The story behind the Dogs of Alcibiades statues in Victoria Park
The Dogs of Alcibiades (pronounced al-sih-BAI-uh-dees), two identical statues, stand guard over the Bonner Street entrance, next to Regents Canal. These two proud beasts have stood at their posts since 1912 and, barring a brief absence in 2011, have been the mainstay monuments of our beloved park.
The statues are marble sculptures of Molossian Hounds and were donated to the park by Lady Aignarth, a wealthy and clearly rather generous resident of East London, in 1912. They are rumoured to have been a commemoration of her late husband, Horatio, who passed away that year.
The tag ‘Dogs of Alcibiades’ is actually misleading; the sculptures are exactly the same, named so as the dog in question originally belonged to Alcibiades, a 5th Century Athenian statesman and friend of Socrates.
For nearly 100 years they acted as wardens for the park and were seen as a symbol of pride and honour of Victoria Park. However, in 2011, tragedy struck when vandals defaced the statues and smeared them with ‘black blood’. The exact substance used is unknown – though some have suggested – and the poor animals looked as if ‘black blood’ was streaming from their mouths.
There is thought that these dogs were daubed with ‘black blood’ because of their proximity to Bonner Street, named after Queen Mary I’s hatchet man ‘Bloody Bishop Bonner’. Was the historical significance lost on these vandals, or were they taking the ‘Bloody Bishop’ at his word five centuries later?
Luckily these were not the same dogs that were placed in 1912 by Lady Aignarth. The ‘real dogs’ had been removed by Tower Hamlets council in 2009. In an effort to preserve the original sculptures and save them from years of weather decay, the council had taken mouldings of the statues and replaced them with replicas.
‘We have the real dogs in storage’, a Town Hall spokesperson had winked when interviewed about the crime in 2011. ‘They may have thought they were vandalising the real one.’ Indeed, the old versions of the statues were reinstalled in early 2012, just in time for the London Olympics.
As the capital prepared to host the ‘world’s greatest show’, the Dogs of Alcibiades were reinstalled and were looked upon by athletes and fans from all over the globe. They have stood untouched since then and their remarkable forms are enjoyed by joggers, dog-walkers and residents of East London.
Maybe you’ve passed these two proud beasts on your daily commute, but did you know of the story behind them?
Please support local journalism.
As a not-for-profit media organisation using constructive journalism to strengthen communities, we have not put our digital content behind a paywall or subscription fee as we think the benefits of an independent, local publication should be available to everyone living in our area.
We are powered by members. Hundreds of members have already joined. Become a member to donate as little as £3 per month to support constructive journalism and the local community.
One thought on “The story behind the Dogs of Alcibiades statues in Victoria Park”
Another interesting coincidence is that Alcibiades himself was banished from Athens (I think) for the crime if defacing statues!