Nelson Square, SE1

Place Name

According to the Nelson Square website this was part of the development following the building of Blackfriars Bridge, the River Thames’s third crossing, which opened, in 1769. Until then the area had been rather remote. The site explains: “The new bridge and its approach road transformed matters. The new Great Surrey Street soon saw the building of terraces of houses, of which those south of The Ring Public House are survivors. Side-streets then appeared, but the southern end of the parish (adjoining St George’s Fields) came last. The site of Nelson Square belonged to the Lindley Wood family from Yorkshire, whose descendants acquired the Viscountcy and later the Earldom of Halifax. Sir Francis Lindley Wood, the second Baronet (1771-1846), owned the land at the time of the development. The square was not the first plan for the land, for a proposal for a circus was made in about 1785. The actual square was built from about 1808 to 1814. William Faden’s revision in 1813 of Horwood’s map has the label, ‘Nelson Square so to be called when built on’, which was possibly a label he drafted for the previous edition. Relatively few houses are shown in 1813, only on the west side and to the north-west. The whole square appears on the map of the parish in 1821.” Nelson’s victory – and death – at Trafalgar against the French was still fresh and as a popular hero his name was used by many developers. Admiral Horatio Nelson (September 29, 1758 – October 21, 1805), 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, the hero of the Battle of Trafalgar who scored a number of decisive British naval victories, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. Born into a Norfolk family he was named Horatio after his godfather Horatio Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford. His naval career began on New Year’s Day 1771, when he reported to the third-rate HMS Raisonnable as an ordinary seaman and coxswain under his maternal uncle, Captain Maurice Suckling, who commanded the vessel. Shortly after reporting aboard, Nelson was appointed a midshipman and began officer training. Early in his service, he discovered that he suffered from seasickness, a chronic complaint that dogged him for the rest of his life. That aside he proved himself a brilliant seaman showing inspirational leadership combined with unconventional tactics, including at the Battle of Nile. He was, wrote historian Paul Johnson: “By far the most aggressive leader in the Napoleonic Wars with France – more aggressive, if possible, than Napoleon Bonaparte himself. All his instincts were for action at the earliest opportunity, on the largest scale, until the enemy was ‘annihilated’ – a favourite word of his. He was not in the least blood-thirsty but he was ship-thirsty. He wanted to destroy, incapacitate, but above all capture enemy ships. He wanted to leave Britain’s opponents without a single serviceable warship, leaving her command of the sea absolute.” He was killed in action, aged 47, when as commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet on board the flagship HMS Victory he was shot by a French marksman during the Battle of Trafalgar near the Spanish port city of Cádiz. His success in destroying the French fleet allowed Britain to become the world’s largest sea power for 100 years making it the most important sea battle of the 19thCentury.

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