FLASH Vandals


The Intellectual Cleansing of Leicester Square

As the ‘new look’ Leicester Square was unveiled this week amid 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 – a listed statue anyway and therefore immovable – but not the others. It must be particularly galling for admirers of John Hunter that his bust has been surgically removed.

It’s also a loss to local history. Shakespeare and Chaplin never lived in Leciester Square; they are there as emblems of the ‘entertainment industry’ so associated with the area. 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, Westminster Council, as well as the Greater London Council and the Mayor of London, are guilty of gross philistinism. They have dumbed-down London.

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 inevitably goes hand in hand with other other types of injustice. This is the same council that brought us social cleansing


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5 Responses to FLASH Vandals

    1. Thanks for drawing attention to this. What a sad loss. I am sure that families would far rather have grass to sit on and beautiful statues to picnic around. Charlie Chaplin is our earliest celebrated screen actor too and belonged in a square predominated by cinemas, first night openings and film festivals. I suspect that Westminster only left Shakespeare as he was listed rather than from any intellectual consideration.

      I have just seen a piazza in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea ugly~fied in a similar style ready for the Jubilee/ Olympic summer. The council spent half a million pounds and it took many months before the hideous completion complete with marble ball sculptural travesties and granite poured over tree roots and earth. Last week the same council closed a nearby elderly peoples lunch club due to financial cuts.

      Comment by Julie on 26 May, 2012 at 12:55 am
    2. This has been bothering me too. The first thing I did when the new revamped square was opened was walk to the corner to check he was still there but alas, no. I don’t feel that this is in anyway anti-intellectualism but I do feel very strongly that this is an error of judgement and although perhaps rather cynical of me, a missed commercial opportunity. I have been asked on more than one occasion by tourists where the Chaplin statue is during the renovation works while the square was boarded off. What is most disturbing is that there seems to be no information about where the statue is.
      The search continues….where is Chaplin?

      Comment by simon on 30 May, 2012 at 9:22 am
    3. Yes, where is he? It’s bad enough that his corpse was once stolen and is now buried under six feet of concrete, let alone the persecution he suffered during the J Edgar Hoover years. And where are the other beautiful statues?

      Comment by Julie on 30 May, 2012 at 8:37 pm
    4. I was recently in London (6th to 12th August 2012) and took my young daughter to Leicester Square specifically to see the Charlie Chaplin statue. We wondered aimlessly around the square looking for the statue in vain, and I was saddened that a legend of the screen would be removed in what is after all the center of the London cinema scene!

      What on earth were they thinking of removing these statues from the square, do they have no soul or conscience?

      Comment by Jeremy Burns on 16 August, 2012 at 12:21 am
    5. If Charlie Chaplin and Isaac Newton, Joshua Reynolds, William Hogarth and John Hunter are not going to be returned to Leicester square where will they be re-erected? May i suggest Charlie Chaplin Walk near the IMAX and on the south bank where he was born in Kennington. William Hogarth at his house in Chiswick, Joshua Reynolds in the Royal Acadamy of Art courtyard, John Hunter in Lincoln Inns Field near the Huntarian museum and Isaac Newton near the Science Museum.
      Please return them all Britain needs its heritage retained more than ever nowadays! As for Leicester Square it looks like £15 to me rubbish railings, NO SEATS, a games table(please!), it has had it’s character completely spoilt I feel sorry for Shakespeare having to look at it all! ‘There is no darkness but ignorance’ indeed!

      Comment by Elizabeth Guy on 8 September, 2012 at 11:36 pm

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