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Revealing the stories behind famous stone faces

By James Frater, CNN
updated 7:28 AM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
  • Statues across London and Manchester are being given a "voice" through smartphone technology
  • Passers-by can hear statues including one of Queen Victoria reveal their secrets
  • Actors and comedians voice the statues, which is the creation of Sing London

London (CNN) -- They have stood quietly among us for centuries, often unnoticed. But now, some of England's historic statues have been given a voice.

Passers-by are able to hear 35 statues across London and Manchester "speak" with a swipe of their smartphones over nearby tags. The tag triggers a call from the statue, with actors and comedians revealing the stories behind the famous faces.

Colette Hiller, creative director of the Talking Statues' creator Sing London, said the project aims to "stop people from looking in their phones," and to start "looking at the world around them."

Actress Prunella Scales is the voice of Queen Victoria, who sits on a plinth above a busy junction by Blackfriars Bridge. When prompted, the queen asks listeners to "leave her alone" and "Google her descendants."

At London's Paddington Station, by platform one, actor Patrick Stewart voices The Unknown Solider. The statue asks "the folk who go past with them new wheelie cases" to slow down and spend some time with him.

A little further down the platform, Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville is the man behind Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the British engineer who created the Great Western Railway connecting Paddington to the West of England and Wales.

Brunel urges the passers-by to "look about you" and enjoy the wonders of travel, before wishing them bon voyage.

But it's not just people who've been given a voice. The list of statues includes two cats and a goat.

British comedian Helen Lederer, the voice behind North London's Whittington's Cat statue, told CNN the animals were "celebrities of the time. The icons."

Usually, "we don't notice them," she said. "But they must all have done something quite important."

Organizers hope the project's simple technology will help people engage. Users either tap a NFC (Near Field Communication) point, type in a web address or scan a QR code to receive the statue's call.

If the project is successful, its creative and technology teams plan to extend it across the U.S. and Europe.

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