Trafalgar-Square

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.

Famed around the world for her London-based wax museum (and the chain of waxworks which now bears her name), French-born Madame Tussaud is a towering figure of the early 19th century.

Born Anna Maria Grosholtz in Strasbourg on 1st December, 1761, Marie Tussaud’s association with waxworks came early when, her father Joseph having apparently died from wounds sustained in the Seven Years War just before her birth, she accompanied her mother Anna Maria Walder to Berne in Switzerland where her mother took up a position as a housekeeper for a physician and anatomical wax sculptor and portraitist Dr Philippe Curtius.

Madame-TussaudIn 1765, Dr Curtius moved to pre-Revolutionary Paris where he was soon to open a couple of establishments – at the Palais-Royal and the Boulevard du Temple (later consolidated at the latter site) – displaying his works in wax. Marie, whom Dr Curtius brought to Paris with her mother in 1768, started working with him on wax models and in 1777, at the age of just 16, produced her first wax figure, that of philosopher Voltaire. Other early works of Madame Tussaud’s depicted Rousseau and Benjamin Franklin.

The story goes that such was the renown of Tussaud and her “uncle” Dr Curtius, that their social circle came to include members of the Royal Family. Tussaud is widely believed to have been an art tutor to King Louis XVI’s sister Elizabeth and may have even taken up residence at Versailles.

Tussaud recounts that she was arrested during the French Revolution – the story goes that she was imprisoned and eventually released thanks to the intervention of family friend and revolutionary Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois but whether this is true remains a matter of debate.

Tussaud claims she was then forced make death masks of those who ended their life on the scaffold including Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Marat and Robespierre. When Curtius died in 1794, she inherited his wax works and the following year married an engineer Francois Tussaud with whom she had two sons, Joseph and Francois (later known as Francis).

In 1802, Madame Tussaud accepted an invitation to go to London to exhibit her work at the Lyceum Theatre but thanks to the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars, she and her four-year-old son Joseph were unable to return to France. Separated from her husband, she subsequently spent the next three decades travelling with her exhibition – which included relics from the Revolution and, like those of Curtius, was being constantly updated to reflect current affairs – around Britain and Ireland.

Her son Francois joined her in 1822 and Tussaud continued travelling until 1835 when she first established a permanent exhibition in Baker Street, London. Known as the Baker Street Bazaar, it apparently contained more than 400 wax figures. In 1846, Punch Magazine is credited with having invented the term ‘Chamber of Horrors’ for the room where the relics of the French Revolution were displayed.

Tussaud wrote her memoirs in 1838, and, in 1842, completed a wax model of herself. She died in her sleep on 16th April, 1850, in London. Her son Francois became chief artist for the exhibition after her retirement – he was succeeded by his son and then grandson. The exhibition moved to its current site in Marylebone Road in 1884.

Now owned by the Merlin Entertainments Group, Madame Tussauds has branches in cities in some 10 countries as well as its London base. Many of her original models still exist and are on display in the London museum along with the exhibition’s oldest attraction – known as ‘Sleeping Beauty’, it dates from 1863 – a breathing likeness of Louis XV’s sleeping mistress Madame du Barry.

For more on Madame Tussauds today, see www.madametussauds.com.

For more on the life of Madame Tussaud, see Kate Berridge’s book, Waxing Mythical: The Life and Legend of Madame Tussaud.

An amazing feat of model-making, Siborne’s Large Model is a painstakingly detailed model reconstruction of the Battle of Waterloo on display at the National Army Museum. Controversial even to this day, the story behind the model’s creation is an incredible tale of one man’s perseverance.

Siborne's-modelA career soldier, Captain William Siborne was commissioned in 1830 by Lord Rowland Hill, then Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, to construct a model of the Battle of Waterloo, fought between British and allied forces under the command of the Duke of Wellington and Prussian field marshal Gebhard von Blücher and French forces under the command of the Emperor Napoleon on 18th June, 1815.

Siborne, who hadn’t been present at the battle but had previously been involved in the construction of a model of the Battle of Borodino, extensively researched it before beginning work including spending eight months surveying the entire field where the battle took place and corresponding with hundreds of those who had fought there.

The model wasn’t completed until 1838, partly due to the fact that Siborne still had military duties to perform and also due to the fact that he ran out of funds and, when the authorities refused to pay up, ended up financing the project out of his own pocket (and then spent much time trying to recover the funds).

In his fascinating book, Wellington’s Smallest Victory: The Duke, the Model Maker and the Secret of Waterloo (well worth a read if you’re interested in learning more about the history of this amazing model), Peter Hofschroer writes in detail about the acrimonious relationship the Duke of Wellington developed with Siborne, thanks to a clash over the model’s depiction of the battle which shows the crisis point in the battle at 7pm – when the French Imperial Guard attacked Wellington’s centre – and has the Prussians helping to win the day.

The model was placed on public display in October 1838 at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly after which it went on tour around the UK. He went on to write up his research in a book on the battle, published in 1844, and it was while preparing this – in 1841 – that he announced he had changed his mind and would revise the model, eventually removing figures representing some 40,000 Prussians from the model and thus reducing the role they played at the decisive moment of the battle – a move which could only be seen as a win for Wellington.

It’s also worth mentioning that Siborne created a second, larger scale model of just part of the battlefield, exhibited in 1844 in London and later in Berlin (it’s now on display at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds). Siborne’s subsequent efforts to sell either model didn’t bear fruit before he died, said to have been a “broken man”, on 13th January, 1849.

After his death the large model was subsequently purchased by the United Service Museum and can now be found at the National Army Museum in Chelsea.

WHERE: National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea (nearest Tube station is Sloane Square); WHEN: 10am to 5.30pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.nam.ac.uk.

This week Horse Guards in London hosts the annual ceremony of Beating Retreat with massed bands playing and marching in formation. But where does the tradition come from?

The origins of the ceremony date back several hundred years to at least the 16th century when the beating of drums signalled the end of a day’s fighting, the closure of camp gates and the lowering of flags. Among the English kings credited with having ordered troops to “beat retreat” are old enemies King James II and King William III.

The ceremony was standard practice by the early 1700s with flutes or fifes added to the drum beating before, following the Napoleonic Wars, these were both replaced with bugles, to help ensure the sound reached greater distances.

The ceremony has been held annually at Horse Guards Parade since 1966 and this year involves the Massed Bands and Corps of Drums of the army’s Household Division along with The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery as well as The United States Army Europe Band and Chorus.

The event is a prelude to the Trooping the Colour on Saturday when more than 1,300 troops will parade in honor of the Queen’s Official Birthday.

Beating Retreat will be held at Horse Guards Parade on 8th and 9th of June (Wednesday and Thursday night), from 9pm. For more information and tickets, see www.guardsbeatingretreat.com