Friday, January 15, 2010

0.3 The Square

There are several points of interest throughout the plaza that is Trafalgar Square.

Of the many objects, all came piece-meal, over an extended period of time. In fact, the square was not designed so much as it has evolved, (and the major changes made over the last ten years may not be the last).

The original concept was initiated by the Prince Regent, (eventually, King George IV), and the square was to be named after him, but the desire to salute Lord Nelson survived decades. Popular pressure motivated decisions and within another couple of decades Nelson's Column, and the four lions that frame the monument's footprint, came to dominate the plaza.

The Monument, located at the south end of the Square, was started in 1840. It took three years to construct and erect the memorial. The granite column is 185 feet high, (by William Railton). It is crowned by a statue of Lord Nelson, standing 17 feet high, (by E.H.Bailey).

While the monument may be the crown jewel of the Square, it seems more a jungle gym than a monument to a man who sacrificed himself for his King and Country, as kids of all ages climb and crawl across the pediment, often with Landseer's Lions as the objective on which millions are photographed. The story of the artist and his lions is interesting, and worth further research. There is a painting of Landseer in his studio, apparently putting the finishing touches on these Lions, by John Ballantyne that hangs in The National Gallery, a few paces north of the square.

Often overlooked are the details of the four bronze panels mounted around the face of the pediment on which the column was erected. Each panel was designed and executed by a different artist, and each illustrates a defining moment of each of four major battles that define Nelson's career. They were cast with bronze from armaments captured from the French.

on the north face, The Battle of the Nile, by W. F. Woodington

on the east face, The Bombardment of Copenhagen, by John Ternouth

on the south face, The Death of Nelson (at Trafalgar), by J. E. Carew

on the west face, The Battle of St Vincent, by M. L. Watson

The next significant features in the plaza are the fountains. They were first added in 1845, (before the Lions). A renovation began in 1937, but was delayed with WWII.

There was another refurbishment of the Square's fountains in 2009 which included the installation of coloured LED, energy efficient, lights.

The fountains project a modest stream of water into the air, they are capable of going 80 feet high, but this rarely occurs as wind would soak tourist rarely in the mood to get wet.

The next set of objects of note are the statues. The

Original plan was to have a major statue erected in each corner.

The most significant is that of King George IV, 12 August 1762 – 26 June 1830 , (previously Prince Regent for his father), which stands in the northeast corner, near St Martins-in-the-fields Church.

Henry Havelock, (a Victorian era General noted for his efforts to secure India), stands in the southeast corner. It was done by William Behnes.

Sir Charles James Napier, (also a Victorian era General noted for his efforts to secure India), stands in the southeast corner.

The most interesting is the Fourth Plinth. Intended to support an Equestrian statue of William IV, it stood empty until 1999 when the Royal Society of Arts conceived a rotating exhibition, where every few months, an new work would be presented.

The Mayor of London, who took on responsibility for Trafalgar Square in 1999, created the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, a panel of specialist advisors, guide and monitor the programme of contemporary art commissions.

Here is their website;

This has been very popular, and taken to a new and exciting level in the summer of 2009. Antony Gormley' proposed a living exhibition which was called One & Other. Running from July 6th until 14 October 2009, he had asked the people of the UK to occupy the empty Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, a space normally reserved for statues of kings and generals, in an image of themselves, and a representation of the whole of humanity.

This astonishing living monument took place for 100 days, during which the plinth was occupied by different people, each with a unique idea, or costume - chosen by ballot - every hour, 24 hours a day. My favorite was a person in a pigeon costume. Ironic given that Trafalgar Square was once dominated by the little feathered friends, until selling bird seed was outlawed with a by-law in 2003.

What goes around, comes around.

There are two statues standing on the terrace between the square and the National Gallery. George Washington on the east side, and James II on the west. It is said that the American figure stands on soil imported from the US, to honour the General, President and founding father of the rebellious colony, who had declared he would never set foot on British soil again.

On the lower plaza, there are some minor objects of interest. At the bottom of the steps from the National Gallery, there is a wall that supports the upper terrace. In this wall, west of the steps, are washrooms. East of the steps are three busts, memorializing Beatty, Jellicoe and Cunningham. Not quite revered as Nelson, they were important naval leaders. Beatty and Jellicoe were Admirals during WWI. Cunningham was an Admiral during WWII. Next to these busts is a café, with tables overlooking the square, (the shop is inside the wall, under the north terrace). On the wall by the café are some brass objects. These are standard measures, available to the public.

There is a recently restored drinking water fountain, courtesy of the GLA, made of granite and brass, on the east side of Trafalgar Square. It was installed in 1960 by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association. It has been restored to full working order, retaining its original features, ( except it has new pipes).

There is a second drinking fountain on the west side of the Square. A decision for restoration is subject to costs and benefits associated with the original project.

The last object of interest is the world’s smallest police station. There is a wall that extends from the north wall, on the east and west side. Both extensions terminate with a lamp on a pedestal. Have a good look at the eastern structure. It is an actual room used by police decades ago.

Here are some websites for your consideration;

Here are some very good websites for refined information;

the Fourth Plinth's rolling programme of contemporary art (

For more information about Trafalgar Square visit:

For media enquiries please call Nicola Dillon on 020 7983 4066 or Hilary Merrett on 020 7983 4755 in the Mayor's Press Office. For out of hours media enquiries please call 020 7983 4000. For non-media enquiries please call the Public Liaison Unit on 020 7983 4100.

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