This may look like a typical bit of military history on a plinth, as seen in many places around London, but in fact it’s London Underground heritage being celebrated here.

Both the plinth and the statue are significant for different reasons.

The statue, in bronze, is of James Henry Greathead, the inventor of the travelling shield that made possible the cutting of the tunnels of London’s deep level tube system. Without his insight, tunnels could still be dug, but far slower and it was much more dangerous.

London’s Underground owes its early tube history to this South African born civil engineer.

The statue, by James Butler RA depicts a Greathead wearing a broad-brimmed hat (an allusion to his South African origins) and carrying a coat over his right arm, holding a piece of paper which he is reading.

What’s particularly delightful about this statue of a engineering pioneer is that the plinth he stands on is in fact a ventilation shaft for the London Underground. If you look around the base of the statue you can see the air grills to let cooler air into the tube tunnels below.

The plinth is also decorated with elements of tube history. The base bears a bronze plaque on one side depicting a tunnelling shield with an inscription that credits Greathead as being the “inventor of the travelling shield that made possible the cutting of the tunnels of London’s deep level tube system”. The other side of the base bears the carved stone badge of the City & South London Railway.

The statue and ventilation shaft were put here in the early 1990s, when a new entrance to the tube station was constructed in Lombard Street.

The final statue was unveiled by the Lord Mayor on 17th January 1994.

He is buried in Norwood Cemetery.

Part of the original Greathead shield was discovered deep underground when the DLR was being extended to Bank tube station, and can be seen in the tunnel leading to the Waterloo & City line.


Be the first to know what's on in London, and the latest news published on ianVisits.

You can unsubscribe at any time from my weekly emails.

Tagged with: ,

This website has been running now for over a decade, and while advertising revenue contributes to funding the website, it doesn't cover the costs. That is why I have set up a facility with DonorBox where you can contribute to the costs of the website and time invested in writing and research for the news articles.

It's very similar to the way The Guardian and many smaller websites are now seeking to generate an income in the face of rising costs and declining advertising.

Whether it's a one-off donation or a regular giver, every additional support goes a long way to covering the running costs of this website, and keeping you regularly topped up doses of Londony news and facts.

If you like what you read on here, then please support the website here.

Thank you

One comment
  1. Simon Clarke says:

    Nice photos and information. Greathead was the brother of an ancestor of mine, his sister Julia Greathead. I visited his statue in London a couple of months ago and took photos but unfortunately my device crashed and I lost them. So I’m grateful to find some good pics here and the info about him and the statue.

Home >> News >> London Art News