Friday, 21 October 2011

A glass of grog for Nelson

Nelson's Common and Trafalgar Square, by Ozeye
on Wikimedia Commons

On this day in 1805 the Battle of Trafalgar was fought, when the British navy beat the combined forces of the French and Spanish, but Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson already regarded as a hero by the English, was shot dead.  His body was, apparently, preserved in a cask of brandy, camphor and myrrh until it could be returned to England and a state funeral was held at St Paul’s Cathedral in January.

Portait of Nelson when he was
Rear-Admiral, painted in oils by
Lemuel Francis Abbott
It was another 25 years before a great London square was named in his honour, and more than a decade after that a pillar bearing his statue was erected in the centre.  For hundreds of years much of the land now covered by Trafalgar Square was the courtyard of the mews stables for Whitehall Palace. The area was cleared in the 18th century and in 1812 the architect John Nash created an open space on the site when he built a new road from Charing Cross to Portland Place, but it wasn’t until 1830 that the site was given its official name – Trafalgar Square.

Nelson’s Column, designed by William Railton, was erected in 1843; the square’s famous fountains were installed two years later, and Landseer’s bronze lions were installed at the base of the column in 1867.  

Three of the plinths at the corners of the square hold statues, but the fourth was left empty and is now used as a platform for specially commissioned artworks. The latest exhibit is a model of HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship, sealed in a toughened acrylic bottle, created by artist Yinka Shonibare. His ship is more than 11 feet long and over 7 feet high, and has sails made from brightly patterned batik material. Shonibare has gone on record as saying that this work is a celebration of Britain’s multicultural society which he believes is due in part to Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar – this ensured British supremacy at sea, which played a part in establishing the empire.

You could celebrate Nelson’s victory at Waterloo by being creative and stitching a naval-style pennant or some bunting...  or enjoy a glass of grog, which seems to have been a mixture of rum, water and lemon... you could also recite Spike Milligan’s rhyme, ‘Tis due to pigeons that alight on Neslon’s hat that makes it white...’

By the way, should anyone wonder, the battle was fought off Cape Trafalgar, which is on the south west coast of Spain, south of Cadiz. While writing this I realised I had no idea whatsoever where it is, so I looked it up!
Nelson's Ship in a Bottle, by Yinka Sonibare, MBE
photo by Quentin UK at Wikimedia Commons

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