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Nelson in the Bull Ring - 200 years

This exhibition was held in Birmingham Central Library between December 2009 - January 2010.

It was compiled by a regular and long-time library user, Mark Barrett.

Nelson's statue has been in the Bull Ring for 200 years. The exhibition commemorates that and focuses on the changes that have happened to the statue and its immediate landscape - the Bull Ring.

Lord Nelson

Nelson and Birmingham

Horatio Nelson is the best known and most successful sailor in British history. Few admirals have ever won more than one major battle but Nelson had four significant victories to his credit:

1797 – The Battle of Cape St Vincent

1798 – The Battle of the Nile

1801 – The Battle of Copenhagen

1805 – The Battle of Trafalgar

He kept the sea lanes of the world open for British ships and the export of British goods.

This won him a special place in the hearts of Birmingham people.

Nelson visits Birmingham

Nelson - Henry IV

In 1802 Nelson visited Birmingham. He came principally to meet Mathew Boulton, but also went to many of the other manufactories and spent two evenings at the Theatre Royal. Crowds of people cheered him and followed him through the streets.

He stood on New Street and drank a toast: Success to the town and trade of Birmingham and prosperity to its inhabitants.

Nelson - Glorious but dear bought victory

Nelson’s death at Trafalgar sent the country into mourning. The devastating news reached Birmingham almost as quickly as it reached London – by mail coach from Plymouth.

Normally the news of a naval victory would have caused the residents to put candles in all their windows and thus illuminate the town. But the Bailiff and Magistrates quickly decided that the town should remain in darkness. Handbills and posters to this effect were rapidly printed and distributed around town.

The First Move

Nelson in the Bull Ring with wreath 1959

The Bull Ring street market traded for the last time in September 1959.

The Market traders knew that this was the end of an era and had hung a wreath on the scaffolding which surrounded Lord Nelson.


Nelson in the Bull Ring 1959 by Phillis Nicklin

We are lucky that Phyllis Nicklin a geography tutor at the University of Birmingham was making a photographic record of Birmingham at the time. She too this wonderful colour slide on the day before the street market closed.

Nelson was moved to a temporary location beside the old Market Hall until the new Bull Ring complex was completed in 1964.

The Third Move

Nelson in the Bull Ring

As the second new Bullring took shape in the early 2000’s the Nelson Statue was entrusted to the specialist restorer Eura Conservation Ltd.

The statue was stripped back to its bare metal (bronze) and all the damaged metal was repaired and/or replaced. A new protective layer was then applied.

Nelson in the Bull Ring

Controversy was never far away as it was initially claimed that Nelson was facing the wrong way. In fact between 1809 and 1959 Nelson had indeed faced away from High Street and towards St. Martin’s church.

Nelson in the Bull Ring

The second controversy involved the railings surrounding the statue.

One school of thought was that the statue looked aesthetically more pleasing without the railings. However in the end the traditionalists won the day and the railings were refurbished and replaced I time for the Trafalgar bi-centenary in 2005.


Read more about Lord Nelson in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

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