This post completes my last one, in which I was rained off!
Trafalgar Square is today a great open space in the centre of the City of Westminster, a major tourist attraction, known all over the world. These explorations with Mr Bradshaw (no, I don’t yet feel able to be more familiar with him in public!) have shown both continuity and change in London, and Trafalgar Square is no exception – in my time the traffic flow has been routed away from the face of The National Gallery, creating an even larger pedestrianised area, and the famous pigeons have gone.
On the north lay ‘..the old Royal Mews, and a nest of wretched courts, that were all cleared away in 1829..’. Mews buildings had been on the site since 1377; firstly for hawks who were confined when moulting (mewing) or perhaps because of the sound of the young, and since 1534, stables for horses.
The National Gallery started its life in 1824 as John Julius Angerstein‘s private collection, displayed in his home, 100 Pall Mall.
John Julius Angerstein (1732-1823) was a businessman, Lloyds underwriter, and collector and Patron of the arts who lived in London but also had a country home in Greenwich.
Then in 1838 a new National Gallery was built on the north side of Trafalgar Square. It was designed by William Wilkins and was originally only one room deep. Apparently is was also known as ‘The National Cruet-Stand’!
The Gallery housed the Angerstein Collection of pictures (38 of his best pictures) which the Government bought. The decision is recorded in Hansard, where the cost appears to have been £60,000. ‘Although inferior to the great continental galleries, this is still a highly valuable collection..’. Today The National Gallery stands amongst the great collections of the world – Mr Angerstein would be pleased, I think.
‘..The Royal Academy occupies the eastern end [of The National Gallery]..’. It was founded by George III in 1768 and opened in Somerset House before moving to Trafalgar Square in 1838. ‘..The whole of the funds are derived from the produce of its annual exhibition, which always opens on the first Monday in May. The receipts amount now to nearly £6,000. The average number of paintings and pieces of sculpture is 1,500..’. (Today this would convert to c.£260,000, and the Annual Summer Exhibition is a high-profile social event in the London calendar!) The Academy moved to its current home, in Burlington House, in 1868.
And the National Gallery continued to expand.
A proposed extension in 1982, by ABK Architects, which was rejected after it was described by The Prince of Wales as a ‘monstrous carbuncle‘ and replaced with a design by Venturi and Scott Brown and major sponsorship by the Sainsbury Family.
The National Portrait Gallery joined the National Gallery in 1896, and this was built on the site of St Martin’s Workhouse. We linger in the National Portrait Gallery today, or perhaps pop into the coffee shop for a capuccino, with an elegant sprinkling of chocolate, but less than 150 years ago, on this spot, was a ghastly place, St Martin’s Workhouse, built around a burial ground.
The Lancet published a report in 1865 which tells us ‘..the surgical wards are scarcely over 8 ft.; the allowance of cubic space per bed, on the average of the four sick wards, is only 428 ft. (little more than one-third of that prescribed in the regulations for the construction of the military hospitals).. and ‘.. In short, the condition of the inmates generally is such as demands particular attention to ventilation, and this is precisely the subject which is treated with the most reckless neglect..’, and ‘..The bath-room..is a still-more dungeon-like place;.. it is like a very bad beer-cellar, through the obscurity of which one may dimly perceive a tin bath, while one’s nose is assaulted by new and more dreadful stench.. – read this report, it is truly shocking. (Further information here.) The report lead to the demolition of the workhouse, and the building of a gallery, for cultural enjoyment, but I wonder what happened to the inmates of the workhouse?
A religious building has been on the site of St Martin’s in the Fields Church since perhaps 400 AD. The present church, designed by James Gibbs, was built in 1724.
The Church was at times crowded by houses, as in this print which is perhaps 1830s? (This blogsite.)
‘..The present burial-ground is at Pratt Street, Camden Town..’, says Mr Bradshaw and here is a fascinating account of St Martin’s Gardens. The Church also built almshouses in this countryside and those in Bayham Street are still standing.
Northumberland House, whose grounds reach down to the river, was so-called because ‘..for most of its history it was the London residence of the Percy family, who were the Earls and later Dukes of Northumberland, and one of England’s richest and most prominent aristocratic dynasties..’. The building was demolished in 1874. The print below also shows the statue of King Charles I
Nelson’s Column in the middle of the Square and is guarded by four monumental lions by Sir Edwin Landseer.
The ‘Fourth Plinth’ with the current work of art –
The fountains in Trafalgar Square, built of granite, are ‘..supplied by an artesian well, sunk to a great depth at the back of the National Gallery..’. In the 1930s they were replaced with fountains designed by Sir Edward Lutyens, and the original fountains were presented to the Canadian Government and are in Ottawa and Regina!
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