Doffing his hat to the cars whirring around Holborn Circus, and regally isolated from pedestrians by them, Prince Albert’s statue is ignored by all. It’s a bit of a comedown for the man Queen Victoria mourned for 40 years and whose efforts gave us the Albert Hall and the Science, Natural History and V&A museums.
Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (the name was changed to the present, less Germanic Windsor at the start of World War I) was a handsome German prince who married Queen Victoria in 1840. This sculpture by Charles Bacon was unveiled in 1874, 13 years after Albert’s death, and shows him on horseback in a Field Marshal’s uniform and holding aloft a cocked hat.
The granite pedestal holds two figures – of Peace and History – who both, in proper Victorian style, are having wardrobe malfunctions. The other reliefs show Albert laying the foundation stone of the Royal Exchange and Britannia with a lion at her feet, surrounded by representatives of other adoring nations.
The statue was paid for by merchant Charles Oppenheim, who successfully managed part of the bankruptcy of Overend, Gurney & Company in 1866. This bank collapsed owing the equivalent of almost £1billion today, the last run on a British bank until Northern Rock in 2007. The Oppenheim family name was later linked with De Beers, founded in 1880, the famous diamond traders of nearby Hatton Garden.
Albert’s salute is unique but is typical of the oddities artists of the time used to make their works stand out. Large numbers of sculptures on horseback were being erected in the late 19th century.
The salute is facing towards the City of London, which commissioned the statue and paid for the pedestal. The sculptor liked this position as it also kept the sun on the prince’s face for much of the day.