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Trafalgar Square Review
This is literally the center of London: a plaque on the corner of the Strand and Charing Cross Road marks the spot from which distances on U.K. signposts are measured. Nelson's Column stands at the heart of the square (which is named after the great admiral's most important victory), guarded by haughty lions designed by Sir Edwin Landseer and flanked by statues of Charles Napier and Henry Havelock, two generals who helped establish the British Empire in India. The fourth plinth is given over to rotating works by contemporary artists. The square is a magnet for national celebrations and protests—V.E. day, New Year's Eve, sporting triumphs, political demonstrations—and is, thankfully, more pleasant to visit since the pedestrianization of its northern side. Although Chinese tourists know it as Pigeon Square, feeding the birds is now banned and the gray flocks have flown.
In the 13th century, the site housed birds of a different kind: the royal hawks and falcons. Come 1530, those buildings had been replaced by the "Great Mews" (the royal stables) which in turn were demolished in 1830 as part of John Nash's Charing Cross Improvement Scheme. Nash envisioned the square as a cultural public space and exploited its natural north–south incline to create a succession of high points from which to look down upon the Thames, the Houses of Parliament, and Buckingham Palace. Upon Nash's death, the work continued under Sir Charles Barry and then Sir Edwin Lutyens, with the square finally completed in 1850.
At the southern point of the square, en route to Whitehall, is the equestrian statue of Charles I. After the Civil War and the king's execution, Oliver Cromwell, the anti-Royalist leader, commissioned a scrap dealer, brazier John Rivett, to melt the statue. The story goes that Rivett buried it in his garden and made a fortune peddling knickknacks wrought, he claimed, from its metal, only to produce the statue miraculously unscathed after the restoration of the monarchy—and to make more cash reselling it to the authorities. In 1667 Charles II had it placed where it stands today, near the spot where his father was executed in 1649. Each year, on January 30, the day of the king's death, the Royal Stuart Society lays a wreath at the foot of the statue.
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