Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square, Westminster

London’s most iconic square, located immediately north-west of Charing Cross

Trafalgar Square

Exca­va­tions here have pro­duced sig­nif­i­cant find­ings of ele­phant and hip­popota­mus remains, dat­ing from around 120,000 bc.

The church of St-Mar­tin-in-the-Fields has stood to the north-east of the square since the 13th cen­tu­ry and has twice been rebuilt.

From the 14th to the 19th cen­turies the present Trafal­gar Square was the site of the roy­al mews, where Geof­frey Chaucer once toiled as a clerk of works.

The square was laid out in 1830 and named after the bat­tle at which Admi­ral Hor­a­tio Nel­son died. Sev­en years lat­er William Wilkins’ Nation­al Gallery was erect­ed on the north side. This was fol­lowed in 1843 by Edward Baily’s stat­ue of Nel­son, erect­ed in cel­e­bra­tion of his naval vic­to­ries at Cape St Vin­cent, the Nile, Copen­hagen and Trafal­gar and mount­ed on a gran­ite col­umn 184 feet high.

Also in 1843, an eques­tri­an stat­ue of George IV was placed on a plinth in the north-east cor­ner of the square, with stat­ues of impe­r­i­al gen­er­als Charles James Napi­er and Hen­ry Have­lock lat­er added in the south-west and south-east cor­ners.

It was not until 1867 that Nelson’s memo­r­i­al was final­ly com­plet­ed by the instal­la­tion of Sir Edwin Landseer’s four bronze lions. Admi­ral­ty Arch, which sep­a­rates the Mall from Trafal­gar Square, was designed by Sir Aston Webb in mem­o­ry of Queen Vic­to­ria. Its cen­tral arch gate is only opened on cer­e­mo­ni­al occa­sions. Cana­da House and South Africa House, the high com­mis­sions of their respec­tive coun­tries, over­look the east and west sides of the square.

Devel­op­ments in the last two decades have includ­ed the addi­tion of the Sains­bury wing to the Nation­al Gallery, the inau­gu­ra­tion of the ‘fourth plinth project’ to tem­porar­i­ly show­case new (and often con­tro­ver­sial) works of art, the pedes­tri­an­i­sa­tion of the area between the square and the Nation­al Gallery and the vir­tu­al erad­i­ca­tion of the infa­mous pigeon pop­u­la­tion.

From the Chartists of 1848 to the poll tax rioters of 1990, Trafalgar Square has been a focal destination for protest marches and demonstrations against the government. It was also famed as the focus for London’s New Year’s Eve celebrations but revellers are nowadays encouraged to congregate on the banks of the Thames.

Every Christmas the city of Oslo donates a Norwegian spruce for the square, in recognition of Britain’s assistance to Norway during the Second World War.

Postal district: WC2
Further reading: Roger Hargreaves, Trafalgar Square through the Camera, National Portrait Gallery, 2005
and Jean Hood, Trafalgar Square: A Visual History of London’s Landmark through Time, B T Batsford, 2005
and Rodney Mace, Trafalgar Square: Emblem of Empire, Lawrence & Wishart, 1987

 

* The picture of Trafalgar Square at the top of this page is modified from an original photograph, copyright Miguel Discart, previously at Flickr, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.