Question: Where in the world do mischievous locals love to keep a prestigious statue “coney”?
Answer: Duke of Wellington Statue in Glasgow, Scotland
In Glasgow, Scotland, the Duke of Wellington statue is an iconic symbol of the city—not because of the man or the horse he rides on, but because of the orange traffic cone that’s often affixed upon his head. The traffic cone was first put there by locals ensuing in some drunken debauchery and has since become emblematic of the Glaswegian sense of humor and playful local culture.
The man under the cone is Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, known for defeating Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Statues honoring his military legacy are found all across Great Britain—this one was built by Italian sculptor Carlo Marochetti in 1844. For nearly 140 years this traditional statue stood without much notice, but that all changed on a night of post-pub shenanigans during the 1980s. During the revelry, someone climbed aboard the statue and placed an orange traffic cone atop the Duke’s head—and the rest is history.
No one knows for certain who was the first person to start this tradition, but the lighthearted prank turned into its own rite of passage for party-goers in Glasgow. The local police and city council members however did not share in the enjoyment, and would remove the cone each time. Whenever the cone was removed by authorities, another jokester would come along in the middle of the night and put it back up. According to the city, the price to remove the cone each time was about £100 and about £10,000 annually. To prevent further tampering with the Duke of Wellington, the city council moved to double the height of the statue’s base in a £65,000 renovation project which they hoped would deter anyone from climbing upon it.
The news of this project quickly caused city-wide outcry as locals called to “keep the cone.” Within 24 hours, a petition in favor of the cone garnered more than 10,000 signatures and 72,000 Facebook page likes. A rally was held to protect the tradition, and ultimately, the people reigned victorious as city officials halted the plan to raise the statue’s base.
The tradition remains alive and well in Glasgow today and is seen by most as a fun way to stick it to the man. It’s also become a way to amplify social messages in town. The cone is often adorned with the symbols of relevant social movements such as a rainbow in honor of Pride month and the fist symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement. Someone also affixed the Duke himself with a face mask for the Covid-19 pandemic.
Because the statue was originally erected during a time when there were great disparities between wealthy land-owners and lower social classes, for many years it somewhat reflected these social divisions. However, with the newfound “coney” tradition, the statue has become somewhat of an anti-establishment symbol and represents the light-hearted humor of the locals. It’s a perfect representation of how Glaswegians don’t take life too seriously.
More Weird and Wonderful Sights to See in Glasgow:
- The Drying Green: In Glasgow’s oldest public park, iron poles still stand from the days in which residents would dry their laundry on the green. Years ago, locals would wash their clothes in public washhouses, then dry them here. Though they’re rarely still used for their original purposes, the iron poles still remain in the green.
- Britannia Panopticon Music Hall: Built in 1857, this hall is the world’s oldest surviving music hall and once hosted a freak show. Inspired by P.T. Barnum’s circus, the theater became a popular carnival as well as one of the first buildings in Glasgow to be powered by electricity and host moving picture shows.
- Fossil Grove: Within a museum at Glasgow’s Victoria Park, the fossilized remains of 11 extinct trees can be found. The tree stumps were discovered in 1887 and are the remains of ancient trees that grew about 325 million years ago.
- Lobey Dosser: Another famous horse statue in Glasgow, this one celebrates a beloved Scottish cartoon character from the 1940s and 50s. The quirky two-legged horse and the sheriff riding him, Lobey Dosser, were characters from a cartoon set in a fictitious town in Arizona filled with Scottish immigrants.
- The World Through Wooden Eyes: Viewed as both creepy and mesmerizing by visitors, these wooden puppets are an impressive exhibit at Glasgow’s Victorian Mitchell Library. The puppets express different socio-political narratives and explore numerous puppet styles from across the world.
- St. Valentines’ Bones: Did you know Glasgow has nicknamed itself the “City of Love”? That’s because at the city’s Blessed St. Johns Dun Scotus Church, a box supposedly containing the body of Saint Valentine is on display. This ancient relic was donated to a small Franciscan church in Glasgow by a French family where it sat for almost a century. Eventually, it was moved to St. Johns Church and given a place of honor at the entranceway so anyone can pay respects to the saint of love.
- Glasgow Necropolis: This historic cemetery is both spooky and stunning with historic graves spanning centuries. The maze of monuments and tombs features more than 50,000 gravesites of former Glasgow citizens.
- The Saracen Head: This classic Glaswegian pub is the perfect spot to grab a pint, but also features a scary Scottish artifact. Inside a glass case in the pub is the skull of the last witch to be executed in Scotland. It also once boasted a poem handwritten by the beloved poet, Robert Burns, which is no longer on display.
Experience the playful culture of Glasgow when you travel on our New! Scotland Revealed: Legends, Lochs & Highland Landscapes adventure.