The statue of Isaac Newton outside the British Library gets the voice of actor Simon Russell Beale.
In Oscar Wilde’s short story The Happy Prince, a statue gazing down at the city proves it has a beating heart inside its bronze skin by chatting away with a swallow about the things it’s seen.
In that spirit, the new project Talking Statues, which launches today, brings to life 35 iconic sculptures all over London (and a few in Manchester too) for passers-by to talk to.
Organised by Sing London, the scheme allows visitors to swipe a tag next to each statue with their smart-phone, after which they’ll receive a call from the famous figure on the plinth.
Actors have recorded monologues by respected writers and though Maggi Hambling’s Conversation With Oscar isn’t among the sculptures (yet) there are plenty of interesting ones to try.
Prunella Scales brings to life Queen Victoria in the City, as imagined by journalist Elizabeth Day.
And the statue of Brunel in Paddington gets animated by Hugh Bonneville to a script by playwrights Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Able.
The Spitalfields Goat is animated by Hugh Dennis.
Other statues on the London trail include Isaac Newton, Sherlock Holmes, Peter Pan and Dick Whittington’s cat, while the long list of contributors features names such as Jeremy Paxman, Patrick Stewart, Jacqueline Wilson, Anthony Horowitz, Jenna Louise Coleman, Frank Skinner, Simon Russell Beale, Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar.
James Gillray (1757-1815) was among the most popular, prolific, revered, and reviled print satirists of the golden age of English caricature, the late eighteenth century.
He took special delight in attacking the excesses of the royal family.
Here, he caustically depicts King George III, Queen Charlotte, and the Prince of Wales (later George IV) gorging themselves on the national treasury, labelled “John Bull’s Blood.”
The title, “Monstrous Craws,” refers to the rapidly expanding gullets dangling from the royal necks, probably inspired by the recent public display in London of three “wild-born human beings,” who apparently exhibited such features.
The Library acquired this print with almost 10,000 other English satires from the Royal Library at Windsor Castle in 1921.
Some World War One conscientious objectors were sent to work camps. The conditions at one facility in Aberdeenshire saw it closed down months after a young man died from pneumonia.
By the second year of the war, the initial flood of volunteers had slowed to the point where Britain was forced to introduce conscription for the first time in its history.
The Military Service Act, which came into force in March 1916, allowed for objectors to be exempted from service on religious, moral and political grounds, but their appeals were judged by a military tribunal.
Thousands of objectors were sent to do “work of national importance”, such as farming, and many more performed non-combat duties, such as working as ambulance men or stretcher-bearers in war zones.
Others were forced into the army, and when they refused orders, they were sent to prison.
There was much public criticism over able men sitting in jail when they could be doing useful labour.
So a project was devised under which the men would break rocks in the north of Scotland for use in road construction.
Some were sent to a camp in Ballachulish in the Highlands.
The men faced tough work and poor conditions, but at least they were housed in huts.
Other “conchies” were sent to the camp at Dyce, Scotland
They lived in army surplus tents that leaked in the rain and worked smashing granite in the nearby quarry.
Aberdeen University historian Joyce Walker says about 250 men, most of them sent up from England, were taken to the work camp.
She says: “They were scholars or academics, students, teachers, shopkeepers, labourers, the whole range of human endeavour.
The public mood was not sympathetic to conscientious objectors (COs), with many considering them traitors and cowards whose presence was an insult to the north-east men who had left to fight on the front.
Local newspaper the Aberdeen Journal wrote a virulent editorial attack on them in September 1916, soon after the camp opened.
It said: “A conscientious objector in war-time is a degenerate or worse, who is out of harmony with the people of the nation which protects him in peace-time and defends him in war-time”.