Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Queen Victoria’s Statue, Newcastle (NZ249640)

Photograph by Jacqueline Banerjee

In the little public square a few yards to the north of Newcastle’s St.Nicholas’ Cathedral sits an often overlooked bronze statue of Queen Victoria. The monarch sits amidst ornamental splendour facing west, so as not to turn her back to either the cathedral itself or the old Town Hall which used to be situated a few yards further north at the foot of the Bigg Market.

The controversial monument – often criticised for its ‘over-the-top’ embellishments – is the work of sculptor Sir Alfred Gilbert and was unveiled in 1903. It was a gift to the city from Sir William Haswell Stephenson, a company director and politician who was Newcastle’s mayor a total of seven times, and was intended to commemorate 500 years of the Shrievalty (the jurisdiction of a sheriff) of Newcastle.

The 500th anniversary itself was actually in April 1900 and, as we all know, Queen Victoria died in 1901. The slight delay in the statue’s unveiling was down to some temporary cash-flow problems for the said Stephenson. As for the fanciful design, the artist was, it seems, attempting to echo the architecture of the nearby cathedral.

Sculptor Alfred Gilbert is also responsible for a similar statue of the old queen in the Great Hall at Winchester (but without the fancy canopy), and also designed Eros (or, more properly, Anteros) of Piccadilly Circus fame. The Newcastle commission must, however, have been one of his last in the UK, as he slipped into bankruptcy and began an extended exile in Bruges in 1901.

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