September 2015 | Fiona Karn-Smith

Designed by artist Benjamin West, the Nelson Pediment is a tribute to Admiral Lord Nelson who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It shows Nelson as a Christ-like figure, whose body is held by a winged figure representing Victory and being offered to Britannia, who holds a trident to symbolise British naval power.

Figures representing England, Scotland, and Ireland grieve for their loss while the British Lion roars in celebration of their victories, surrounded by Neptune and horses with webbed feet. It took West a year to perfect the design, and he was greatly influenced by carvings at the Parthenon in Greece which had recently been brought to London by Lord Elgin.

In 2012 emergency holding repairs were completed to the Nelson Pediment to consolidate friable surfaces and repair cracks prior to winter in order to slow the deterioration of the surface of the terracotta. The repairs to the pediment involved stabilising and consolidating the friable surfaces using lime. Repairs were also undertaken to the stone and leadwork above the pediment in order shelter to ensure the terracotta was sheltered.

Scaffolding has been erected this year in order to allow us assess the current condition of the frieze and to see how these earlier repairs have fared. We will also carry out a full photographic survey of the pediment and complete further conservation and cleaning repairs.

The proposed works, which will be carried out by specialist conservators DBR (Conservation) Ltd, involve the removal of previous cement infills and repairs (using dentistry tools), their replacement in lime based repair mortars and the carefully considered cleaning of areas of the monument.

Trials of both water and solvent based cleaning techniques as well as laser cleaning and steam cleaning will be undertaken in discreet areas. This is to remove atmospheric pollution prior to agreeing a cleaning method for other areas.

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