An important mid 19th century carved bathstone architect's 1:40 scale model of Nelson's column, circa 1844 after the design by William Railton (1801-1877), second quarter 19th century, 74cm square, 139cm high (29" square, 54.5" high). photo courtesy Bonhams

A carved bathstone prototype 1:40 scale model of Nelson's Column, which shows the original design for the monument erected in Trafalgar Square to commemorate Horatio Nelson in 1843, is to be sold at Bonhams, New Bond Street, as part of The Provenance Sale on 3 November 2010.

The model, which has attracted a pre-sale estimate of £30,000 – 50,000, has been described by the historian Andrew Roberts as "a fascinating historical artefact in that it records the changes of plan – and the lack of funds – that dogged the project." Writing in the autumn issue of
Bonhams magazine, Roberts explains how the project ran into financial difficulties when the public subscriptions dried up, and the Nelson Committee, which had been set up to erect a monument in memory of Nelson in 1938, had to approach the Government to adopt the Column and fund its completion.

Consequently, a number of cost-cutting measures were imposed, which included the Column being shortened by thirty feet and the removal of the steps. As Roberts writes: "This model therefore fascinatingly represents what the column should have looked like, rather than what we see in Trafalgar Square today."

The model was initially bought in the 1930s by two stonemason brothers, who, on their father's request, sold it to the famous London steeplejack Sidney Larkins, whose East End company, W.Larkins Ltd, was responsible for cleaning the Column during the 20th century. Larkins kept the model in the window of his office until he moved to a smaller premises in 1958, when he decided to loan it to the National Maritime Museum, where it has been ever since.

This fascinating architectural model has been on loan to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich for the last fifty years. It was lent by the famous London steeplejack Sidney Larkins whose East End Company W.Larkins Ltd, was responsible for cleaning Nelson's column throughout the 20th century. In 2001 the museum included the model in its 'Maritime London' exhibition and it also featured in Margarette Lincoln's book Nelson & Napoleon, London, 2005, p.255, no. 301 (illustrated). However - and despite such attention - the origin of the model was never fully understood and discrepancies between its base and the column as built, never satisfactorily explained. Recent careful study of documents and images relating to the construction of Nelson's column has now revealed the important role the model played in the complex negotiations surrounding the column's completion, as well as firmly linking the model with the column's architect William Railton. Rather than being a conceptual model prepared at the design stage, it now appears the model was made when the construction of the column was well underway, at the moment the government took over the project. It was produced by the architect to show - in three dimensions - exactly what the finished monument was to look like, in an attempt to dissuade his new client from making changes to the design. Unsuccessful, the model is a unique representation of the architect's original vision.


An important mid 19th century carved bathstone architect's 1:40 scale model of Nelson's column (detail), circa 1844 after the design by William Railton (1801-1877), second quarter 19th century. photo courtesy Bonhams

Made at a scale of approximately 1:40, the bath stone model shows the column as it was built at the end of 1843, with ten steps at the base as designed by the architect and as recorded in Fox Talbot's iconic photograph 'Nelson's Column under Construction' taken in the spring of 1844. The steps were removed following orders issued in November1844 by Lord Lincoln who was the First Commissioner of the Office of Woods, Forests, Land Revenues Works and Buildings Department (what is now the Department of the Environment). The Government took over financing the column after the original funds, raised by public subscription, had run out.

The Competition for a National Monument to Nelson

The creation of a public monument to Nelson was a complicated and long drawn-out process. Subscriptions were raised soon after the Battle of Trafalgar, but it was over thirty years before a suitable location was found. Even then serious objections to the proposed siting were made and the column took a further twenty eight years before it was fully realised.

The building of the National Gallery was completed by William Wilkins in 1837 and the wide and uneven space in front of it named Trafalgar Square. Charles Barry was responsible for laying out the space, which was not finished until 1845. In February 1838 a group of 121 peers, M.P.s and other gentlemen announced its intention to raise a national monument to Nelson, in Trafalgar Square, funded by public subscription. The government agreed to this on condition that it approved the plans and designs. The group formed itself into the Nelson Memorial Committee and after only two months of subscription being opened, set about organising an open competition to select a suitable monument. By April an advertisement addressed to architects, artists and other persons asking for designs costing between £20,000 and £30,000 had been prepared, and in June of that year the competition was formally opened with a deadline for submissions of 31 January 1839. The 124 designs and 40 models were judged by a sub-committee headed by the Duke of Wellington and with the Duke of Buccleugh as chair. The first prize was awarded to the architect, William Railton (c.1801-1877) with Edward Hodges Baily in second place. Almost immediately objections were received stating that there had not been enough time for serious submissions, and that Wellington's influence had dominated the judges' decision. The committee agreed to grant an extension to allow for the submission of further entries as well as revised designs. On this occasion the competition was decided by ballot but once again Railton was announced the winner for his slightly modified design. Unsatisfied, The Morning Chronicle and other newspapers who had been raising objections from the start, turned from grumbling to voicing loud complaints over the unfair judging process, influencing the Committee to stipulate that although Railton had won the competition, the statue of Nelson should be made by the winner of the second prize E.H.Baily, and that the lions should be made by the sculptor J.G. Lough.

