CHAPTER 2: TRAFALGAR SQUARE AND THE NATIONAL GALLERY
The genesis of Trafalgar Square is well set forth in the 5th Report
of the Commissioners of H. M. Woods, Forests and Land Revenues dated
1826: "When the Line of Communication between Pall Mall and Portland
Place had been completed, and as soon as we were put in possession of the
Site of the Lower Mews at Charing Cross, we took measures for proceeding
to execute that part of the Improvement, which had for its object the continuation of Pall Mall into Saint Martin's lane, terminating at the Portico of
Saint Martin's Church, and forming an open area in front of the King's
Mews, and it … appeared to us, after mature consideration, that the
unequal lengths of the two sides of the open Area, proposed by the original
Plan, would be a deformity, peculiarly striking, in the approach from Whitehall; that a much larger space, than was at first designed, ought to be left
open, and the West end of the Strand considerably widened." The Commissioners therefore instructed Nash to draw up a new plan. This left open
the whole area of what is now Trafalgar Square, except for an oblong block
in the centre set aside as a site for the Royal Academy. The National Gallery
was shown as extending along the entire north side of the square with the
barracks behind, while the Golden Cross, the Athanaeum and the Vicarage
of St. Martin's occupied the triangular block on the east of the square.
The Charing Cross Act (ref. 66) was passed in 1826, but the original scheme underwent many modifications, and 30 years passed before the square as we know
it was finally completed.
(i) The National Gallery.
In 1824 the purchase of John Julius Angerstein's collection of
pictures was authorised by Parliament, thus forming the nucleus of the
National Gallery Collection. (ref. 28) The pictures were for several years exhibited
in the Angerstein Gallery in Pall Mall, but the site being required for the
opening of a road from Carlton House Terrace to Pall Mall (ref. 43) it became
necessary to erect a new gallery.
Designs for the gallery, which it was agreed should occupy the site
proposed by Nash on the north side of the square, were sent in by Nash,
C. R. Cockerell, and William Wilkins, (ref. 67) that of the last being accepted. (fn. a)
The work was commenced in 1832 and finished in 1838. In his treatment
of the facade, Wilkins was handicapped by having to utilise the columns and
capitals from Carlton House, which had been stored since its demolition.
The central feature of the symmetrical stone front is the effective
octastyle pedimented portico of Corinthian columns standing on a high
podium wall with well arranged flanking steps. The main wall surface is in
two stages divided by a continuous band between the windows and niches.
The length of the front is relieved by a series of breaks and by a grouping
of pilasters to the wings, each of which is surmounted by an octagonal cupola
forming a pavilion treatment. There are a series of detached columns to the
flanks screening the secondary entrances. The entity of the composition is
effected by the moulded entablature and by the high balustraded parapet
which surmounts the whole front of the building, while the symmetrical or
axial arrangement is emphasised by a centrally placed dome (Plate 5).
The public gain access by the entrances under the portico which lead
into a central hall from which the main galleries are approached. A plan
is here shown of the Gallery as it was first erected. Alterations to the interior
were carried out by James Pennethorne and further additions, including the
demolition of adjoining properties to isolate the galleries, have been subsequently carried out. The Royal Academy occupied the eastern half of
the building until 1869.
Plan of the National Gallery as first erected.
(ii) Trafalgar Square.
The area of the square was cleared soon after the passing of the
Charing Cross Act, but though it formed an open space from 1830 onward
it was unnamed until circa 1835; even so the name appears to have arisen
prior to and independently of the siting of the Nelson Column (see below).
William Wilkins died before any decision was reached on his plan for the
formal lay-out, and the matter was referred to Charles Barry. In 1840 a
Select Committee considered Barry's proposals which included the formation of a terrace in front of the National Gallery, and the levelling and paving
of the area of the square. Barry opposed the erection of the Nelson Column
in Trafalgar Square on the grounds that it would dwarf the gallery, and so
spoil the effect which his terrace was designed to achieve, namely the improvement of the elevation of Wilkins' building. Work had, however, already
begun on the foundations of the column, and Barry was forced to set aside
The lay-out of the square was not completed until circa 1850. The
fountains and their basins, which did not form part of Barry's original design,
occupy a large part of the area. A contemporary, writing in The Builder,
notes that "they are exceedingly chaste in design, plain simple and unadorned
as all works in granite ever should be … and in keeping with the prevailing
design of the square. … They are the work of Messrs. Macdonald, the
hydraulic part of the matter is entrusted to Messrs. Easton and Amos who
are well known for their practical acquaintance with such matters. The
water to supply the fountains is obtained from two wells, one in front of the
National Gallery, and the other behind it, which are connected together by
means of a tunnel, that of course passes directly under the National Gallery,
behind which is also placed the engine-house for raising the required water
into the tanks, etc., before it is forced through the fountains." The fountains were completed in 1845. They are now (1939) being remodelled as
memorials to Lord Jellicoe and Lord Beatty.
