For the last 170 years, Lord Nelson has been “keeping an eye” on the city of London, from his perch on top of Nelson’s Column. Even Trafalgar Square took the name from Nelson’s most famous victory, which ultimately cost him his life.
Nelson’s Column was built between 1840 and 1843 to commemorate the revered and much loved Vice-Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson. His previous battles had left his right arm useless and he was blinded in one eye. He died aboard his flagship HMS Victory defeating the French at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
You may notice that although Nelson was a hero, it took 38 years to get a memorial built to him. Money was short as the Napoleonic Wars draggedon for another ten years after Nelson’s death, until the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
Building Nelson’s Column
A fund was started to raise money for a monument to Nelson, but it only raised £1,300 which was totally inadequate.
In 1838, however, a group of influential London businessmen, peers and Members of Parliament gathered for the first meeting of the Nelson Memorial Committee.
It took just four months for them to secure an appropriate site for the Memorial – in the heart of Trafalgar Square, which was under construction at that time.
The committee chose William Railton’s design from a competition of architectural designs for the memorial, and he built the actual column from finest Dartmoor granite and bronze.
Other artists and sculptors were commissioned to work on the lions and the decorative panels. Edward Hodges Baily sculpted the statue of Nelson, which actually stands over 18 feet (5.5 metres) high.
At the top of the granite column the agapanthus leaves were said to have been made from an old cannon which was melted down at the Woolwich Arsenal Foundry.
Completion of The Column
Nelson was raised to his position high above the Square on 4 November 1843, narrowly missing Trafalgar Day by just 14 days.
Once again lack of funds held up the final decoration but the Government Treasury made a contribution for the work to continue.
The four 18-foot square bas-relief bronze panels at the foot of the column depict Nelson’s greatest battles: the Battle of the Nile, the Battle of Cape St Vincent, the Battle of Copenhagen and the Battle of Trafalgar.
Dispute Over Nelson’s Column Height
The whole monument from top to bottom measures 169 feet high (51.6 metres). It was always believed to be 185 feet tall, but when scaffolding was erected and the column was cleaned in 2006, the monument was found to be 16 feet shorter than recorded.
Landseer’s Lions of Trafalgar Square
Finally, the four famous lions were added to the foot of the column and have been a constant source of amusement for generations of children to clamber on. They were sculpted by Sir Edwin Landseer who apparently had nightmares about lions as he struggled with his commission!
Unfortunately he made an anatomical error as he sculpted the lions with concave backs. In real life when lions lie down, they have an arched back. However children over the years have made good use of that fortuitous mistake!
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Nelson's Column Postcode for SatNav: SW1