Trafalgar Square (1): The square Trafalgar Square has long been the focal point of London. There's an extensive history of mass gatherings in the square - a magnet for political protests from Chartist rallies to the poll tax riots. More recently, following the pedestrianisation of the north terrace, it's become a place of sharedcelebration and commemoration. Here for example is a webcam shot of the square snapped yesterday afternoon during Uncle Ken's Divali festivities (presumably nobody told him that Divali is next month). We're a bit far away to see the happy smiling faces, the inspirational multi-ethnic banners and the few remaining pigeons, but trust me they're all present. But it wasn't always like this.
There was no square here 200 years ago, just the open courtyard of the Kings Mews stables which served Whitehall Palace. It was John Nash's idea to demolish the "filthy and disreputable abodes" of the Mews to create an open public space "to add to the beauty of the approach from Westminster to Charing Cross, a Square open to and looking down Parliament Street (where) the greatest part of the population of the Metropolis meet and diverge." Most of the design work was carried out by Sir Charles Barry who, in response to the sloping site, came up with the idea of a central paved square linked to a northern terrace via several sets of steps. And the square's not quite square either, being wider east-west than it is tall, with a a sort of pointy bit down south to fit the local road pattern. Opened in the 1830s this was originally to be called King William the Fourth's Square after the new monarch, but thankfully wasn't because that would have been a bit of a mouthful. However the Nelson myth was already strong, and nowhere in London had yet been named in honour of the nation's greatest sailor, and so TrafalgarSquare it became instead. Huzzah!