Wolverhampton's Listed Buildings

Prince Albert's Statue

Queen Square

Listing: 1866. By T. Thorneycroft. Inscription: Albert, Prince Consort, born 1819, died 1861. Erected by subscription. The inauguration is said to have been Victoria's first public engagement after Albert's death.


Pevsner: notes the statute as 1866 by T. Thorneycroft

Noszlopy and Waterhouse, Public Sculpture of Staffordshire and the Black Country, Liverpool UP, have a long account at p. 203.

Comment: When Queen Victoria unveiled this statute it was greeted, not with the expected cheers, but with a stunned silence, followed by gasps of dismay. The sculptor had made a gross error in the depiction of the horse. Such was his shame that the next day he committed suicide.

That is a favourite story about one of Wolverhampton's best known landmarks. It is not true. No one who knows anything, or even a lot, about horses can find anything wrong with it; contemporary records record nothing but the usual cheers; Thorneycroft died in his bed many years later at the age of 70. And the same story is told in many towns of many similar statues, the one at Halifax being a case in point. Other equestrian statues of Albert are at Liverpool and Windsor Park.
This statute is a perfectly good if not outstanding Victorian equestrian statue but has become one of the most readily identifiable images of the town and has adorned many publications about the town. 

But, oddly, many people seem to have no idea who it is; the statute is always referred to as "the man on the horse" or, simply, as the Moth.

From time to time His Highness has moved around the square, in order to fit in with various traffic schemes. At one time the underground public lavatories were under Prince Albert's nose; now he is back to within inches of where he started out, doffing his cap in the direction of the Information Centre.

He spent decades with the town's fire escape ladders propped up beside him. He has suffered the usual ill treatment of public statues, such as the occasion when, for some days, he had a waste paper basket stuck on his head, looking for all the world like a fez. The reins were broken off by a drunken reveller on VE Day and not replaced until 1991 when the statue was given a through clean.

In 2006 the city council expects to revamp Queen Square yet again. But in 2005 they consulted the public on their proposals and met a good deal of opposition to the idea of putting a water feature round poor Albert with a sort of cascade below him.  And the idea of putting a sort of open air cafe behind him met with similar disapprobation.  The revamp is going ahead (2007) without the cafe and simply with the road being moved and the surface re-paved.

Noszlopy and Waterhouse say that the Prince is shown in the uniform of a Field Marshall with the Order of the Garter prominently displayed, and he is gently reining in his horse and taking off his hat to acknowledge the crowd.

 The Queen had leant uniform (and Albert's favourite charge, "Nimrod") to Thorneycroft and visited him several times in his studio while the statue was being made.  She recorded in her diary that it is "on the whole good".   The Times gave it high praise.

The granite pedestal was paid for by George Lees Underhill, a local solicitor and town councillor, who chaired the Memorial Committee which raised the public subscription which paid for the statue itself. 

The Queen's visit to Wolverhampton, of which the unveiling of this statue was the cause and centre piece, is one of the great stories of Victorian social life in the town. Suffice it to say here that the town's historic centre, until then known as High Green, was re-named Queen Square to mark the occasion. (And note: Queen Square, not Queen's Square).


Read about Queen Victoria's visit to the town
Albert1.jpg (31007 bytes)
Albert's last-but-one move in September 1974.   Photo - David Clare.