EVERYBODY is well aware that Wolverhampton has a definite geographical centre that is held dear in the hearts of local people, for it is in Queen Square that victories in war have been celebrated, coronations have been announced, and the men in gold and black have paraded hard-won cups and trophies on numerous occasions.
Many also know that the wide open square atop 'Lady Wulfrun's Hill' took its name from the celebrated visit of Queen Victoria in Novermber 1866, when she unveiled the iconic statue of her late Consort, Prince Albert. It was a matter of great pride to the people of the town that Victoria should grace them with a visit above all the other civic invitations she had received as she emerged from the selfimposed purdah she had maintained since the Prince's death only five years before.
The fine equestrian statue of Prince Albert, sculpted by Thomas Thornycroft, has become synonymous with Wolverhampton and has featured on the covers of numerous publications about the city. Many who do not know that mounted figure is Prince Albert simply refer to the structure as the 'MOTH' — the Man on the Horse.
Russian But the Man on the Horse was not the first item to act as the focal point for the square.
For a few short years prior to Queen Victoria's visit the spot where her German prince's effigy now sits so proudly was occupied by another item of foreign origin — a large Russian cannon! Leafing through an 1850s Great Western Railway directory belonging to the Wolves' historian Graham Hughes, I came across a short article on the cannon. It seems that the gun was a gift to the town made by Victoria's government after the cessation of hostilities in the Crimea in 1855. This act of generosity was the cause for a groundswell of pride amongst the townsfolk and their civic leaders as it marked the recognition by national leaders of Wolverhampton's status as a town of significance.
With this in mind it seemed only fitting that the gun should take pride of place right in the town centre, in what is now Queen Square.
Market At the time the square was called High Green, and it only adopted its more regal title almost a decade later.
High Green had been Wolverhampton's market place until 1853, and until 1840 had been adorned by a forty foot high gas pillar, built to commemorate the introduction of gas to the town in 1821.
However by 1858 an appeal for donations by the corporation had raised enough money for the cannon to be mounted in some splendour.
A large rectangular piece of Irish granite 'of a warm grey colour' was purchased for the piece to stand upon. The granite block weighed some twenty tons whilst the gun itself weighed about three and a quarter tons. For the most dramatic effect, the gun was mounted so that its mouth pointed straight down Darlington Street.
Inscriptions set on brass plates were mounted around the gun's plinth and the one on the south side read as follows: 'This Russian Gun, taken at the memorable siege of Sebastopol, AD 1855, was presented by Her Majesty's Government to the Mayor and Corporation of this town, and placed here by public subscription, AD 1858.
'As a trophy of the late war, and in honour of the heroic men, soldiers and sailors, who, in the midst of unexampled privation and suffering, bravely fought in the Crimea, where England, allied with France, and in the interests of Western civilisation, successfully resisted the aggression of Russia upon the Turkish Empire.' The gun had been one of several which had been taken from the fortifications at Sebastopol after the city had fallen to Allied forces after a year long siege in September 1855. Local people showed great interest in their newly acquired attraction when it became known that slight damage to the weapon had been caused by British artillery during the heat of battle.
The local ink and paint manufacturer, Charles B Mander, added to the attraction of the site by providing a 'public drinking fountain of simple and elegant design' in front of the gun, to which the Corporation installed a constant supply of clean water at public expense.
The whole of the attraction was enclosed by locally produced iron railings, said to be 'in harmony with the object it surrounds'. A sketch of the gun which accompanied the article shows local people using the plinth as an impromptu seating area, but the cannon's tenure in High Green was short-lived. Only six or seven years after it was set up in the heart of the town, the cannon was removed to make room for Prince Albert's statue. Where did it go? Was it kept in storage or sent back to London? Who knows? The excitement which surrounded the installation of the Man on the Horse and the accompanying Royal seal of approval meant that interest in the cannon quickly died away, and soon its existence was expunged from popular memory.
Trophy Wolverhampton was not the only town to be gifted such a war trophy as the Russian cannon. An identical one was given to the Lincolnshire town of Gainsborough, but even though this fared somewhat better than its Wolverhampton counterpart, it was melted down during an appeal for scrap metal in 1940.
Perhaps something similar happened to Wolverhampton's gun. Or could it be that it lies unloved and unnoticed in some quiet corner of the Black Country? I'd love to know!