fighting-temeraireIt’s an atmospheric image – both literally and metaphorically – that will soon be sitting in wallets and purses across the UK. Painter JMW Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838 is among the most famous artworks hanging in The National Gallery and, as the Bank of England has announced earlier this year, will adorn newly produced £20 notes from 2020 onwards. It commemorates the end of the famous ship, the 98 gun HMS Temeraire, which had played a heroic role in Lord Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and, say reports, had been dubbed the “Fighting” Temeraire ever since (although it’s also suggested the ship was actually known by the crew as the “Saucy” Temeraire) . The oil painting, which Turner created in 1839, depicts the ship being towed away to be broken up (although, while it was actually towed from Sheerness to Rotherhithe in London –  a westerly trip, the painting depicts it going eastward). The Temeraire itself is drawn romantically, almost spectrally, while in front of it is a steam tug shown in hard modernity and, of course, in the backdrop is the majestic setting sun, evoking a sense of the end. The painting, which was bequeathed to the gallery by the artist in the 1850s, and which incidentally appeared in the James Bond film Skyfall in a scene in which 007 (Daniel Craig) meets Q (Ben Wishaw) in front of it, can be found in Room 34 of gallery.

WHERE: The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square (nearest Tube stations are Charing Cross and Leicester Square); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily (open to 9pm Saturdays); COST: free; WEBSITE: www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

PICTURE:  Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838, © National Gallery, London

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A new permanent gallery looking at how the Royal Navy shaped individual lives and the course of British history over the 18th century opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich on Monday 21st October, Trafalgar Day. Nelson, Navy, Nation charts a course from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 through to the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 and provides a setting for the museum’s many artefacts related to Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson. Among the 250 objects on display in the gallery are the uniform (with bullet hole) Nelson wore at the Battle of Trafalgar, artworks likes William Hogarth’s Captain Lord George Graham in his Cabin, a seven barreled volley gun and grim items like a surgeon’s tools including an amputation knife, bone saw and bullet forceps. There is also the last letter Nelson wrote to his daughter Horatia and mourning rings worn by close friends and family at his funeral. Entry to the new gallery is free. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk.

The first major exhibition dedicated to the American-born artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s time in London between 1859 and his death in 1903 opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery this week. An American in London: Whistler and the Thames features paintings, etchings and drawings produced by the artist and more than 70 objects related to Whistler’s depiction of the Thames and Victorian London. Highlights include Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge (1872/1873) and Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge (1859-1863), the oil painting Wapping (1860-64) and the etching Rotherhithe (1860). There are also a series of portraits of Whistler and his patrons. Runs until 12th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

Composer Eric Coates has been honoured with the unveiling of an English Heritage blue plaque outside his former home at Chiltern Court in Baker Street. Coates, who created “some of the best known and loved pieces of English light orchestral music”, lived in a flat at the property between 1930-39. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

On Now: Picture This: Children’s Illustrated Classics. This exhibition in the Folio Society Gallery at the British Library takes a look at 10 of the most iconic children’s books of the 20th century – from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to The Wind in the Willows, Paddington Bear, Peter Pan and Wendy, and The Iron Man as well as Just So Stories, The Hobbit, The Borrowers, The Secret Garden and The Railway Children. On display is at least four illustrated editions or artworks of each title with Quentin Blake, Michael Foreman, Peggy Fortnum and Lauren Child among the artists whose works are being shown. The exhibition also features five specially filmed interviews with four illustrators and Paddington Bear author Michael Bond. Runs until 26th January. Entry is free. For more, see www.bl.uk.

It wasn’t until some time after Admiral Lord Nelson’s victory over the French fleet in the Battle of Trafalgar off the coast of Spain on 21st October, 1805, that the large public space in Westminster we now know as Trafalgar Square took its name.

Prior to the development of the square, much of the area it covers was occupied the King’s Mews – stables linked to the Palace of Whitehall – and was simply seen as part of the district known as Charing Cross (named for the memorial cross which stood close to where the equestrian statue of King Charles I now stands – for more on this, see our earlier post and follow the links).

Following the relocation of the Mews in the early 19th century, plans were drawn up by architect-of-the-age John Nash to redevelop the area while the square itself, completed in 1845, was designed by Sir Charles Barry (best known for his work on the Houses of Parliament).

The final design incorporated a statue of Admiral Lord Nelson atop a column, known as ‘Nelson’s Column’, in the centre – apparently against Barry’s wishes (see our earlier post for more on Nelson’s Column).

Originally designed with an upper terrace and a lower piazza linked by stairs at the eastern and western end of the terrace, the square contains two fountains on either side of the column – the current fountains were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1937-9 and replaced earlier ones.

