Imagining the Nation
Chapter 2 Introducing the Square
Trafalgar Square simultaneously attracts a steady f low of tourists, is a site for special events, and is a place for Londoners to meet, pause or pass through on their way to other places. Its national representations are both fixed and f luid: solid in the Craigleith sandstone and bronze of Nelson’s Column, but f lexible in the use of these elements as backdrops for dance performances, children’s play, or protest rallies. For a previous Director of the National Gallery, Charles Smith, the Square’s multiple roles are inherent to the space, if slightly regrettable: ‘It is perhaps too often spoiled in appearance by temporary festivals and the ephemeral rubbish they generate, but the combination of history, grandeur and public protest is part of the psyche of the Square’.1 This chapter introduces the Square, starting with the history of its construction and what it meant to visitors, residents and of ficials in its early years. It discusses the Square’s position in the larger metropolitan landscape of power and explains some of the early conf licts over access to it. This diversity of uses supports one of the main arguments that I will make throughout the book: that, for many users, visibility in the Square provided national visibility that allowed dif ferent groups to stake a claim in the nation, and to present a range of ways of constructing Britishness. The environment and history of the Square played a role in this process, however, setting the terms under which these claims could...
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