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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.