The Duke of Wellington

The Duke of Wellington by Matthew Cotes Wyatt (1777-1862), with his son James Wyatt (1801-1893) acting as his assistant (see "James Wyatt"). 1840-43. Bronze (40 tons) on a base of red Corshill stone (see Page). Originally placed on the Wellington or Constitution (or Triumphal) Arch, near Hyde Park, London, in 1846, it was let down through the middle of the arch and moved to Green Park in 1883, when the arch was about to be repositioned to improve traffic flow. There it was dismantled and removed to the garrison town of Aldershot, Hampshire, in 1884. At Aldershot it was reassembled on Round Hill. The Prince of Wales, who had suggested this relocation, officially handed it over to the Aldershot Division in 1885. Here, it stands on its eminence just behind and to the side of Philip Charles Hardwick's Royal Garrison Church of All Saints, off Farnborough Road, Aldershot.

As the original sculptural adornment to the Wellington or Constitution Arch, this tribute to Wellington was one of the "curiosities of London." In more detail, John Timbs writes:

This stupendous statue was modelled by Matthew Cotes Wyatt. and his son James Wyatt, at Dudley-grove House, Harrow-road; and was commenced in 1840, and occupied three years, and took more than 100 tons of plaster. It represents the Duke of Wellington upon his horse "Copenhagen," at the field of Waterloo: the Duke sat for the portrait, and the head and likeness are fine. The group is cast in about eight pieces which are fastened with screws and fused together, 30 men being often employed at one time upon the bronze. It was conveyed upon an immense car, drawn by 40 horses, to the Green Park Arch, Sept. 28, 1846, and was raised by crabs. The entire group weighs 40 tons: is nearly 90 feet high; and within half of the horse eight persons have dined. The girth of the horse is 22 ft. 8 in.; nose to tail 26 feet; length of head 5 feet; length of each ear 2 ft. 4 in. The erection of this group, which cost about 30.000l, originated from the close contest for the execution of the Wellington statue in the City [Sir Francis Chantrey's at the Royal Exchange]; and the execution of both statues emanated from a suggestion of Mr. T. B. Simpson, of the Court of Common Council, Lime-street Ward. (692)

Wyatt was known for his equestrian sculpture, and an exhibition reported in the Literary Gazette of 1835 had been enthusiastically reviewed. The reviewer had particularly mentioned Wyatt's "magnificent original statues of a colossal horse" — so it would seem that the sculptor had been building up to this showpiece for a long time. But once finished it was heavily criticised, especially in Punch, which lampooned it as being oversized and ruining the arch aesthetically: "as the arch at Hyde-Park-Corner is a very respectable structure, it is too bad to allow the DUKE of WELLINGTON to ride rough-shod over it." It was also considered dangerously heavy: "We seriously warn the public against passing under the arch when the statue shall be placed at the top of it." It was even thought to spoil the view. (See "The Wellington Statue and the Arch," 51). Modern commentators still refer to it as "ugly" (Weinreb et al., 875).

The Duke of Wellington

However, it looks rather splendid in its present position, with plenty of greenery around and in an open landscape. The Prince of Wales had been right in believing that it would go down better in an army context. "Standing out against the skyline, and on the route used by the soldiers marching from their barracks to the training areas, the Wellington Statue rapidly became a well-known landmark and a symbol of military Aldershot" (Information Plaque). It was restored in 2004, and is still the largest of the many statues to Wellington ("The Wellington Statue").

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Information plaque at the foot of Round Hill, with content supplied by the Friends of the Aldershot Military Museum.

"James Wyatt." Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britian and Ireland, 1851-1951. Web. 8 May 2012.

"Mr Wyatt's Sculpture." The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle, Vol. 6 (July-Dec., 1836). Google Books. Web. 8 May 2012.

Page, William, ed. A History of the County of Hampshire, Vol. 4 (1911). British History Online. Web. 8 May 2012.

Timbs, John. Curiosities of London. London: David Bogue, 1855. Internet Archive. Web. 8 May 2012.

Weinreb, Ben, et al., eds. The London Encyclopaedia. Third ed. London: Macmillan, 2008. Print.

"The Wellington Statue." The Aldershot Military Museum. Web. 8 May 2012.

"The Wellington Statue and the Arch." Punch, Vol. XI (July to December 1846): 51. Google Books. Web. 8 May 2012.

Last modified 8 May 2012