On this day in history : 23rd October 1843 – Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, erected to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar in 1805 is finally completed….img_4388

In February 1838 a group of 121 Peers, MPs and dignitaries formed a committee to organise a monument to Lord Nelson…. It was funded mainly from private donations, including very generous help from the Tsar of Russia – and the British Government agreed to provide a site in Trafalgar Square, in front of the National Gallery….

A competition was held for the design – with a budget guide of between £20K-£30K…. (The end cost was actually £47K, over £3 million in today’s terms)…. The winning design came from William Railton; however, after criticism of how the completion was organised, it had to be run again…. After making slight revisions to his original design, Railton still won….the wining entry was chosen by a sub-committee, led by the Duke of Wellington….

Excavation work on the site began in July 1840 and on the 30th of September 1840 the first stone was laid – by Charles Davison Scott, honourably Secretary of the committee and also the son of John Scott, who had been Nelson’s secretary….

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Nelson’s Column under construction 1843 – William Henry Fox Talbot – Public domain

Built from Dartmoor granite, with a Craigleith sandstone statue of Nelson, designed by E.H.Baily, the monument has four bronze lions at the base – which were added in 1867…. The lions were designed by Sir Edwin Landseer and have come into some ridicule over the years…. Landseer had been given a dead lion by London Zoo, as a model to work from….but unfortunately it rotted and he had to resort to artistic licence….

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One of the lions at the base designed by Landseer – Image credit : Anthony O’Neil CC BY-SA 2.0

The pedestal is decorated by four bronze relief panels, one on each side….and were cast from captured French guns…. They depict the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, Battle of the Nile, Battle of Copenhagen and the death of Nelson at Trafalgar…. The statue of Nelson himself faces down Whitehall towards the South – to HMS Victory at Portsmouth – and further beyond towards Southern Spain and Cape Trafalgar…. Fourteen stone masons were responsible for hoisting the statue up to the top of the column – and they held a dinner party up there on the plinth before doing so….

During World War 2 the German Luftwaffe were ordered not to bomb Nelson’s Column – as the intention was to move it to Berlin after they had ‘won the war’….

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The sandstone statue of Nelson by Edward Hodges Baily – Image credit : Beata May CC BY-SA 3.0

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