Thorney Tales

One of the gems of Victoria Tower Gardens (VTG) is the Buxton Memorial Fountain built in Gothic revival style to celebrate the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. It was constructed, and partly designed, by Charles Buxton the son of Thomas Buxton who was William Wilberforce’s designated successor to carry the anti-slavery movement to a successful conclusion. The Act, which came into force in 1834, made the ownership of slaves throughout the British colonies illegal.

The monument itself originated with the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association, which wanted to build “a costly and handsome fountain in Palace Yard”.  Buxton took the idea over and in 1865 it was first placed at the far end of Parliament Square where apparently it created a dramatic presence for anyone coming from St James’s Park towards Parliament.

When Parliament Square was reconstructed in 1949 as part of the plans for the Festival of Britain and designed in a classical mode, it was felt that a Gothic fountain would be out of place and also unfashionable as tastes had changed. 

In 1949 Herbert Morrison, deputy Prime Minister, is believed to have been the first to suggest it could be located in VTG but it was kept in storage until 1957 when Parliament eventually decided to place it there. 

Viscount Simon described the anti-slavery legislation as “one of the greatest Parliamentary events in our history”.  Few would disagree with that even though Parliament had been complicit until the movement got underway.  Some MPs, such as Sir James Penny of Liverpool (later unintentionally immortalised in the Beatles’s song Penny Lane) strongly resisted the movement. In 1792 Penny was given a silver bowl by the City of Liverpool for defending the slave trade before a Commons committee.

The memorial is octagonal in shape with eight bronze figures representing past rulers of England including Britons, Danes, Saxons and Normans and ending with Queen Victoria. 

At the time it was thought fitting to be placed in VTG because of the deep connection to Parliament which, as one observer noted “cleansed the country of its terrible inheritance of the slave trade”.  This is one of the reasons The Thorney Island Society has advocated that the proposed Holocaust Memorial be sited somewhere else nearby rather than in VTG because there is no direct link with Parliament as there is with the Buxton Memorial.

 

Thorney Tales (18) The Buxton Memorial Fountain