Trafalgar Square (/trəˈfælɡər/ trə-FAL-gər) is a public square
in the City of Westminster, Central London, built around the area
formerly known as Charing Cross. Its name commemorates the Battle of
Trafalgar, a British naval victory in the
Napoleonic Wars with France
Spain that took place on 21 October 1805 off the coast of Cape
The site of
Trafalgar Square had been a significant landmark since the
13th century and originally contained the King's Mews. After George IV
moved the mews to Buckingham Palace, the area was redeveloped by John
Nash, but progress was slow after his death, and the square did not
open until 1844. The 169-foot (52 m)
Nelson's Column at its
centre is guarded by four lion statues. A number of commemorative
statues and sculptures occupy the square, but the Fourth Plinth, left
empty since 1840, has been host to contemporary art since 1999.
The square has been used for community gatherings and political
demonstrations, including Bloody Sunday, the first Aldermaston March,
anti-war protests, and campaigns against climate change. A Christmas
tree has been donated to the square by Norway since 1947 and is
erected for twelve days before and after
Christmas Day. The square is
a centre of annual celebrations on New Year's Eve. It was well known
for its feral pigeons until their removals in the early 21st century.
2.1 Clearance and development
2.2 Nelson's Column
3 Statues and monuments
3.1.1 Fourth plinth
3.2 Other sculptures
6.1 New Year
6.3 Political demonstrations
6.5 Other uses
7 Other Trafalgar Squares
8 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
Trafalgar Square is owned by the Queen in Right of the Crown[a] and
managed by the Greater
London Authority, while
Council owns the roads around the square, including the pedestrianised
area of the North Terrace. The square contains a large central area
with roadways on three sides and a terrace to the north, in front of
the National Gallery. The roads around the square form part of the A4,
a major road running west of the City of London. The square was
formerly surrounded by a one-way traffic system, but works completed
in 2003 reduced the width of the roads and closed the northern side to
Nelson's Column is in the centre of the square flanked by fountains
designed by Sir
Edwin Lutyens between 1937 and 1939 as replacements
for two fountains of Peterhead granite (now in Canada) and guarded by
four monumental bronze lions sculpted by Sir Edwin Landseer. At the
top of the column is a statue of Horatio Nelson who commanded the
British Navy at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Surrounding the square are the
National Gallery on the north side and
St Martin-in-the-Fields Church to the east. To the south west is
The Mall leading towards
Buckingham Palace via Admiralty Arch, while
Whitehall is to the south and the Strand to the east. Charing Cross
Road passes between the
National Gallery and the church.
Charing Cross station on the Northern and
Bakerloo lines has an exit in the square. The lines had separate
stations, of which the
Bakerloo line one was called Trafalgar Square
until they were linked and renamed in 1979 as part of the construction
of the Jubilee line, which was rerouted to
Westminster in 1999.
Other nearby tube stations are Embankment connecting the District,
Circle, Northern and Bakerloo lines, and
Leicester Square on the
London bus routes 3, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 23, 24, 29, 53, 87, 88, 91,
139, 159, 176, 453 pass through Trafalgar Square.
