In 1985 the Friends were invited by the Project Wellington Committee to take on the role of Friends of the Wellington Statue, a great national monument to the Duke of Wellington and a symbol of Aldershot's pride in its military heritage. The Friends were pleased to take on this project, as it falls well within the Friends terms of reference, which encompasses all aspects of military Aldershot within the boundary of the pre-1939 Aldershot Command. Since taking on the Wellington Statue project, the Friends have researched the history of the statue, designed and erected interpretative boards at the statue, and designed an information leaflet about the monument. They are actively collaborating with other groups within the Wellington Project for further improvements to the landscape around the statue and for improvements to the paths to the top of the mound to enable visitors to see the great sculpture at close quarters.
The colossal statue of the Duke of Wellington stands in the area of Aldershot Military Camp, renowned as "The Home of the British Army", and represents Aldershot's pride in its military heritage and the achievements of the Army in the defence of the United Kingdom. The origins of the statue go back to the end of the Napoleonic Wars, when various memorials to the British triumphs were begun, including Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square and the victory arch at Hyde Park Corner. In 1837 a committee was formed under the Chairmanship of the Duke of Rutland to raise funds for a military memorial to the Duke of Wellington. The sculptor was Matthew Cotes Wyatt, a highly controversial choice at the time. The monument was made on a massive scale, the largest equestrian statue hitherto seen in Britain. The final statue was 30 feet high, 26 feet from nose to tail, and 21 feet in girth. It weighed 40 tons.
In 1846 the statue was moved in a grand procession from Wyatt's workshop to Hyde Park Corner where it was erected on the unfinished victory arch, again amidst much controversy, for many believed it was completely out of scale. However, it could not be moved as this would be an insult to the ageing Duke of Wellington and by the time of his death the public had become used to the statue and the controversy died down. In 1882 traffic congestion at Hyde Park Corner resulted in the re-alignment of the victory arch. The controversy about the Wellington Statue was re-ignited and the Government decided to replace it with a figure of Victory.
After removal from the arch, the statue was left in Green Park until a decision was made on its future, as no sites in London were considered suitable. In 1883 the Prince of Wales suggested that the statue should be taken to the great military Camp in Aldershot "where it will be highly regarded by the Army". This was agreed and the statue was brought to Aldershot in pieces during August 1884.
The re-assembled monument was handed over to the care of the Army in August 1885.
Standing out against the skyline, the Wellington Statue rapidly became a well-known landmark and a symbol of military Aldershot.
The Statue fell into decline through the second half of the twentieth century. By the Millennium the monument was in a poor state and largely hidden by overgrown bushes and trees.
At the beginning of 2004 Aldershot Garrison, in partnership with local conservation groups and volunteers, began a major project to restore the Wellington Statue to its former glory. Overgrown bushes were cleared by volunteers, while restorers cleaned and re-bronzed the statue so it could be seen as intended, with the remarkable details revealed and the skill of Matthew Cotes Wyatt once again fully appreciated.
Although the main restoration work has been completed, more work needs to be done on the restoration of the original paths, planting and railings, as well as wider landscape improvements to the area. Headquarters Aldershot Garrison continue to lead the project, with support from Rushmoor Council and other groups. The Friends of the Aldershot Military Museum, whose area of interest covers all of military Aldershot, have taken on the role of Friends of the Statue, and the Blackwater Valley Countryside Partnership provides voluntary assistance with the soft landscaping. If you would like to find out how you can help preserve this great monument, please e-mail the Friends:-
The Friends also researched, designed and erected interpretative boards by the great Wellington Statue, to inform visitors of its history and significance.
The Wellington Monument is close to Aldershot town centre and is easily accessible on foot or by car, with a free car park adjacent to the statue. Aldershot is a few minutes from the M3 or the A31 and there is a frequent train service from London Waterloo.