In part 1 our three subjects were Nelson Mandela, Ernest Bevin and Sir Henry Tate. In part 2 we feature an even more eclectic mix of a gardener turned architect, a pop star and finally an emperor, who have busts in their honour in South London
Sir Joseph Paxton 1803-1865
Paxton is best known for his design of the huge glass and cast iron building, the ‘Crystal Palace’, used to house the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park. Astonishingly, Paxton was not a trained architect but, in fact, a gardener, being famous for his design of much of the gardens of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. One of his creations was the Great Conservatory (no longer standing) from which Paxton developed the idea and the skills to design and build the Crystal Palace.
He was knighted by Queen Victoria, later served as Liberal MP for Coventry in 1854, and made a fortune from his investments in the growing railway network. The Crystal Palace was, of course, taken down and rebuilt on Sydenham Hill in south London where it stood until it burnt down in 1936. Its legacy lives on: workers at the Palace formed the football team bearing the name of the building, while the area of Upper Norwood became known as Crystal Palace. Paxton’s bust of marble is in Crystal Palace Park near the sports centre entrance and was sculpted by William F. Woodington, paid for by public subscription and unveiled in 1873.
Marc Bolan 1947-1977
Born Mark Feld in east London, Bolan was an influential singer-songwriter of the 60s and 70s, most famous for being one of the leading ‘Glam Rock’ artists with his band T.Rex. He had originally formed the band as Tyrannosaurus Rex and had some chart success playing what has been called ‘psychedelic folk-rock’. However, it was as T.Rex that major success arrived in 1970/71 with the release of ‘Ride a White Swan’ reaching no.2 in the charts. Further success followed with a string of hits such as ‘Get it On’, ‘Metal Guru’ and ‘Telegram Sam’ and his music is still popular to this day.
Marc Bolan died at the age of 29 in a car crash on Queen’s Ride, Barnes SW13. The car, driven by girlfriend and backing singer Gloria Jones, hit a fence post and a tree, killing Bolan and badly injuring her. His bronze bust, sculpted by Jean Robillard and erected in 2002, is located on the adjacent Gipsy Lane and was paid for by Fee Warner and maintained by the T.Rex Action Group (TAG). The site has become a place of pilgrimage for rock fans and two message boards next to the bust are filled with tributes.
Emperor Haile Selassie I 1892-1975
Haile Selassie was Ethiopia’s 225th and last emperor of a 3,000 year old monarchy. Born Tafari Makkonen Woldemikael, he ruled as Emperor from 1930 until 1974 when he was deposed in a military coup and died the following year in mysterious circumstances, possibly from natural causes, possibly murdered. He is revered as God or Jah by the Rastafari movement, based in Jamaica and made famous by the music of Bob Marley.
So what’s the South London connection? Well, in 1936 Mussolini’s Italy invaded Ethiopia (also known as Abyssinia then) and Haile Selassie went into exile in Britain until 1941, living mainly in Bath, but also for a time with the Seligman family in Wimbledon. Hilda Seligman was a political campaigner against the appeasement of Mussolini and Hitler and also a sculptor. The bust she created stood firstly in the grounds of the family home but was transferred to Cannizaro Park in Wimbledon in 1957. Then in 2005, after restoration, it was unveiled by the Mayor of Merton at a ceremony attended by a mixture of relatives of the Emperor and the Seligmans, Friends of Cannizaro Park and Rastafarians.