It’s Trafalgar Square but not as we know it. In a new Wednesday series we’re looking at eight proposed structures in London that were never realised and first up, is a proposal which would have seen a 300 foot high pyramid on what has become one of the city’s most iconic sites.
The stepped pyramid was the brainchild of an early 19th century Tory MP, Colonel (later General) Sir Frederick William Trench, and was designed in 1815 as a grand military and naval memorial to the Napoleonic Wars with each of the structure’s 22 steps apparently dedicated to a different year of the war.
Apparently drawn up by architects Philip and Matthew Cotes Wyatt – of the famous Wyatt architectural dynasty, the pyramid – which would have been taller than St Paul’s Cathedral and pretty much covered the entire space now occupied by the square – was, according to Nick Rennison’s The Book of Lists, costed at £1 million, a figure Sir Frederick – a veteran of the wars – apparently thought was not unreasonable.
But it didn’t prove a popular design with the public and got no further than the drawing board.
Among Sir Frederick’s other unrealised dreams was an elevated railroad running between London and Hungerford Bridges, an immense new royal palace which would have covered much of the West End, and an embankment – ‘Trench’s Terrace’ – along the north bank of the Thames. An embankment was, of course, later built, but not until after his death in 1859.
Aerial combat probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about the fighting in World War I but, as the Royal Air Force Memorial on Victoria Embankment records, air crew played a vital role.
The memorial features a bronze eagle perched on an orb girded with a belt depicting the signs of the zodiac which sits atop a Portland stone pylon. It was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield with the eagle, inspired by the RAF’s badge, sculpted by William Reid Dick. Along with the dedication, it carries an inscription from the Bible (Exodus 19:4) – “I bare you on eagles wings and brought you unto myself” (sic).
Various other sites were apparently considered for the memorial before the location – amid a string of other memorials between Westminster and Hungerford Bridge – was settled upon (as were other designers including the renowned Edwin Lutyens).
Unveiled on 13th July, 1923, by the Prince of Wales, the memorial was dedicated to the memory of all those who gave their lives in the ranks of the Royal Flying Corps, the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Air Force (formed through the amalgamation of the RFC and RNAS at a hotel in Strand in 1918) during World War I, along with those who had died while serving in air forces from across the British Empire.
A further dedication was later unveiled in 1946 on Battle of Britain Sunday remembering the men and women of air forces from across the Commonwealth and Empire who died during World War II.
A simple, yet still evocative, memorial.