A Closer Look at the Buxton Memorial
Sitting pretty in Victoria Tower Gardens, the Buxton Memorial is – literally – overshadowed by its more famous neighbour, The Houses of Parliament.
But this jewel-like monument is a reminder of the darker side of Britain’s history; slavery. It remembers a group of people who fought against it.
Officially it’s a fountain, although no water flows from it today, and its stands as a memorial to Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton. It was erected by his son, the MP Charles Buxton, in 1865*
*A plaque on the memorial says 1835. Just proves just can’t trust everything you read!
Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton
Born 1786, Thomas was an MP and social reformer. However he started his career in brewing and there’s a blue plaque to him on Brick Lane.
In 1808 he started work at what was then the Truman, Hanbury & Company Brewery, probably getting the job from his family connection (his mother was Anna Hanbury, sister to the owners).
Later he became a partner and the brewery was known as Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Company.
Image from Wikimedia Creative Commons
Although the slave trade had been abolished in 1807, slavery was still ongoing and in 1823 Thomas helped found the Anti-Slavery Society and took over the majority of campaigning work and leadership of abolition from William Wilberforce after his health had started to deteriorate and he retired in 1825.
In 1833 the Slavery Abolition Act was passed, emancipating all slaves in the British Empire.
The Buxton Memorial
Designed as a joint effort by Charles Buxton and Samual Sanders Teulon, the water fountain is topped with an elaborate, multi-coloured, enamelled roof.
It was originally intended for Parliament Square and did stand there until 1949. It was moved to Victoria Tower Gardens in 1957.
It’s absolutely covered with decoration and since the Royal Parks restored it in 2007, the tiles positively glowing with their brightness.
But it wasn’t always so.
By 1971 all 8 of the little figurative bronze statues that once embellished the fountain had been nicked! They were replaced in 1980 but again, don’t survive today.
What you can see though is a selection of mosaics, most depict animals and Bob Speel says they are meant to shows some of Aesop’s Fables.
However one is worth closer attention;
It depicts a slave in the act of emancipation, chains being broken off him.
So next time you’re in Westminster, it’s worth pausing to admire this lovely memorial.
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Patricia M Leonard
I loved reading your story about the Buxton Memorial, Katie. What a treasure, and all the more appreciated now that I know its history.
As usual, good interesting piece, but why would they get the date that wrong ? 1835 instead of 1865 ? Misunderstanding ? Anyone out there know ?
I haven’t been able to find out exactly but I assume it’s might be related to the Act of 1833? It’s a weird one though!
Definitely I would like to visit this place once in my lifetime
I do find this memorial rather coy and yet disturbing. The Gothic tribute, by his son, is to the abolitionist Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton along with Wilberforce, Clarkson and Macaulay. It does not mention the 12 million slaves who were forcibly uprooted from Africa and shipped across the Atlantic, many of whom died en-route.
So little was thought of the memorial by the 1940s that it was shunted out of Parliament Square and into Victoria Tower Gardens.
The structure used to feature eight monarchs of England (until they were stolen). Quite what they had to do with the abolition of slavery is not clear. The small mosaics running around the memorial are based on several of Aesop’s fables. Though Aesop himself was a slave, his fables were not mainly concerned with slavery.
London and the UK needs a fitting tribute to those enslaved by the British. There is a campaign to have a memorial sculpture placed within Hyde Park but despite their efforts it has not yet come to fruition. http://www.memorial2007.org.uk
Totally agree with you on the permanent memorial David, it seems very glossed over with this one. Of course there is the brilliant artwork in Fen Court in the City, but again not the most prominent of positions.