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Trafalgar Square: Nelson's Column, The Olympic Clock and Admirals of the Fleet

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by Sandra Lawson (subscribe)
To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at and my theatre reviews at
Published February 14th 2012
Others have posted articles about Trafalgar Square on WeekendNotes, but I wonder how many Londoners and visitors actually take time to have a good look around the square and take note of everything that is to be seen?

When I was a child Trafalgar Square was just a place where I was taken to feed the pigeons, but Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London, put an end to this practice in 2003.

Every year the square is home to New Year's Eve celebrations, but other events centre on this location too. London's Chinese community come here to kick off their New Year festivities in January. In February the square plays host to the Russian festival of Maslenitsa, an event celebrating the arrival of spring. Not to be outdone, the Irish community will be out in full force on 18 March to enjoy St Patrick's Day. You can find out further details regarding future events from the London Town website.

In addition to these specific cultural and ethnic occasions, the square provides a backdrop to English life and serves to remind us of our history, and some of those that contributed to it.

Jumping into one of the two fountains (that were installed in 1845) may be a way of cooling off in hot weather, or they might just be used by those who have had too much to drink, but I'll bet you didn't know that there is significance behind them. A plaque inset into the floor of the square states that 'These fountains and the busts against the north wall of the square were erected by Parliament to the memory of Admirals of the Fleet Earl Jellicoe and Earl Beatty to the end that their illustrious services to the State might never be forgotten.' Both Beatty and Jellicoe fought at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe was then Admiral of the Fleet.

Trafalgar Square
Earl Jellicoe

He was later succeeded by David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty.

Trafalgar Square
1st Earl Beatty

Andrew Browne Cunningham, 1st Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope, served as a prominent naval officer during World War II.

Trafalgar Square
1st Viscount Cunningham

It may be easy to miss these small busts, but have you ever really taken notice of the statues that occupy the three plinths? King George IV (1762-1830) occupies the one in the square's north east corner.

Trafalgar Square
King George IV

Major General Sir Henry Havelock (1795-1857), who occupies the south east plinth, was a highly decorated soldier and saw military service in many parts of the Empire during the nineteenth century.

Trafalgar Square
Sir Henry Havelock

General Sir Charles James Napier (1782-1853), who strides the south west corner of the square, served in the Peninsular War and in India (as did Havelock).

Trafalgar Square
Sir Charles Napier

The fourth plinth, in the north west of Trafalgar Square, was empty for many years until it was decided to be used for exhibiting a series of installations. The first of these was a controversial sculpture of Alison Lapper Pregnant.

Trafalgar Square
Alison Lapper Pregnant - Picture Courtesy of the Guardian

The last one was Yinka Shonibare's Giant Ship in a Bottle. The plinth is currently again empty whilst it awaits its next occupant, Elmgreen and Dragset's Powerless Structures a bronze sculpture of a boy on a rocking horse.

Trafalgar Square
Powerless Structures

This is due to be erected during the course of 2012, and will be followed next year by Katharina Fritsch's Hahn/Cock.

Trafalgar Square

We mustn't forget that another temporary occupant is the Olympic Countdown Clock, a double sided structure ticking away the hours, minutes and seconds to London's hosting of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Trafalgar Square
Olympic Countdown Clock

Last, but not least, is the statue of Admiral Viscount Nelson that towers over the square, and looks down towards Whitehall, many of the offices of state, and the Houses of Parliament.

Trafalgar Square
Nelson's Column

The statue is five metres tall and its bronze platform was aptly constructed from old guns from the Woolwich Arsenal Foundry. We tend to look up at Nelson and often overlook the four bronze panels at the base of the column. These are cast from guns captured at battles, and commemorate the admiral's battles at Copenhagen,

Trafalgar Square
The Battle of Copenhagen

the Nile

Trafalgar Square
Battle of the Nile

and Cape St Vincent,

Trafalgar Square
The Battle of Cape St Vincent

as well as his victory at Trafalgar, accompanied by the caption 'England Expects Every Man Will Do His Duty'.

Trafalgar Square
The Battle of Trafalgar

Nelson's Column is 'guarded' by the four lions, designed by Sir Edwin Landseer.

Next time you visit Trafalgar Square, take some time to look around and take in the history that surrounds you. You can feed the pigeons if you wish, but you'll have to bring your own bird seed with you as the vendors were outlawed by Ken Livingstone.

You can reach Trafalgar Square by train or tube to Charing Cross Station or by numerous bus routes. Consult the Transport For London bus map.

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Why? To understand that Trafalgar Square consists of more than Nelson's Column and fountains
When: Trafalgar Square never sleeps
Where: Trafalgar Square, London SW1
Cost: Free
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