Bare-breasted on Westminster Bridge
In 1964, in what became known as ‘The topless ladies case’, three young women were found guilty of indecency for wearing topless dresses on Westminster Bridge. This prompted a correspondent to the Times to wonder whether the magistrate “may possibly have overlooked the fact that other young women in topless dresses have been seen hanging around the north end of Westminster Bridge. They are often seen crouching in a stationary vehicle. Their mother, a rather large lady called Boadicea, seems to be the owner-driver.”
He was, of course, referring to the statue by Thomas Thorneycroft, which features Boadicea standing proudly in her chariot behind two rearing horses, flanked by her two daughters. The statue was not erected until 1902, 17 years after Thorneycroft’s death, although it had been commissioned and largely completed in the 1850s. Interest in the legendary warrior queen had been revived in the Victorian era with many regarding her as Queen Victoria’s namesake – Boadicea can be translated as ‘victory’. The model for the statue resembles the young Queen Victoria and Prince Albert lent his horses as models. There is a slight irony that the Iceni rebel who fought against Roman imperialism should be identified with the ruler of the British Empire and standing guard over a city that she had razed to the ground. It’s worth pausing to take another look next time you’re walking across Westminster Bridge.
Learn more about Westminster, Lambeth and Vauxhall Bridges and the riverside between them on Jen’s Three Bridges, Two Palaces and One River walk this Friday. Part of the Footprints of London River Walks Festival.