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Trafalgar Square and the Narration of Britishness, 1900-2012

Imagining the Nation

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Shanti Sumartojo

London’s Trafalgar Square is one of the world’s best known public places, and during its relatively short history has seen violent protest, imperial and royal spectacle and wild national celebration. This book draws together scholarship on national identity, cultural geography, and the histories of Britain and London to ask what role the Square has played in narrating British national identity through its many uses. The author focuses on a series of examples to draw out her arguments, ranging from the Suffragettes’ use of the site in the early twentieth century to the Fourth Plinth contemporary art scheme in the early twenty-first. The book explores how different users of the Square have understood national identity, and how the site itself has shaped this narrative through its built elements and history of use. Ultimately, Trafalgar Square and the Narration of Britishness, 1900-2012 uses the Square to explore the processes by which urban public place can help to construct, maintain or transform national identity.

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Chapter 7 Conclusions

Extract

Tell them in England this: when first I stuck my head in the air, ‘winched from a cockpit’s tar and blood to my crow’s nest over London, I looked down on a singular crowd moving with the confident swell of the sea. As it rose and fell every pulse in the estuary carried them quayward, car- ried them seaward.1 On Monday 8 April 2013, just as the manuscript of this book was being completed, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died. Three-thousand people went to Trafalgar Square on the next Saturday to celebrate her death, drumming and chanting ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, dead, dead, dead’. They buried an ef figy of the former leader made of recycled materials. ‘Sparklers, party poppers and balloons’ enlivened the gathering, which had been planned for years, and attracted people from across the country. Although there were a few arrests, ‘the event was more like a party than a protest’.2 As on many other occasions in the past, Trafalgar Square provided a means for people to make themselves heard on a national issue. One protester, a former miner from Newcastle, went to the gathering to oppose explicitly 1 From Jon Stallworthy, ‘Epilogue to an Empire, 1600–1900, an ode for Trafalgar Day’ in Rounding the Horn: Collected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet Press Ltd, 1998). 2 Tracy McVeigh and Mark Townsend, ‘Thousands gather in Trafalgar Square to pro- test against Thatcher’s legacy’, The Guardian (13 April 2013) accessed 19 April 2013; and Jessica Elgot, ‘Margaret Thatcher Trafalgar Square Death...

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