Nelsons column

The building to the right is the oil-fired power station. This was built on the South Denes in 1958 and demolished forty years later; it has been replaced by a gas-fired power station. The outer harbour would now fill the foreshore in this view. This picture was taken looking south from the top of the Nelson Monument in Great Yarmouth which I climbed in 1978.

The column

The column

The view is up a steep climb of steps but it is well worth the effort. From the platform in the rotunda beneath the figure of Britannia you may look out across the North Sea, the harbour on river Yare and inland across the Halvergate marshes. For many years it was closed to the public, but recently it has been opened on rare occasions.

An early sign of the respect shown for Nelson in his beloved Norfolk is in the column at Great Yarmouth which was built over 20 years before the more famous one in London.

“One of the chief ornaments of the town is the conspicuous column erected on the South Denes by county subscription in 1817, to commemorate Admiral Lord Nelson: it is a fine pillar, of the Doric order, with fluted shaft, and its extreme height is 144 feet: the summit is reached by 217 steps in the interior, and the views from it are varied and extensive: the roof of the shaft is supported by caryatids, and these are surmounted by a ball and figure of Britannia holding in her hands a trident and a laurel branch.” (From a nineteenth century Directory of Norfolk.)

Britannia has her back to the sea which is rather puzzling to those who are unfamiliar with the geography of Norfolk. She looks instead inland to the north-east, towards Nelson’s native village of Burnham Thorpe.

The building of Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square was started in 1840 and finished in 1843. It is 169 feet tall and has no internal staircase. The design of a Corinthian column was by the architect William Railton. It was built from Dartmoor granite and the Craigleith sandstone statue of Nelson was by E. H. Baily. The four bronze lions at the base by Sir Edwin Landseer were added in 1867.

There were Nelson monuments in other parts of the Empire, some of which have now been removed. The oldest column was in Dublin, having been erected in 1808, just three years after Nelson’s death and when Napoleon was still in power. This was demolished in 1966 by the Irish, and now the oldest such column is in Canada, built in Montreal in 1809.

The column in Great Yarmouth was built by local businessmen to the design by Norwich born architect William Wilkin. The construction of the Doric column began in 1817 and the cost inevitably overran. In the end it came to around ten thousand pounds.

The first guardian of the column was a local man, a veteran of the Battle of Trafalgar who retained that position for fifty years. A cottage (demolished long ago) was built close to the column for him to live in.






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