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An Egyptian touch Take me here now

Make sure your volume is on: "Sir George talks about the Obelisk"

Show transcript

This is the tallest of my follies, and the most ‘monumental’ if that is the right word. There is something very noble about an obelisk. They have very pleasing proportions, and when you see one you know that it stands for something. More importantly, they work ever so well in an landscape, as they really draw the eye.

Even I cannot afford to import a genuine Egyptian obelisk. Nobody can! Did you know that the ruler of Egypt gave one to Britain back a few years ago, and they are STILL trying to work out how to ship it over here…I doubt they will ever do it in my lifetime!

But they are popular designs these days, you see them on tombs and gateposts and plinths just about everywhere…so most monumental stonemasons can work one up for you, and get it set up.

Mine is dedicated to the memory of George Canning, the late Prime Minister and my great and dear friend. He was only Prime Minister for about three months before his death. So tragic…he was only in his 50s and such a talent.

Ah well, these bright flames soon burn themselves out, I suppose. When I look out over my pleasure garden on a fine day, my eye is always drawn to the obelisk and I remember my friend and think fondly of him.

This was the tallest of Staunton's follies, at 50 feet high (15 metres) and was designed to be visible from the far side of the lake through a gap in the trees. The design was by Lewis Vulliamy, the same architect who designed the Beacon, and it was built in 1832 to honour the poltician George Canning, who was Staunton's great friend. 

Canning was a colourful political figure in his day, and he famously fought a duel with one of his Cabinet colleagues in 1809. Canning was wounded but survived the event (he had never shot a pistol in his life before that day) and served very briefly as Prime Minister in 1827.

Obelisks are of Egyptian origin, and started being built there about 2000 BCE. They fascinated the Romans, and when they took control of Egypt they uprooted many of them and transported them to Italy (there is a famous one in front of the Lateran Palace in Rome). Centuries later, well-bred Englishmen doing the Grand Tour of Europe saw these tall, pointed sculptures and considered them to be essential elements of classical architecture.

The obelisk is typical of George Staunton's eclectic taste in architeture, adding an Egyptian item to a park which also has Greek temples, Chinese structures, a Turkish pavilion and a Gothic library. 

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