Nelson's Column facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts

Nelson's Column is a national monument of the United Kingdom based in Trafalgar Square, London, England. The column was built between 1840 and 1843 to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson's death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Construction and history

William Henry Fox Talbot - The Nelson Column in Trafalgar Sqaure under Construction - Google Art Project
The column under construction, 1843. William Henry Fox Talbot
Trafalgar Square-2
The column looking south towards Whitehall and the Palace of Westminster

In February 1838 a group of 121 peers, MPs and other gentry formed a committee to raise a monument to Lord Nelson, funded by public subscription, and the Government agreed to provide a site in Trafalgar Square, in front of the newly completed National Gallery. A competition was held for designs with an estimated budget of between £20,000 and £30,000. The deadline for submissions was 31 January 1839.

The winning entry, chosen by the sub-committee headed by the Duke of Wellington was a design by William Railton for a Corinthian column, surmounted by a statue of Nelson, and flanked by four sculpted lions. Flights of steps would lead up between the lions to the pedestal of the column. Several other entrants also submitted schemes for columns. The second prize was won by Edward Hodges Baily who suggested an obelisk surrounded by sculptures.

Criticism of the organisation of the competition caused it to be re-run. Railton submitted a slightly revised design, and was once again declared the winner, with the stipulation that the statue of Nelson should be made by EH Baily. The original plan was for a column 203 feet (62 m) high, including the base and statue, but this was reduced to 170 feet (52 m) with a shaft of 98 feet (30 m) due to concerns over stability. The base was to have been of granite and the shaft of Craigleith sandstone, but before construction began it was decided that the shaft should also be of granite.

Excavations for the brick foundations had begun by July 1840. On 30 September 1840, the first stone of the column was laid by Charles Davison Scott, honorary secretary of the committee (and son of Nelson's secretary, John Scott), at a ceremony conducted, according to the Nautical Magazine, "in a private manner, owing to the noblemen and gentlemen comprising the committee being absent from town". Construction of the monument, by the contractors Grissell and Peto, progressed slowly, and the stonework, ready for the installation of the statue, was not completed until November 1843.

In 1844 the Nelson Memorial Committee ran out of money, having only raised £20,485 in public subscriptions, and the Government, in the form of the Office of Woods and Forests took over the project.

Installation of the bronze reliefs on the pedestal did not begin until late 1849, when John Edward Carew's depiction of the death of Nelson was put in place on the side facing Whitehall. This was followed early the next year by William F. Woodington's relief of the Battle of the Nile on the opposite side. Carew's relief was cast by Adams, Christie and Co. of Rotherhithe. The other three were cast by Moore, Fressange and Moore. The last to be made, The Battle of Cape St Vincent became the subject of legal action, when it was discovered that the bronze had been adulterated with iron. The partners in the company were jailed for fraud and the relief was completed by Robinson and Cottam. It was finally put in place in May 1854.

Admiral Horatio Nelson, Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square, London
The sandstone statue by Edward Hodges Baily

The 5.5-metre (18 ft 1 in) statue at the top was sculpted by Edward Hodges Baily R.A. from three pieces of Craigleith sandstone donated by the Duke of Buccleuch, former chairman of the Nelson Memorial Committee, from his own quarries.

The statue stands on a fluted column built from solid blocks of granite from the Foggintor quarries on Dartmoor. The Corinthian capital is made of bronze elements, cast from cannon salvaged from the wreck of HMS Royal George at the Woolwich Arsenal foundry. It is based on the Temple of Mars Ultor in Rome, and was modelled by C.H. Smith.. The bronze pieces, some weighing as much as 900 pounds (410 kg) are fixed to the column by the means of three large belts of metal lying in grooves in the stone.

The four identical bronze Barbary lions at the column's base were not added until 1867. At one stage, they were intended to be of granite, and the sculptor John Graham Lough was chosen to carve them. However, in 1846, after consultations with Railton, he turned down the commission, unwilling to work under the restrictions imposed by the architect. The sculptures eventually installed, commissioned in 1858, were designed by Sir Edwin Landseer in collaboration with Baron Marochetti. Their design may have been influenced by Marschalko János's lions at each abutment to the Széchenyi Lánchíd (Chain Bridge) in Budapest, installed 6 years before the Trafalgar Square lions were commissioned. Landseer was paid £6,000 for his services, and Marochetti £11,000. In 2011, consultants for the Greater London Authority reported that tourists climbing onto the backs of the lions have caused considerable damage and recommended banning tourists from climbing them.

The column also had a symbolic importance to Adolf Hitler. If Hitler's plan to invade Britain, Operation Sea Lion, had been successful, he planned to move it to Berlin.

Images for kids


Nelson's Column Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.