Above: The memorial standing beside the pavement on the east side of Albert Embankment, a short distance south of Lambeth Bridge.
Until the middle of the 20th century, most memorials in London were either statues of famous people or a bust on a plinth. There is nothing wrong with any of those statues but they tended to all look very similar and made little impression on the observer. As the 1970s and 1980s dawned, artists who were asked to create a bronze memorial started to come up with new and innovative designs for their works. They are not necessarily better than a simple statue but some of the designs certainly make you remember the point of erecting the statue in the first place.
It’s not every day that you come across the bow of a ship protruding from an office block and it is probably due to that very fact that this memorial is all the more impressive. Known as the ’Seafarers’ Memorial’ or the ‘International Seafarers’ Memorial’ the huge bronze was made for the front of a large office block which is the Headquarters of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
The IMO offices stand on the Albert Embankment – on the old site of Doulton’s works. It is the only branch of a United Nations Organisation to have its headquarters in Great Britain. It is a specialised agency of the United Nations responsible for regulating shipping. The organisation moved from previous premises in London to its new headquarters on the Albert Embankment in late 1982, with the building being officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 17 May 1983. The architects of the building were Douglass Marriott, Worby & Robinson.
It is, therefore, very appropriate to have such a memorial mounted beside the building. The memorial is a seven-metre high, ten-tonne bronze sculpture of the bow of a ship, with a lone seafarer maintaining a look-out. It was the work of the internationally renowned sculptor Michael Sandle and was unveiled on 27 September 2001. The memorial project was financed from a trust established in 1998 to mark the 50th anniversary of the IMO.
Whether it is the largest or the heaviest memorial in London is not known but it must be one of the largest bronzes on public display. The single figure on the bow clearly makes the point of what a dangerous life it is at sea. Once you have seen this memorial you are hardly likely to forget it and, surely, that is what ought to happen after viewing an important work like this one.