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The Nelson Monument

In 1805, Liverpool City Council resolved to commemorate Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar by erecting a monument and voted to pay £1,000 towards its design and construction.

In Exchange Flags stands The Nelson Monument, Liverpool's first important piece of public sculpture, it was intended to "express the town's gratitude for the decisive victory of the English fleet at Trafalgar. To Liverpool merchants the defeat of the French meant that they could once again trade internationally in peace. Its architectural design dates from 1807-08, and the Friends of Liverpool Monuments consider it "the most important Neo-classical sculpture in Liverpool. The monument by Sir Richard Westmacott, RA, sculptor and Matthew Cotes Wyatt, designer has a granite. Pedestal made of Westmorland marble. Its overall height is 14 feet 2 inches.

The monument has a cylindrical plinth with four battle reliefs, separated by a life-size nude male captive in chains above, the apotheosis of the hero of Trafalgar, with the skeletal figure of Death emerging from under a captured flag. It has four prisoners that represent captured sailors in torment from Nelson’s four greatest triumphs. About 4000 French prisoners of war were held in Liverpool during the Napoleonic Wars. At the top of the pedestal is a cornice with an inscription in metal letters reading "ENGLAND EXPECTS EVERY MAN TO DO HIS DUTY".

The sculpture was funded by public subscription, William Roscoe (1753-1831) donated a large amount of money to the fund and influenced the choice of designer. As Roscoe was an anti-slavery campaigner, there are debates around the sculpture having a dual role in symbolising both prisoners of war and the suffering produced by slavery.  

The bronze monument was unveiled at Exchange Flags in October 1813.

On 21st June 1956 during a hot summer the underground car park below Exchange Flags was constructed, the scale of the construction is evident when you compare the height of the monument with the excavation below.

The sculpture conservation team laser cleaned the Nelson monument in Exchange Flags Square, Liverpool in preparation for the bicentenary of Nelson's death in 2005. This involved removing the prisoner sculptures from the base of the monument for laser cleaning in the conservation studio. The main section of the sculpture was conserved on site under protective scaffold and hoarding.

Exchange Flags

The Flags occupy the site of the old High Cross, where merchants of the port transacted business in preference to meeting in the dingy sunless arches of the Town Hall. Exchange Flags is set in the historic business quarter, right in the heart of Liverpool’s city centre. It is home to the Western Approaches War Museum, which was once the top secret headquarters from where the Battle of the Atlantic was fought and won.


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By Robert F Edwards

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