Delays, Strikes and Objections to the Monument

Barely a month after Railton's winning entry had been announced, work had begun on site. The Morning Post reported: 'there is now a hoard up in Trafalgar Square which encloses the excavations for laying the foundation of the Nelson Column' (19 August 1839). By December of the same year the initial proposed height of 203 feet was reduced by 20 feet at the instigation of the Government who were concerned about the safety of such a high column. This anxiety was soon replaced by discontent surrounding the siting of the column and its perceived detrimental effect on views of the National Gallery and of the vista down Whitehall towards Parliament Square. In 1840 a Select Committee was appointed by the House of Commons to look into the question, and Railton was submitted to intense questioning and scrutiny over his design. Despite the Committee's published recommendation that the monument be either re-sited at Greenwich or scrapped, the project continued, owing to the advanced state of the works and the costs of stopping the scheme.

The job of main contractor was awarded to the firm Grissell and Peto who were concurrently engaged in the construction of the new Houses of Parliament. The Foreman at the Houses of Parliament was a Mr Allen who had a reputation for maltreating the stonemasons working under his instruction. So much so, that on October 15th 1841 the masons on both sites walked out on strike. The press reported the halt to work and a rapid solution to the delays was called for. Two weeks later the Bury and Norwich Post recorded: 'The works at the New Houses of Parliament, the Nelson Column etc. are again in progress, the contractors having succeeded in obtaining a complement of new hands. Mr Crawshay, the great Iron merchant bought up from Wales at his own expense, 12 granite Masons for the Nelson Column' (27 October 1841). No sooner had work begun again than the stonemasons began to have difficulty in finding the Haytor Granite specified by Railton for the column. Work progressed slowly and it was not until November 1843 that the column was ready for the bronze capital and Baily's statue of Nelson to be put up. The Illustrated London News reported: 'The statue of Nelson ...having been completed....has been for a short space of time made visible to the public .....on the surface of terra firma previous to its elevation to the summit of the column...it weighs nearly 18 tons and will be taken to pieces in order to be put up' (October 1843).

Lord Lincoln's Intervention and the Creation of the Model

By the summer of 1844 it had become clear the money which had been raised for the column was not going to be enough to cover the outstanding costs of the bronze plaques and lions which were yet to be added, and so the Nelson Memorial Committee were forced to approach the government for additional funds. The government agreed to step in and the Office of Woods and Forests took over the running of the project in the autumn. Its First Commissioner was Henry Pelham-Clinton, 5th Duke of Newcastle under Lyne (1811-1864), known as Lord Lincoln until he inherited the dukedom in 1851. Lord Lincoln was an ambitious man and a close friend of the Prime Minister Robert Peel. In 1834 he was made a Lord of the Treasury, marking the start of a long line of public offices: as well as being First Commissioner of Woods and Forests, he was also to hold positions as Chief Secretary for Ireland and Secretary of State for War and the Colonies at various dates between 1841 and 1864.

Lincoln took a keen interest in the project and immediately set about suggesting his own modifications to Railton's design. In a letter to Railton dated 14th August 1844, he stipulated that although he planned to 'depart as little as possible from the original design', he thought it 'expedient' to curtail the 'present proportions of the base of the column' owing to the fact that as presently designed it 'could not fail in some positions to impede the view of the National Gallery' and that 'it would prejudice the appearance of every building in the immediate neighbourhood' (TNA Work 20/2/2/58).

Railton sent back a six-page reply dated September 3rd 1844 in which he remonstrated with Lincoln citing numerous reasons why the 'large spreading base' of the column ought to remain. Railton claimed that rather than getting in the way, the base 'conducts the Spectator towards those points to the S.E and S.W. of the square, where the best views of the Gallery may be obtained'. He went on to say that to test the 'somewhat conflicting opinions which have been expressed' he had arranged for the hoarding round the column to be cut down 'to the exact height which the top of the proposed platform is proposed to be' to show that there was no obstruction (TNA Work 20/2/2/58). He enclosed two plans of the square to emphasize the point (TNA Work 35/40 & 41).

Hearing nothing from Lincoln, and to support his argument that the base of the column should remain, it appears Railton asked his office to produce a model of the column 'as it now stands', which was sent to the Ministry of Woods in late September. Unfortunately the sending of the model seems to have coincided with Lincoln's delayed reply to Railton's earlier letter, enclosed with which were Railton's plans with pencilled amendments by Lincoln marking a new base-line, and requiring the removal of the steps. An employee of Railton, Thomas Morris, hurriedly sent the following letter to the Ministry by way of an apology:

12 Regent Street
Oct 26 1844

Dear Sir

Nelson Col
I quite understood that the base line was to be preserved and therefore had no hesitation in ordering the model as it now stands and regret that in so doing I have not succeeded in carrying your own view wholly into effect.
I fear I cannot now do more than cause the restoration of the hoard to its former height but I will give instructions for this at once.