It was originally suggested that the square be named King William IV Square but it was apparently architect George Ledwell Taylor who provided the alternative of Trafalgar Square in honor of Nelson’s great battle.

Bordered by significant landmarks including the National Gallery to the north, the church of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields to the north-east, South Africa House to the east and Canada House to the west, the square stands at the confluence of a number of major roadways including Whitehall, Strand, Charing Cross Road and The Mall.

Aside from the aforementioned statue of King Charles I, monuments within the square include Nelson’s Column along with plinths set in the four corners of the square. These bear statues of King George IV, Victorian military figures General Sir Charles James Napier and Major-General Sir Henry Havelock while the fourth plinth, located in the north-west corner, was originally intended to bear an equestrian statue of King William IV.

Instead, it was left empty for many years before the advent of the Fourth Plinth project under which a variety of contemporary artworks – most recently a massive sculpture of a boy astride a rocking horse – have occupied the space (you can see a picture of the current work in our earlier post here).

The square, once known as the home of thousands of pigeons before these were banished midway through last decade to allow greater public use of the space, also features the busts of three admirals – John Jellicoe, David Beatty and Andrew Cunningham, located against the north wall under the terrace.

There are also two statues on a lawn in front of the National Gallery – these are of US President George Washington and King James II. Curiously, the square also features a small pillar box in the south-east corner, referred to by some as the smallest police station in London.

A renovation project in 2003 pedestrianised the roadway along the north side of the square and installed a central stairway between the the upper and lower levels along with lifts, public toilets and a cafe.

For some more on the history of Trafalgar Square, see Jean Hood’s Trafalgar Square: A Visual History of London’s Landmark Through Time.

As we approach the end of the year, we’re taking a look back at our 10 most popular posts for 2011. We start the countdown with numbers 10 and 9…

10. LondonLife – The Royal Menageriein which, inspired by what was a new exhibition at the Tower of London, we take at the Royal Menagerie kept there by England’s monarchs for more than 600 years;

9. Treasures of London – Admiral Lord Nelson’s coat: part of a series looking at some of the many, many ‘treasures’ of London, this piece focused on the coat which Admiral Lord Nelson when he was fatally shot aboard the HMS Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar and which can now be seen at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (complete with bullet hole).

Stay tuned by numbers 8 and 7 tomorrow. We love to hear from you if there was a particular post that was your favorite. Leave your comment below…

It was roughly two hours into the Battle of Trafalgar on 21st October, 1805, about 1.15pm, that Great Britain’s most famous seaman, Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, was fatally struck by a musket ball.

Fired by a marksmen in the rigging of the French ship Redoubtable, the musket ball struck him in the left shoulder as he stood on the deck of his flagship, HMS Victory.

Having fallen to his knees, he was spotted by the Victory‘s captain, Thomas Hardy, before he collapsed. Carried below the decks to the ship’s cockpit, it was there that he died (the Victory can still be visited at Portsmouth).

His damaged coat, meanwhile, was placed under the head of Midshipman George Augustus Westphal, who was being treated for his injuries nearby. Blood from the midshipman (late himself an admiral) stuck his hair to one of the epaulettes, part of which was was cut away and retained by his family as a memento.

The “undress jacket” was later returned to Nelson’s mistress, Emma Lady Hamilton, in accordance with his wishes. She later gave it to Joshua Jonathan Smith, Lord Mayor of London in 1810-1811, to as payment of a debt just prior to retiring to France in 1814. It was Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria, who later purchased the coat for £150 from Smith’s widow and presented it to Greenwich Hospital in 1845.

The jacket can now be found in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (housed in a section of the former Naval College). Along with the fatal musket ball hole on the left shoulder, the tails and left sleeve of the jacket are stained with the blood of John Scott, Nelson’s secretary, who had died in the early moments of the battle on the spot where Nelson was later shot. It’s also possible to see where the epaulette was damaged during the treatment of Midshipman Westphal.

The front of the coat also features embroidered versions of the four orders of chivalry awarded to Nelson – these are the star of the Order of the Bath, the Order of the Crescent awarded by the Sultan of Turkey, the Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit awarded by Ferdinand IV of Naples, and the German Order of St Joachim. According to the National Maritime Museum, “Nelson habitually wore them on all his uniform coats”.

The coat’s right sleeve is positioned as Nelson would have worn it – in 1797 he had lost his right arm at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

PICTURE: Vice-admiral’s undress coat worn by Nelson (1758-1805) at the Battle of Trafalgar. There is a bullet hole on the left shoulder, close to the epaulette. (c) National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection.

