Amazing Places

There Are Seven Plaster Noses Hidden In London's Soho Neighborhood

We've all heard the expression "if these walls could talk," but what if these walls could smell? That looks like it could be true when it comes to the walls of a handful of buildings in central London's West End, which each bear one of seven plaster noses. It's an art installation that's part protest, part urban mythos, and part quirky neighborhood charm.

The nose at Admiralty Arch.

Sneezing in the Face of Big Brother

In what was considered a quite Orwellian maneuver in 1997, the UK government set up closed-circuit video surveillance around the country, causing a big uproar. Big Brother felt more real than ever before, and it made English artist Rick Buckley want to make a statement. He made plaster casts of his own nose and glued them to 35 different Soho buildings, right under the nose of the CCTV cameras. He took a picture of each one, then walked away. Most have been taken down since, but seven still remain, sniffing the sweet scent of insurrection for the foresmellable future.

Rick Buckley says he was inspired by Situationist International of late 1950s to early 1970s Europe, who were social revolutionaries following anti-authoritarian Marxist principles and comprised of debaters, literati, and, importantly, avant-garde artists. Gluing noses to buildings seems to fit right in with those ideals.

The plaster nose that once existed outside St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel.

The Streets Smelled of Legend

Since the sneaky schnoz-maker kept his identity a secret, and therefore his motivation to himself, urban legends permeated the city. Perhaps the most amusing was that architects would make casts of their noses and put it on the buildings as their signature, like an artist's autograph on a portrait. But the most fanciful and famous of the myths is the "Seven Noses of Soho," wherein the good fortune of great wealth comes to those who find all seven snouts.

Other legends surround the nose glued to Admiralty Arch in particular, which you pass beneath to get from the Mall to Trafalgar Square. Some say that it's within arm's reach for tweaking purposes, meant to mock Napoleon Bonaparte, while others have said it's an ode to the famously big-nosed Duke of Wellington. Yet another legend says that it was a spare nose set aside in case the nose on the monument of Admiral Lord Nelson were to have been broken off during its transport to the center of Trafalgar Square—a monument that was erected in 1967, thirty years before Rick Buckley's legendary nasal undertaking.

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Written by Mike Epifani May 24, 2017

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