The Square is bounded on the north by a terrace wall surmounted by
a balustraded parapet, all being executed in grey granite. On each of the
flanks are wide flights of steps with a right-angle turn leading to the higher
level of the terrace, which is paved with squares of Mansfield stone laid
diagonally. Flanking the steps are rectangular pylons, the one on the east
being surmounted by a statue of George IV, the western one being vacant.
Separating the terrace from the public footway are spaced a series of dwarf
cylindrical granite posts. Along the eastern and western sides of the Square
the parapet wall follows the slope of the adjoining roads and terminates at
each of the southern ends with a cylindrical granite pylon surmounted by a
handsome bronze octagonal lamp. Other lamps on high decorative bronze
standards are situate along the top of the boundary walls. The southern
side is defined by a further series of cylindrical posts which terminate at the
base of the Nelson Column, (fn. b) while on either side are statues of Napier and
Havelock. Behind, equally spaced to the main portion of the Square, are
the fountains with the Gordon memorial between. The square has recently
been repaved with rectangular flagstones.
On a granite pedestal at the north-eastern side of the Square stands a
bronze equestrian statue of George IV. The king is shown bareheaded in a
semi-classical dress with his cloak thrown back. His right hand grasps a baton
and his left the reins. He is shown without stirrups and his charger is standing
with its four feet on the ground and its head slightly turned (Plate 7a).
The statue, which was executed by Sir Francis Chantry, was originally
intended for placing on the Marble Arch in front of Buckingham Palace.
Near the south-east corner on a high granite pedestal is a bronze
statue of Major-General Sir Henry Havelock, K.C.B. He is shown in uniform standing bareheaded with his left hand grasping his grounded sword,
his right tucked in his belt, and his cloak hanging loosely from his right
shoulder. The sculptor was W. Behnes, R.A. The memorial was erected
by public subscription in 1861.
Near the south-west corner, standing on a granite pedestal, is a
bronze statue, 12 feet in height, of General Sir Charles James Napier. The
general is shown bareheaded, in military uniform, with his cloak thrown
back. His left hand is grasping his sword by the scabbard and raised above
his waist, while his right, extended, holds a scroll symbolic of the govern
ment awarded to Scinde during his tenure of office. The sculptor was G. G.
Adams. The monument was erected in 1855–6 by means of public subscriptions, the most numerous contributors being private soldiers.
In the centre of the Square between the fountains, on a granite
pedestal, is a bronze statue erected to the memory of General Charles
Gordon, C.B.E., killed at Khartoum on 26th January, 1885. The statue
depicts Gordon in military uniform but bareheaded, in a meditative mood
holding his chin in his right hand. His left hand holds the Bible and under
his left arm is his cane. His left foot is slightly raised and rests on a damaged
mortar. On each side of the pedestal is a bronze panel representing "Faith
and Fortitude" and "Charity and Justice," respectively. The total height
of the memorial is 30 feet. It was unveiled on 16th October, 1888. The
sculptor was Hamo Thornycroft assisted by Alfred Waterhouse.
The Nelson Column.
The suggestion that a national monument should be erected in honour
of Nelson and in commemoration of the Battle of Trafalgar was discussed in
Parliament in 1818, but it was not until 1838 that a Nelson Memorial Committee was formed for the collection of voluntary subscriptions, and a competition was held for the design of the monument. William Railton's design
(reproduced on Plate 6) was finally selected, though the height of the column
was subsequently reduced, and, having been approved by H.M. Commissioners of Woods and Forests and by the Lords of the Treasury, a site
in Trafalgar Square was granted by the Government. Work was begun on
the concrete foundations in 1839. (ref. 68) The fluted column (145 feet high) of
the Corinthian order of architecture, is of granite brought from Foggin Tor,
Devonshire, while the capital was cast from old guns in the Woolwich
Arsenal foundry. The statue, which is of Craigleith stone, (ref. 69) was sculptured
by Edward Hodges Baily and was raised in November, 1843. (fn. c) The four
bronze bas-relief panels to the square pedestal depict the Battle of St. Vincent,
the Battle of the Nile, the Bombardment of Copenhagen and the death of
Nelson. They were cast from guns captured at these battles, and at
Trafalgar, and were the work respectively of the artists, M. L. Watson,
W. F. Woodington, J. Ternouth, and J. E. Carew. <A useful short account (with illustrations) of the materials and methods of construction used in Nelson's Column is given in The Builder, 13 April 1850, pp.169, 174-5.>
The lions guarding the four corners of the monument, which were
part of the original design, were lacking for many years, but were placed in
position in January, 1867. The lions, superb in their scale, represent dignity
and strength (Plate 7). They were all from the same model by Sir Edwin
Landseer, R.A., and were cast in bronze by Baron Marochetti.
At the foot of the terrace wall along the northern side of the Square
the standard measures are set out in metal.