Conservation work took place in August 2008 on the statue of Oliver Cromwell which stands on Cromwell Green. Work was completed in time for the 350th anniversary of Cromwell's death.
What work was done?
The statue, which is made of bronze, was cleaned to remove surface dirt and an old coating of black wax. The surface was then repatinated to return it to a more natural dark brown colour, which was how the statue would have appeared before it was covered in black wax. The statue was then treated with a clear wax to protect it from the weather and pollution. The statue of the lion was cleaned and the stone plinth repaired.
How work progressed
Work began on Monday 11 August, when the scaffolding was set up around the Cromwell statue. This allowed the conservators to get a good look at the sculpture close-up. The conservators were able to see that the bible the statue holds in its hands is titled 'Holy Bible 1641', that the sculpture is signed 'Hamo Thornycroft 1897' on its base and that the paw of the lion is dated '1899'. On the back of the statue base is written 'Founded by J W Singer and Sons Frome & London'. The J W Singer foundry, which was established in 1848, also cast two of the lions and the fountain in Trafalgar Square and many other monumental public sculptures.
The black wax was steam-cleaned from the statues of Cromwell and the lion. The stonework was also steam-cleaned. The early results were dramatic and the conservators were pleased to find that much of the original patination had survived under the black coating.
The patination work began with the painting of the statues of Cromwell and the lion with a very weak solution of potassium sulphide which reacted to the surface of the bronze to even the pale brown patination. After the cold application of chemicals, the sculpture was heated and more patination chemicals applied. Once the patination was complete wax was applied and the statues were polished. Mortar repairs were also carried out to the stonework joints.
The weather conditions were not kind to the conservators working on the statue, but they finished on schedule, allowing the dismantling of the scaffolding to begin on Saturday 30 August. The newly conserved sculptures formed the focal point of a larger Cromwell Association annual service of remembrance, by permission of the Speaker of the House of Commons, to mark the 350th anniversary of his death, on 3 September 2008.
Future maintenance will involve regular rewaxing of the statue to ensure it stays in condition.
History of the Cromwell statue
The statue was presented to Parliament by the then Prime Minister, Lord Rosebery, in 1895. It was placed in its current position outside Westminster Hall on 2 November 1899 on the site formerly occupied by the old law courts which previously adjoined the Hall. The statue shows Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) holding a sword and a Bible, his head bowed in thought. The sculptor, Hamo Thornycroft (1850-1925), is also responsible for the statue of General Gordon which stands on Victoria Embankment.