A pair of Second World War stone bookends made from the bomb-damaged House of Commons, featuring medallion portraits of Big Ben in lead cast from the House of Commons roof
London: 1941. This pair of bookends, made of stone from the bomb-damaged House of Commons in 1941, features medallion portraits of Big Ben cast in lead from the House of Commons roof.
Such sets are known to us featuring twin medallions of Churchill, one medallion each of Churchill and Big Ben, or medallions of Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt. We have also encountered sets in either a rough-hewn or smooth stone - depending on the part of the Commons from whence the stone came. This set is smooth stone, featuring twin medallions of Big Ben, the iconic great tower clock at the north end of the Houses of Parliament. We also know from a previous set handled that they were originally issued with a small, circular, card sticker adhered to the face of one of the two bookends. The circular adhesive stain on one of the bookends in this set is consonant.
The pair weigh more than 7.75 lbs (3.5 kg) and stand 6 inches (15.2 cm) high. Condition is near fine. The lead medallions are a particular treat, both remaining strikingly sharp with no appreciable scuffs or wear. The smooth stone is surprisingly clean and consistent in color, with only a few tiny chips to extremities. The green felt adhered to the bottom edges remains complete and relatively clean.
The Commons Chamber was destroyed a year to the day after Churchill became wartime prime minister. A year to the day after the October 26, 1950 opening of the rebuilt Chamber, Churchill would become Prime Minister for the second and final time. In the evening of March 1917 during the First World War, Winston Churchill's first biographer, A. MacCallum Scott, had been with Churchill in the House of Commons. Of Churchill and that evening, Scott recalled: "Just before we left the building, he took me by the arm and steered me into the deserted Commons chamber. All was darkness, except from a ring of faint light from concealed lamps under the gallery... 'Look at it!' he said. 'This little place is what makes the difference between us and Germany. It is in virtue of this that we muddle through to success, and for lack of this Germany's brilliant efficiency will lead her to final disaster. This little room is the shrine of the world's liberties.'" (Daily Telegraph, 17 May 1941)
It is remarkable to consider that a quarter of a century after that remark, Churchill would be Prime Minister when the House of Commons was destroyed by Germany. A year to the day after Churchill became wartime prime minister, "On May 10 the worst, and in fact final attack of the Blitz of 1941 was made on London." (Gilbert, Vol. VI, p.1086). An incendiary bomb destroyed the debating Chamber of the House of Commons. One of the iconic photographs of the war is of Churchill, who had by then already spent four decades as a Member of Parliament, standing amid the wreckage. Churchill wrote to his son, Randolph: "Our old House of Commons has been blown to smithereens. You never saw such a sight. Not one scrap was left of the Chamber except a few of the outer walls. The Huns obligingly chose a time when none of us were there.... Having lived so much of my forty years in this building, it seems very sad that its familiar aspect will not for a good many years be before me." (Gilbert, Vol. VI, p.1105)
The Commons Chamber was rebuilt after the war under the direction of architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, simplifying some of the Chamber's old decorative elements, but maintaining "its crowded atmosphere so conducive to adversarial politics." For the reopening of the rebuilt Commons, a programme was produced which noted that when the Commons Chamber was destroyed: "Amid the wreckage the moulded stone archway from the Lobby to the Chamber still stood, scarred, calcined by fire, but not destroyed. At Mr. Winston Churchill's suggestion this arch, still scarred and calcined, has been preserved to form the entrance to the new Chamber."
These large, heavy bookends will be shipped at cost.
Reference: The Book of Churchilliana, Douglas Hall, p.24 & 187. Item #007437