Coned! The Duke of Wellington Statue in Glasgow
On most days people who walk down Queen Street in Glasgow will see the Duke of Wellington statue graced with various traffic cones. The day I was there the Duke’s head was crowned with a florescent orange cone while a neon yellow cone sat jauntily upon the head of his horse. These absurdly placed cones puzzled and baffled me.
At first glance I thought the cones were placed there as a prank, but since it was in front of Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) I thought it was some sort of surreal installation that the museum had created. Yet I was wrong, because when I came back a few hours later the cones had been removed.
Before I visited Scotland, I had imagined it as a dark and austere country where people took their bagpipe-playing and haggis-eating entirely too seriously. However the tradition I discovered behind the coning of the Duke of Wellington statue proved to me that Scottish people have a sense of humor that I never could have imagined.
For the past 20 years or so the Duke of Wellington statue has been the focal point of late night pranksters who climb the 160-year-old statue to top it with a traffic cone according Andy Cumbo, a Glasgow native who works as a chef at a restaurant nearby the statue.
“Sometimes after a couple of drinks on my way home I put [the cone] back up!” Cumbo said.
Locals believe that the cone represents the city’s sense of humor and ability to not take authority too seriously. To them the cones on the statue are just as important as any of the other monuments and buildings in Glasgow.
“[It] used to be a weekend prank… then more people joined in and it became an all year round game,” Cumbo said.
Eventually artists began to print pictures and t-shirts of the coned statue and after that it became a very popular pastime.
“When the GOMA opened 10 years ago it focused the attention on Wellington and from then on the rest is history,” Cumbo said.
Although the cone tradition only began around 20 years ago, the statue was erected in 1844 and was created by the Italian sculptor Carlo Marochetti.
Arthur Wellesley was the first Duke of Wellington and played an important role in the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars. He was a famous military figure in the early nineteenth century who rose to the rank of field marshal and was also a popular politician. In addition to his fame for his statue he is also the namesake of the ubiquitous Wellington rain boot.
Even though the prank has become embedded into Glasgow’s culture the cones are often removed on the order of the city council and the police. On many mornings a high powered water jet is used to wash the cones off the statue.
While locals argue that the cone portrays the city’s sense of humor and has become an important part of Glasgow, the Duke of Wellington no longer wears spurs and is missing half of his sword due to people continuously climbing up the statue for so many years.
The police have issued many warnings over the years that declared that anyone caught climbing the statue could face criminal charges.
The Glasgow City Council has also repeatedly reminded the public that placing the cones upon the Duke is an act of vandalism and that a fall from the nearly 20 foot statue could be very harmful.
In an interview with BBC Scotland’s news website the spokesman for the city council said, “The message we would send to people thinking about climbing on the Duke of Wellington is ‘don’t do it – please’.”
According to the official law, “Any person found defacing the statue or climbing on it for the purpose of defacing it may face criminal charges.”
While the police have tried for years to get people to stop placing cones upon Wellington and his horse their efforts have been ignored. Eventually they gave up.
“The police turn a blind eye to anyone putting the cone back on,” Cumbo said.
Even though the authorities have tried to put a stop to the free spirits of Glasgow, this tradition seems as if it will never stop because there will always be a Scottish prankster, like Cumbo, to give the Duke back his bizarre crown.