This article is reproduced from Issue 57 (Summer 2002) of The Review, written by Friend Gillian Sutch.
Along the winding, leaf-strewn path to the north of the English Garden in a quiet and serene spot is a statue of a small terrier, known as the Brown Dog Statue. Erected in memory of dogs that were used in vivisection experiments at the beginning of the last century, the story behind the statue is one far from quietness and serenity.
This statue replaced one that was a dog atop a drinking fountain (with a trough for dogs too) that was first put up in 1906 in Latchmere Recreation Ground, in Burns Road, not far from the present day Latchmere Pub. It bears a plaque which says that it was erected ‘In memory of the brown terrier dog done to death in the laboratories of University College in February 1903, after having endured vivisection extending over more than two months and having been handed over from one vivisector to another till death came to his release. Also in memory of the 232 dogs vivisected at the same place during the year 1902. Men and women of England, how long shall these things be?’
The early 1900’s were experimental times in medicine and there was a large pro-vivisectionist lobby who took great exception to the statue and, in particular, the wording on the plaque. In November 1907 medical students from University College attacked the statue, under cover of fog, with a crowbar and sledgehammer.
Interrupted by the police, the attack was unsuccessful but a few weeks later, assisted by students from other medical and veterinary colleges in London, Oxford and Cambridge, the University College students led a two-pronged demonstration, one a march on the statue and the other to Trafalgar Square. The Battersea residents, who had grown fond of the statue, responded and what became known as the ‘Brown Dog Riots’ erupted.
What followed were more pro-vivisection marches in London, threats of legal action, the burning of effigies, more attempts at attacking the statue despite police guards and newspaper support for those for and those against ‘the dog’. By the middle of 1908 things however had calmed down but the in-coming Battersea Council were concerned about the fuss the statue had caused and overnight on March 10, 1910, removed it before daybreak. A week later there was a demonstration by more than 3,000 people in Trafalgar Square.
The story is that the Council destroyed the dog, it is thought by a blacksmith who smashed it to smithereens and then melted the remnants down.
In December 1985 a new brown dog memorial was erected by Geraldine James, a Battersea resident and anti-vivisectionist, on a site behind the Pump House. This time it was a simple plinth, there was no fountain or drinking trough and the brown dog is a terrier, based on one owned by the sculptor, Nicola Hicks. In 1992 the statue was moved to the woodland on one of the paths near the Old English Garden.
More information is available at The Brown Dog Affair