The painting above is of the NE corner of Trafalgar Square and St. Martin-in-the-Fields in 1888. It hangs in Tate Britain and it is by William Logsdail. In case you missed it, the first part of my paean to Trafalgar Square is here: Love London, Part 1. Trafalgar Square, Nelsons Column and Charles I, London WC2.
On the lower northern wall of the square are busts of three First Admirals of the fleet; Cunningham, Jellicoe and Beatty. Admiral Andrew Cunningham was distinguished veteran of WWII and his bust was added after the other two in 1967. Jellicoe and Beatty are Admirals of WWI and their busts were placed in 1948, facing Nelson, “Hero of the fleet”. I hope it is true that they both admired Nelson as much as they are supposed to, because upon their deaths, in late 1935 and early 1936, they were both entombed in St Paul’s Cathedral, also facing his tomb.
Also on the lower northern wall of square is an often overlooked historical treasure “The Trafalgar Square Standards”. They are low down along the steps and in the wall behind the seats. These were the official British Imperial measurements of length until we adopted the metric units of measurement in 1995. These were set into stone, by the Standards Department of The Board of Trade, in 1876 and if you suspected that any measuring implements were incorrect you could bring them here to settle the argument. There are three sets of these official standards, the others are in the Royal Observatory in Greenwich and in the Great Hall of the Guildhall in the city. The official measures included are; the inch, foot, yard, link, chain, perch and pole.
There are four plinths built to contain statues in the square. The two on the south side of the square contain statues of Victorian Major Generals, Napier and Havelock. They both served with distinction in the campaigns in India. The third plinth is occupied by an equestrian statue of George IV. It was commissioned by the King himself and depicts him riding bareback, without stirrups and in ancient Roman dress. He intended it to be placed on the top of the Marble Arch, but it was put here in 1843.
The fourth plinth was intended to hold a statue of William IV. It was empty for over 150 years until 1999 when it was decided to put a succession of works of art on the plinth, each occupying it for a limited amount of time. These art pieces have generated a great deal of debate over that past twenty years and, in that respect, the concept has certainly been a success. All of them have been controversial, most of them have been innovative and some of them have been attractive. Among the more memorable are; Anthony Gormley’s “One & Other” where over the course of 100 days, 2400 different people each spent one hour on top of the plinth, Marc Quinn’s “Alison Lapper Pregnant” and Yinka Shonibare’s “Nelson’s ship in a Bottle”. The current incarnation, Michael Rakowitz’s “The invisible enemy should not exist” is a recreation of a sculpture of a Lamassu (a winged bull and protective deity) that stood at the entrance to Nineveh from 700 B.C. It was destroyed in 2015 and this piece is made completely from empty Iraqi date syrup cans. I find it beautiful.
On the South Eastern corner of the Square is a round edifice with a light on top. This is claimed, by some, to be the smallest police station in the world. Put in temporarily in WWI but made permanent during the general strike of 1926, it is a raised room from which a policeman could stand and watch the square in order to phone Scotland Yard, if a demonstration in the square showed signs of becoming dangerous. When the light was changed from gas to electric, the light used to flash when the phone rang, in case the assigned policeman was patrolling the square.
I have a couple of pieces other random trivia about Trafalgar Square. The north side of the square is substantially higher than the south. This slope is not natural, the south end was lowered in order to made the National Gallery building more imposing. The earth was used to level St James’ Park. Adolf Hitler planned to remove Nelson’s column and statue from Trafalgar Square when Germany conquered Britain. His intention was to place them in Berlin as a victory trophy.
While you visit Trafalgar Square, you should visit St Martin-in-the-fields on the NE corner and the National Gallery. I plan to do separate pieces about these. I will put links here when I have completed them. Also, on the South side, between Whitehall and The Mall, there is an unobtrusive hotel called The Trafalgar. This is a smart hotel and if you go to the back you can catch a lift up to a rooftop bar. The cocktails are central London prices, but they are good and the roof terrace has lovely views over the square.
I went to the first night of the previews. I really enjoyed it. The action takes place over an evening birthday party and the morning after. It was a little slow to get started but after that, the first act is good; the script is funny, arch and sharp. It appears to be a play about nostalgia for the idealism of the 1960s and children with abandonment issues. However, the second act is transformative, I love how it turns your perspective on its head, we get to know the characters better and see their motivation differently. The play is really about women’s place in society, whether this has changed over the past 50 years and about the price people are willing to pay for attempting to bring about change.
The direction is simple, Jamie Lloyd lets the words speak for themselves. The set is clever, the stage is framed like a picture or perhaps the old photograph given as a birthday gift. The whole cast is good, but this play is really about the women, Laura Carmichael and Freema Agyeman are both outstanding and Stockard Channing is amazing.
The writing is great and I will be looking out for other plays by Alexi Kaye Campbell. I guess there will be a few tweaks before the general opening, but it got a full standing ovation on the night I went. I hope the critics like it as much as I did and that Apologia is a huge success.
If you are near Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross, St Martins Lane or the National Gallery, there is a lovely little hidden café underneath the St Martin-in-the-Fields church.
You enter by going downstairs in a circular glass structure in the wide alley just to the North of the church.
Once you are downstairs you will be in a large atmospheric crypt with beautiful arched vaulted ceilings. The acoustics are great, even when it is full you can hear your party’s conversation without difficulty.
The floor is flagged with large stones and some very old gravestones. There are busts of famous ancient Londoners dotted throughout, in hidden alcoves.
It serves very good food; soup made on the premises, nice hot dishes that change from day to day, lovely cakes and biscuits and it is licensed, if you fancy a glass of wine with your lunch.
There is a good choice for vegetarians too.
If you a looking for somewhere that is right in the centre of tourist London that, perhaps, most tourists might miss, then this is just the place.
A real hidden gem!
The picture above is of the entrance, in case you miss it. It has Jazz evenings on Wednesdays. Oh and the church that it is beneath, St Martin-in-the-Fields, is not to shabby either!