Friday, July 11, 2014

Answer: Where's the statue now?

In this week's Challenge I was wondering about a statue that USED to be between two fountains in a well-known public square in London that was once-upon-a-time trafficked by Straight-Tusked elephants. 

1.  Whose statue am I describing? 

2.  What square was it originally located in?  

3.  Where is that statue now?  (Can you find a picture of it?)  

To solve the Challenge, I started with the clues about the Straight-tusked elephant.  First, what IS a Straight-tusked elephant? 

     [ straight tusked elephant ] 

That brings me to the Wikipedia entry for the Straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus), where we learn it was a common elephant in Britain (not a sentence I thought I'd ever write), that became extinct some 115,000 years ago, being replaced by the more widely-spread Wooly Mammoth.   (To be sure, I checked around a bit and found other sources with the same information.)  

So, where was such an elephant discovered under a public square in London? The query: 

     [ straight tusked elephant london discovered square ] 

tells you it’s Trafalgar Square (Natural History Museum's blogpost and a paper about "Interglacial Deposits at Trafalgar Square" published in New Phytologist 59.2 (1960): 145-152).  

At this point most readers did some version of the search: 

    [ Trafalgar Square statues ] 

then turning to the Wikipedia article about Trafalgar statues, or looking at the UK Trafalgar page.  

I hadn't realized it when I wrote this Challenge that the Wikipedia page would say: "The other, of General Charles George Gordon by Hamo Thornycroft, was erected on an 18-foot high pedestal between the two fountains in 1888. It was removed in 1943 and re-sited on the Victoria Embankment ten years later." And then provide a link to a 1976 book about the Square's statues.  

So it should be straightforward to read the Wikipedia article General Gordon and find the statue. 

BUT... it's harder than you think.  

The Wiki article says it's on the Victoria Embankment.  But if you look at for the Victoria Embankment, you'll find a nice, relatively small park on the Thames with many statues.  None of which are of General Gordon.  

Looking back at the Wiki article about General Gordon, you'll find a nice image of the statue: 

which is consistent with the descriptions of the statue when it was in Trafalgar Square.  This is the statue by Thornycroft, but where? 

If that's the current location of the statue, it's clearly NOT in the Victoria Embankment Park. When I use Streetview to check out the Embarkment park, it's either leafy green, or a view of the river Thames, or other office buildings with Doric columns and other kinds of edifices.  This building in the back of the statue shown above doesn't match! 

So where IS this statue?  

I thought to search for a tool to help me locate monuments and statues in London.  

     [ London statues map Victoria Embankment ] 

which led me to this lovely statues and monuments database:  

But after a few minutes of looking at all of the statues in the Victoria Embankment Park, I realized that it's not there...  the database is incomplete.  

Luckily, they have a database search function (so I don't have to poke one-by-one at all of the pins on the map).  I searched for [ General Gordon ] and [ General George Gordon ] and [ Gordon ] ... but there's no statue!   Dead end.  

Could it have been moved since the last document I found?  

I went back to the Wikimedia source page for the image, and read carefully.  I learned that the source of the image was the Geograph website, a British project to "photograph every grid square" (of the Ordnance Survey grid).  

Looking at the Geograph web page for the photo, you'll find that they give the lat/long for the statue.  This is great!  They say it's located at 51.5045, -0.1238.  Dropping that lat/long into Maps shows me that it's fairly south of the Victoria Embankment garden, and located directly in front of 1 Horse Guards Avenue.  A quick visit to Streetview yields this image

General Gordon statue looking out over the Thames.
Near, but not in, Victoria Embankment Gardens.

Clearly the same statue.  Not in the LondonRemembers database, but handily located by tracking back to the original source of the picture. It turns out that the statue is in the area known as the Embankment, and not in the "Victoria Embankment Garden" area.  

Just for clarity, I went and looked up "Victoria Embankment" just to see how others defined it.  

Turns out that "Victoria Embankment" is " part of the Thames Embankment, a road and river-walk along the north bank of the River Thames in London. It runs from the Palace of Westminster to Blackfriars Bridge in the City of London."  

So the statue really IS in the Victoria Embankment, and not in the Victoria Embankment Park.  

As I said, this is a fine solution--but not what I was expecting everyone to do.  

My solution:  Instead, my first solution to figure out what was at the center of Trafalgar Square (and between the fountains) was to seek out an old map of Trafalgar Square! 

I know that a great collection of online maps is at the Google Maps Gallery, so I started there.  

There are roughly 1000 maps (I don't know the exact number, but it's growing).  That's a decent resource, and well worth a quick search.  

To find the maps of London, in Maps Gallery I did a search for:  

     [ London OS ] 

Why OS?  You have to know that this is the handy shorthand for  “Ordnance Survey” maps, which is the official mapmaking agency in the UK, and the term that's used everywhere.  (It's the USGS of Great Britain, although their maps have a distinctly cultural quality in addition to geography.)  

