diamond geezer

 Friday, October 21, 2005

Trafalgar Square (12): Nelson's Column
And finally we remember the British hero who died at Trafalgar 200 years ago today - Admiral Lord Nelson. His is the centrepiece of the square, a 156 foot Corinthian column topped off by a 17 foot stone statue. From high above the capital Nelson surveys the streets, staring one-eyed down Whitehall towards the Thames and the distant sea. But he was slow to appear. Nearly 40 years elapsed between Nelson's death and his immortalisation in stone, until at last in October 1843 his statue was ready to be raised up into position from the square below. Fourteen fearless stonemasons took this opportunity to take dinner on the platform at the top of the column, while a hundred thousand Londoners came to view the new statue resting at ground level:
"Unless they remembered they were looking at an object intended to be seen only at a great elevation, they may have been surprised at a sort of coarseness in the workmanship. Yet it has all the finish that can be required, and it has the great merit of likeness and character. It has the sharp, angular features, the expression of great activity of mind, but of little mental grandeur; of quickness of perception and decision; and -withal, that sad air, so perceptible in the best portraits of the warrior, of long-continued physical pain and suffering, the consequence of his many wounds, which accompanied him throughout his brightest triumphs, though it never abated his ardour or weakened his energies." (Illustrated London News, 1843)
At the foot of Nelson's Column are four bronze reliefs cast from captured French cannons, each depicting a different naval triumph from Nelson's career. That on the south side (pictured) portrays the death of Nelson at Trafalgar and it's a mini-history lesson in itself:
"Nelson is being carried from the quarter-deck to the cockpit by a marine and two seamen. At the back of the centre group is the surgeon. To the left are three sailors tightening some of the ship's cordage; another kneels, holding a handspike and leaning on a gun, arrested by the conversation between the dying hero and Captain Hardy. In the front, lying on the deck, are an officer and marines, who have fallen to rise no more. Behind stand two marines and a negro sailor. One of the former has detected the marksman by whose shot Nelson fell, and is pointing him out to his companion. The latter has raised his musket, and has evidently covered his mark; whilst the black, who stands just before the two marines, is grasping his firelock. The figures are of life-size; the casting weighs about five tons. Beneath are Nelson's memorable words, "England expects every man will do his duty."" (Curiosities of London, 1867)
Today Nelson's Column stands tall in fitting tribute to Norfolk's most famous son and Britain's most famous sailor. It's one of the most well-known landmarks on the London skyline, and long may it remain. But it's almost an ancient monument now, so the GLA is currently inviting suitably qualified and experienced contractors to tender for its restoration. Deadline 11th November.
"Conservation works are now required to maintain the statue and column in good condition. Major items of work have been assessed following condition surveys of the column and will include: cleaning of areas; joint replacement; re-pointing; repairs to worn surfaces of sculptures; protective lacquer on bronze works to be removed and renewed; bronze work to be cleaned and re-patination performed"" (Invitation for expression of interest, 2005)
Do you think John Noakes will be putting in a bid?


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