Trafalgar Square: Emblem of Empire

Trafalgar Square: Emblem of Empire

Trafalgar Square: Emblem of Empire

Trafalgar Square: Emblem of Empire


This thorough account chronicles the creation and use- from the 1840s to today- of Trafalgar Square, one of London's most famous landmarks. Drawing on detailed archival research, this historical analysis describes how the square was initially designed as a military memorial and details why this proved to be such a controversial plan. The square's use as a setting for public demonstration is examined, from the mid-19th-century Chartists to the Vietnam War protestors of the mid-20th century, as well as its role in both disturbing events such as Bloody Sunday and celebrations that include Queen Victoria's Jubilee. Photographs reveal how the square has changed over the years, and this revised edition includes information on its recent transformation into a thriving cultural center complete with outdoor operas and films.


Like many a schoolchild I was introduced to Trafalgar Square, probably on a day trip to London, by way of feeding pigeons or being photographed against one of the lions at the base of Nelson’s Column. Later and much more importantly the Square became a place to hear speeches, to march to or set off from to demonstrate that some hope was left for humanity and justice.

Often on these latter occasions I was struck by an obvious irony. the causes that were so urgently advocated were most often anti-imperialist. Yet the Square in its design is an impenitent and rather vulgar commemorative edifice to men and events that, by force of arms, had helped to extend the hegemony of British capital over large areas of the globe. the present study is an attempt to explore this contradiction and will, I hope, contribute to the debate currently taking place around the bi-centenary of Nelson’s death, the battle of Trafalgar and their long aftermath in the popular imagination.

Since this book’s first publication in 1976 the Square has continued to be a site of public demonstration, and some of these demonstrations, along with the campaigns they espoused – such as the campaign against the much disliked Tory poll tax – have wrought changes on the government in power. in 2000 the Square was transferred to the Greater London Authority, and there have subsequently been changes made to its century-old layout, which have made it more attractive to the millions of people who pass by or linger there every year, while still retaining its position of being Britain’s premier place politique.

Many libraries, archives and organisations, along with friends and colleagues, assisted me with the original research for this book. in the intervening thirty years I have often been reminded by those around me that the task I undertook rather lightly in those days of youth has grown more complex with age.

Rodney Mace Whitbourne, Herefordshire January 2005 . . .

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