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An iconic Glasgow emblem, the equestrian Duke Of Wellington statue is the city’s pride and joy. Built by Italian artist Carlo Marochetti, the statue was erected in 1844 as a tribute to Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington. Forever overshadowing the Duke, however, is his beloved hat — an orange traffic cone.
The cone is an integral component of the city and plays testament to the priceless Glaswegian and Scottish sense of humour. This cone is so much more than a cone; it’s a symbol of Glasgow. The 2011 Lonely Planet guide featured it in their list of the ‘Top 10 Most Bizarre Monuments On Earth’, which only adds to its fun, countercultural appeal.
But where did this cone tradition begin? Like many instances in Scots history, the lines are hazy, so instead of getting caught up in frivolous details, it’s best to focus on the facts. The first documented sightings of the Duke’s conical hat date back to the 1980s. A timeless tradition, this practice of ‘cone-capping’ is rumoured to be the result of a booze-infused belter of a night out.
Basically, a bunch of locals had a wee swally or two after a night out at the dancin’ and decided it would be funny to place a cone on the statue’s head. Just like the birth of the deep-fried Mars Bar, the moral of the story goes that one lone prank can turn into a rite of passage and deep-rooted local tradition. The Duke’s casual cone was even switched by daring locals for a more refined, gold cone in honour of the 2014 Commonwealth Games hosted in Glasgow.
Eventually a disgruntled Glasgow City Council and Strathclyde Police arrived on the scene, due to the inevitable post-capping wear and tear of a Category-A listed monument. Tampering with the statue was deemed a criminal act. As the fee of removing the cone amounted to an alleged £10,000 per year, with each removal costing £100, the council decided the only solution was to double the height of the plinth to around six feet — the perfect deterrent for future cone shenanigans — as part of a £65,000 restoration project. They thought wrong.
Tongues started wagging and the plot thickened the moment locals caught wind. The people united and petitioned the council. In just 24 hours, they reached 10,000 signatures. Not only that, a Facebook campaign called ‘Keep The Cone’ garnered widespread attention with over 72,000 likes in 24 hours. A rally was also organised. Needless to say, the people reigned victorious, as the sheer opposition for extinguishing the cone couldn’t be ignored any longer.
Although a swanky CCTV system was positioned to detect cone-cappers, the city of Glasgow is what it is today because of its traffic cone. Whether in need of a pick-me-up or a burst of laughter, visit the Duke of Wellington in all his glory, cone and all — a true testament to the incorrigible Glaswegian sense of humour. Keep the cone.