Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
The statue of King Alfred stands on a small pedestal in the centre of Trinity Church Square, calm and dignified. It is often referred to as the oldest outdoor statue in London but it seems this may not be the case. Some say it dates back to the end of the 14th century, others that it is more recent dating back no more than to the 18th or 19th century. There are three theories regarding its origins.
The one that is repeated most often is that it is one of a series of statues of Kings of England commissioned by Richard II for Westminster Hall. Six statues still remain in niches on the south wall, five of the remaining statues have disappeared without trace. The rear of the statue in Trinity Church Square is plain as if designed to go in a niche. The theory is that Sir John Soane came across the missing statues whilst clearing Westminster Hall in 1825 and liberated this one. He later gave it or sold it to William Chadwick who was laying out the garden in front of the church at this time.
The second theory is that it was commissioned in 1735 by Frederick, Prince of Wales, father of George III, for his garden at Carlton House along with a statue of the Black Prince. Carlton House was demolished in 1825 to make way for Carlton House Terrace and it’s thought that somehow the statue of King Alfred found its way to Trinity Church Square.
The third theory, and perhaps the most convincing, is that the statue was made by sculptor James Bubb around 1822 for a niche over the entrance doors over the new Manchester Town Hall. Unfortunately he made the statue too large for the niche and, to save his reputation, he built a second statue of the right dimensions at his own expense. He then sold the oversized version to William Chadwick for the garden at Trinity Square.
Further information can be found here.
It’s unlikely that the truth regarding the statue of King Alfred will ever be known for certain but, for a statue whose origins are in dispute, it’s quite an achievement to be Grade II listed, albeit under false pretences.