There are as many myths about London as there are Londoners. There’s the legend of the ravens at the tower, the Black Dog of Newgate, Spring Heeled Jack, the list goes on and on. Most of these myths are just that. Myth. However, at least one of these outlandish tales is rooted in fact. Namely, the myth of the Seven Noses of London.
The legend goes that in 1997 a performance artist by the name of Rick Buckley decided to stage a protest against the proliferation of CCTV cameras in London. This was in the days when the cameras were just starting to appear on London’s streets. Fearing a descent into a 1984 style Big Brother style society, Buckley decided that he would express his disapproval at the measure. But what could he do?
Finally, he latched onto a plan. He would take his inspiration from the Situationists. The group had risen to prominence in the years following the 2nd World War. With a radical critique of the so called ‘commodity fetishism of modern capitalist societies, the group set out to express their alienation from these values with sporadic and often illegal acts.
Buckley had a similar aim – and soon he hatched an incredible plan to achieve it. He decided that he would hide 35 of his artworks in plain sight around the city – right under the noses of the powers that be. The only question was – what should he hide?
The idea came to him in a blinding flash of light – If he were to hide something under the authority’s noses – why not hide a recreation of his nose?!
Buckley began to create 35 plaster of Paris casts of his nose. Once they were finished, he set out to mount them. With nothing more than a toothpaste tube full of glue, the radical artist roamed the streets of London looking for appropriate places to mount his fleshy works of art.
Twenty something years later and most of the noses have disappeared. Whether removed by local council workers or snatched by trophy hunters, only seven of Buckley’s original thirty five noses remain.
Without any word of explanation for why they were there, the noses have become the stuff of urban legend. One of the best known myths supposes that the works were created by Londoners to mimic the features of Napoleon Bonaparte. Keen to mock the defeated general after the battle of Waterloo, the noses were attached to prominent buildings around the city and passing soldiers would then pinch Napoleon’s nose as they rode by. The story is bollocks but is was popular for a time.
Another myth suggested that anyone who found all seven of the noses would inherit great wealth.
With such legends, the seven noses of London has intrigued generations of Londoners and tourists. Indeed, the legend has proved so enduring that several walking tour companies offer tours to the sites of the remaining seven artworks.
This is where you can find Buckley’s artworks:
- Admiralty Arch
- Great Windmill Street.
- Meard Street
- Bateman Street
- Dean Street
- Endell Street.
- D’arbly Street
So, can you sniff out all seven of Buckley’s artworks?
For more stories of London’s history and heritage, click here: London history