Victorian London - Buildings, Monuments and Museums - Nelson's Column

The Nelson Column. - After a lapse of thirty years a monument, a column of the Corinthian order, has been erected to the memory of the immortal Nelson, and we can only regret, in common with the public, that it should not, from its magnitude, have been rendered more worthy of the hero whose gallant exploits and great achievements elevated the naval superiority of the British nation to a height, great as was its former glory, it had never previously attained, thereby establishing more firmly her claim to the well-merited title of Mistress of the Seas. As Sterne observes, "They manage things better in France," - an observation of which the City of Paris alone, in her monumental erections commemorative of victory, attests the truth. Restricted in funds (the Nelson column is the result of private subscription) the artists could consequently only execute a memorial that posterity will regret was not rendered more in accordance with the merits of a commander whose victories have erected an imperishable monument to his fame. Of the Nelson Column, erected from designs by Mr. Railton, of solid granite, the following are the dimensions: steps 7 feet, pedestal 37 feet, column 105 feet, total 156 feet, the statue from the base, or plinth on which it stands, to the top of the hat, is 17 feet, making the entire height 173 feet. It is formed of stone (*it should be have bronze) brought from the Granton quarry of the Duke of Buccleuch, in Scotland, being carved out of two of the largest blocks the quarry had produced; is the work of Mr. Bailey; represents the hero "in his habit as he lived;" possesses the great merit of likeness and character, and is highly creditable to the artist. The shaft of the column is fluted throughout, its lower diameter being 10 feet; the capital is taken from the bold and simple example of Mars Ultor at Rome, its ornamental Parts are of bronze east from cannon of the Royal George. When completed bassi relievi in bronze will adorn the sides of the pedestal, and at the angles of the steps will be placed lions couchant. The Nelson Column, including the statue, is 40 feet higher than Trajan's Pillar at Rome, 43 feet higher than Buonaparte's Column in the Place Vendome at Paris, 50 feet higher than the York Column, and only 19 feet lower than the London Monument.

source: Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

   The statue of Nelson-the hero of Trafalgar- having been completed, has been for a short space made visible to the public from a nearer point of view than many of them are destined to have of it in future. It has been exhibited on the surface of terra firma, previous to its elevation to the summit of the column, henceforth Nelson's Column, in Trafalgar Square-a locality which, were it not for the common-place character of the front of the National Gallery would become the finest open space in the metropolis. The exhibition is not only a well-advised concession to public curiosity, but an advantage to the artist, being a means of making familiar to the people the talent of one of our best sculptors. Those who have seen his “Nelson” -colossal in size-the features true to nature-a portrait in stone, not an idealism of a hero-the costume, that of an English Admiral, a costume which no skill can elevate to dignity, or transform to the graceful-wiIl have received, probably, a mingled impression. Unless they remembered they were looking at an object intended to be seen only at a great elevation, they may have been surprised at a sort of coarseness in the workmanship. Yet it has all the finish that can be required, and it has the great merit of likeness and character-one perhaps inseparable from the other in the countenance of such a man as Nelson. It has the sharp, angular features, the expression of great activity of mind, but of little mental grandeur; of quickness of perception and decision; and -withal, that sad air, so perceptible in the best portraits of the warrior, of long-continued physical pain and suffering, the consequence of his many wounds, which accompanied him throughout his brightest triumphs, though it never abated his ardour or weakened his energies. The expression is a peculiar one; it is more afflicting to the eye than the expression of deep thought, and though as mournful, it is less abstracted than that of meditation.
   If ever man earned his greatness, both by action and suffering, it was the hero of Trafalgar. While we feel a satisfaction that a public memorial to him is now completed, we cannot help regretting that more than thirty years should have elapsed before so obvious a duty to his renown was accomplished. His monument can hardly be considered as a national tribute to his fame: it is a funeral record, it is raised in a sacred spot, and is consecrated by religion; the interest it possesses is of a higher and more sacred kind. This statue is the public and secular memorial- the tribute of the citizen to the warrior-and till now, in the metropolis of the nation he fought and died for, that tribute has remained unpaid! However, this colossal statue is now completely finished, and the separate pieces of stone, of which it is composed, put togethet-. The figure of the great naval commander measures seventeen feet from the base or plinth on which it stands, to the top of the hat The whole is cut of stone brought from Scotland, from the Granton quarry of the Duke of Buccleuch. It weighs nearly eighteen tons, and will be taken to pieces in order to be put up. The statue was thrown open to the public last Friday and Saturday, October 27 and 28, and was visited by a hundred thousand persons.

