Parliament Square is a green space which sits opposite the Houses of Parliament in London. It is known as a meeting place for protest and celebration. Parliament Square is also the home to a number of notable statues of political figures.
The statues of Parliament Square can often go unremarked. However they represent a microcosm of the history of Britain. Those whose images have been depicted are who the British state have deemed to be particularly noteworthy. They are, after all, positioned directly in front of parliament itself.
Estimated reading time: 21 minutes
Table of contents
- Historical Figures on Parliament Square
- History of the Statues
- Adding Statues to the Square
- Mapping the Statues
- Winston Churchill – Prime Minister (1874 – 1965)
- David Lloyd George – Prime Minister (1865 – 1945)
- Jan Christian Smuts – Prime Minister of South Africa (1870 – 1950)
- Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston – Prime Minister (1784 – 1865)
- Edward Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby – Prime Minister (1799 – 1869)
- Millicent Garrett Fawcett – Suffragist (1847 -1929)
- Benjamin Disraeli (1st Earl of Beaconsfield) – Prime Minister (1804 – 1881)
- Robert Peel – Prime Minister (1788 – 1850)
- Mahatma Gandhi – Campaigner for Indian Independence (1869 -1948)
- Nelson Mandela – President of South Africa (1918 – 2013)
- Abraham Lincoln – President of the United States (1809 – 1865)
- George Canning – Prime Minister (1770 – 1827)
- Timeline of the Parliament Square Statues
Historical Figures on Parliament Square
Grand figures include no less than seven former British prime ministers. These are David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Sir Robert Peel, Henry John Temple (3rd Viscount Palmerston), Edward Stanley (14th Earl of Derby), George Canning and Benjamin Disraeli (1st Earl of Beaconsfield). There is also a statue of American President Abraham Lincoln and two South African leaders in Nelson Mandela and Jan Christian Smuts. Mandela was also the first black person to be represented on the square. A campaigner against apartheid, he become President of South Africa in 1994.
The final two statues are of also of campaigners. Indeed that are known primarily as people who campaigned against the British establishment A statue of Millicent Garrett Fawcett was positioned in 2018. A notable figure in the long fight for women’s suffrage, she is the first and so far only female represented in the square. Fawcett was a key figure in establishing the vote for women which was bitterly opposed for years. Mahatma Ghandi meanwhile was a campaigner against colonial rule in India. His non violent resistance finally resulted in Indian independence from Britain.
History of the Statues
The statues only occupy two sides of the square. The sides immediately closest to the Houses of Parliament and the side adjacent to Westminster Abbey have none. Two of the statues, Abraham Lincoln and George Canning, are actually on a piece of land called Canning Green. This is separated from the main square by the road.
The square itself is part of the Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square conservation area. In 1996 it then became a Grade II listed garden of Special Historical Interest. The statues themselves are a mixture of listed and unlisted. They also date from a number of distinct periods and have a number of different styles. The first statue, that of George Canning is the oldest. First unveiled in 1832 it once stood in Palace Yard only moving to the square in 1867. Canning’s statue was the first to be added to the square.
Adding Statues to the Square
The statues of Edward Stanley, Viscount Palmerston, Benjamin Disraeli and Sir Robert Peel were added between 1874 and 1883. There were no further unveiling’s until 1920 when Abraham Lincoln was added. His was also the first non-British person to have a statue in the square. Jan Christian Smuts was next in 1956, himself a South African and a man who was also a field marshall. Then in 1973 the striking sculpture of Winston Churchill was unveiled closest to the Houses of Parliament. There was a large gap and then in 2007 two statues in the form of David Lloyd George and Nelson Mandela were revealed. Mahatma Ghandi was added in 2015 and Millicent Garrett Fawcett in 2018.
Mapping the Statues
This guide to the statues of Parliament Square details some of the key information about each one. The list below is in order of placement. Starting with Winston Churchill because his is the nearest to the Houses of Parliament. We then work around the square towards Nelson Mandela’s before crossing the road to Canning Green and taking in the final two of Abraham Lincoln and George Canning.
Winston Churchill – Prime Minister (1874 – 1965)
Unveiled on 14 November 1973 the statue of Winston Churchill is possibly Parliament Square’s most photographed statue. He is shown in his naval overcoat holding a cane and placed on an 8ft white stone plinth. Churchill is arguably Britain’s most famous Prime Minister. A wartime leader, he led the country during World War II, ultimately working with allies to defeat Nazi Germany. He actually held the office of Prime Minister twice. First from 1940 – 1945 and then from 1951 to 1955.