Trafalgar Square, 1908
A 360-degree view of
Trafalgar Square in 2009
A painting by
James Pollard showing the square before the erection of
Building work on the south side of the square in the late 1950s
revealed deposits from the last interglacial. Among the findings were
the remains of cave lion, rhinoceros, straight-tusked elephant and
The site of
Trafalgar Square has been a significant location since the
13th century. During Edward I's reign, the area was the site of
the King's Mews, running north from the original Charing Cross, where
the Strand from the City met
Whitehall coming north from
Westminster. From the reign of Richard II to that of Henry VII,
the mews was at the western end of the Strand. The name "Royal Mews"
comes from the practice of keeping hawks here for moulting; "mew" is
an old word for this. After a fire in 1534, the mews were rebuilt as
stables, and remained here until George IV moved them to Buckingham
Clearance and development
After 1732, the
King's Mews were divided into the Great Mews and the
smaller Green Mews to the north by the Crown Stables, a large block,
built to the designs of William Kent. Its site is occupied by the
National Gallery. In 1826 the Commissioners of H.M. Woods, Forests
and Land Revenues instructed John Nash to draw up plans for clearing a
large area south of Kent's stable block, and as far east as St
Martin's Lane. His plans left open the whole area of what became
Trafalgar Square, except for a block in the centre, which he reserved
for a new building for the Royal Academy. The plans included the
demolition and redevelopment of buildings between St Martin's Lane and
the Strand and the construction of a road (now called Duncannon
Street) across the churchyard of St Martin-in-the-Fields. The
Charing Cross Act was passed in 1826 and clearance started soon
after. Nash died soon after construction started, impeding its
progress. The square was to be named for William IV commemorating his
ascent to the throne in 1830. Around 1835, it was decided that the
square would be named after the
Battle of Trafalgar
Battle of Trafalgar as suggested by
architect George Ledwell Taylor, commemorating Nelson's victory over
the French and Spanish in 1805 during the Napoleonic Wars.
Ten frames of
Trafalgar Square shot by
Wordsworth Donisthorpe in 1890
After the clearance, development progressed slowly. The National
Gallery was built on the north side between 1832 and 1838 to a design
by William Wilkins, and in 1837 the Treasury approved Wilkins'
plan for the laying out of the square, but it was not put into
effect. In April 1840, following Wilkins' death, new plans by
Charles Barry were accepted, and construction started within
weeks. For Barry, as for Wilkins, a major consideration was
increasing the visual impact of the National Gallery, which had been
widely criticised for its lack of grandeur. He dealt with the complex
sloping site by excavating the main area to the level of the footway
Cockspur Street and the Strand, and constructing a 15-foot
(4.6 m) high balustraded terrace with a roadway on the north
side, and steps at each end leading to the main level. Wilkins had
proposed a similar solution with a central flight of steps.
Plinths were provided for sculpture and pedestals for lighting. All
the stonework was of Aberdeen granite. In 1841 it was decided that
two fountains should be included in the layout. The estimated
budget, excluding paving and sculptures, was £11,000. The earth
removed was used to level Green Park. The square was originally
surfaced with tarmacadam, which was replaced with stone in the
Trafalgar Square was opened to the public on 1 May 1844.
The lions at
Nelson's Column were not finished until nearly 30 years
after the square opened.
Nelson's Column was planned independently of Barry's work. In 1838 a
Nelson Memorial Committee had approached the government proposing that
a monument to the victor of Trafalgar, funded by public subscription,
should be erected in the square. A competition was held and won by the
architect William Railton, who proposed a 218 feet 3 inches
(66.52 m) Corinthinan column topped by a statue of Nelson and
guarded by four sculpted lions. The design was approved, but received
widespread objections from the public. Construction went ahead
beginning in 1840 but with the height reduced to 145 feet
3 inches (44.27 m). The column was completed and the
statue raised in November 1843.
The last of the bronze reliefs on the column's pedestals was not
completed until May 1854, and the four lions, although part of the
original design, were only added in 1867. Each lion weighs seven
tons. A hoarding remained around the base of
Nelson's Column for
some years and some of its upper scaffolding remained in place.
Landseer, the sculptor, had asked for a lion that had died at the
London Zoo to be brought to his studio. He took so long to complete
sketches that its corpse began to decompose and some parts had to be
improvised. The statues have paws that resemble cats more than
Barry was unhappy about
Nelson's Column being placed in the square. In
July 1840, when its foundations had been laid, he told a parliamentary
select committee that "it would in my opinion be desirable that the
area should be wholly free from all insulated objects of art".
In 1940 the Nazi SS developed secret plans to transfer Nelson's Column
to Berlin[b] after an expected German invasion, as related by Norman
Longmate in If Britain Had Fallen (1972).
The square has been Grade I listed on the Register of Historic Parks
and Gardens since 1996.
