A hollow Doric column designed by Benjamin Green towers 135 feet (41m) above the top of Grey Street and bears a 13 foot (4m) high statue of Charles, the second Earl Grey, sculpted by E H Bailey. It was erected in 1838. The Earl's head was knocked off by a bolt of lightning in 1941 and a new one sculpted by Roger Hedley. The view from the platform below the figure is described here.
Charles Grey was the eldest surviving son of General Sir Charles Grey, the Second Baronet of Howick (1729-1807) who became Lord Grey of Howick in 1801 and Viscount Howick and Earl Grey in 1806.
Not a military man like his father, but a politician supporting Charles Fox, leader of the Whigs, Charles Grey became Northumberland's only Prime Minister between 1830-1834. In these years he steered through parliament important political reform that had enormous impact on the development of democracy in Britain. The Reform Act of 1832 was a particular triumph.
Men so driven by politics often have interesting private lives and Charles Grey was no exception. In 1794 aged 18, he married Mary Elizabeth Ponsonby and over the next 24 years they had 16 children. He also managed a series of affairs with other women. The first, before his engagement with Mary, was with Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire with whom he fathered a daughter in 1792. The story is told in the 2008 film, The Duchess, starring Keira Knightley.
After resigning in 1834, Grey did not linger in politics. He was greatly attached to his family, and the family seat at Howick Hall where he spent his remaining years.
The tea flavoured with oil of bergamot, named for Earl Grey, is said to have been specially blended by a Chinese mandarin to suit the lime-rich water at Howick Hall,
The most famous biography of Earl Grey is 'Lord Grey of the reform bill: the life of Charles, Second Earl Grey' by George Macaulay Trevelyan (1952). However, much of the scandal of the period discussed is overlooked, as it was by the press at the time.