It was then pretty simple to find the map of London in the 1890s.  Here's the OS map from 1893 of Trafalgar Square, centered on the place I was asking about... and you can see that this is where the "Gordon Statue" was originally placed.  

I want to point out a subtle feature about these kinds of maps--notice the slider (marked in red above).  This allows you to shift the transparency of the overlap map.  In the image below, I've tried to show the effect of switching from the current view (shown on the left) with the map (shown on the right).  Try it yourself on the Maps!   You can see that there's a blank spot where George Gordon once stood.  

(And if you look at the Map's metadata, you'll find out that the images are originally from the National Library of Scotland.   You can look there for the originals there.)   

Search lessons:  First, as always, check the answer you find.  Although many sources say "Victoria Embankment," it's actually in the AREA known as the Victoria Embankment, and NOT in "Victoria Embankment Park," which you'd first think.  Tracking down the exact placement of the statue required a bit of working backwards to the original source of the data (in this case, the picture) and figuring out where that source said it was.  The lat/long from the original publisher turned out to be correct. 

Also, not all databases are complete.  Although the LondonRemembers database is a great resource, it just happens to be missing this one statue.  

Finally, remember that there are great collections of resources that you need to keep in mind.  

This is why I asked about your favorite collections.  It's not always obvious which kind of document (or which kind of collection) you need to search in order to find the answer.  

In this case, I knew that the Maps Gallery had a lot of historical maps.  Luckily, a map of exactly this time period (when Gordon WAS in Trafalgar Square) was in the collection, and so it was easy to see where he stood.  

I'll write a bit more next week about collections and how much you need to know about them.  While Google does a great job of search, there is still some stuff you've just got to know.  This business about collections--what they're called, how their organized, how their indexed, and what kinds of things they collect--is still something you need to have quickly at hand. 

But more on that later.  

Search on!  


  1. what The Rt Hon. Gen. Gordon will miss out on in 2015/16 by not still residing in TSquare… behind & to his right… on the plinth originally reserved for this guy
    overview (really good idea/promotion)
    nice 360˚
    current tenant -
    of the walk…
    btw, a couple places to view the Gen. when he was still between the fountains -
    nice one from 1910
    a couple favorites -
    between Nelson's lions
    Gordon nocturne
    and a very interesting shot of Gordon missing during WWII - but his base was still present…
    he saw some history while in the

    fwiw - OS blog & - twitter

    look forward to the info on collections and perhaps a food review?
    Blood Pudding, Steak and Kidney Pie, and Haggis
    not a direct tie, but with tonic, contemplation inducing about the Empire past
    Gordons Gin in song
    gin (Seagrams this time) updated, empire is dead, long live the empire -nsfw audio- ¯\(°_o)/¯ DrDre @  mapshift…

  2. I will expand on my answer regarding collections used for searches. I have so many sites for each category but I’ve selected one collection per category. I selected ones that I’ve found quite useful & they are perhaps a little less known.

    Wikipedia - well known but the List of Newspaper Archives is an excellent list

    Internet Archives - Wayback Machine for historical searches

    Gutenberg - free online books

    The Guardian maintains a good data bank

    Hathi Trust Library - excellent digital library resources

    Wikimapia - identifying landmarks

    Elephind - huge newspaper database

    Emporis for building information

    Articles to help understand results

    These are just a very small sampling of the sites I have made note of. Wikipedia would be my first step in looking for collections unknown to me. Knowing Google search categories such as Maps, News, Books, Scholar etc. is essential along with being familiar with search operators/tools. The next category is knowing the online library resources and government archives. As well there are image libraries, databanks, & online catalogues that will be specific to the search .

    I hope this is the type of information you’re looking for. To comment as to how these collections are organized/indexed I would need more information. I can only say that I usually spend some time exploring these sites to figure how to best find what is available and how it can help me achieve desired results.

  3. Thanks, Rosemary... this is exactly the kind of thing I was looking for... Now I'll *definitely* write something early next week about collections.

  4. Thanks, Daniel. Fascinating research. Do you happen to know "why" the statue was moved? I can understand it being taken down to protect it during the Blitz, but shouldn't it have been put back where it was commissioned to go?