A major 18-month redevelopment of the square led by W.S. Atkins with
Foster and Partners
Foster and Partners as sub-consultants was completed in 2003. The work
involved closing the eastbound road along the north side and diverting
traffic around the other three sides of the square, demolishing the
central section of the northern retaining wall and inserting a wide
set of steps to the pedestrianised terrace in front of the National
Gallery. The construction includes two lifts for disabled access,
public toilets and a café. Access between the square and the gallery
had been by two crossings at the northeast and northwest
Statues and monuments
The statue of Sir
Henry Havelock by William Behnes
Barry's scheme provided two plinths for sculptures on the north side
of the square. A bronze equestrian statue of George IV by Sir
Francis Chantrey, originally intended to be placed on top of the
Marble Arch, was installed on the eastern plinth in 1844, while
the other remained empty until the late-20th century. There are
two other statues on plinths, both installed during the 19th century:
Charles James Napier
Charles James Napier by
George Cannon Adams
George Cannon Adams in the
south-west corner in 1855, and Major-General Sir
Henry Havelock by
William Behnes in the south-east in 1861. In 2000, the Mayor of
London, Ken Livingstone, suggested replacing the statues with figures
more familiar to the general public.
Main article: Fourth plinth, Trafalgar Square
In the 21st century, the empty plinth in the north-west corner of the
square, the "Fourth Plinth", has been used to show specially
commissioned artworks. The scheme was initiated by the Royal Society
of Arts and continued by the
Fourth Plinth Commission, appointed by
the Mayor of London.
A new sculpture, The Gift Horse designed by
Hans Haacke was installed
on the fourth plinth on 5 March 2015. It is a model of a horse's
skeleton with a live display of the
London Stock Exchange.
There are three busts of admirals against the north wall of the
square. Those of Lord Jellicoe by Sir Charles Wheeler and Lord Beatty,
by William MacMillan were installed in 1948 in conjunction with the
square's fountains, which also commemorate them. The third, of
the Second World War
First Sea Lord
First Sea Lord Admiral Cunningham by Franta
Belsky was unveiled alongside them on 2 April 1967.
On the south side on the site of the original Charing Cross, is a
bronze equestrian statue of Charles I by Hubert Le Sueur. It was cast
in 1633, and placed in its present position in 1678.
The two statues on the lawn in front of the
National Gallery are the
statue of James II by
Grinling Gibbons to the west of the portico, and
of one George Washington, a replica of a work by Jean-Antoine Houdon,
to the east that was a gift from the Commonwealth of Virginia
installed in 1921.
Two statues erected in the 19th century have since been removed. One
of Edward Jenner, pioneer of the smallpox vaccine, was set up in the
south-west corner of the square in 1858, next to that of Napier.
Sculpted by William Calder Marshall, it showed Jenner sitting in a
chair in a relaxed pose, and was inaugurated at a ceremony presided
over by Prince Albert. It was moved to
Kensington Gardens in
1862. The other, of General
Charles George Gordon
Charles George Gordon by Hamo
Thornycroft, was erected on an 18-foot high pedestal between the
fountains in 1888. It was removed in 1943 and re-sited on the Victoria
Embankment ten years later.
Fountain at Trafalgar Square, 2014
In 1841, following suggestions from the local paving board, Barry
agreed that two fountains should be installed to counteract the
effects of reflected heat and glare from the asphalt surface. The
First Commissioner of Woods and Forests welcomed the plan because the
fountains reduced the open space available for public gatherings and
reduced the risk of riotous assembly. The fountains were fed from
two wells, one in front of the
National Gallery and one behind it
connected by a tunnel. Water was pumped to the fountains by a steam
engine housed in a building behind the gallery.
In the late-1930s it was decided to replace the pump and the
centrepieces of the fountains. The new centrepieces, designed by Sir
Edwin Lutyens, were memorials to Lord Jellicoe and Lord Beatty,
although busts of the admirals, initially intended to be placed in the
fountain surrounds were placed against the northern retaining wall
when the project was completed after the Second World War. The
fountains cost almost £50,000. The old ones were presented to the
Canadian government and are now located in Ottawa's Confederation Park
and Regina's Wascana Centre.
