It seems you can’t go anyhwere in Glasgow without coming across images of the Duke of Wellington statue on Royal Exchange Square complete with traffic cone on his napper. Forget St Mungo or Glasgow’s miles better, the Duke is the new marketing frontman for Glasgow. So how did it happen? And when did it happen? Does anyone really know for sure? Well I’m going to try and clear up the mystery.
Well as we all know, the Duke is generally to be found sporting a nice standard issue traffic cone as headwear. Sometimes his horse, Copenhagen, joins in on the act too. This silliness has been going on for as long as I’ve stayed in Glasgow, or at least as long as I can remember. However most serious estimates date it back to the early 1980’s; when local ‘refreshed’ youths began the tradition of cone-capping the Duke as a late night rite of passage. Hugh MacLellan, a former student at the Glasgow Nautical College thinks he may have started the trend in 1982:
“I remember putting a cone on the Duke in 1982. I was about to sit exams for my Second Mates certificate. It would have either been a Friday or Saturday night heading back to the hostel from the “devils triangle” (the Park, Snaffle or Islay Bars). I came up with the grand idea of putting the cone on the Duke’s head anyway after clambering up in the rain and much laughing we got chased by a couple of burly policemen into the night. Always wondered if I was the first to do it…..”
Here’s a youtube link to some footage of the cone being replaced in case you want to know how it’s done.
In 2011, the Lonely Planet guide included Glasgow’s unique monument to Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington in its list of the “top 10 most bizarre monuments on Earth”.
But it all started getting serious in 2013 when the good old Coonsil stepped in to try and stop this menace, and save the poor taxpayer from a £10,000 a year bill for cone-removal. They planned to raise the Duke’s plinth a further six feet to discourage would-be cone-cappers. Well to say that this proposal caused a stooshie might be a bit of an understatement. A ‘keep the cone’ social media campaign quickly took root and captured the imagination of the city. Within a couple of days a petition opposing this measure had received 10,000 signatures. The good citizens, it seems had grown rather fond of the cone-heided Duke. The poor old City Fathers and Mothers abandoned the plan and decided the Duke could keep his stupid hat, so they did. You can read news coverage about it here.
A spokesman for the Council leader was alleged to have said:
“does anyone really think that a raised plinth will deter drunk Glaswegians?”
And Raymond Hackland, Keep the Cone campaigner summed up the City’s attitude to the Duke:
“It’s a harmless way of ‘sticking it to The Man’ and it simply gives people a laugh or reminds them of good times”
Needless to say, when you start making Lego models of Glasgow landmarks, the Duke has got to be pretty near the top of the list. I started making mine in 2015, and he’s proved popular ever since. The construction is fairly simple, although the black Lego horses went out of production in 2006 and are getting hard to come by. Have a look at the short video here to see how it’s made. You can buy the Lego Duke framed as a gift here. You can also buy the Duke and other models at Stephen O’Neil’s shop in Shawlands.