The statue itself was created by British sculptor Ivor Robert-Jones and cast in bronze. It is still considered to be Robert-Jones most significant work. Indeed this was one of the reasons given for the statues classification as Grade II listed in 2008. It’s location in Parliament Square has much to do with Churchill himself. When Prime Minster, on being shown redevelopment plans for the square, he circled the spot and said “this is where my statue will go”.
Unveiled by his widow Clementine Churchill, the ceremony was also attended by the Queen and then Prime Minister Edward Heath. The statue has since become synonymous with protest and events on the square. As a result it has often been defaced. A combination perhaps of Churchill’s recognisable figure and it’s position at the head of the square.
David Lloyd George – Prime Minister (1865 – 1945)
Liberal Prime Minister from 1916 to 1922 he led the country during the first world war. Succeeding Herbert Asquith in 1916, he has been the Secretary of State for War beforehand. Having before that served as Minister of Munitions and Chancellor in the wartime cabinet. Following the war, Lloyd George played a key role in negotiating the Treaty of Versailles. It was under Lloyd George’s government that voting was also extended to women for the first time in 1918.
The statue of David Lloyd George in Parliament Square was unveiled in 2007 by Prince Charles and Camilla the Duchess of Cornwall. The choice of Charles as the Prince of Wales was fitting due to Lloyd George being the first and so far only Welsh prime minister. Indeed English was only his second language. The sculptor was Welsh artist Glynn Williams it is bronze and stands on a plinth of granite from Penrhyn Quarry in North Wales.
Jan Christian Smuts – Prime Minister of South Africa (1870 – 1950)
Prime Minister of South Africa first between 1919 and 1924 then from 1939 to 1948. The statue of Jan Christian Smuts was the first erected to a statesmen from a Commonwealth country. A contemporary of Winston Churchill, he was someone Churchill very much admired. When Smuts died in 1950, it was Churchill who proposed erecting a monument to him in Parliament Square a year later. Churchill himself having just won re-election as Prime Minister in 1951. The statue was eventually unveiled on 7 November 1956. Churchill himself was too ill by this point to unveil it himself. That honour was given to the Speaker of the House, Herbert Morrison.
Smuts holds a unique distinction as being the only person to have signed peace treaties reached after both the 1st and 2nd World Wars. Visiting Britain in 1917 he was invited to join David Lloyd George’s wartime cabinet. At the end of that war he also played a key role in the founding of the League of Nations. The statue to Jan Christian Smuts was Grade II listed along with a number of others in 1970. It was created by the sculptor Jacob Epstein.
Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston – Prime Minister (1784 – 1865)
Serving twice as Prime Minister, Henry John Temple is better known now as Viscount Palmerston. First holding office between 1855 and 1858 as a Whig and then between 1859 and 1865 as a Liberal. He died whilst in office and was replaced with John Russell who was also known as the 1st Earl Russell. Now known for being both the first Liberal Prime Minister and for being the oldest person ever to become Prime Minister. He was 70 when he first ascended to the position in 1855.
In total Temple served in parliament for 46 years. Inheriting his peerage at the age of only 17 he became the 3rd Viscount Palmerston. From the age of 22 he took his inherited seat in the House of Commons and serving almost continuously until his death in 1865. The statue of Palmerston in Parliament Square was placed in 1876 and sculpted by Thomas Woolner. It is bronze with a base of Westmoreland Granite.
Edward Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby – Prime Minister (1799 – 1869)
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom no less than three times. First in 1852, then between 1858-59 and finally between 1866-68. When in power he was perhaps best known for passing the 1867 Reform Act. This helped to create a step towards greater enfranchisement on the road to full democracy. Edward Stanley is these days better known as ‘Derby’ or the ‘Earl of Derby’. Indeed on his plinth in the square the engraving simply reads ‘ 1799 Derby 1869’. He was officially the 14th Earl of Derby, an inherited title passed on from his father Edward Stanley.
