A traffic cone on the head of the Duke of Wellington statue

24 – Victory of Duke of Wellington cone

November 11, 2013

THE debate has raged since the early 1980s.

Is the traffic cone that sits neatly on the head of the Duke of Wellington statue in Glasgow city centre an act of wanton vandalism? Or is it a work of comedy genius that sums up the unique sense of humour of Scotland?

Judging by the fuss caused by the city council’s decision to remove the cone once and for all in 2013, most of us believe the latter is definitely the case.

The story starts 30-odd years earlier when, it’s believed, some drunken students decided the Duke’s head would look lovely with a cone.


How they must have enjoyed their prank. But surely they could never have imagined the way that Glaswegians would take the new look to their hearts.

It meant that every time stuffy council bosses removed it – at £100 a pop – another cone appeared on top of the statue within hours.

And so it went on.

Writer Muriel Gray has confessed to putting the hat back on the Duke when she was 19 and had had a few shandies too many.

The situation came to a head two years ago when news emerged that the council was intent on removing the cone once and for all, by raising the height of the plinth of the statue at a cost of £65,000.

In its business case, the council stated it was an attempt to “reduce the incidence of vandalism” and that it was a “depressing image” of Glasgow.

If it was depressing, it seems someone forgot to inform the good citizens of our largest city.

Social media went mad.

A petition was signed by more than 10,000 people and there were a further 45,000 comments on Facebook.

The council backed down.

Doubtless there were more serious matters that Glaswegians could have concerned themselves with.

But the Joke of Wellington was a red rag to a bull.

When your city statue has made it into travel bible Lonely Planet’s list of 10 most bizarre monuments worldwide and tourists queue to get their photograph taken next to it – well, it says a lot about the character of a place, something uniquely Scottish.

Isn’t there something glorious about the fact that people power won the day over humourless council pen-pushers who were so po-faced about the whole thing?

One other city had a similar prank that lasted for years.

From the ‘70s to 1993, drivers leaving the Tay Bridge on the way into Dundee were greeted with the sight of a tree festooned with Jif Lemons.

They were put there by a group of Tay Bridge workers.

Rumour has it the Jif Lemon Tree is to make a comeback.

Close but no cigar, Dundee.