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)