15 facts about Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square

Address: Trafalgar Square, Westminster, London WC2N 5DN

If you’ve been to Trafalgar Square in the centre of London, you’ll almost certainly have come across Nelson’s Column. The iconic monument was built to commemorate British naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It is surely one of London’s most recognisable landmarks, known to millions of people in the UK and around the world.

Nelson's Column

In case you’d like to learn a little more about the monument, here are 15 interesting facts you may not be aware of:

1. Nelson’s Column was built between 1840 and 1843, after William Railton won a protracted competition to design the structure. The original decision to award Railton the contract was overturned, but his design emerged triumphant in the re-run.

2. The monument is built of the Corinthian order, a style of ancient Greek and Roman architecture. It is characterised by slender fluted columns and elaborate capitals, which are decorated with acanthus leaves and scrolls.

3. Nelson’s Column cost £47,000 to built in the 1840s, which is the equivalent of between £3 million and £4 million today. Most of the money came from private investors, with the Tsar of Russia footing more than a quarter of the bill on his own.

4. Nelson’s Column was constructed out of Dartmoor granite and weighs around 2,500 tonnes. It was originally meant to be built entirely out of sandstone, but the plan was changed shortly before construction started.

5. The 18 ft 1 in (5.5 m) statue of Admiral Nelson which stands on top of the column, designed by Sir Edwin Landseer, is built out of sandstone rather than granite.

6. Part of Admiral Nelson’s shoulder was chipped when the column was struck by lightning during an electrical storm in 1896.

7. When the column was measured in 2006, during a £420,000 renovation, it was discovered that the monument is 14 ft 6 in (4.4 m) shorter than had always been thought. The actual height of Nelson’s Column, from the bottom of the pedestal to the top of Nelson’s hat, is 169 ft 3 in (51.6 m).

8. The original proposal was for a 203 ft (62 m) column, however construction plans were scaled back due to concerns over stability and cost.

9. The four bronze lions which sit at the base of Nelson’s Column were added in 1867, almost 25 years after the monument was erected. They all sit in same position, but are – to the surprise of many – not identical.

10. The four panels at the bottom of the monument each depict a scene from Nelson’s most famous battles: the Battle of the Nile, the Battle of Copenhagen, the Battle of Cape St Vincent and his death at the Battle of Trafalgar.

11. The panels were made from French guns which were captured and melted down. Four different artists designed each of the panel depictions: Musgrave Watson, William F. Woodington, John Ternouth and John Edward Carew.

12. In 2011, consultants employed by the Greater London Authority reported that ‘considerable damage’ has been caused by tourists climbing on the lions. The report called for a ban to be enforced, in order to protect the structures, although English Heritage opposed this course of action.

13. Had Adolf Hitler succeeded in invading the UK during the Second World War, he planned to relocate Nelson’s Column from central London to Berlin.

14. John Noakes, a presenter on BBC TV children’s programme ‘Blue Peter’, climbed Nelson’s Column in the late 1970s. He is just one of many people – including journalists, stuntmen and political protesters – to have scaled the monument.

15. Nelson’s Column was not the first civic monument erected in the admiral’s honour. A 44-metre obelisk was built on Glasgow Green in Scotland in 1806, just one year after Nelson’s death in battle and almost a quarter of a century before work began in Trafalgar Square. Other monuments can be found in Edinburgh, Forres, Dublin, Birmingham, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Hereford and Great Yarmouth.

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Parking near to Trafalgar Square

Parking is limited at Trafalgar Square, which finds itself in central London’s congestion charge zone. However, there are a number of pay and display car parks within walking distance of the area and Nelson’s Column. These include:

  • Q-Park Trafalgar, Spring Gardens, Westminster (2-minute walk)
  • St Martins Lane NCP, 45 St Martins Lane, Covent Garden (4-minute walk)
  • Leicester Square Masterpark, Whitcomb Street, Soho (4-minute walk)
  • China Town Masterpark, Newport Place, Soho (6-minute walk)
  • Upper St Martins Lane NCP, 6 Upper St Martins Lane, Covent Garden (7-minute walk)

Tube stations close to Nelson’s Column

For visitors to the capital staying at hotels in Paddington London, or in other parts of the capital, the closest Tube stations to Nelson’s Column are as follows:

  • Charing Cross on the Northern and Bakerloo lines (3-minute walk)
  • Leicester Square on the Northern and Piccadilly lines (4-minute walk)
  • Embankment on the Circle, District, Northern and Bakerloo lines (5-minute walk)

The closest mainline station is Charing Cross, which is a four-minute walk from Nelson’s Column.

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