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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 July 2006, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
Up close and personal with Nelson
By Huw Williams
BBC Radio 4 producer

Huw Williams and Helen Weaver on Nelson's Column
Top of the world: Huw with fellow BBC producer Helen Weaver
Before the scaffolding came down from around a newly renovated Lord Nelson, I was given the chance to report live for the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4, from the top of one of London's most famous monuments.

"Are you afraid of heights?" they said.

Stupidly I said "no", before asking why they wanted to know.

"We want you to go up Nelson's Column."

Now, to someone brought up on Blue Peter, that instantly made me think of John Noakes' famous ascent on what looked like fantastically rickety ladders strapped to the side - and the dreadful overhang, when he got to the top.

But these days, I have to report, things are a lot more civilised.

It's not quite a lift, but a proper staircase, all the way to the top. Mind you, that is 169ft (51.5m) and by about two thirds of the way up, the legs were starting to feel it a bit.

Temple to Mars

But when you get up there, it is definitely worth it - both for the views, and standing at Nelson's feet, looking up into his cragged face.

The column was completed in 1843. It's based on one from the Temple to Mars Ultor in Rome.

It cost just over 47,000, which someone has worked out is the equivalent of 3.5m in today's money.

Just before the 17ft (5m) high statue of Horatio, Lord Nelson was hauled into place - using the latest steam engine technology - it was put on display at ground level.

In just two days, 100,000 people queued to see it.

Adrian Attwood
There was a fair amount of pigeon poo on him, but not as much as we thought there would be
Adrian Attwood

Since then, not many people have had the chance to get up close and personal with the great man. And, to be honest, time had taken its toll on him.

But after four months' restoration work he's back to his former glory.

Adrian Attwood has been in charge of the work.

"There was a fair amount of pigeon poo on him, but not as much as we thought there would be.

"So we steam cleaned the pigeon guano off. We removed the algae. We did a very light abrasive clean to the statue, and he's really come up remarkably well," he told me.

Odd gashes

And Adrian thinks the work really will be noticeable, from ground level.

"I think the difference will be noticed, actually, because the column has cleaned up quite a lot. Also the bronze work has become much more three dimensional.

"So I think the substantial difference will be seen, once the scaffold's down."

Not so obvious, but just as crucial in ensuring the long-term future of the statue, were repairs to the stone-work.

Statue of Lord Nelson
Damage to Nelson's face may have been caused by WWII shrapnel
That meant cutting out cement that had been used to fill holes, and replacing it with stone from the Scottish quarry that had supplied the original material.

Some rather odd gashes on Nelson's face also had to be repaired. They might have been caused by World War II shrapnel, or by earlier stonemasons, but no-one knows for sure.

The club of people who have been up to the top of Nelson's Column is quite an exclusive one. But the number of people who've eaten a meal up there is even smaller.

Fourteen of the 19th Century stone-masons who worked on the monument held a dinner party on Nelson's platform just before the statue was lifted into place.

"We re-enacted that stonemason's dinner party up here last week," Adrian Attwood told me.

"It was absolutely fantastic. What a view."

I might not have eaten a full silver-service meal, accompanied by a duet between a violin and a viola, on top of the column, but every time I go past it in future, I will be telling anyone who will listen: "I have been up there."


SEE ALSO
Restored naval hero is revealed
11 Jul 06 |  London

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