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Nelson’s Column is one of London’s most famous landmarks, and stands at the centre of Trafalgar Square, which was laid out between 1829 and 1841 to commemorate Lord Nelson’s victory over the French. Its height is 185-feet from tip to toe, and is topped by a statue 17-feet tall – slightly taller than three Lord Nelsons.
The four friezes around the base depict Nelson’s most famous naval battles: Cape St. Vincent (1797), Copenhagen (1801), Trafalgar (1805) and the Battle of the Nile (1798); and were cast from the bronze of a captured French cannon.
Around the base lie four strong lions, sculpted in bronze by Sir Edwin Landseer in the 1860s.
This review originally appeared in his London blog
I read in a book somewhere that Hitler was going to uproot Nelson’s Column and transport it back to Berlin after he won World War II. That’s what we should have done – we should have nicked the Brandenburg Gate and put it where Admiralty Arch is now. We missed our chance there, ah well.
It’s not a bad column, I suppose. It’s very tall, that is for sure, which is what you want in the middle of a square. And it’s got someone worth a column on top: Horatio Nelson. It’s very hard to build something that like these days, because we don’t produce anyone worthy of putting on top of it. Churchill could have pulled it off. But even he would have looked a bit wierd with his bowler hat on and cigar puffing out his mouth. He is a statue man, not a column one. So who else could we put up there? Marlbrough and Wellington, but that’s it. Certainly no one from the last 200 years. We just don’t produce people like Nelson anymore.
He looks pretty grand up there. It’s not until you zoom in close with your camera that you notice the statue isn’t all that good. He’s got no eyes, for starters, and the clothes are very flat and bland. But it doesn’t matter when you’re seeing it from the ground because you can’t pick out the detail.
The four black pictures around the base detail his most famous battles: the Battle of Cape St Vincent, Battle of the Nile, Battle of Copenhagen and Trafalgar. The last one is the best because it actually shows the moment he got shot onboard HMS Victory. You can see him slumped back looking a bit peed off – not surprising as he’s just been shot in the shoulder. If you go and visit the National Maritime Museum then you can see the actual jacket he was wearing with a bullet hole in it.
When you visit you can bet your life that kids will be climbing all over the lions around the base. It is one of the unwritten rules of London that if you’re pre-pubescent then you are duty bound to climb on the lions and have your photo taken. I haven’t got the faintest idea why they do it, because those things are huge. I wouldn’t climb on one anymore than I would a real lion, because if you slip off you are going to crack your nut on the concrete. Maybe I am just getting old.
I have yet to see someone shimmy all the way up to Nelson’s perch. It would have been great if they had a stone staircase up the middle but I don’t suppose it’s wide enough. I don’t suppose Nelson would have been too chuffed about having Japanese tourists clicking pictures of his head every five minutes, though… he’s probably got the most peaceful spot in London.
> Read Craig’s latest review of Nelson’s Column “The tourists have got their selfie-sticks are out in force today. I can count about twenty people brandishing their flagless flags, waiting the right time to pull the trigger and shoot. They look like an infantry line of muskets and rifles. They are all lined up around the base of Nelson’s Column practising their smiles inside the little two inch camera window… making sure the wind isn’t messing up their hair… rearranging their lips to show their teeth a bit better… making sure the landmark is right behind them so they can prove they were really here… continued.”
> Read Craig’s review of Trafalgar Square “Noise. Traffic noise. People noise. The sound of water falling on the fountains. Flags flapping against their metal poles and the rubber on the bus doors squealing shut, motorbikes and bikes and cycles and cars… three million kids and six million parents. All standing with their cameras and handbags, rooting around for tissues and maps. Trafalgar Square is a very busy place. Trafalgar Square is where all the crowds come to celebrate. If we ever win the World Cup again (it’s never going to happen), then this place will be packed out like we won the war. And if the unions want to complain about the government and their latest round of funding cuts… continued.”
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Whilst you’re in Trafalgar Square you might like to go and visit the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery. Or maybe you could walk down The Mall to see Buckingham Palace. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament are only a short walk down Whitehall, past Number 10 Downing Street and the soldiers outside Horse Guards.
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