Commuters and visitors entering or exiting London’s Southwark Tube Station might catch a glimpse of this rather unusual piece of public art. Adding to their justifiable confusion is that this metallic dog with its head in a bowl has a connection to one of Victorian England’s greatest writers. Carefully crossing the road for further inspection, one will find a plaque on the ground bearing the words of Charles Dickens: “My usual way home was over Blackfriars Bridge, and down that turning in the Blackfriars Road which has Rowland Hill’s chapel on one side, and the likeness of a golden dog licking a golden pot over a shop door on the other.”
To commemorate the bicentenary of Dickens’s birth, the Southwark Council erected this facsimile of a street sign that was attached to a building that a young inspiring Dickens passed on his way from work when he was a journalist. The original configuration of canine and kitchen apparatus belonged to a 16th-century pub. It was eventually appropriated in the late 1700s by an ironmongers business. The image of a dog and bowl is a visual pun. The term “dog” is used to describe iron bars that support pots in the process of smelting, thus giving us an image of a dog and pot.
The ironmongers would eventually be taken over in 1870 by a glass company, Hayward Brothers. They were most known for producing glass bricks that one can find throughout pavements in London, providing light to basements below street level. Still keeping the mascot of a mongrel, the business of J. W. Cunningham moved in, providing ornate coal-hole covers. Of which, one is present at the base of the statue.
These circular plates are eagerly sought out by aficionados, as the company quickly went belly up. The factory would eventually succumb to bombing during the blitz of World War II. Luckily, the original signage survived and is currently in the possession of the Southwark Heritage Centre.
Know Before You Go
Coincidentally, the sculpture is kitty-corner, at a diagonal, from Southwark Tube Station. It is at the intersection of Blackfriars Road and Union Street, southeast corner.
Look upwards at the Rowland Hill building. The sculpture can be viewed at any time, and is easily accessible from the adjacent pavement. There is a plaque inlaid at the base.