source: Illustrated London News, 1843

    The Nelson Column, Trafalgar Square, of Portland stone, l45 ft. high, erected by public subscription in 1840-43, from designs by Railton. The statue which surmounts it was executed by E. H. Baily, R.A. The capital is of bronze, from French guns captured by the great Admiral, and is adorned with four bas-reliefs: the Victory off Cape St. Vincent, by Watson; the Bombardment of Copenhagen, by Ternouth; the Victory of the Nile, by Woodington; and the Death of Nelson, by Carew. Four colossal lions, carved in granite, by Sir E. Landseer, will surmount the four angles of the base as soon as completed.

source: Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865 

NELSON COLUMN (the), south side of Trafalgar-square, was erected between 1839 and 1852, by public subscription and the aid of the Government. It was designed by W. Railton, and is of the exact proportion of a column of the Corinthian temple of Mars Ultor at Rome: Mr. Railton choosing the Corinthian order from its being the most lofty and elegant in its proportions, and having never been used in England for this purpose; whilst it is in keeping with the surrounding buildings, and tends more than any other species of monument to bring the entire scene into general harmony, without destroying the effect of any portion of it. The foundation rests upon a 6-feet layer of concrete in a compact stratum of clay, about twelve feet below the pavement; upon which is the frustrum of a brick-work pyramid, 48 feet square at the base, and 13 feet high, upon which the superstructure commences with the graduated stylobate of the pedestal, the first step of which is 33 feet 4 inches wide. From this point to the foot of the statue, the work is of solid granite, in large blocks admirably dressed; and in the shaft they are so well connected as to give the fabric almost the cohesion of a monolith. The granite was brought from Foggin Tor, on the coast of Devon; and was selected for its equable particles and intimate distribution of mica, feldtspar, and quartz. The shaft (lower diameter 10 feet) is fluted throughout, the base being richly ornamented - the lower torus with a cable, the upper with oak-leaves. The pedestal is raised upon a flight of steps; and at the angles are massive cippi, or blocks, intended to receive four recumbent African lions. The capital is of bronze, and was cast from old ordnance in the Arsenal foundry at Woolwich, from full-sized models carefully prepared by C. H. Smith. "The foliage is connected to the bell of the cap by three large belts of metal lying in grooves, and rendering it needless to fix plugs into the work, with the concomitant risk of damage from the galvanic action of metals." (G. Godwin, jun., F.R.S.) One of the lower tiers of leaves weighs about 900 lbs. Upon a circular pedestal on the abacus is a colossal statue of Nelson, with a coiled cable on his left; E. H. Baily, R.A., sculptor. The figure is of Cragleith stone, in three massive blocks, presented by the Duke of Buccleuch; the largest block weighing upwards of 30 tons. The statue measures 17 feet from its plinth to the top of the hat; it was raised on Nov. 3 and 4, 1843; and on Oct. 23 previous, fourteen persons partook of a dinner on the abacus of the Column.

    The scaffolding used in constructing this Column was a novelty of mechanical skill. Instead of the usual forest of small round poles, there were five grand uprights or standards on the east and west sides, in six stages or stories, marked by horizontal beams and curbs, at nearly equal intervals, the base being greatly extended, and the sides strengthened by diagonal and raking braces. By means of a powerful engine moving on a railway, and a travelling platform, blocks of stone from six to ten tons weight, were, at a rate of progression scarcely more perceptible than the motion of a clock-weight (being only thirty feet in the hour), raised to a great elevation, and set down with less muscular exertion than would be expended on a lamp-post; one mason thus setting as much work in one day as was done in three days by the old system, even without the aid of six labourers, who are now dispensed with. The timber used In erecting this scaffold was 7700 cubic feet, and its cost was 240l. for labour in erecting.

