Time Travel Explorer Blog

Traveling Through Time: Trafalgar Square

by Matt Brown 10. October 2010 20:07

Trafalagar Square. You're perhaps familiar with it. The bustling plaza is perhaps the most visited location in central London, drawing in millions of tourists each year - and even a few Londoners - to play in its fountains, climb on its lions and ascend the steps to the National Gallery. But what did the area look like 100 years ago, 200 years ago...longer? Boot up Time Travel Explorer and let's take a look.

The site has long been of importance to Londoners. At its southern end, where the statue of Charles I gazes forlornly down Whitehall, the original Charing Cross once stood. This great pillar marked one of the final resting places of Eleanor, Queen of Edward I. The location has since been used as the official centre of London, from which all road distances are measured. You'll find it marked on all the maps in TTX London with the exception of the modern map. Today, the area is a centre of leisure, tourism and the arts. But let's go back more than two and a half centuries and take a look at how it developed...

Three maps of Trafalgar Square: 1746 (left), 1799 (middle), 1830 (right). View in Time Travel Explorer for greater detail and transitioning effects.

1746: Moving back to the middle of the 18th Century presents the time traveller with a very different square. Indeed, there is no square. Instead, we see a simple T-junction, surrounding the isolated statue of Charles I. The Trafalgar Square site is mostly taken by ‘The Royal Mewse' - a giant stabling yard for royal horses. You'll also find a number of vanished roads. Woodstock Court and Chequers Court stand where, today, you'll find the eastern-most fountain. There's no sign of Nelson - this view is 12 years before the great commander was born. You'll also note that both Northumberland Avenue and The Mall are absent, as well as Charing Cross Road. More on these in a bit.

1799: Moving on a half century, and little has changed. The stables are now known as ‘Kings Mews' and the area previously known as St Martin's Churchyard, and later to become the National Gallery, is a workhouse.

1830: Great changes are afoot. The main mews buildings have been swept away, and the site now contains a large void. Construction of Trafalgar Square began in 1829 and, at this stage, it can't have been more than mud and construction materials. Still, a new road - Pall Mall East - has been driven through the north of the site, and the Physicians' College has established itself on the West side.


Views of Trafalgar Square from 1862 (left) and 2010 (right). Note the presence of The Mall and Northumberland Road to the south-east and southwest of the square in the modern map.

1862: That's more like it. The Square itself looks much as we know it today, with the statues of Havelock, Napier, George IV and Nelson all clearly labelled. The twin fountains are also marked. North of the Square, a slimline National Gallery shares premises with the Royal Academy. Two less artistic neighbours stand behind, in land now used by the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery's extensions: St Martin's Workhouse remainss from earlier times, but a barracks has also been established. Soldiers, paupers and painters, all cheek-by-jowl in the West End.

2010: Back in our own time, the biggest changes concern the creation of major new roads around the Square. Charing Cross Road was knocked through the area in 1877, sweeping away the workhouse and various small streets. Fairwell, Hemming's Row, and White Hart Court; we never knew you. The other major shift in roads in the parts is the joining of The Mall through to Trafalgar Square, accomplished in the early 20th Century. This development and the construction of the monumental Admiralty Arch came at the cost of a small green patch (Spring Gardens) and the church of St Matthew. Finally, we also see the knocking though of Northumberland Road, forming a neat symmetry of angles with The Mall.

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