A programme of restoration was completed by May 2009. The pump system
was replaced with one capable of sending an 80-foot (24 m) jet of
water into the air. A LED lighting system that can project
different combinations of colours on to the fountains was installed to
reduce the cost of lighting maintenance and to coincide with the 2012
See also: Save the
Trafalgar Square Pigeons
People sitting on lions and feeding pigeons in the square
The square was once famous for feral pigeons and feeding them was a
popular activity. Pigeons began flocking to the square before
construction was completed and feed sellers became well known in the
Victorian era. The desirability of the birds' presence was
contentious: their droppings disfigured the stonework and the flock,
estimated at its peak to be 35,000, was considered a health
hazard. A stall seller, Bernie Rayner, infamously sold bird
seed to tourists at inflated prices.
In February 2001, the sale of bird seed in the square was stopped
and other measures were introduced to discourage the pigeons including
the use of birds of prey. Supporters continued to feed the birds
but in 2003 the mayor, Ken Livingstone, enacted bylaws to ban feeding
them in the square. In September 2007
Westminster City Council
passed further bylaws banning feeding birds on the pedestrianised
North Terrace and other pavements in the area. Nelson's column was
repaired from years of damage from pigeon droppings at a cost of
For many years, revellers celebrating the
New Year have gathered in
the square despite a lack of celebrations being arranged. The lack of
official events was partly because the authorities were concerned that
encouraging more partygoers would cause overcrowding. Since 2003, a
firework display centred on the
London Eye and
South Bank of the
Thames has been provided as an alternative. Since 2014, New Year
celebrations have been organised by the
Greater London Authority
Greater London Authority in
conjunction with the charity Unicef, who began ticketing the event to
control crowd numbers.
Christmas tree in 2008
Christmas ceremony has been held in the square every year since
Norway spruce (or sometimes a fir) is presented by
Norway's capital city,
Oslo as London's
Christmas tree, a token of
gratitude for Britain's support during World War II. (Besides
war-time support, Norway's Prince Olav and the country's government
lived in exile in
London throughout the war.)
Christmas tree is decorated with lights that are switched on at a
seasonal ceremony. It is usually held twelve days before Christmas
Day. The festivity is open to the public and attracts a large number
of people. The switch-on is usually followed by several nights of
Christmas carol singing and other performances and events. On the
twelfth night of Christmas, the tree is taken down for recycling.
Westminster City Council threatened to abandon the event to save
£5,000 in 1980 but the decision was reversed.
The tree is selected by the Head Forester from Oslo's municipal forest
and shipped, across the
North Sea to the Port of Felixstowe, then by
road to Trafalgar Square. The first tree was 48 feet (15 m) tall,
but more recently has been around 75 feet (23 m). In 1987,
protesters chained themselves to the tree. In 1990, a man sawed
into the tree with a chainsaw a few hours before a New Year's Eve
party was scheduled to take place. He was arrested and the tree was
repaired by tree surgeons who removed gouged sections from the trunk
while the tree was suspended from a crane.
A demonstration in Trafalgar Square
The square has become a social and political focus for visitors and
Londoners, developing over its history from "an esplanade peopled with
figures of national heroes, into the country's foremost place
politique", as historian Rodney Mace has written. Since its
construction, it has been a venue for political demonstrations.
The great Chartist rally in 1848, a campaign for social reform by the
working class began in the square. A ban on political rallies
remained in effect until the 1880s, when the emerging Labour movement,
particularly the Social Democratic Federation, began holding protests.
