The Intellectual Cleansing of Leicester Square

As the ‘new look’ Leicester Square was unveiled this week with all the usual the bland hurrahs, no one noticed the casualties.

Five artworks celebrating famous former residents of the Square have vanished.

Gone from the four corners of the ‘pocket park’ are the four busts of

Sir Joshua Reynolds,

William Hogarth,

Sir Isaac Newton,

and the surgeon John Hunter (of Hunterian Museum fame).

Missing also is the full statue of Charlie Chaplin.

All that’s left is the beautiful statue of Shakespeare which stands in the centre.

A quote inscribed on the statue – under Shakespeare’s right elbow – from the play Twelth Night is appropriate: ‘There is no darkness but ignorance.’

Reports by the Independent Newspaper and the Press Association made no mention of the departed icons. They merely reprinted the gushing enthusiasms of Mayor of London Boris Johnson who described it as a ‘fantastic makeover’ and Deputy Leader of Westminster Council Robert Davies who hailed it as an ‘ambitious regeneration project.’

Boris Johnson: “This fantastic makeover is an integral part of the legacy that London 2012 will bring, helping to rid the square of the blight of anti-social behaviour and creating a must-see destination for the thousands of people who visit each day.”‘

Robert Davies: “This ambitious regeneration project has breathed new life into the square and has given it a vibrant new feel which is more in keeping with its international reputation. Central London deserves a state-of-the-art cultural destination, particularly in this Olympic year, and we hope Londoners and visitors alike will be impressed with the results.”

A City of Westminster site adds: ‘The transformation fo (sic) the famous Leicester Square has taken just over seventeen months to complete and with everything now in place, the square is ready to welcome the world to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Olympic Games.’

The ‘cultural destination’, though, is obviously too ‘state-of-the-art’ to offer a place to has-beens like Reynolds, Hogarth, Newton, Hunter and Chaplin.

It seems like intellectual cleansing. It’s as if Westminster Council  thinks the tourists will all recognise Shakespeare but not the others. It must be particularly galling for admirers of John Hunter that his monument has been surgically removed.

It’s also a loss to local history. Neither Shakespeare nor Chaplin ever lived in Leciester Square; they are there as emblems of the ‘entertainment industry’ so associated with the area’s theatres and cinemas. But Reynolds, Hogarth, Newton and Hunter were residents. Another local genius who was never commemorated – and should  be – was the newly-married William Blake who lived in Green Street (now Irving Street), Leicester Fields as it was then, in 1782-84.

The new highly artifical, manicured Square seems to want to cater for family groups. There is less grass, replaced by granite paving. The old-style black railings have been replaced by blingy stainless steel. Where the majestic bust of Hogarth once stood now boasts what looks like a large cylindrical steel ashtray.

Once again, local government of Westminster, the Greater London Council and the Mayor of London, are guilty of gross philistinism. They have dumbed down London.

The Grade 2 Listed busts were supposed to have been removed temporarily ‘for the duration of the works’; but the works are over and the Square has reopened without its genii loci.

The plan was to eliminate ‘anti-social behaviour’ in Leicester Square, but why can our public servants not do something to eliminate cultural vandalism? There has been no explanation or apology for this desecration. Such philistinism goes hand in hand with other types of injustice, for which Westminster Council are already notorious.

For futher gnashings and grindings call Niall McDevitt/POETOPOGRAPHY at 07722163823

Niall McDevitt


About Niall McDevitt

Niall McDevitt > poet > author of b/w (Waterloo Press, 2010) and Porterloo (International Times, 2012) > urban explorer > radical pedestrian who leads Shakespeare/Blake/Rimbaud /Yeats walks, among others.
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6 Responses to The Intellectual Cleansing of Leicester Square

  1. If you need to contact the Council again in relation to this please email OR call 020 7641 6000 and quote reference number C531782.

    The following information was received by the Council.

    First Name: Niall
    Surname: McDevitt
    Phone: 07722163823
    Address: 5 Yeldham Hse
    City: Yeldham Rd
    Postcode: W6 8JD
    Country: UK
    Comments: – “I wish to complain about the removal of busts and statues of intellectual and artistic geniuses from Leicester Square”.
    Reason for contact: Other
    Reason for contact: To complain
    Reference: C531782

    Visit to help you plan around travel hotspots in London during the Olympic and Paralympic Games. ***********************************************************************************
    Westminster City Council switchboard: +44 20 7641 6000.
    This E-Mail may contain information which is privileged, confidential and protected from disclosure.
    If you are not the intended recipient of this E-mail or any part of it, please telephone Westminster City Council immediately on receipt.
    You should not disclose the contents to any other person or take copies.

  2. This is extraordinary – I thought something was wrong, but couldn’t put my finger on it. Have you found out what’s happened to them? What should we do?

  3. Pingback: Complaint to Westminster Council etc | IT

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