Pensioner’s Column

I’ve always been mildly puzzled by this Victorian greetings card, depicting a seemingly random pair of London sights. I mean I get the Nelson’s Column bit, but in the 19th century Greenwich was in Kent – so what the hell is it doing as a London landmark worthy of being paired with Trafalgar Square, chosen over the likes of the Tower or St Paul’s? Not, of course, that any picture of Greenwich is ever out of place in Phantom Land…

But…I’ve been flicking through John Timms’s Curiosities of London (it’s not a book to read as such, much more for dipping into) and found a possible solution. Could this card be a subtle dig at a certain Victorian sculptor, a ‘gag’ totally lost today?

The cannon smoke had barely wafted to phantasms across the seas of Cape Trafalgar when the clamour began to erect a monument to Britain’s best hero ever. Everyone wanted a part of it and for a while even Greenwich Hill was the favoured site for something splendid to remember Lord Nelson by.

It took more than 35 years to actually get something together. Trafalgar Square was begun in 1840 and its piéce de resistance was a giant column with His Nibs standing proudly atop, next to a coil of rope.

Not everyone was delighted with E.H. Baily’s depiction of the naval heart throb though. John Timms tells us there was much muttering that poor old Nelson looked ‘like a Greenwich Pensioner’ – presumably the worst insult they could think of given that whoever they likened it to had to wear a tricorn.

Can’t see it myself. Not least that Nelson’s actually wearing a *pedantry alert* bicorn

and the pensioners always seemed to be missing legs rather than arms.

I have to admit that the man that made all of feminine England swoon  doesn’t do much for me. I’m guessing the women who had sighed over him remembered him as being rather better looking than this:

Still, at least you need binoculars to be offended by that particular statue of the Great Man Himself. Here in Greenwich, you can get up close and personal with the ugliest naval hottie in history merely by having a drink by the river. He’s enough to put you off your pint, but maybe no statue’s merit is recognised when it’s first put up. Give it another twenty years and he may actually start to look good. Actually, make that twenty pints…


the attachments to this post:

nelson two
nelson two

The Greenwich Pensioner
The Greenwich Pensioner

nelsons column
nelsons column

Postcard nelsons column and greenwich low
Postcard nelsons column and greenwich low


6 Comments to “Pensioner’s Column”

  1. Old China says:

    One of my oldest mates in the world is a direct descendent of one of Nelson’s siblings (or so he claims). My friend calls the great man “Uncle Nelson”. We got him to stand next to the Trafalgar Tavern statue and there was an undeniable likeness :-/

  2. Dazza says:

    I love the fact that the Greenwich version of Nelson is quite normal/real, whereas the Trafalgar Square one is all puffed up. Did he shrink with age?

  3. cerletone says:

    Dazza, I’d imagine being shipped back to Blighty in a casket of brandy did little for his overall appearance!

  4. cerletone says:

    Dazza, I’d imagine being shipped back to Blighty in a casket of brandy did little for his overall appearance! Maybe one statue is before and the other after.

  5. cerletone says:

    I think my mac is playing tricks on me. Can’t get used to this touchpad – sorry for the almost duplicate comment!

  6. Nick Martin says:

    Whilst on the subject of pedantry, the Greenwich card only says ‘Greenwich’, not Greenwich, London :-)