The I-Spy trail begins in Trafalgar Square - where else would any self-respecting tourist start? And that's the trouble; even when it's not taken over by an event or demonstration, the square is generally packed with people and not the sort of place most of us regular Londoners linger in for long. Which is a shame really as there's a lot to see - most of it overlooked by the tourists who are more intent on having their photo taken to prove they were there than actually looking at anything. In fact, I was distracted from my quest by a Japanese family who thrust an iphone in my hand and asked me to take their picutre in front of one of the fountains, then one with the National Gallery as a backdrop and then another one by the Christmas tree. Fortunately Nelson's column was still surrounded by barriers after the New Year celebrations or they might have also wanted one with the lions...
After this photographic diversion I got back to the task at hand; spying some sights.

Statues 1
The busts of Jellicoe and Beatty can still be found against the north wall of the square although not in the same position as they would have been in 1968. When the square was redeveloped 2003 they were moved to the east side of the new steps. Prior to that they were in the centre of the wall each facing their respective fountain (Jellicoe's on the west and Beatty's on the east). Yes, the answer to the I-Spy question 'What else was erected to their memory?' is 'the fountains' as the plaque tells us.
The plaque also informs us that they were Admirals of the Fleet and they are commended for "their illustrious services to the state". In particular, they were both Commanders of the Fleet during World War 1 which makes this, the centenary year of the outbreak of that war, an appropriate moment to visit them. Jellicoe, who held that position at the start of the war, played a key role in the expansion of the navy in the run-up to the war and Beatty, who succeeded him in 1916, organized the surrender of the German navy at the armistice and the subsequent reduction in the size of the British navy for peacetime.
They died within a year of each other, as can be seen from the dates on the plaques; Jellicoe on 20 November 1935, a couple of weeks before his 76th birthday, and Beatty four months later on 11 March 1936, aged just 65. Although he was suffering from heart failure and ill with flu, he had insisted in leaving his sickbed to act as a pallbearer at Jellicoe's funeral and also on attending George V's funeral the following January, possibly hastening his own death in the process. Both are buried in St Paul's.
But why are they commemorated by fountains?
When the government initially proposed to fund memorials in 1936 it was assumed they would take the form of statues but then the question arose as to where they should be sited. It was suggested that they should replace Napier and Havelock on the plinths flanking Nelson but that idea was abandonned as it would probably have put the army's nose out of joint. Other sites at the back of the Admiralty or on either side of the Mall were then considered but in 1937 the Commissioner of Works announced the decision that the memorials should take the form of fountains due to the " dearth of good sites now remaining in London and...the superfluity of statues in the metropolis."
The quatrefoil granite fountain basins were part of Barry's original design for the square in the 1840s, intended both as ornamentation and as an impediment to large crowds gathering in the square, but the fountains they contained had never been a great success; they had already been replaced once and were to be replaced again by the current portland stone bowls by Lutyens (designer of the Centotaph), installed in 1940.
The mermaid/men groups (Charles Wheeler, Jellicoe; William McMillan, Beatty) had also been cast by this time but were kept in storage in the vaults of the British Museum until the end of WW2.
The memorials were finally unveiled on Trafalgar Day, 21 October 1948 with a great deal of pomp and ceremony as can be seen from this British Pathe newsclip. The final arrangement deviated in one respect from Lutyens's original plan - the busts were placed against the wall rather than in the centre of the fountains!
Things were complicated in 1967 by the addition of a third bust, a WW2 Admiral, Sir Andrew Cunningham but there's no fountain to commemorate him and he may not have been unveiled when this I-Spy book was being prepared as it was published the following year.

Imperial Standards of length 2

The boy shown inspecting the imperial units of measurement markers shown in the photo above (still to be found in the north wall of the square but presumably moved from its original position during the redevelopment) would have been quite familiar with yards, feet and inches as that was the way we measured things back then!
The first whiff of metrication came to the UK in 1963 when the Weights and Measures Act redefined the basic measures of the 'yard' and the 'pound' in terms of the 'metre' and the 'kilogram'. The act also abolished many of the old Imperial measurements such as rods, poles, perches, links and chains which, to answer the I-Spy question, are also marked by plates on the north wall.

In case you're wondering about all these arcane measurements, a pole, perch and rod are all identical measurements equal to 5 1/2 yards; 25 links make up a pole, four poles equal a chain and hence a chain is equal to 66 feet...
With all the complication of Imperial measurements, it's a wonder that it took us so long to embrace metric in the UK but despite the 1963 'redefinitions' we all carried on happily using the old units. In 1968, a Metrication Board was established but had little power beyond providing information and was largely ignored. It wasn't until 1974, a year after we entered the EEC that the metric system was required to be taught in schools and there was no compulsion to package goods using metric measurements until 1995!

The length markers were installed in the square by the Standards Department of the Board of Trade in 1876 as the accompanying plaque (above) shows and at the time represented the state of the art in accuracy. Up until 1824, despite efforts at standardisation, weights and measures used in different parts of the country varied widely. An act passed in that year redesignated the standards and placed copies in the custody of the Clerk of the House of Commons. Unfortunately, ten years later, when the Palace of Westminster burned down, they were damaged beyond repair and had to be recreated. The Standards Department of the Board of Trade was created in 1866 to oversee this and copies were also placed in the Guildhall and Greenwich Royal Observatory (something else to put on the list of things to look out for...).
Accurate they may have been but, as they are metal and so expand and contract according to the temperature, only at 62o F. A further plaque helpfully informs you of this but no-one thought to provide a thermometer...

Points for this article: 40
Total points so far: 40

In the next article I'll be continuing my exploration of Trafalgar Square.

< Previous Article