On 8 February 1886 (also known as "Black Monday"), protesters rallied
against unemployment leading to a riot in Pall Mall. A larger riot
("Bloody Sunday") occurred in the square on 13 November 1887.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament's first Aldermaston March,
protesting against the
Atomic Weapons Establishment
Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), began in
the square in 1958. One of the first significant demonstrations of
the modern era was held in the square on 19 September 1961 by the
Committee of 100, which included the philosopher Bertrand Russell. The
protesters rallied for peace and against war and nuclear weapons. In
March 1968, a crowd of 10,000 demonstrated against US involvement in
Vietnam War before marching to the American Embassy in Grosvenor
Protesting against harassment of photographers under anti-terrorism
law, 23 January 2010
Throughout the 1980s, a continuous anti-apartheid protest was held
outside South Africa House. In 1990, the
Poll Tax Riots
Poll Tax Riots began by a
demonstration attended by 200,000 people and ultimately caused rioting
in the surrounding area. More recently, there have been anti-war
demonstrations opposing the Afghanistan War and the Iraq War. A
large vigil was held shortly after the terrorist bombings in
Thursday, 7 July 2005.
In December 2009, participants from the Camp for Climate Action
occupied the square for the two weeks during which the UN Conference
on Climate Change took place in Copenhagen. It was billed as a UK
base for direct action on climate change and saw various actions and
protests stem from the occupation.
In March 2011, the square was occupied by a crowd protesting against
the UK Budget and proposed budget cuts. During the night the situation
turned violent as the escalation by riot police and protesters damaged
portions of the square. In November 2015 a vigil against the
terrorist attacks in Paris was held. Crowds sang the French national
anthem, La Marseillaise, and held banners in support of the city and
Every year on the anniversary of the
Battle of Trafalgar
Battle of Trafalgar (21 October),
the Sea Cadet Corps holds a parade in honour of Admiral Lord Nelson
and the British victory over the combined fleets of
Spain and France
at Trafalgar. The
Royal British Legion
Royal British Legion holds a Silence in the
Square event on Armistice Day, 11 November, in remembrance of those
who died in war. The event includes music and poetry readings,
culminating in a bugler playing the
Last Post and a two-minute silence
at 11 am.
In the 21st century,
Trafalgar Square has been the location for
several sporting events and victory parades. In June 2002, 12,000
people gathered to watch the
England national football team's World
Cup quarter-final against Brazil on giant video screens which had been
erected for the occasion. The square was used by the England
national rugby union team on 9 December 2003 to celebrate their
victory in the 2003 Rugby World Cup, and on 13 September 2005 for
England national cricket team's victory in the Ashes series.
On 6 July 2005
Trafalgar Square hosted the announcement of London's
bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. A countdown clock was
erected in March 2011, although engineering and weather-related faults
caused it to stop a day later. In 2007, it hosted the opening
ceremonies of the Tour de France and was part of the course for
Trafalgar Square temporarily grassed over in May 2007
Sea Cadets hold an annual celebration of the Battle of Trafalgar
victory along the square. The parade runs from Horse Guard's Parade,
Whitehall to Nelson's Column.
As an archetypal
Trafalgar Square featured in film
and television productions during the Swinging
London era of the late
1960s, including The Avengers, Casino Royale, Doctor Who,
and The Ipcress File. It was used for filming several sketches and
a cartoon backdrop in the
BBC comedy series Monty Python's Flying
Circus. In May 2007, the square was grassed over with 2,000 square
metres of turf for two days in a campaign by
London authorities to
promote "green spaces" in the city.
In July 2011, due to building works in Leicester Square, the world
premiere of the final film in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter
and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, was held in Trafalgar Square, with
a 0.75-mile (1.21 km) red carpet linking the squares. Fans camped
Trafalgar Square for up to three days before the premiere, despite
torrential rain. It was the first premiere ever to be held there.
Other Trafalgar Squares
Trafalgar Square in
Stepney is recorded in Lockie's Topography of
London, published in 1810.
Trafalgar Square in Scarborough, North
Yorkshire gives its name to the
Trafalgar Square End at the town's
North Marine Road cricket ground.
National Heroes Square in Bridgetown, Barbados, was named Trafalgar
Square in 1813, before its better-known British namesake. It was
renamed in 1999 to commemorate national heroes of Barbados. There
is a life scale replica of the square in Bahria Town, Lahore, Pakistan
where it is a tourist attraction and centre for local residents.
South Africa House
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