The International Brigade

Jubilee Gardens, SE1
Sculptor Ian Walters, Bronze, 1985

The Spanish Civil War that raged between July 1936 and April 1939 captured the interest of the world and divided opinion between those of the left and right.  The war was between Spain’s elected Republican government and the Nationalist forces of General Franco who were supported by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.  Western governments did not come to the Republic’s defence and it was left to the Soviet Union to establish the International Brigade.  The Brigade attracted nearly 60,000 volunteers from 55 countries to fight for the Republican cause including around 2,000 British volunteers.  They experienced physical hardship, but fought bravely alongside the Republican army against the better equipped Nationalist forces.
The Brigade initially enjoyed some success with the defence of Madrid in November 1936.  Divisions soon, however, emerged within the Brigade, as Nationalist forces continued their advance.  In September 1938 the International Brigade was disbanded by Spain’s Republican government in an attempt to win the support of western democracies.  The attempt failed and in April 1939, just five months before the start of the Second World War, Franco declared victory.
This monument is in memory of the British men and women who volunteered for the International Brigade, of whom 526 gave their lives in the struggle.  The monument is a wonderful figurative piece by Ian Walters, who also made the bust of Mandela further along the south bank.  Many participants in the Spanish Civil War regarded it as part of the wider struggle against fascism and went on to fight bravely in the world war that followed.

Americans in London

George Washington (1732-1799)

Trafalgar Square, SW1
Sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon, Bronze, 1785
The marble original of this statue stands in Richmond, Virginia.  This bronze copy was a gift from the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1921, to commemorate the first President of the United States.  George Washington was born in 1732 into a planter’s family and received the education of an 18th century Virginia gentleman.  He trained as a surveyor before taking command of the Virginia militia and fighting on the side of the British during the French and Indian War.  From 1759 to the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, Washington managed his lands and served in the Virginia House of Burgesses.
Washington was not initially in favour of independence but the bad administration of the British and the writings of Thomas Paine helped to persuade him.  From May 1775 Washington fought for six gruelling years against the well-trained British troops with his own poorly equipped militia forces.  Finally, in 1781 – with the aid of French allies – the Continental Army forced the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.  Washington could easily have assumed power at the head of his army, but instead retired from the military and set about establishing a constitution enshrining the rights of the citizen and placing limits upon government. It was as a civilian that Washington was elected America’s first president in 1789.  He served two terms of office but retired in 1797 and died only two years later from a throat infection.

George Peabody (1795-1869)

01 Peabody_blog
Behind Royal Exchange, EC2
Sculptor W. S. Story, Bronze, 1869
George Peabody was born to a modest family in Massachusetts and left school at the age of 11 to help support his six siblings.  Peabody fought against the British in the war of 1812 and afterwards established a wholesale business that made him a small fortune.  He travelled to England in 1827 and over the next ten years built a successful banking business trading in currencies and American securities.  In 1838 he intervened to stabilise US state bonds during a crisis.  The states made good on their loans and Peabody’s bonds made him a further fortune.  In 1851 he profited from promoting American goods during the Great Exhibition and made further fortunes investing in US railways and trans-Atlantic cables.
Peabody was now a trusted figure and he came to the public’s attention when he funded the search for the missing explorer Sir John Franklin in 1852.  He was troubled by the poverty he saw and following the advice of Lord Shaftesbury the Peabody Donation Fund was established to build good cheap housing for the poor.  The first Peabody estate was built on Commercial Street, Spitalfields, in 1863 and the fund went on to build many more estates.  In the last years of his life Peabody spent an estimated £8 million in his philanthropic work to improve housing and education in both America and his adopted home.  This monument was unveiled by the Prince of Wales in July 1869, just a few months before Peabody’s death.  He was briefly laid to rest in Westminster Abbey before being returned with full honours to the United States.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49)

Fox Reformed, Stoke Newington High St, N16
Sculptor Ralph Perrott, Stone, 2011
The famous American novelist, poet and man of letters spent three years of his short and troubled life as a student in Stoke Newington before returning to America.  Poe was born in Boston to actor parents, but his father abandoned the family and his mother soon died, leaving him in the care of John and Francis Allan from Richmond. He had a difficult relationship with his new guardians and John Allan withdrew financial support from Poe, forcing him to abandon his studies at the University of Virginia.  He soon found success with his narrative poem The Raven.  Poe’s subsequent dark, gothic tales of horror, in some way mirrored his own difficult life which involved the death of two wives and his own mysterious death at the age of 40, having been found delirious on the streets of Baltimore. This bust sits on the front of the former Fox Reformed wine bar in Stoke Newington and was unveiled by the actor Steven Berkoff.

Here is the latest edition of London’s Monuments, which features all of London’s major public monuments. (Available from our website at £2.00 off the RRP (recommended retail price)

This is an extract from the latest edition of London's Monuments, which features all of London's major public monuments. Available from our website at £2.00 of the RRP (recommended retail price)

Dunwich Dynamo

About 20 years ago a small gang of cycle couriers started meeting up on the first Saturday in July to ride through the night from London Fields in Hackney to a beach in a sleepy Suffolk village and so the Dunwich Dynamo was born.

London has changed in so many ways in the last 20 years and now, from the starting point of the east side of London Fields, the vast skyscrapers of the city can be seen as testament to the commercialisation of the capital.  The Dynamo has, however, remained an entirely uncoordinated ride through the night, with no governing body and no charges for taking part.  So this year, if you show up with a working bike and a willing pair of legs, you’re in!

The one thing that has changed since the event began is the number of people taking part which now numbers several thousand, including anyone from a bunch of students on old bikes with a hamper, to lycra clad racers with shaven legs and a determination to beat their personal best time.

I intended to ride the Dynamo back in 2013, but a few long nights meant that I didn’t feel up to riding through the night and instead I took a stroll to London Fields to watch the cyclists set out.  I knew little about the event and expected about 100 seasoned nags to be taking part, only to encounter thousands of people getting ready with a real feeling of expectation and excitement.  Seeing so many riders and experiencing some of the atmosphere, I vowed to return on two wheels and take part the following year…


In 2014 I managed to get myself and my wonderful Alan bike in good shape and set off with thousands of others to make the 120 mile journey.  I made great time by hitching a ride with anyone who overtook me and even had a few cyclists following in my slip stream.  One of the best things about the Dunwich Dynamo is the participation of quite a few villages along the route with pubs staying open, locals coming out to cheer and one village even had a firework display – although I wasn’t sure if that was in our honour.  Another great thing about the ride is the feeling of riding through the night, following a long red trail of bike lights  which, from high points on the road, shimmer into the distance.  About 90 miles into the ride and after a few breaks along the way, I began to flag and event got a little lost, along with a small group of equally confused cyclists.  Eventually we managed to find a way back towards Dunwich and I arrived on the beach at around 6am, exhausted but chuffed..

The tips I would give anyone doing the journey this year are to make sure you have a really good front bike light, because some of the country roads have no lighting and it really helps to see ahead of you.  Another good tip is to know the last 30 miles of the route to Dunwich, as by this stage the riders are quite spread out and it’s possible to get lost, as I discovered..  It’s also a good policy to take breaks and make sure you are well fed, as it’s possible to just run out of fuel after 6-8 hours cycling… Finally, the most important thing is to enjoy the experience… Good Luck!