Nelsons Column. On 18 November in 1843, ‘The Illustrated London News’ carried this woodblock engraving of the building of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square.
Trafalgar Square, which was named in 1835, commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, a Royal Navy victory during the Napoleonic Wars against a combined fleet of French and Spanish vessels that took place on 21 October 1805 off the coast of Cape Trafalgar, southwest Spain.
At the centre of ‘the Square’ stands ‘The Monument to Lord Nelson,’ now universally referred to as ‘Nelson’s Column.’
Commissioned by the Nelson Memorial Committee following a competition won by William Railton the memorial was commenced in 1840 and was completed in 1843.
Funded mostly by private donations, the single largest contribution was made by Tsar Nicholas I of Russia who contributed £12,000, over a quarter of the total raised.
The column, built of Devon granite, is the pedestal on which stands the figure sculpted in three sections from Craigleith stone, by Edward Hodges Baily.
The height of Nelson’s Column, from the bottom of the pedestal to the top of Nelson’s hat, is 169 ft 3 ins. Nelson himself measures 18 ft 1 ins.
Four panels at the base of the monument depict a scene from Admiral Nelson’s most famous battles during the Napoleonic Wars: the Battle of the Nile, the Battle of Copenhagen, the Battle of Cape St. Vincent and his death at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Edward Landseer’s four lions which defend the column, cast in bronze by Baron Marochettial, were not completed until 1867.
I will leave a final quote to the journalist who wrote the accompanying text to our illustration:
“Our engraving represents the figure completed, and the union flag unfurled above it; but this has given place to the veritable ensign under which the gallant hero fell. Long may it be preserved, and may the great memorial on the summit of which it now so proudly waves, be as a pharos to the public spirit in all-coming time.”