White Noise in Westminster Walk
Join Stephen on a guided walk exploring the statues in Whitehall that reflect the key elements of British imperial history.
As we embark on this 90 minute walking tour, we will explore each statue in detail and learn about its historical significance, allowing us to gain a deeper understanding of the complex history of the British Empire.
- Discover the history of the British Empire
- Discover peaceful gardens and unknown stories
- Qualified City of Westminster guide
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Whitehall is full of statues that are largely the city’s White Noise, passed by unnoticed. This walking tour uncovers these statues’ imperial histories when Whitehall once ruled a quarter of the world.
Whitehall, the administrative heart of the British Empire, at its height, ruled over a quarter of the world’s landmass and nearly a fifth of the world’s population. This tour explores the empire’s history through Whitehall’s imperial statues. Often overlooked and seen now as just “white noise”, largely unnoticed visual background noise to the city, each statue unlocks parts of Britain’s imperial history. A gentle stroll through Whitehall looks at who these statues represent, their role in Britain’s imperial past and the history behind why they were erected.
The peaceful Whitehall Gardens facing the Embankment has a range of statues highlighting key elements in British imperial history. We will focus on three of them, including the bureaucrat who started a war.
The Gurkhas have an enduring connection with the British Empire stretching over 200 years. Initially recruited as mercenaries, they earned a reputation for fierce loyalty and bravery on the battlefields of India and later elsewhere in Asia during colonial times. This resulted in their becoming part of the British Army in 1815 when Britain signed a historical agreement with Nepal for them to serve in the British forces worldwide. Today, there are around 3,500 Gurkhas still serving in the British Army and are renowned for their courage and loyalty under fire.
We get to explore a central part of British Royal pageantry, overlooked by three statues with a mixed imperial history, including the end of the Empire.
One of the most controversial figures on this tour is the imposing figure of Clive of India. Also known as Robert Clive, he is one of the most controversial figures in British history and a key figure in the Whitehall tour. He is credited with conquering much of India for Britain during the 18th century. He was known to be ruthless and ambitious, often acting without orders from above or without regard to costs. His conquests gained vast wealth and power for himself and Britain, but at a high cost to Indian lives. His legacy remains controversial; some consider him a hero, while others consider him an imperialist.
The statues of Gandhi and Mandela reflect Britain’s ongoing relationship with the empire. Gandhi and Mandela have statues in London to recognise their contribution to social justice and civil rights. Gandhi, known for his non-violent resistance movement and liberation of India from British rule, was a proponent of peaceful protesting and civil disobedience. Meanwhile, Mandela is remembered for his central role in the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa, which alongside the sacrifices he made for his people, has earned him a place in history as a great leader.
Their statues serve as a reminder of their incredible achievements and help inspire London’s citizens to strive for social justice. Through their statues, they continue to be an example to many of what can be achieved through positive change rather than violence and oppression. They also provide Londoners with opportunities to reflect on how far we have come since the days of colonialism and Apartheid, both of which are now part of our past thanks to the work of these two iconic figures.
But we also need to talk about a woman with a contested imperial history.