Obelisk

Cleopatra's needle

Erection date: /9/1878

Inscription

{The base of the needle carries a large bronze plaque on each face: clockwise starting at the plaque facing the road,
Plaque on north-west face:}
Through the patriotic zeal of Erasmus Wilson F.R.S. this obelisk was brought from Alexandria encased in an iron cylinder. It was abandoned during a storm in the Bay of Biscay, recovered and erected on this spot by John Dixon C. E., in the 42nd year of the reign of Queen Victoria, 1878.

{Plaque on north-east face:}
This obelisk quarried at Syene was erected at On (Heliopolis) by the Pharaoh Thothmes III about 1500 B. C. Lateral inscriptions were added nearly two centuries later by Rameses the Great. Removed during the Greek dynasty to Alexandria, the Royal city of Cleopatra, it was there erected in the 18th year of Augustus Caesar BC 12.

{Plaque on south-east face – see our page for this one:}

{Plaque on south-west face:}
This obelisk, prostrate for centuries on the sands of Alexandria, was presented to the British Nation AD 1819 by Mahommed Ali, Viceroy of Egypt, a worthy memorial of our distinguished countrymen, Nelson and Abercromby. 

Pink granite, 68.5 feet high, 186 tons. Vulliamy created, and Youngs cast, the bronze sphinxes at the base, about which our colleague, Alan Patient, says: Apparently they are sited incorrectly, in that they should be guarding the obelisk rather than facing it. Presumably it was considered more aesthetically pleasing to place them the way they are.

Site: Cleopatra's needle (3 memorials)

WC2, Victoria Embankment

A misnomer since there is no connection with Cleopatra at all. In 1500 BC Pharaoh Thothmes erected two red granite obelisks at Heliopolis. The Romans took them to Alexandria in 12 BC where an earthquake brought them down. In 1819, following Nelson's victory at the Battle of the Nile, Britain was presented with this (near-buried) obelisk by the Viceroy of Egypt. It was not until 1877 that funds had been raised for shipment to London, which involved building a pontoon barge around the stone.

The 'Cleopatra' was not a lucky ship; it was holed and sunk during the launch. Salvaged, it was then almost lost in the Bay of Biscay in a storm when the barge broke loose from the towing steamer, the 'Olga'. 6 members of the Olga crew died as they tried to board the Cleopatra to bring it under control. But eventually it reached London and the obelisk was erected on a plinth containing a time capsule from that era. Its mate was given to the States and erected in Central Park, New York in 1881. The Cleopatra's needle in Place de la Concorde, Paris is also one of a pair but its mate is still in situ in Luxor.

2020: Reviewing a book on archaeology Tom Holland wrote "The shipping of obelisks to Paris, London and New York provided a brutally castratory metaphor for the way in which scholars from distant lands took ownership of the study of Egypt's past."

 

March 2024: We were contacted by Christian Falvey, in connection with a scavenger hunt he was trying to solve. He drew our attention to small brass plaques in front of the Sphinx benches along the Victoria Embankment. We had not previously spotted the plaques and so could not assist Christian with his quest.

Memoirs of a Metro Girl has a very informative post about the benches. There are two designs for the end panels: those on benches near Cleopatra’s Needle incorporate sphinxes; the others incorporate camels.

The benches were restored in 2008 and it’s probable that the plaques record the organisations that funded this, and earlier restorations.  We have not yet photographed them but Christian has kindly forwarded one photo and a list of 14 plaques in front of benches with sphinx panels, as follows:

The Savoy
Queen’s Silver Jubilee, 1977, donated by Shell U. K. Limited (transcribed from the photo)
The Institute of Electrical Engineers
Lloyds of London
Sir Gerald Glover
The Strand Association
W.H. Smith & Son
The Bahamas
The Royal Institute of chartered Surveyors
British Gas
Thelma Seear
The House of Commons
Gerry Cottle's Circus
Debenhams

We have a note to research these plaques when next in the area, and meanwhile wish Christian luck with future scavenger hunts.

This section lists the subjects commemorated on the memorial on this page:
Cleopatra's needle

Subjects commemorated i

Sir Ralph Abercromby

Soldier and politician. Born Clackmannanshire, Scotland. Lieutenant-general i...

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John Dixon

Civil Engineer from Newcastle. Freemason. His brother, Waynman, was an engine...

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Horatio, Lord Nelson

Born in Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk. Naval commander who became a national hero a...

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Queen Victoria

Reigned: 1837-1901, 64 years. Born Kensington Palace. Daughter of Edward, Duk...

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Erasmus Wilson F.R.S

Surgeon, dermatologist and philanthropist.  Born Marylebone High Street. Died...

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This section lists the subjects who helped to create/erect the memorial on this page:
Cleopatra's needle

Created by i

H. Young & Co.

Foundry opened in Eccleston Street, Pimlico.

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Mahommed Ali, viceroy of Egypt

Viceroy of Egypt in 1819.  Born in what is now Macedonia.  Regarded as the fo...

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George Vulliamy

Architect and civil engineer. George John Vulliamy was the son of the clockma...

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This section lists the other memorials at the same location as the memorial on this page:
Cleopatra's needle

Also at this site i

Cleopatra's needle - crew members lost

Cleopatra's needle - crew members lost

{A list of 6 names, oddly not in alphabetical sequence - see Subjects commemo...

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Cleopatra's needle - war damage

Cleopatra's needle - war damage

Londonist have a eye-witness account of this event.

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Nearby Memorials

WW1 obelisk - E8

WW1 obelisk - E8

E8, Haggerston Road, Stonebridge Common, Duke of Wellington pub

We found the inscription text at IWM. It's from a report of the unveiling in the Hackney and Kingsland Gazette 23 February 1921.

1 subject commemorated, 1 creator
Robert Waithman - obelisk

Robert Waithman - obelisk

EC4, Salisbury Court

Originally erected near Waithman's shop in Fleet Street at its junction with Farringdon Street, this obelisk was moved in 1951 to Barthol...

1 subject commemorated, 1 creator
New Zealand obelisk

New Zealand obelisk

SE10, King William Walk

Made of Cornish granite.  We've photoed the stone chain around the monument.  Lower down is a stone rope with knots at the corners. We l...

War dead | Other war
22 subjects commemorated
Samuel Gurney obelisk

Samuel Gurney obelisk

E15, The Broadway, Stratford

The Biblical quote is from Job 29:11. Water was supplied to the basins on the north and south faces by these unusual spouts. At the cent...

1 subject commemorated, 1 creator
Dance's obelisk

Dance's obelisk

EC2, Circus Place

The design of the obelisk is based on the 1771 one in St George's Circus, The profile is carved in Portland stone and was taken from a co...

1 subject commemorated, 1 creator