    The pedestal has on its four sides the following bronze reliefs

    North (facing the National Gallery), Rattle of the Nile: designed by W. F. Woodington. Nelson, having received a severe wound in the bead, was caught by Captain Berry in his arms, as he was falling, and carried into the cockpit; the surgeon is quitting a wounded sailor that he may instantly attend the Admiral. "No," said Nelson; "I will take my turn with my brave fellows." Some of the parts project 15 inches, and the figures are 8 feet high: the casting weighs 2 tons 15 cwt. 2 qrs.; and the metal is three-eighths of an inch thick.
     South (facing Whitehall), Death of Nelson at Trafalgar: designed by C. E. Carew. Nelson is being carried from the quarter-deck to the cockpit by a marine and two seamen. "Well, Hardy," said Nelson to his captain, "they have done for me at last." "I hope not," was the reply. "Yes; they have shot me through the backbone." At the back of the centre group is the surgeon. To the left are three sailors tightening some of the ship's cordage; another kneels, holding a handspike and leaning on a gun, arrested by the conversation between the dying hero and Captain Hardy. In the front, lying on the deck, are an officer and marines, who have fallen to rise no more. Behind stand two marines and a negro sailor. One of the former has detected the marksman by whose shot Nelson fell, and is pointing him out to his companion. The latter has raised his musket, and has evidently covered his mark; whilst the black, who stands just before the two marines, is grasping his firelock. The figures are of life-size; the casting weighs about five tons. Beneath are Nelson's memorable words, "England expects every man will do his duty."
    East (facing the Strand), Bombardment of Copenhagen: designed by the late Mr. Ternouth. Nelson is sealing, on the end of a gun, his despatch to send by the flag of truce; a group of officers surround him, and a sailor holds a candle and lantern: in the foreground are wounded groups; and in the distance are a church and city (Copenhagen) in flames.
West (facing Pall Mall), Battle of St. Vincent: commenced by Watson and finished by Woodington. Nelson, on board the San Josef, is receiving from the Spanish admirals their swords, which an old Agamemnon is putting under his arm; in the foreground is a dying sailor clasping a broken flag-staff. 

    A monument to Nelson was first proposed in 1805 (the year of his death), when the Committee of the Patriotic Fund raised 1330l. Reduced 3 per Cents, which, with the accumulated dividends, amounted in June, 1838, to 5545l. 19s. Meanwhile, in 1816, the monument was proposed in Parliament, as "a duty which the nation ought, perhaps, to have discharged not less than thirty years ago." The subject, however, rested until 1838, when a subscription was raised, Trafalgar-square chosen as the site, and a column recommended by the Duke of Wellington. In January, 1839, 118 drawings and 41 models were submitted, and the first prize, 250l., awarded to Mr. Railton for his column; in May following, a second series of designs (167) was exhibited, but the Committee adhered to their former choice. In 1844; the subscriptions,* (* To which Nicholas, Emperor of Russia, contributed 500l.) 20,483l. 11s. 2d., had been expended; and the Government undertook the completion of the monument, estimated at 12,0001. additional. The column itself cost 23,0001. building; the statue, capital, and reliefs, 5000l.; 2000l. architect's commission; four lions have been estimated at 3000l. Trafalgar-square was much objected to as the site: in the Parliamentary examination, eight architects and sculptors were in favour of it, and four architects were against it. Chantrey considered Trafalgar-square to be "the most favourable that could be found or imagined for any national work of art; its aspect is nearly south, and sufficiently open to give the object placed on that identical spot all the advantage of light and shade that can be desired; to this may be added the advantage of a happy combination of unobtrusive buildings around: but to conceive a national monument worthy of this magnificent site is no easy task." Chantrey objected to a column as a monument, unless treated as a biographical volume, with the acts of the hero sculptured on the shaft, as on the columns of Trajan and Antoninus. Annexed are the comparative dimensions of the principal monumental columns:

Date  Climate Site  Order Height to the top of Capital Diameter
AD       Feet Feet
118 Trajan Rome Doric 115 12
162 Antoninus Rome Doric  123 13
1671 Monument London Doric 172 15
1806 Napoleon Paris Doric 115 12
1832 Duke of York London Tuscan 111 11
1839 Nelson London Corinthian 145.6 10.1 3/4 - 11.7 1/2

Nelson Column, 145 feet 6 inches; statue and plinth, 17 feet; = 162 feet 6 inches.

source: John Timbs, Curiosities of London, 1867

The figure of the fighting seaman stands on a column 177 feet high, opposite the National Gallery. The four protruding corners at the base have massive lions - the work of Sir Edward Landseer - upon them; and the four tablets depict Nelson at the battles of Copenhagen, the Nile, St. Vincent, and his death at Trafalgar. 

source: Uncle Jonathan, Walks in and Around London, 1895 (3 ed.)