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Trafalgar Square was laid out between 1829 and 1841 to commemorate Lord Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. It was built by John Nash and Charles Barry, and is now the nation’s favourite setting for demonstrations, celebrations and political rallies.
It has undergone quite a transformation in recent years, when the London Mayor paved over the northern road. He also banned one of the nation’s favourite pastimes – feeding the pigeons, due to the terror they generate in unsuspecting tourists, and the mess they leave behind.
There are four plinths around the edge of Trafalgar Square. The first of these contains a statue of King George IV on horseback, and the second is of Sir Henry Havelock. The third plinth is filled with Sir Charles Napier – a military man from the mid 19th-century.
The fourth plinth was supposed to be a statue of William IV, but they ran out of money and it remained empty for decades. In 1999 a project was launched to find a suitable replacement – and it is currently housing a series of modern art pieces. There are rumours that it will eventually be filled by an image of Queen Elizabeth II on horseback.
The fountains were built in 1845, and redesigned by Edward Lutyens in 1939. They are little-known memorials to two naval commanders – Admiral Earl David Beatty and Earl John Jellicoe.
Every year since 1947 the good people of Norway have donated a fir tree to decorate the square. This is to thank us for our sterling work in World War II – when we protected their Royal Family in exile.
Nelson’s Column dominates Trafalgar Square, standing 185-feet from tip to toe. The statue on the summit measures 17-feet – slightly taller than three Lord Nelsons.
The base contains friezes depicting the Admiral’s famous naval battles – cast from the bronze of a captured cannon. The four battles represented are Cape St. Vincent (1797), Copenhagen (1801), Trafalgar (1805) and the Battle of the Nile (1798).
The big bronze lions at the foot of the column were designed by Edwin Landseer, and cast by Baron Carlo Marochetti in 1867.
Admiralty Arch is the large arched structure that separates The Mall from Trafalgar Square. Although it looks like a monument, it is actually an office building with rooms inside. It was commissioned by King Edward VII to commemorate the death of his mother, Queen Victoria.
The National Gallery fills the northern edge of the square, with 2,000 works from 1260 onwards. Some of the famous names that hang upon its walls include Botticelli, Cézanne, Constable, Monet, Rembrandt, Renoir, Titian, Turner and Van Gogh.
The East Wing is the most popular part of the gallery, because it contains the famous British painters. John Constable’s The Hay Wain occupies Room 34, and J W Turner’s The Fighting Téméraire hangs nearby.
The National Portrait Gallery has every kind of painting, sculpture and statue from the 16th-century onwards – all depicting Britons past and present.
The galleries are arranged in chronological order, starting with a masterpiece – Queen Elizabeth I striding across a map of Britain, storm clouds raging where the Spanish Armada sank into the sea. A surfeit of monarchs follows, with studies of Henry VII, Henry VIII and James I. You’ll also find pictures of Jane Seymour, Sir Thomas More and Sir Francis Drake.
St. Martin-in-the-Fields stands in the north-eastern corner of Trafalgar Square. Despite its tiny size and humble decorations, it has strong royal connections – it is the parish church of Buckingham Palace.
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