What has long been thought to be London’s oldest outdoor statue has turned out to be even older than expected after restoration work uncovered its Roman origins.
The statue, of King Alfred, has stood in the grounds of Trinity Church Square since around 1826, but has long been thought to be much older than the gardens it stands in. There were theories that it was either an 18th-19th century carving in a 14th-century style, or possibly, one of the long-lost medieval statues carved for King Richard II and once found in Westminster Hall.
In fact, one theory that it’s an 18th or 19th-century carving is closer to the truth – but only partially so.
After conservation work on the statue carried out earlier this year, its actual age has at long last been revealed, and part of its hidden mysteries solved – it’s actually two statues stuck together, and King Alfred has ladies legs.
The work revealed that the upper part of the sculpture, above and including the beltline, is artificial Coade Stone, and the lower part of the body, below the belt consisting of creased clothing and the right leg, is of Bath Stone. Panels of Coade Stone surround the Bath Stone lower part.
An examination of the statue by Dr Kevin Hayward of PCA Archaeology confirmed the lower half of the statue has been made from a type of Bath Stone used in around 90% of Roman native stone sculpture in London.
Further discussions with Professor Martin Henig, a leading Roman art specialist, concluded that the Bath Stone half was from a statue of the goddess Minerva, which is likely to have been carved by a continental craftsman used to working with British stone. Carvings of this quality are typical of the mid-2nd century AD, dating around the reign of Hadrian.
Measurements of the leg indicate the original statue was around three metres in height, which also makes it the most significant native stone sculpture yet to be found from Roman Britain.
So the origins of the statue of King Alfred has been uncovered and revealed his ladies legs in the process.
The conservation was carried out by London Stone Conservation, at a cost of £16,500, which was jointly funded by Heritage of London Trust and the Corporation of Trinity House, which owns much of Trinity Village.
The statue resides in Trinity Church Square in SE1’s Trinity Village, a private garden square ordinarily only accessible to local residents, but you can easily see the statue from the road.