History in the streets: four statues and monuments to look out for

London’s an old, rich, layered place. If you know where to look, you can find its curious details, characters and stories written into the streets – and that makes every trip and every walk more interesting. Start by keeping an eye out for these four hidden and not-so-hidden objects in our neighbourhood. Each one’s near major attractions and restaurants, and some don’t even require a detour from main thoroughfares…

Eleanor Cross

The story of the Eleanor Crosses starts not in London but in the village of Harby in Northamptonshire. In 1290 the little village saw the death of Eleanor of Castile, the wife of King Edward 1. The grieving king commissioned a series of ornate crosses to mark the 12-night journey that brought her body back to London, and the last cross stood in Trafalgar Square. The original was in wood and stood at the top of Whitehall – this version is a Victorian replica erected by the Southern Rail Company in 1865. It may not be 100% authentic, but it’s a striking monument to one of medieval Britain’s most moving stories.

In the area: Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, and St Martin’s Church. For refreshments, try the fantastic wine bar Terroirs and celebrated real ale pub The Harp.

A Conversation with Oscar Wilde

It took several years of campaigning from a group of prominent Oscar Wilde fans – including director Derek Jarman and the actors Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellan – to secure backing for a statue of the writer and wit. Maggi Hambling’s design was chosen from a short list of six, and depicts Wilde rising from one end of a bench in full conversational flow, a cigarette hanging from his hand. Opinion on the piece is divided – one Telegraph writer said “hideous is too gentle a word for it.” Astonishingly, despite being erected in the 90s, it was Britain’s first official public monument to Wilde.

In the area: As above – A Conversation with Oscar Wilde is just around the corner from the Eleanor Cross.

Hodge the Cat

It wasn’t fashionable to like, let alone keep, cats in Dr Johnson’s London. But the formidable and traveller was nothing if not a contrarian, and keep a cat he did. Hodge is believed to have been black, and was fed on oysters, which Dr Johnson insisted on buying himself. He’s brought back to life in Gough Square, near Dr Johnson’s House, by a cute statue – sculptor John Bickley has him sitting on a copy of Johnson’s famous dictionary with two empty oyster shells. The inscription “A very fine cat indeed” comes from Johnson himself, as reported by his friend and biographer James Boswell.

In the area: The Dr Johnson’s House museum itself. For refreshments, it has to be Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a cavernous, historic pub that is traditionally associated with Johnson – though historians insist there’s no evidence he ever drank there.

Temple Bar marker (and dragon)

This one is hard to miss – it stands right in the middle of the road outside the Royal Courts of Justice, and marks the spot where the City of London meets the City of Westminster. It marks the place where a barrier was erected to regulate trade entering the City. It is first recorded in the 13th Century, but the current marker was unveiled in 1880. A more elaborate gate by Christopher Wren stood here from 1672 to 1878 – it was removed but not destroyed, and is now at the entrance to the Paternoster Square development beside St Paul’s.

In the area: While you can’t do much at the Royal Courts of Justice, they’re impressive from the outside; and just over Fleet Street is Somerset House and the Courtauld Gallery. For refreshments, try 28-50 Wine Workshop and Kitchen on Fetter Lane.

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