    1. Hello Jmatlock. I read about your question while doing my SearchResearch.

      Gordon's statue was removed to make way for a Lancaster bomber during the Second World War, and relocated to Embankment Gardens outside the Ministry of Defence in 1953. source:
      Trafalgar Square in History

      In a House of Commons speech on 5 May 1948 then opposition leader Winston Churchill spoke out in favour of the statue's return to its original location: “Is the right honourable Gentleman (the Minister of Works) aware that General Gordon was not only a military commander, who gave his life for his country, but, in addition, was considered very widely throughout this country as a model of a Christian hero, and that very many cherished ideals are associated with his name? Would not the right honourable Gentleman consider whether this statue might not receive special consideration. General Gordon was a figure outside and above the ranks of military and naval commanders.” However, in 1953 the statue minus a large slice of its pedestal was reinstalled on the Victoria Embankment, in front of the newly built Ministry of Defence.Source:

      Major-General Charles George Gordon 1833 1885 Trafalgar Square London

    2. S˜R´G´, btw — am starting to use this Wiki feature more, at times… interesting way to have a gander about…
      wiki mini atlas (centered on the Moore piece)

  5. went back and forth on whether to post this… parts are a bit of a sticky wicket, a different kettle of fish, but there are interesting bits ‘n bobs, not meant to be gobby.

    …speculation as to why, in the current climate, Gordon's statue was moved to a less high-profile location…
    BBC, see last half of last paragraph
    it's a brit hangup
    thanks Ramón for leading to a prior Fourth Plinth work by Antony Gormley - living sculpture:
    Gormley, images at bottom left, some appear missing… like Gordon
    Lancaster in T⃞, over Gordon's spot - thanks Ramón & Hans
    Lancaster in situ
    another angle

    cheers, Winston

    other examples of sculpture missing, being in multiple places at once and disappearing…
    Churchill, a version
    another version
    an erudite version
    a UK version
    disappearing example
    as I was looking at Gordon's statue in Melbourne to see why it was there too…
    Melbourne, the AU resonse
    with the four plaques on the base by Thornycroft

    also from down under - Topher, may be worth a listen

    for Dan Leonine
    Nelson's Column lions
    Landseer, great lions, but like the dogs & polar bears
    Canadian link
    Canadians in London
    leonining could be the new planking…

  6. Following on with Rosemary's excellent suggestions and format

    Cyndi's List
    A comprehensive, categorized & cross-referenced list of links that point you to genealogical research sites online.

    Our records span billions of names across hundreds of collections—including birth, marriage, death, probate, land, military

    Gale Databases -- I use the historical UK newspapers -- access only thru libraries
    Gale Brings Millions of Pages of Treasured Historical Content to Academic Libraries

    Newspaper Archive -- lots of old papers, but beware
    This is currently generating many complaints and legal actions. Check with Uncle Google.

    British Newspaper Archive
    Explore over 200 years of history
    Millions of stories: from your street to the world. 8.5 million pages; 257 titles;1700-1960

    MAPCO's aim is to provide genealogists, students and historians with free access to high quality scans of rare and beautiful antique maps and views.

    jon tU whose first post on this minutes ago using Preview just vanished

  7. Hi Dan,

    Hope you are enjoying London – the weather has certainly cooperated for you. If you get a chance, I can recommend a visit to the British Library at St Pancras (near where the new Google HQ is going to be, I believe).

    My whole post disappeared on preview too :(

    My collections are mostly medical cos that's my job.

    Free collections -

    Cochrane Library
    Pubmed / Medline
    NHS Evidence – not very easy to search but brings together lots of health info.

    Resources that require payment (or an university account) -
    British Nursing Index

    More generally -
    most public libraries offer newspaper archive access for free.
    The BBC News site is good although searching can be erratic. is for UK government info on tax etc.

    Each government dept has its own site but their search engines are appalling and I usually use site operator in google to search those. (Try Welsh Government or Department of Health for experience of the dreadfulness of it.).

    On the more pleasurable leisure side of things (i.e. books) I love LibraryThing and Fantastic Fiction.

    A question related to maps? I think StreetView is the 8th wonder of the world. Being able to see where you are going before you go is incredible (I am a nervous traveller).
    One thing I would love to be able to do in Streetview is to put in 2 separate points and get StreetView to show me how to walk from one to the other as if I was watching a video.
    Is that possible?



  8. Sarah George.

    SEARCH [streetview video of route]

    shows lots of hits. Haven't tried any yet but it looks as though you can do this right now

    for instance:

    I am going to try this too

    jon tU whose previous post using Publish just vanished...but not before I copied it

  9. Sarah George

    Google Maps Streetview Player actually works just as you requested

    jon tU

    1. Thanks for this pointer, Jon. I like that you can download this to a movie. (Although the distortion on the upper part of the image is a bit odd.)

    2. I didn't have chance to look at this until the weekend. Thanks Jon and Remmij - that's exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. Off to have a play with the Streetview Player now. And to read that Google HQ info fully. Wonder if they'll offer tours?!!

  10. Ms. George, you might have a look at these too - Daytripper looks interesting
    example: (tried Wales to London - interesting it ended up @ Trafalgar…
    Google Maps Mania
    checked the GooHQ you mentioned too - will be a nice place for DrD to hang out - it needs lions…
    a softer example - do they shrink?
    good Simba
    Google LDNHQ @ ♚✛