Unveiled on 11 July 1874 it is the second oldest statue in the square. Then Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who would himself later have his own likeness placed nearby, unveiled the statue. The statue itself was made by Matthew Noble, a notable sculptor of the time. Made of bronze it stands on a granite base. It also contains a number of bronze bas-reliefs showing scenes from his life. It was listed as a Grade II statue in 1970.
Millicent Garrett Fawcett – Suffragist (1847 -1929)
Known for her campaign for Women’s suffrage. Millicent Garrett Fawcett is the first woman honoured with a statue in Parliament Square. She led the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies from 1897 to 1919. Her work was fundamental in advancing the case for female suffrage. Something that finally happened in 1918.
Her statue was created by artist Gillian Wearing and unveiled on the 100 years anniversary of the passing of the representation of the peoples act. It was revealed by a group of local school children in the presence of Theresa May, by this time the second female Prime Minister of the UK. The statue was commissioned following a campaign by Caroline Criado Perez, the British author and journalist. Bronze on a base of granite, the statue also includes the images of 59 other suffragist campaigners. These are included around the top of pedestal.
Benjamin Disraeli (1st Earl of Beaconsfield) – Prime Minister (1804 – 1881)
The 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, Benjamin Disraeli twice served as British Prime Minister for the Conservative party. His first stint was in 1868 not quite lasting the year. His second lasted a little longer, from 1874 to 1880. Disraeli’s peerage as Earl of Beaconsfield was created for him by Queen Victoria in 1876. As he died without heirs the peerage was not passed on and he remains the only person to hold the title.
Disraeli was a peer to a number of other notable figures depicted in Parliament Square namely Sir Robert Peel and Lord Derby (Edward Stanley). First elected to the Commons in 1837 as a Peelite, he fell out with Sir Robert after Peel failed to offer him a place in the cabinet. Never forgetting this, he clashed with Sir Robert Peel in the Commons over the Corn Laws. it was something that would lead to the resignation of Peel’s government in 1846. For Lord Derby Disraeli would serve as Chancellor of the Exchequer on three occasions. Later in 1874 it would be Disraeli himself who would unveil Derby’s statue on the square.
The statue of Benjamin Disraeli on Parliament Square was unveiled in 1883. By sculptor Mario Raggi it is cast in bronze and stands on a red granite plinth. It was grade II listed in 1970.
Robert Peel – Prime Minister (1788 – 1850)
Twice serving as Prime Minister first between 1834 and 1835 and then between 1841 and 1846 he was a Conservative politician. Today he is widely known for the formation of the Metropolitan Police Service which as Home Secretary he created in 1829. The name ‘Bobby‘ often used as a term of affection for police officers dates back to Robert Peel. As Prime Minister Peel passed legislation which paved the way for some important first steps in workplace reform. The Mines Act 1842 banned women and children from working underground. The Factory Act 1844 limited the amount of working hours for women and children in factories.
The statue of Robert Peel in Parliament Square was created by Matthew Noble and was the fourth statue to occupy the square. It is bronze and sits on a base of polished red granite. First unveiled in December 1876, it was Grade II listed in 1970.
Mahatma Gandhi – Campaigner for Indian Independence (1869 -1948)
A campaigner for Indian Independence. Mahatma Gandhi promoted a brand of non-violent resistance which ultimately led to independence in 1947. He is the first Indian citizen to be honoured with a statue in the square. Prior to his campaign he worked as a lawyer in South Africa and also also lived in London for three years. He was assassinated in 1948.
The statue in Parliament Square was announced by George Osborne during a visit to India in 2014. it was meant to be a “lasting and fitting tribute to his legacy in Britain”. It was also planned as being a permanent and lasting monument to the UK’s friendship with India. The unveiling in 2015 marked 100 years since Gandhi left South Africa to start his campaign for Independence. It was designed by British sculptor Phillip Jackson and unveiled by Shri Arun Jaitley the Indian Finance Minister.
Nelson Mandela – President of South Africa (1918 – 2013)
South African President between 1994 to 1999 he was the first person to hold the position. A campaigner against apartheid he had previously spent 27 years as a political prisoner only released in 1990. His campaigns to end apartheid ultimately resulted in his 1994 election win. He is known to many as Madiba and considered to be the Father of the Nation of South Africa.
