Soho Square, London, England
If there was one thing Charles II, King of England, Scotland and Ireland, appreciated, it was a good fountain. Probably. After all, he had the composer Purcell write music for, and about, him. He had the playwright John Dryden write plays for, and about, him. And in 1675, he commissioned Sir Christopher Wren (he who’d designed the new Saint Paul’s Cathedral) to create a Royal Observatory at Greenwich for him, too. A beautiful Observatory that would remind the world how forward-thinking, in-touch and generally marvelous a monarch Charles II believed himself to be. Charles II was a man who appreciated the arts, architecture and beauty. And what could be more artistic, more beautiful, than a fountain…and a fountain made in your own image, at that? So Charles must have been delighted when in 1681, at the age of 50, and after twenty-one years on the throne, he learned that a statue of himself was to be the centerpiece of a magnificent fountain in Monmouth Square, London. The statue showed Charles II looking valiant and powerful in armour. It stood on a high pedestal in the middle of the large fountain and was the work of fashionable Danish sculptor, Caius Gabriel Cibber. So arresting and glorious was the sight of the fountain and its regal centerpiece, Monmouth Square where it stood was renamed King’s Square. But after a couple of hundred years, the statue was neither arresting nor glorious. It had fallen into disrepair. Mostly because Caius Gabriel Cibber had made it out of Portland stone. A stone that was easy to carve, but deteriorated quickly. One observer at the time described it as being in ‘a most wretched and mutilated state.’ It was time for the fountain, and the statue, to go. The fountain was demolished in 1875, as part of a redesign of the square which was now, incidentally, renamed Soho Square. But the statue was rescued by Thomas Blackwell of the condiment firm Crosse & Blackwell. The company had offices on Soho Square. Thomas gave the statue to his friend, Frederick Goodall, who put the it in the garden of his house near Harrow Weald. In 1890, Frederick’s house was sold to WS Gilbert, the poet librettist of Gilbert and Sullivan fame. When the Gilberts moved in, the statue of Charles II was still in the garden. And there it stayed, even after Gilbert’s death in 1911. But before Gilbert’s wife died some twenty-five years later in 1936, she bequeathed the statue back to Soho Square. It was returned and set on a pedestal roughly where it would have stood 255 years before when it was the centerpiece of that magnificent fountain. Of course, Charles was looking less valiant and powerful than he did in 1681, and rather like he’d seen better days. That’s Portland stone for you. And at some point down the line, his face had fallen off and a new one had been stuck on in its place. But he was back where he belonged. Without his fountain. But if there was one thing Charles II, King of England, Scotland and Ireland, appreciated, it was being where he belonged. Probably.