Did you know about the Michael Faraday memorial?
Born in Newington Butts in 1791, Faraday is famed for his pioneering work on electricity. The Victorian scientist explored the nature of charge, discovering electromagnetism, the principle behind the electric transformer and generator. Everything electrical we use today is built upon Faraday’s findings, and it is because of this that a memorial sculpture was commissioned in 1959.
Architect Rodney Gordon, who became known for his ‘dramatic, sculptural and enormous’ buildings, was awarded the task. Despite it being his first job at the London County Council Architects’ department, he had grand plans for the Southwark scientist’s memorial.
It is reported the bold designer wanted to create an inverted glass pyramid, complete with glowing mercury vapour rectifiers. This design was shelved, however, for fear the flashing, bright lights would distract motorists on the busy Elephant & Castle roundabout. His second design – a shiny, metal structure covered in 728 stainless-steel panels – was a success, and is as eye-catching now as it was when it was first installed.
The contents of this block are just as impressive; in a fitting tribute to the 19th-century genius, it contains an electric substation for the nearby Northern and Bakerloo underground lines.
Faraday died in 1867, after a long career at the Royal Institution. A plaque giving a short summary of his life can be found close to the memorial sculpture in Elephant Square, and describes Faraday as ‘one of Britain’s greatest figures’.
The memorial sculpture receives high praise too, and has been described as ‘a building of architectural quality and panache’. In 1996, it gained further recognition when it was granted a Grade II listing – so, like Faraday’s findings on electricity, the memorial is here to stay in Elephant & Castle.