The second South African to have a statue in Parliament Square. Originally it was due for Trafalgar Square but was moved following an appeal. It was unveiled on 29 August 2007. The sculptor was Ian Walters. A campaign to have a statue to Mandela was originally launched by Donald Woods, the South African journalist and anti-apartheid activist. Upon Woods death, the campaign was carried on by his widow and David Attenborough. The statue was unveiled by Nelson Mandela himself. The statue remains as the only one in parliament square to have been erected whilst the recipient was still alive.
Abraham Lincoln – President of the United States (1809 – 1865)
President of the United States from 1861 to 1865. Abraham Lincoln was the first non-British person to be celebrated with a statue in Parliament Square. He is particularly well known for his Emancipation Proclamation which essentially freed more than 3.5 million enslaved African Americans. He was assassinated on 14 April 1865 whilst watching a play at the theatre.
His statue in Parliament Square actually sits on the strip of land called Canning Green and is placed in front of the Supreme Court. Created by Augustus Saint-Gaudens it is called ‘Standing Lincoln’. It is actually a replica of a piece the sculptor made for Chicago’s Lincoln Park and was unveiled on 28 July 1920. It’s dedication however was originally meant for 1914. This was to celebrate the centenary of the time when Britain and the United States were last at war. Due to the outbreak of World War I however, this needed to be delayed. The statue itself was Grade II listed in 1970. It is made of bronze and stands on a granite pedestal.
George Canning – Prime Minister (1770 – 1827)
The first statue to be added to the square, George Canning’s is also the oldest. First unveiled in 1832 it originally stood in Palace Yard. It was the statues move to Parliament Square in 1867 which began the square’s collection of notable figures. Canning himself was a former Tory Prime Minister though only for five months. He took office on 10 April 1827 but died soon afterwards of pneumonia on 8 August 1827.
Prior to becoming Prime Minister he became foreign secretary in 1807 though resigned in 1809. This was after having a duel with a political rival, the War Minister Robert Stewart also known as the 2nd Viscount Castlereagh. Canning missed with his shot but Castlereagh hit him in the thigh. He became Foreign Secretary once more in 1822 actually replacing his old rival in the post following his death from suicide. Canning is the Prime Minister who has occupied the position for the shortest amount of time.
Timeline of the Parliament Square Statues
George Canning Statue moved to Parliament Square
Originally created in 1832 after Canning’s death in 1827. The statue of Canning was placed in Palace Yard. It’s move to Parliament Square in 1867 was the first to be placed
Edward Stanley (Lord Derby)
Three time Prime Minister Lord Derby’s statue was the second to be placed. It was created by Mattew Noble and unveiled by then Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in 1874
Henry John Temple (Viscount Palmerston)
A two time Prime Minister he held office as both a Whig and a Liberal. He died whilst in office 1865. His statue was sculpted by Thomas Woolner and unveiled in 1876
Sir Robert Peel
The second statue to be unveiled in 1876. Matthew Noble was once again the sculptor.
Benjamin Disraeli (Earl Beaconsfield)
Only passing away a few years before in 1881. Disraeli’s statue was unveiled in 1883 created by sculptor Mario Raggi
The first non-British person represented on Parliament Square. The statue was unveiled in 1920 to commemorate 100 years since the last time Britain and America were at war
Jan Christian Smuts
Prime Minister of South Africa, he is the first Commonwealth citizen to be commemorated in the square. A contemporary of Churchill, it was Churchill who proposed the monument. It was unveiled in 1956.
Two time Prime Minister and leader during World War II. He had the distinction of choosing where his statue would go. It was unveiled in 1973.
David Lloyd George
Liberal Prime Minister during World War 1. In 1918 his government introduced voting for women for the first time. Lloyd George’s statue was unveiled in 2007
President of South Africa he is seen as the father of his nation after defeating apartheid. Mandela was still alive at the time of the unveiling and unveiled it himself. He is the only person depicted in the square who has seen their statue in their lifetime (2007).
Campaigner for Indian Independence. The statue to Ghandi was meant as a symbol of friendship between the UK and India. It’s unveiling in 2015 marked 100 years since he started his campaign.
Millicent Garrett Fawcett
A suffragist known for her long campaign to get women the vote. Millicent Garrett Fawcett was the first woman to be honoured in the square when it was unveiled in 2017.
The statues of Parliament Square were visited on 26 December 2020. This is the first part of a series of longer articles on public sculpture. The second in the series focuses on Henry Moore who has a number of works nearby and across London.