London Lantern

Putting the Spotlight on London

The Faces of London

09/12/2004, By Candice Caster

Reader Rating: 2.9 from 17225 votes


There is much to be admired about London: the beautiful architecture of its buildings, bridges and churches; its elegant parks, gardens and squares; and its spectacular ceremonies, pageantry and traditions. But what particularly draws me to London, I believe, are its faces: the faces on its monuments and memorials, in its museums and galleries, and in its streets and lanes.

These figures cannot talk, but yet we hear the words they have spoken; they do not move, but we walk in their footsteps. Symbols of those who left their mark on the nation and, in many cases, the world, their faces frozen in time and place, they are the heart and soul of London, and we find them everywhere as we weave our way in and out of the boroughs of London.

Queen Victoria

There are the Royals: a youthful Queen Victoria outside Kensington Palace, sculpted by her daughter Princess Louise; and a more mature Victoria reigning supreme on the monument before Buckingham Palace.

I’ve stood before St. Paul’s Cathedral at the feet of the regally robed Queen Anne, the ruler who united Scotland and England and thus created Great Britain, and outside the Houses of Parliament a short distance from the 12th century Richard I, known as Richard the Lionheart.

In Kensington, we find Prince Albert, lover of the arts, seated on possibly the most extravagant memorial in all of London, in Hyde Park, across the street from one of his greatest achievements, Royal Albert Hall.

Sir Winston Churchill

You can find the major political figures: Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, massive and brooding, and another great orator and Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, only several of many statesmen in Parliament Square, not far from the Houses of Parliament and the statue of Oliver Cromwell, leader of the nation after England’s Civil War and during the brief, turbulent period known as the Commonwealth.

There are the military leaders and heroes: the Duke of Wellington on horseback opposite the Bank of England in the old City of London, and Admiral Lord Nelson, a prominent personage in a prominent place, Trafalgar Square, atop a 165-foot column.

On each and every visit to London, we cross Westminster Bridge in front of the chariot of the raging warrior queen Boadicea, who very early in England’s history resisted Roman aggression. And it’s always an American’s delight to come upon the Eisenhower statue, a tribute to the Commander in Chief of the Allied Forces in World War II, in Grosvenor Square near the American Embassy.

Dr Johnson

Then we must include the literary and musical icons of London: I’ve looked into the dignified face of George Frederic Handel, the prolific composer, in a painting at his home of 36 years on Brook Street where he wrote the Messiah; I have seen a portrait of Samuel Johnson in his Gough Square home, where he compiled the first definitive English dictionary, and a portrait of Charles Dickens, the phenomenal novelist of Victorian England, at his home on Doughty Street in Bloomsbury. William Shakespeare, the Bard himself, appears in busy Leicester Square in a statue identical to the one in Westminster Abbey.

There are the “timely” faces of London: the clocks! There is, of course, Big Ben, its face and chime known around the world; the exquisite clock at England’s largest and most elegant “supermarket,” Fortnum and Mason, the 4-foot high replicas of the Messrs. Fortnum and Mason emerging every hour, bowing to each other amidst bells and 18th century music.

Selfridges

And a personal favorite of mine, the decorative, blue-gowned “Queen of Time” which supports the clock above the main entrance to Selfridges, the American-style department store on Oxford Street modeled after Marshall Fields in Chicago. I love the clocks of journalistic and legal Fleet Street and the Strand, namely the clock at the Royal Courts of Justice, and the one on the old Daily Telegraph Building.

So we discover the faces of London - marble and bronze, canvas and oils, and - yes, flesh and blood! I would be remiss if I failed to mention the “living” faces. For London is also the expressionless face of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the weathered face of the Yeoman at the Tower, and the patrician face of the doorman at the Ritz.

Yesterday and today, past and present, layer upon layer, we find them, these faces of London. And they are London’s pride and joy.

Candice Caster

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