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HomeCultureBuildingsExploring London: 10 Random Facts and Figures about Trafalgar Square

Exploring London: 10 Random Facts and Figures about Trafalgar Square

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Trafalgar Square is one of our favorite places in London and is a must stop for any first time visitor to London. It’s often considered the center of London and it’s actually where distances are measured from. It’s doesn’t get more London than Trafalgar Square.

Here are 10 fun facts and figures about Trafalgar Square.

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1.  The centerpiece of Trafalgar Square is Nelson’s Column, which was built to honor Admiral Horatio Nelson, who led the British to Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. Nelson’s Column is 169 ft 3 Inches tall. When they refurbished it in 2006, they discovered that it was actually 14 ft 6 inches shorter than previously thought.

2. The pedestal of Nelson’s Column is decorated with four bronze relief panels, each 18 feet square, which were cast from captured French guns. They depict the Battle of Cape St Vincent, the Battle of the Nile, the Battle of Copenhagen and the Death of Nelson at Trafalgar.

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3. The fountains in Trafalgar Square, despite their iconic position in the square, are not immune to government directives and in summer 2012, they were shut off for most of the summer due to the prolonged drought in Britain.

4. There are fourth plinths in the square, 3 of which features statues of previous English Kings. The fourth plinth, however, never had a statue built for it. So, it’s been turned into a public display of art that rotates regularly. Previous occupants of the space include notable people and a model of the HMS Victory (Nelson’s Ship). Currently the space is occupied by  Powerless Structures, Fig. 101 – A sculpture of a boy on a rocking horse. 4.1 metres tall, cast in bronze by artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset . In 2013 the rocking horse will be replaced by Hahn / Cock – a sculpture of a cockerel, intended to symbolise “regeneration, awakening and strength” by artist Katharina Fritsch.

The Bad Old Days - Pigeons!
The Bad Old Days – Pigeons!

5. Trafalgar Square used to be famous as a home for thousands of feral pigeons. A popular activity was to feed them but this made them even more of a pest. So, in 2003 then London Mayor Ken Livingstone declared war on the pigeons and banned feeding them (and the selling of feed near the square). They also employed a hawk to keep them away. Slowly, the square began to depopulate and now it’s pretty much pigeon – and pigeon dropping –  free. Also, now that it’s pigeon free, they’re able to hold concerts and public events in the square.

6. Every year a Christmas tree is placed in the center of the Square. It’s the same type of tree every year, a Norwegian Spruce, which is given as a gift from Norway in honor of Britain’s commitment to Norway during World War II. As part of the tradition, the Lord Mayor of Westminster visits Oslo in the late autumn to take part in the felling of the tree, and the Mayor of Oslo then comes to London to light the tree at the Christmas ceremony. As is the Norwegian tradition, the Christmas lights are hung vertically instead of circular around the tree.

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7. Seventeen Bus Routes pass through Trafalgar square – making it a crossroads of London traffic.

8. The Square used to be surrounded on all sides by busy roads, which made it rather dangerous to visit. In 2003, the square was redeveloped and the street in front of the National Gallery was closed and pedestrianized. The retaining wall was demolished and a giant staircase was built leading up to the Gallery, creating a grand promenade and beautiful aspect.

9. Trafalgar Square is owned by the Queen in Right of the Crown as part of the Crown Estate and it’s managed by the Greater London Authority, while Westminster City Council owns the roads around the square, including the pedestrianized area of the North Terrace.

10. If Hitler had successfully invaded Britain, he planned to relocate Nelson’s Column to Berlin as a war spoil.

What’s your favorite bit of Trafalgar Square? Let us know in the comments!

jonathan
Author: jonathan

Jonathan is a consummate Anglophile who launched Anglotopia.net in 2007 to channel his passion for Britain. Londontopia is its sister publication dedicated to everything London.

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25 COMMENTS

  1. The best part for us was climbing the lions at the base. You don’t realize how high up they are; taller than the double decker buses. The lions are slippery and there is marble all around, it is dangerous and difficult, but quite a challenge.

  2. The first time I was at Trafalger square was in 1968. At that time the lines were painted gold. It was beautiful and a striking contrast to the boring color they now bear. Bring back the gold!

  3. Correction–

    The first time I was at Trafalger square was in 1968. At that time the lions were painted gold. It was beautiful and a striking contrast to the boring color they now bear. Bring back the gold!

  4. Small correction. It was the Battle of Trafalgar, not the Battle of Trafalgar Square. The square was named after the battle.

  5. I was there for the last Harry Potter premiere… Trafalgar Square was the setting for the most magical moment of my life!

  6. Hi, dunno if this has been pointed out but the 3 statues aren’t all kings. Only George IV is represented. The 4th plinth was for his brother and successor William IV, but they never got round to it. The other two are Charles Napier and Henry Havelock who were both military men and poor quality human beings.

    • Charles Napier did however stop the practice of burning the widows with their dead husbands. The square also houses the smallest Police station in the world!

  7. The national portrait gallery is a must to visit, amazing,wonderful,beautiful paintings by artists from around the world, take a look at the relatively new sainsbury wing, I did most of the welding on the stainless steel handrailings, that’s my little claim to fame, we plan to visit London this Monday/ Tuesday, 6 th and 7 th April, booked online to go in Houses of Parliament and the shard, can’t wait!

  8. Distances are measured from Charing Cross, the roundabout with a statue of Charles I in the middle just to the south of the square itself. Maybe a minor point geographically, but you’d get kicked off your pub quiz team if you answered Trafalgar Square.

  9. For me, it was nearly magical when my late husband and I visited London for the first time. We climbed up from the Underground; that day the sun was sparkling on the water spraying from the fountains and a group of children ran, laughing, to roust the pigeons from their feeding. We were there for our 35th wedding anniversary trip and it was also our honeymoon.

  10. I walked through Trafalgar Square this afternoon – it was warm and sunny in London today and everyone was out and making the most of it. Tomorrow I’m attending the free lunchtime concert at St. Martin-in-the-Field (I’ve never been inside), and then visiting The National Gallery. My fourth visit to England (the first time was in 1978) – each time is better than the last!

  11. Did you also know that it is home to England’s smallest police station, (although no longer used). ?

  12. I just revisited London and Trafalgar Square for the second time in my life. In 1971 I had my picture taken with a pigeon eating out of my hand. I was disappointed to see that the square is now pigeon free. It’s a wonderful place, as is all of London and as a Canadian of English heritage it was a thrill for me to see it again.

  13. I was born and still live in a town in the Northwest of England that was renamed Nelson in the mid 1800’s. Many people believed that this was done in honour of the Admiral’s heroic deeds. Sadly, the truth is much more mundane. When the railway came to what was then a place which was divided in two and called Great Marsden and Little Marsden. The station was built near a Coaching Inn called the Nelson, which gave the town it’s name. There is another Nelson, this one is in South Wales and is quite close to where the Royal Mint, which makes Britain’s coinage, is now situated. There are quite a few ‘Nelsons’ in the USA, Canada and across the globe.

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