~ by Timothy Tye
Trafalgar Square is a famous public square and tourist attraction in the centre of London. It was created to commemorate the Battle of Trafalgar, a British naval victory in the Napoleonic Wars in 1805.
Trafalgar Square was originally intended to be called the King William VI Square. However architect George Ledwell Taylor suggested the name Trafalgar Square.
The architecture around Trafalgar Square dates to between 1820 and 1845, when the Prince Region engaged John Nash, the imminent landscape architect, to redevelop the area. The project became known as the Charing Cross Improvement Scheme. The architecture of the square was the work of Sir Charles Barry, and was completed in 1845.
Trafalgar Square consists of a big public area bordered by roads. The roads that lead into Trafalgar Square or are within its vicinity include Whitehall, Northumberland Avenue, The Strand, Charing Cross Road, Haymarket, Pall Mall and The Mall. Also within the area are Trafalgar Square road and Cockspur Street.
The point where the Strand meets Whitehall was the original location of the Charing Cross. This is where the City of London meets the City of Westminster, and is accepted as the very heart of London. From here all distances are measured.
Exploring Trafalgar Square in clockwise fashion beginning from the north, we see the stairs that lead up to the National Gallery. The National Gallery began when the British government bought 36 paintings from banker John Julius Angerstain in 1824. From that minuscule collection, the National Gallery today houses over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900. Two thirds of the collection comes from donation. The collect is small compared to national galleries of continental Europe, however, it has important works with a broad historical representation, covering Early Renaissance to Post-Impressionism.
The present structure at Trafalgar Square was built in 1832-8. However only the facade is recognizable from the original, with much of the inside having been renovated and expanded. This is the third building to house the National Gallery, and despite the many expansions, is still inadequate.
The site at Trafalgar Square made creating an impressive gallery a challenging task. It cannot be extended in further than one room, as there was a workhouse and a barracks immediately behind. The architect whose design was chosen, William Wilkins, also had to comply to several stipulations, among them, he has to used columns from the demolished Carlton House, and sculptures which were intended for John Nash's Marble Arch. As a result, the National Gallery opened to much public ridicule.
To the east of Trafalgar Square is the St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, an Anglican church dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours.
A burial dating back to Roman times was discovered here during an excavation in 2006. It led to a reappraisal of the importance of Westminster during Roman times. The reason is, although the Romans usually bury their dead outside city limits, the site of St Martin was way outside the Roman city limits, so it surprised archaeologists to find a burial spot so far out of the city.
The earliest documentation of St Martin-in-the-Fields Church was found in 1222, where a dispute between the Abbot of Westminster and the Bishop of London over who had control over St Martin was recorded. King Henry VIII rebuilt the church in 1542, so that plague victims do not have to pass by his residence at the Palace of Whitehall. At that time, the church was literally "in the fields", isolated and away from the cities of Westminster and London.
Although the old St Martin-in-the-Fields building was not destroyed by the Great London Fire of 1666, it was nevertheless replaced with a new building, by James Gibbs, in 1726. Though the new design was greeted with much criticism, it eventually found favor and became famous, leading to many similar copies built in the United States.
Due to its strategic location, St Martin-in-the-Fields is one of the most famous non-cathedral churches in London. It is famous for the social work done for the homeless. It is also a regular venue for lunchtime and evening concerts. A 36 million pound renewal project began in January 2006 is scheduled to be fully completed by early 2008.
At little to the south of the St Martin's church, past South Africa House, still to the east, is the Strand, towards the present location of Charing Cross and the Charing Cross station. To the south is Whitehall, towards the direction of the Palace of Westminster. To the southwest is the Admiralty Arch with The Mall passing through it towards Buckingham Palace. Finally, to the west is Cockspur Street in the direction towards the Haymarket.
There are several statues at Trafalgar Square, the most prominent of which is Nelson's Column. It commemorates the death of Admiral Horatio Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The entire monument is 50 metres (169 ft 5 in) from the bottom first step to the tip of Nelson's hat, according to laser survey done during restoration in 2006. It includes the 5.5m (18 ft) statue of Nelson facing in the direction of the Palace of Westminster and along Pall Mall. Nelson stands on top of a Corinthian column based on one from the Temple of Mars Ultor in Rome. At the top of the column are bronze acanthus leaves cast from British cannons. Below the column is a square pedestal, and on each face is a bronze panel cast from captured French guns. Each panel depicts one of Nelson's four great victories.
Nelson's Column was made in 1838. It was designed by William Railton. The sandstone statue of Nelson was sculptured by E.H. Baily. The four bronze panels were done by sculptors Musgrave Watson, John Ternouth, William F Woodington and John Edward Carew. The whole monument costs 47,500 pounds, equivalent to 3.5 million pounds in 2004 terms. Four lions, by Sir Edwin Landseer, were added in 1867.
Nelson’s Column is surrounded by four huge bronze lions cast from cannons of the French fleet. At the four corners of the square are plinths. Three of these have statues on them: King George IV on the northeast plinth, cast in the 1840s; Henry Havelock on the southeast plinth, cast in 1861; Sir Charles James Napier on the southwest plinth, cast in 1855. The fourth plinth remains without a permanent statue on it. Initially it was intended for a statue of King William IV, but there was insufficient funds to complete it. As of now, the plinth continues to be used for temporary works of art.
On the lawn in front of the National Gallery are two more statues: King James II to the west of the entrance portico, and George Washington to the east. The Washington statue was a gift from the state of Virginia in US. It stands on soil brought over from the United States, in honour of Washington's declaration that he would never again set foot on British soil.
To the south of Nelson’s statue is the roundabout where the original Eleanor Cross stood. There’s a statue of Charles I there. It is the only English king to ever be beheaded.
To the southwest of the round about is Admiralty Arch. It is an office building facing Trafalgar Square. It incorporates an archway for road and pedestrian access between The Mall and Trafalgar Square. The Admiralty Arch was built in 1912, and adjoins the Old Admiralty Building. The Admiralty Arch was commissioned by King Edward VII, in memory of his mother, Queen Victoria, though he died before it was completed.
These are just some of the sights around Trafalgar Square. There is indeed a lot to see at every corner, and for that reason, it is still one of the main attractions in London.
Timothy Tye explores and documents tourist attractions of the world at his website Earth Documentary…
Thanks to Timothy and Article City for the free use of this article.
IMAGE: Jim Lesses