How many times recently have you ever seen a cart horse, a race horse or any other kind of horse in the City of London or even in Bishopsgate? While the above picture shows a statue of a horse (and not a real one), it is still an unusual sight on the busy streets of the capital these days.
The life sized black marble composite sculpture was made by the British artist, Mark Wallinger, with the help of advanced technology, scanning a racehorse, part owned by the artist – named Rivera Red. Wallinger is an accomplished artist who won the Turner Prize in 2007. The statue has been placed on the west side of Bishopsgate, at the junction with Wormwood Street. The sculpture is one of the offerings in this year’s ‘Sculpture in the City’ series when art in various forms is displayed around the City streets. It will be on show for the rest of 2017 and into early 2018.
How the decision to locate each piece of art is made is not known and why the horse was placed beside Bishopsgate has not been explained either. However, looked at from the perspective of the history of this ancient street, it could not have been sited in a better position.
Bishopsgate lies on the line of a Roman road that led north from Londinium. It continues north today as Shoreditch High Street with both streets being part of today’s A10 whose original route led north via Tottenham to Ware, in Hertfordshire, and then northwards to Cambridge.
From the 17th century onwards Bishopsgate was once the location of many coaching inns which accommodated passengers setting out for the north of England and parts of East Anglia. The west side of the street was lined with many large inns all the way from its junction with Gracechurch Street to the land now covered by Liverpool Street Station and the Broadgate development. There were also inns on the east side of the road but not so many. Hundreds of horses were stabled in these inns – providing horses for the ‘coach and four’ that were a familiar scene in the street during the days of stage coaches in the 17th century, the 18th century and into the 19th century. By the 1830s railways were being built all over England, including London. London Bridge Station was the first to open in London, in 1836. Liverpool Street Station was built on the site of several coaching inns, being a relatively late railway terminus – not opening until 1874.
Although the reason for positioning the fine statue of a horse in Bishopsgate is not known, it could not have been placed in a better position. The statue represents a racehorse which is not quite what horses pulling a stage coach were all about but, nevertheless, the statue is a good reminder of the many horses that were once to be seen in and around the eastern part of the City of London.