WHERE: National Maritime Museum, Romney Road, Greenwich, (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark or Greenwich mainline station); WHEN: Open 10am to 5pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.nmm.ac.uk.

Towering over Trafalgar Square, Nelson’s Column was constructed in the 1840s to commemorate the man many believe to be Britain’s greatest naval hero, Admiral Lord Nelson.

Parliament started discussions on a monument commemorating Nelson only 10 years after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805, but it wasn’t until 1838 that the Nelson Memorial Committee was finally formed and public subscriptions called for to raise funds for the monument.

The government agreed to provide the location and, following a controversial competition (which had to be run twice), William Railton’s designs showing a Corinthian column topped by a statue of Nelson (which it was stipulated had to be made by EH Bailey) with four lions at its base, was adopted.

The column was completed in 1843. It featured a bronze capital, made from old cannons taken from the Woolwich Arsenal and shaped in the form of acanthus leaves, and Bailey’s 5.5 metre (17 foot) tall statue of Nelson (made from Craigleith sandstone quarried in Scotland and donated by the Duke of Buccleuch). The four bronze identical lions, made by sculptor Sir Edwin Landseer and said to be modelled on a dead cat from a zoo, were not added until 1867.

On the column’s pedestal are four bronze relief panels showing Nelson’s four great victories – the Battle of Cape St Vincent, the Battle of the Nile, the Battle of Copenhagen and the Battle of Trafalgar, the scene of which depicts the admiral in the throes of dying (he was killed by a musket bullet fired from the French vessel Redoubtable and was carried below decks where he died). They were apparently made from French guns captured at each of the battles.

The Grade I-listed column, which cost £47,500 to build, was refurbished in a four month exercise costing £420,000 in 2006, during which it was discovered that it was actually 16 foot shorter than had previously been thought (its total height, to the tip of Nelson’s hat, is actually 169 feet instead of the 185 feet previously supposed). It had previously been refurbished in 1986 and in 1968. You can see a gallery of images taken during the most recent restoration here.

Interestingly, it is reported that just before Bailey’s statue was raised to the top of the column in 1843, 14 stonemasons who had worked on it during construction held a celebration dinner party on the plinth at the top.

Once a pivotal player in ensuring the UK’s navy remained on top at sea, the Historic Dockyard in Chatham has been involved in preparing ships involved in some of history’s greatest naval engagements – everything from England’s defeats of the Spanish Armada in 1588 to Admiral Lord Nelson’s famous victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Located 35 miles south-east of London on the River Medway, these days the dockyard plays host to tourists rather than hundreds of craftsmen who once worked there, eager to gain an insight into its rich history (as well as two film crews for movies and TV series).

While the history of the dockyard on its present site goes back to the 1600s, most of the surviving buildings date from between 1700 to the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, during which time the Chatham Dockyard built and launched 125 ships including Nelson’s Victory (which can now be found at Portsmouth).

The dockyard officially closed in 1984 and is now under the care of the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust.

Attractions these days are many and range from the chance to ramble over historic warships permanently docked there – these include the sloop, the HMS Gannet – launched in 1878 it served as an anti-slaver and later as a training ship, the HMS Cavalier – launched in 1944, it was one of 96 emergency destroyers built during the Second World War and, having served in various places around the world until being ‘paid off’ in 1972, is now preserved as a memorial, and the last vessel built for the Royal Navy there, the Oberon class submarine HMS Ocelot – launched in 1962.

Other features include the Wooden Walls of England – an interactive walk-through looking at what life was like aboard England’s timber-hulled vessels of the mid-1700s, No 1 Smithery which now houses the maritime model collections of the National Maritime Museum and the Imperial War Museum as well as paintings and other artefacts, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s collection of historic lifeboats and The Royal Dockyard Museum which houses a large range of artefacts.

Also well worth a visit is the still working Victorian Ropery. Its curmudeonly attendants who provide a fascinating insight in what life was like for those formerly employed there and you can see how rope is still made in the 346 metre long rope house which, when constructed, was the longest brick building in Europe.

There’s also a cafe on site and a range of other odd artefacts at various locations – including the railway carriage used by Lord Kitchener in Sudan in 3 Slip – The Big Space – as well as the historic buildings of the dockyard itself.

There’s certainly more than can be seen in a day but thankfully all tickets are valid for a year.

WHERE: Chatham, Kent (nearest railway station is Chatham). For detailed driving instructions see website; WHEN: Open everyday until 12th December from 10am-4pm (check for times after that); COST: £15 an adult/£12.50 concessions/£10.50 children (aged five to 15 years)/£42.50 for a family; WEBSITE: www.thedockyard.co.uk