Old Images of London’s Trafalgar Square

Categorised as City of Westminster, London
Trafalgar Square London 1890s
Old Photochrom image of Trafalgar Square, London, taken from the National Gallery sometime between 1890 and 1900. Detroit Publishing Company, now part of the archive at the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Glimpse history through old images of Trafalgar Square in the City of Westminster, London.

Trafalgar Square was developed by the architect John Nash in the early 1800s, but didn’t receive its current name until completion in 1830.

It was named Trafalgar Square to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the British victory at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21st October 1805, when the British navy clashed with the combined fleets of the French and Spanish Navies during the War of the Third Coalition of the Napoleonic Wars.

Nelson’s column was completed in 1843, with the bronze lions on the pedestal below added a couple of decades later.

Fountains were also added to the square in a futile attempt to stop the location as a gathering place for protestors. Between the 1840s and 1880s, it was illegal for such gatherings to take place there. A well known place of regular political protest since then, today the site is also used for official gatherings, including festival and music events.

At the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square, you’ll find the Church of England parish church of St Martin-in-the-Fields. Dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, the famous church was built in 1726. However, there has been a church on that site at least since 1222, when it served the small rural community of Westminster. The discovery of a grave from around A.D. 410, when the Romans left Britain, suggest the site was used by early Christians and perhaps by earlier pagans.

Old Pictures of Trafalgar Square

Old picture of the Barrack and old houses which were cleared away for Trafalgar Square 1826
Old picture of Pall Mall entrance to St Martin in the Fields Church London 1830
Old picture of St Martin in the fields church Trafalgar Square London 1846
Old picture of the National Gallery Trafalgar Square London 1846
Old picture and closeups of Trafalgar Square London from a book published in 1875
Old picture of Nelson's Column at Trafalgar Square London 1877
Old picture of Nelson's Column at Trafalgar Square London 1884
Old picture of Trafalgar Square London published in a book in 1891
Old picture of the church of St Martin in the Fields at the corner of Trafalgar Square London 1897
Old photo postcard of The Strand London from Trafalgar Square

Trafalga Square in the 1930s

The coronation of George VI and his wife, Elizabeth, as King and Queen of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth, and as Emperor and Empress of India took place at Westminster Abbey, London, on Wednesday 12 May 1937. In this short film released in 1939, we see a glimpse of the large crowds that gathered in the square for the Coronation Day.

Then we learn about the 17 foot high Nelson’s column, the fountains and bronze lions, glimpse Canada House, and see the damaged stonework at the column base which was caused by the celebrating crowds on the first Armistice night in November 1918.

A view of the National Gallery is followed by a look at the the length standards set for the nation, set into granite.

Next we see the statue of General Gordon, who died at Khartoum, the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields across the road, and then the equestian statue of King George IV. Down on the Strand side of the square is a circular police box with a large lantern above.

Even by the 1930s, feeding the pigeons was ‘an old English custom’. This was to cause an expensive cleanup later in the 1980s!

Trafalgar Square Issue Title Is England Expects (1939) – British Pathé on YouTube


Spinsters Rally 1947

In 1947, spinsters gathered at Trafalgar Square as part of their campaign to make the state pension payable from the age of 55.

At the time, life expectancy was much lower, and many of the drugs we take for granted today to stave off illnesses and chronic conditions had yet to be invented. Single women were particularly vulnerable to poverty, without husbands and children to support them in difficult times.

When the soap opera Eastenders started in 1985, some of the older female characters lived in single person bedsits, with a communal bathroom, reflecting a reality of the time.

Spinsters Rally In Trafalgar Square (1947) – British Pathé on YouTube


Trafalgar Square 1965

Silent footage shows how the area looked back in 1965, and how traffic was light enough for people to cross the road without pedestrian crossings!

Trafalgar Square And London Views (1965) – British Pathé on YouTube


Trafalgar Square in the 1980s

This first video was filmed from a helicopter.

1980s London | Trafalgar Square | Nelson’s Column | London Aerials | 1980s – ThamesTv on YouTube

What seems to be footage from 7th December 1983 shows views of the car park and front of the National Gallery.

1980s London | National Gallery | Trafalgar Square | Central London | TN-83-101-009 – ThamesTv on YouTube

The next video shows footage created for a Thames TV news item, broadcast on 21st August 1986, about the clean up about to start.

1980s London | Trafalgar Square | National Gallery | London | Thames news | 1986 – ThamesTv on YouTube


Images Through Time

Enjoy stepping back in time with a clever use of old images to show how Trafalgar Square’s famous location changed over time.

London: Trafalgar Square Through Time (2021-1740): The Time Travel Artist (YouTube)


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