The Time Citizens of Glasgow Rallied Around a Traffic Cone

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If you've been to Glasgow, you might have seen the equestrian Wellington statue. It sits in Royal Exchange Square and features Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, riding a horse—and most of the time, wearing a traffic cone.

No one is quite sure when the tradition began, but some say the Duke got his beloved hat sometime in the 80s. Three decades later, his fashion statement is nothing short of iconic—but it also creates a massive headache for the city of Glasgow. In 2005, the Glasgow City Council and the local police had to issue a reminder that climbing the statue to adorn it with the latest in road fashion was a "criminal act" and could lead to prosecution.

Meanwhile, the Duke's spurs and a good portion of his sword have been sacrificed to overly-enthusiastic climbers. What's more, it cost the city about £100 per attempt to remove the cone, which was something they had to do approximately 100 times a year. That was £10,000 the city felt it couldn't afford to spend any longer, so in 2013 they came up with a plan: to protect the 19th century statue from any further harm (or tomfoolery), they would double the size of the base of the statue. 

The £65,000 project put forward by the city council was designed to stop would-be vandals from climbing the statue, thus saving money, time, and the monument's still-intact parts. The only problem? The citizens of Glasgow didn't want to spend that much cash to end a tradition they supported. The cones had become an emblem of the city. They helped the statue earn recognition on bizarre monument lists and even turned gold after Scottish athletes performed impressively at the 2012 Olympics.

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Online protests broke out, with a "Keep the Cone" Facebook page gaining thousands of likes in just a few hours, and a petition garnering more than 10,000 signatures from Glaswegians angry over "ConeGate." Many felt that raising the statue wouldn't actually deter anyone from placing a cone on top of the Duke's head. But more importantly, as the petition stated, the cones meant "far more to the people of Glasgow and to visitors than Wellington himself ever has."

It took less than 24 hours for the city council to announce that the cones would stay—or at least, that they wouldn't be raising the statue. (It's still technically illegal to place a cone on top of the Duke.) Today, the statue remains a Category A listed monument, meaning it's of "national or international importance, either architectural or historic, or [a] fine little-altered [example] of some particular period, style or building type" according to Historic Scotland.

While you probably shouldn't plan to scale the Duke of Wellington statue on your next trip—it's dangerous and the 171-year-old monument can only handle so much—rest assured that you'll still probably be able to see the Duke rocking his famous hat.