15th October 1841. Lack of Artistic Merit, Delays and Strikes!

No not modern Britain, but descriptions concerning Nelson’s Column, London in the 1840’s.

The Times thought the column was a ‘Great National Eyesore’, whilst ‘Mogg’s Guide to London’ said ‘It was not Worthy of a National Hero’.(1)

It was in 1839 that the Morning Post said: ‘there is now a ‘hoard’ up in Trafalgar Square enclosing excavations for the foundations of Nelson’s Column (2)

Initially the cost was to be by public subscription, which included a donation from the Russian Tsar, but a shortfall had to be financed by Government.


Column under construction in 1844.

Column under construction in 1844. Early photo by Fox-Talbot.

Right from the start there was dispute over the building of the monument, and design which eventually went to William Railton (c1801-77).

After work had begun in 1840, A Select Committee of the Commons considered moving it to Greenwich or even abandoning the project.

Then modifications were sought over the base and the fact that views of The National Gallery and Whitehall might be impeded.

Next saw the height of the fluted column of Dartmoor granite and sandstone, reduced 30ft to 170 feet after concern over safety of the structure.

More trouble came Today in 1841, when the foreman, the abrasive Mr Allen was accused of mistreating his masons, who promptly went on strike.

It took two weeks to resolve the dispute, when according to the Bury and Norwich Post work was resumed by Grissell and Peto who were simultaneously building the new Parliament, after its disastrous fire.(3)

Grissell’s first project was the 1833 Hungerford Market (see below), and the Company went on to build many fine buildings such as the Reform and Oxford and Cambridge Clubs, Lyceum and St James’ Theatres and the infrastructure of the London Brick Sewer.

Railton must have felt miffed over all the trouble regarding his Column, as he refused to attend its unveiling now surmounted by Admiral Horatio Nelson, in 1853.

(1) Quoted in Daily mail article see Reference below.

(2) Article dated 19.8.1839.

(3) Morton Peto became MP for Norwich when his business connection ended, at a time when Grissell was nervous of Peto’s risk-taking.

Hungerford 'new' market, showing Mr Graham's hot-air balloon

Hungerford ‘new’ Market, showing Mr Graham’s hot-air balloon rising. Now site of Charing Cross Station, London.



Grissell retained the building side including the new Parliament, whilst Peto kept the railway construction.

In the late 1840s Samuel Morton Peto entered a partnership with Edward Ladd Betts, as Peto and Betts.

Above: Grissell’s Hungerford Market.

Ref: bl.uk/onlinegallery/beginnings.

Ref: dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/nelsons-column/article 20.10.2010/Pic of 1844.

Ref: gracesguide.co.uk/grissel_and_peto.

Ref: wikipedia.org/grissell_and_peto.

Ref: elogedelart.com/archives.

Ref: magnoliabox.com/Pic of Hungerford. Artist J.S. Templeton.



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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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