I am very faithfully yours
Thos Morris

It occurs to me that if the lions were executed the mode of treating the spaces between might be more readily determined TM

(TNA Works 20/2/2/69-70)

To avoid risk of losing his commission and perhaps to secure payment for work already completed, Railton had no choice but to completely change the design of the base. Early in 1845 he issued new detailed drawings of the base as we see it today (TNA Work 35/1). Grissell and Peto submitted new estimates for carrying out the modifications and remaining masonry work.

There are two further references to models in the papers: one from Railton to the Treasury dated October 20th 1845 in which he said: 'I have no account of money paid by me for models but I can with safety say that I have not expended less than twenty pounds' (TNA Work 20/2/2/119); and finally in a memo dated 13th October 1849 in which the Treasury recorded a payment to the architect of £10.00 for 'Models' amongst its list of 'Payments to the Architect, the Clerk of the Works and for Contingencies to this date' (TNA Work 20/2/2/168).


An important mid 19th century carved bathstone architect's 1:40 scale model of Nelson's column (detail), circa 1844 after the design by William Railton (1801-1877), second quarter 19th century. photo courtesy Bonhams

The Column is finally Completed

By December 1845 the bronze panels were eventually commissioned and all four put in place between 1846 and 1854. Four years later Sir Edwin Landseer was appointed to make the lions which were cast by Carlo Marochetti and finally put in place in 1867. Railton was apparently so frustrated with the long and drawn out saga of the column that he did not bother to attend the official opening.

The Model and its Subsequent History

The Nelson Model was not seen again until the early 1930's when it was purchased by the steeplejack Sidney Larkins from two brother stonemasons who had kept it in their yard for many years. Apparently the stonemasons – who worked regularly for Mr Larkins - said that their father had always wanted Sidney to have it owing to the fact that both he and his father William had been solely responsible for cleaning and repairing the Column for many years. Letters preserved in the National Archives record that William Larkins carried out work on the column in 1905 and 1919 and that Sidney did the same in 1945 (following the Blitz) and in 1953 for the Queen's coronation (TNA Work 20/277).

Once purchased, Mr Larkins placed the model in the bow window of his office at 18 Alfred Street off the Bow Road in East London. The model was slightly damaged during the Blitz in 1940 and when in 1958 Larkins moved to Beaumont Hall in Royden, Essex, he decided to loan the model to the National Maritime museum where it has remained ever since.

Acknowledgements: This footnote was researched and compiled by Elizabeth Jamieson with grateful thanks to Reg Dosell (W.Larkins Ltd), Rodney Mace (Author), Barbara Tomlinson (National Maritime Museum), and Dr Philip Ward-Jackson (Author).

Unpublished Sources: Concerning the layout of Trafalgar Square (TNA Work 20/2/1)
Concerning the building of Nelson's Column (TNA Work 20/2/2)
Trafalgar Square, Plan of Nelson Monument dated 1839 (TNA Work 35/40)
Trafalgar Square, Plan of Nelson Monument dated 1840 (TNA Work 35/41)
'A New and Separate Plan of the base of Nelson's Column dated 1845'(TNA Work 35/1)
Repairs to Nelson's Column 1944-1969 (TNA Work 20/277)
Biographical File for William Railton (RIBA Library)
'Explanation of Mr Railton's Design for the Nelson Monument' (RIBA Library, EPB No. 2254)
Dr Philip Ward-Jackson's entry for Nelson's Column, to be published in his forthcoming book on commemorative and free-standing public sculpture in Westminster.

Select Bibliography: G. H. Gater and F. R. Hiorns, Survey of London, Vol.20: St Martin-in-the-Fields, pt III: 'Trafalgar Square & Neighbourhood' , London, 1940, pp. 15-18
Margarette Lincoln [ed] Nelson & Napoleon, London, 2005, p.255, no. 301 (illustrated)
Rodney Mace, Trafalgar Square: Emblem of Empire, London, 1976
J. Mordaunt Crook & M.H. Port, The History of the Kings Works,Vol.VI 1782-1851, HMSO, 1973, pp.491-7
Report from the Select Committee on Trafalgar Square together with the Minutes of Evidence, Printed by the House of Commons on 27 July 1840
'The Nelson Monument' Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, 1843, vol. 6, p.409
Alison Yarrington , The Commemoration of the Hero 1880-1864: Monuments to the British Victors of the Napoleonic Wars, NY, 1988 (Outstanding Theses in the Fine Arts from British Universities).