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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 July, 2003, 05:04 GMT 06:04 UK
The battles of Trafalgar Square
Pro-Tibet campaigner Gary Connery parachutes off Nelson's Column
Trafalgar Square is no stranger to protest and controversy
Trafalgar Square has been the subject and scene of controversy and debate for more than 100 years.

From the Chartist's March of 1848 to cabbies' fare protests in 2003, Suffragettes, CND supporters, anti-apartheid campaigners and poll tax objectors have flocked to central London.

And the artistic merits of Trafalgar Square's installations and spiralling costs, since it was first approved in 1826, have ensured it remains as controversial as its protests.

While Nelson's Column might be the its most recognisable feature, it was opposed by the square's architect Sir Charles Barry who thought it would dwarf its surroundings.

Arguments over the column's escalating costs prompted rows, refusals to pay and walkouts by contractors.

Battles over what could, and could not, be installed in one of London's most important urban squares continued into the 20th Century.

Trafalgar Square is so famous, no-one can agree on what is appropriate
Prue Leith, Royal Society of Arts

Attempts to put statues of World War I admirals Jellicoe and Beatty on two plinths were fought off by the Royal Fine Art Commission, which thought they would upset the design of the square.

And more than 150 years after William Wilkins's designs for the National Gallery were criticised as "weak", Prince Charles used a 1984 speech to refer to the original modernist extension plans as a "monstrous carbuncle".

Ten years later the Royal Society of the Arts (RSA) started putting forward proposals to finally fill the fourth plinth.

But within two years it had given up trying to find a permanent fixture because it was proving too controversial.

Monument by Rachel Whitereads
Modern art is displayed on the empty plinth
At a debate at the RSA in January 2000, deputy chairwoman Prue Leith, recalled: "We thought it might be a good idea to fill the plinth.

"The trouble is that Trafalgar Square is so famous, no-one can agree on what is appropriate."

Although the problem was solved by using the plinth to display ever-changing pieces of modern art, the rows do not end there.

Mr Livingstone has recently waded into battle with Westminster City Council's public art advisory committee over his plan to put a statue of Nelson Mandela on the newly-pedestrianised north terrace.

The committee thinks the bronze statue would be out of place because it is too big.

But Mr Livingstone has pledged to fight them all the way, ensuring battles of Trafalgar Square continue.

Trafalgar Square reopens
02 Jul 03  |  London
Experts 'dismiss' Mandela statue
07 May 03  |  London
Square gets stairs after 160 years
31 Oct 02  |  England
Trafalgar plinth to showcase art
12 May 00  |  UK News

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