more exciting than this. A statue of Queen Victoria with the attributes of Peace has been standing unrecognised for well over a century in Friary Park, Barnet. Originally intended to crown a memorial to the Great Exhibition of 1851, the position it was to occupy was finally taken, in 1863, by a standing figure of Prince Albert.

While he was alive, the Prince had objected to the idea of seeing himself on the memorial, but when he died in 1861 his wishes were overridden. This brought an obvious resolution to a problem which had been vexing him and the memorial committee for a while. Their thoughts had been running in a number of different directions. A competition had been won in 1858 by the sculptor Joseph Durham. In his entry, a statue of Britannia surmounted a plinth flanked by personifications of Europe, Asia, Africa and America. Subsequently, probably at the Prince’s suggestion, it was decided that Britain should be represented, not by the warlike Britannia, with her helmet, trident and shield, but by an allegorical portrait of the Queen with the attributes of Peace. This is the statue which, cast using the electrotype method by the Elkingtons foundry in 1862, has now come to light, recognised for what it is by a local historian, Nick McKie, who here tells how he put two and two together, and how some loose ends in the story still remain to be tied.

Vivat Regina!

by local historian, Nick McKie

Peace arrived in our Friary Park, Friern Barnet, without ceremony or benefit of identity, a day or so before Saturday 4th February 1911, donated by one Sydney Simmons, a successful local businessman.

The local paper (no nationals were interested) records that she was meant to be a monument to the memory of Edward VII who died a year earlier: he was known as ‘the Peacemaker’, and so a statue representing peace was a fitting memorial. It waxes lyrical over Sydney’s generosity and the 200 tons of Dartmoor granite upon which she stands, but of her personal qualities and origin, we only learn that she is 11 feet high. Joseph Durham, sculptor, is not mentioned. The long sceptre of state that we later learn was held in her left hand in 1863 has gone: she arrived in 1911 with a workaday spear. I’ve come to suspect a deliberate effort to wipe out her identity.

Sculptor Joseph Durham’s part in her life eventually became known: his name was, after all, impressed in the base of the casting, but visible only to the intrepid prepared to climb the 10 feet high base. His name, like any suggestion of her true history, faded from view. She had become Peace – a well-known feature of the park and a rewarding challenge to generations of local child mountaineers (and some parents).

My years working with Customs and Excise have left their mark: I saw a real statue and a real sculptor but no evidential trail back to her origin. How had Sydney come by her and from whom? She could be a clone, sister to an original.

The British Newspaper Library at Colindale was already a second home: I had an interest in 1914-1918 history and so news reporting of letters home and casualty lists were valuable material. If the newspaper you sought wasn’t on microfilm or microfiche, you could call up the newsprint. Turning real pages hoping to turn up useful material is seriously addictive.

Colindale closed down in 2013 and its operation moved to the British Library. I encountered the British Newspaper Archive there: this is the progressive digitisation of all British newspapers and is, magically, word searchable. Turning pages is one thing, but keying ‘Durham’ or ‘statue’ and seeing the thousands of references it exposes, is another. I spent a small lifetime there, but found no other reference to ‘Peace’ and her arrival in Friern Barnet.

There were red herrings. A catalogue of Durham’s work shows Peace destined for a George Fox of Harefield, Cheshire in 1868: it took time to contact a living descendant of Mr Fox. Through him, I followed her to an auction in 1895 – ‘lot 121, a life size female bust’ – a bust of all things! I needed the whole body.

Then the reward: determined Googling produced an undeniable likeness of Peace, an albumen print: ‘…a garden statue, 1862 International Exhibition at South Kensington’. This was my introduction to the world of Albertopolis and the Great Exhibitions.

In the official catalogue to the Great Exhibition of 1862, she is shown in bronzed plaster form: Queen by Joseph Durham. She stood at the main entrance, and in her later form, as a cast by Elkington in the Royal Horticultural Gardens behind the exhibition building. She had been intended for the memorial to the Great Exhibition of 1851, but Queen Victoria herself intervened; a statue of Prince Albert took her place and Queen became redundant. It was too late to halt the casting. The same catalogue says of Elkington: ‘In one part (of the exhibition) are the mighty figures modelled for the Great Exhibition memorial lying in their copper baths’, a specific reference to their electrotype process.

RHS yearbook 1862-63 includes a print showing her position in the garden, placed somewhere near the middle of Imperial College Road as it is now. Queen Victoria inspects her there in 1864, and Durham’s obituary implies that she is still there in 1877.

Then I discovered Sir Henry Cole’s diaries, his entry of 26 February 1881 makes it sound likely she is still in the gardens. This is my last sighting, the Imperial Institute was built 1887 onward on the ground where she stood, so Queen had to be moved at some point. This same entry expresses doubt about who owned her. It could be ‘the remainder of the Committee’ (the 1851 Memorial Committee), ‘Himself’ (the Prince of Wales), ‘Carter Hall, Bannock and perhaps another’. It is certain, however, that on 3 January 1862 the Memorial Committee secretary wrote to the Prince of Wales ‘…this statue, which is now being produced in bronze, the Memorial Committee most respectfully place in the hands of your Royal Highness’. I’ve found no further reference to this ownership issue. Cole did not pursue it, he died on 18th April the same year.

The Metropolitan Board of Works, or some other, responsible for her removal from the gardens, may have met the same problem: identifying an owner who could authorise the move. It wouldn’t be decent or politic to casually dispose of the statue of a living monarch, particularly when the owner could be the Prince of Wales. Queen may well have been left in a dark corner to be forgotten. But onward to 1911.

Sydney’s friend was Sir William Treloar, Lord Mayor of London 1906-7, who had travelled to Okehampton in 1907 to open the park Sydney had donated there. The then current Lord Mayor was due to open Friary Park, which Sydney had donated in May 1910, but the ceremony was cancelled because of the death of Edward on 6th May. He clearly had contacts in the City, and among these could have been someone aware of our redundant Queen. Newspapers everywhere carried news about finding suitable civic memorials to the King’s death. Could Sydney have agreed to take Queen, made anonymous as Peace, as a memorial to the King, in his new park: hidden in plain sight. The lost years 1881-1911 are tantalising.

I recently reviewed my lack of progress and found I had ignored a reference to the PMSA, thinking it only interested in grand Wellington Arches, not statues in parks. I girded loins and called on PMSA: my contact listened with admirable patience and would seek out someone who might have ideas about the lost years.

Three days later, nineteenth-century sculpture expert, Philip Ward-Jackson visited the statue. He considered Peace to be the original Queen and that the missing years in her history didn’t compromise her authenticity. We were looking at Queen Victoria aged 42, the original personally approved by Prince Albert on Saturday 26th October 1861. Philip’s enthusiastic part in getting a photographer to brave the rockery and record for the first time ‘cast by Elkington & Co.’ impressed in the electrotype bronze, is worth a citation of its own.

If only I’d sought out PMSA earlier…

But good has come from the chase. A Joseph Durham statue can now be reunited with the world of sculpture that had lost track of it; an Elkington electrotype cast is revealed, and we can show that Friary Park not only boasts a statue of Peace, but a statue of Queen Victoria as Peace.

And so our memorial to Edward VII is a statue of his mother, and that same statue had been presented to him in 1862. Sic transit.

Main image: Joseph Durham, Queen Victoria as Peace , 1862, bronze, signed and dated with inscription Cast by Elkington & Co., Friary Park, Barnet, London.

Aurora Corio