Looking across the roof of the National Gallery past Nelson’s Column to Westminster. PICTURE: London & Partners.
• The Duke of Wellington’s political and military career as well as his personal life is being explored in an exhibition running at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square until August. Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions features 59 portraits and other works including a rarely seen portrait of the Iron Duke painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence and commissioned by Sarah, Countess of Jersey, a year after Wellington had become Prime Minister. The portrait (pictured) remains unfinished – the state it was in when Lawrence died in 1830 – and, held in a private collection, hasn’t been shown in public for any significant period until now. The exhibition also includes a John Hoppner portrait of the duke as a young soldier, a daguerreotype taken by Antoine Claudet on Wellington’s 75th birthday in 1844 and drawings by Lawrence of Wellington’s wife, Kitty. The exhibition – which is part of the commemorations marking 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo, runs until 7th June. Admission is free. For more see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1829), © On loan to National Portrait Gallery by kind permission of Mr. & Mrs. Timothy Clode.
• Upton House is Warwickshire has turned the clock back to 1939 with a display dedicated to the time when the Bearstead family moved their City-based bank, M Samuel & Co, to their historic family mansion to escape the Blitz in London. Twenty-two bank staff took over the house, sleeping in shared dormitories and taking meals of rook pie in the home’s Long Gallery while secretaries typed surrounded by works of art. The National Trust has returned 12 rooms to their wartime look based on research conducted by 80 of the volunteers at the house. They’re filled with thousands of objects, from ration-book toothpaste to wartime toilet rolls, to recreate a wartime experience at the home. Outside an Anderson Shelter stands in the garden where heritage vegetables are being grown in an allotment. Visitors will also find out how 40 of the most precious works in the home were sent to a special storage facility in a Welsh slate mine to protect them. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/upton-house/
• On Now – Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840-1860. This exhibition at Tate Britain in Millbank is the first major exhibition in Britain dedicated to salt prints, the earliest form of paper photography, and features 90 images including some of the best and rarest early photographs. The salt print technique was invented in Britain in the 1840s and 1850s and spread across the world, hence as well as portraits, still lifes and scenes from ‘modern life’, the images on show include from William Fox Talbot’s images of a Paris street to Nelson’s Column under construction, Linnaeus Tripe’s views of Puthu Mundapam in India and Auguste Salzmann’s studies of statues in Greece. Runs in the Linbury Galleries until 7th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.
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Following on from its LEGO advent calendar and Christmas tree, Covent Garden is home to a giant LEGO snow globe this Christmas. Made of 120,000 bricks, it features 14 of London’s most iconic landmarks – from Nelson’s Column, Buckingham Palace (see below) and the London Eye to The Shard, Shakespeare’s Globe and, of course, Covent Garden. The models took Duncan Titmarsh, the UK’s only certified LEGO professional, around 75 days to build. Hidden among the models are a number of LEGO Santas – count them to win prizes and press a button to make snow fall inside the globe. For more, see www.coventgardenlondonuk.com.
Dwarfed by the towering form of Nelson’s Column in the southern part of Trafalgar Square, the four lions at the base of the column’s plinth – known to some as Landseer’s Lions – are now a favourite of tourists and Londoners alike. But it wasn’t always so.
While the column was erected in 1843 and the fountains in 1845, it wasn’t until 1867 that the lions – designed by Sir Edwin Landseer – appeared in the square. The reasons for the delay were apparently several including arguments over the artistic vision of the sculptures and funding and Landseer’s own ill-health.
Indeed, Landseer, best known as a painter of animal subjects, wasn’t the first choice as sculptor but was only commissioned after the models of the first sculptor – Thomas Milnes – was rejected (there’s a terrific painting by John Ballantyne of Landseer working on the lions in the National Portrait Gallery).
As a result when the lions were eventually unveiled, they were held to general ridicule when they finally arrived, costing thousands of pounds more than what had been budgeted for them.
While the lions were initially going to be made of granite, Landseer’s 20 foot long lions were cast by Baron Marochetti in bronze at his Kensington studio. The form of the lions was apparently modelled on a dead lion which, according to Ed Glinert in The London Compendium, were brought to his studio in St John’s Wood by cab from the London Zoo, although all four lions have distinct faces.
Legend has it that the Grade I-listed lions will come to life if Big Ben chimes 13 times.
There has been concern in recent years about the damage people are doing to the lions in climbing on them with one report recommending that the public be banned from climbing on them.
For more on London’s monuments, check out Peter Matthews’ London’s Statues and Monuments (Shire Library).
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.
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.
• Horace Walpole’s Georgian Gothic villa Strawberry Hill will reopen its doors this weekend after a £9 million restoration project. The house at Twickenham in west London was built between 1747 and 1792 had fallen into such a state of disrepair that it had been listed as one of the world’s most endangered heritage sites in 2004. The son of Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first prime minister, Walpole built the house as a summer getaway and created an architectural masterpiece incorporating the features of cathedrals into the property. For more information, see www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk.
• Walking charity, the Ramblers is holding a Films on Foot festival celebrating London’s film heritage this October. The festival, which runs from 13th to 28th October, coincides with the 54th Times BFI London Film Festival and will feature 16 free “films on foot” walks taking in different areas around London which have been used in films. The walks will start every weekday at 7pm and every weekend at 1.30pm (you simply have to turn up at the starting place to take part). There is also a self-guided film walk along South Bank available for download. For more about the festival, see www.ramblers.org.uk/walkthemes/filmsonfoot/
• Animals from across London feature in a new exhibition at National Theatre. A London Bestiary features the work of photographer Ianthe Ruthven who has captured some of the most famous and lesser known animals around London – everything from the lions guarding Nelson’s Column to the statue of a dog in Highgate cemetery and an elephant and camel from the Albert Memorial. Runs until 31st October. For more information, see www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/60094/exhibitions/a-london-bestiary.html.