Britannia Monument in Great Yarmouth

Britannia Monument, Great Yarmouth, England, public art


Public Art : Britannia Monument

Britannia Monument , Great Yarmouth, England, Public ArtAlso known as: Norfolk Naval Pillar, Nelson's Monument

Sculptor: Unknown

Architect: © William Wilkins

Description: The Britannia Monument , dedicated to  Admiral Horatio Nelson, is a 144 ft (44 m) high stone Doric column topped by six caryatid figures that support a statue of Britannia. Britannia proudly stands atop a globe inscribed with the motto from Nelson’s coat of arms ‘Palmam Qui Meruit Ferat’ (translates to 'Let him who has merited it take the palm'). In her right outstretched hand she  holds an olive branch and in her left a trident. At the base of the column are inscriptions commemorating Nelson's four main victories over Britain's enemies the French and Spanish:
The Nile (Aboukir), 1st- 2nd of August 1798 on the HMS Vanguard.
Copenhagen, 1st April, 1801 on the HMS Elephant.
St Vincent, 14th, February 1797 on the  HMS Captain.
Trafalgar, 21st October 1805 on the HMS Victory.

The names of the four ships Nelson sailed on for each victory also appear on the top of the plinth.

Date Unveiled: Between 1817-1819. The foundation stone of the Monument was laid on 15th of August, 1817 by the Committee’s Chairman, Hon. Col. John Wodehouse.

Funded by:  A committee of wealthy locals.

Cost:  £6,108 for the pillar and £892 for the Britannia statue. An additional £3,000 was required for the foundations, thanks to the sandy conditions of the location, amd also for the building of a Custodian House (occupied by James Sharman until 1867).

Location: Nelson's Monument is located on Monument Road on the Denes in Great Yarmouth, county of Norfolk, England.

Inscriptions surrounding pillar:

In the early 19th century the ancient language of Latin was still used on important monuments and documents.

This is the meaning of the Latin inscription on the side of the monument.


While he lived, Britain , his bravest champion, conscientiously honoured him, and, grieved for him when he fell.

With triumph in every clime, he was distinguished for the vigour of his tactics as as the undaunted warmth of courage.

This Nelson, the terror of the world, Norfolk proudly boasts her own - by birth, linage, and education, mind, manners, and disposition.

The renown of such a name is longer lasting than brass or stone.

His Norfolk fellow countrymen, at their own expense, raised this monument in order to record that:

He was born in the year 1758, entered the navy in 1771 and was in nearly 150 battles.

He gained , amongst other victories,that of Aboukir, in August 1798, of Copenhagen, in April 1801, of Trafalgar, in October 1805.

This last splendid achievement was crowned with his death; an event distressing to his country but honourable and welcome to himself.


The battle of Trafalgar was fought against Napoleaon's fleet on the 21 October 1805. Before the battle, Nelson sent the signal 'England expects that every man will do his duty.' Nelson died during the battle, but knew that the British Fleet had won. His last words were reported to have been "Thank God I have done my duty.'

Background to the Norfolk Naval Pillar: When word of Lord Nelson's death reached Norfolk the people began discussing a monument to be erected in his name. By March of 1806, £800  had already been raised through public subscription but nothing eventuated. It would be 1814 before talk of a monument began circulating once more.Norwich was chosen as the perfect location and a column would be ideal as a seamark.

Things you may not know about the Britannia Monument in Great  Yarmouth:

The figure of Britannia and the six caryatids were replaced by a fibreglass copies in 1982.

You can climb up the two hundred and seventeen steps to the top of the monument on selected times of the year.

The statue of Britannia was rumored to have been erected facing the wrong way. Britannia was intended to face out to sea but instead faces inland. It is said she is facing towards Burnham Thorpe , Nelson's birthplace .

The monument was originally planned to mark Nelson's victory at the Battle of the Nile, but fund-raising was not completed until after his death.

This was the first monument in England dedicated to Admiral Lord Nelson.

The original stone Caryatids were removed around 1895-1897 and replaced by concrete ones.

The Britannia Monument restoration began on August 2nd 2004, and was completed on
October 20th 2005 a day before the bicentenary of Trafalgar.

When the column was first built it stood in the centre of the Race Track built for the East Norfolk Militia to exercise their horses.

In 1817, James Sharman was appointed “Keeper of the Pillar”, and looked after the Monument for 50 years until his death in 1867 at the age of 82. Sharman had claimed that during the Battle of Trafaglar he had helped in carrying a fatally wounded Nelson below decks.

This was not the only Nelson memorial by Wilkins. He also designed  Nelson's Column that stood in Dublin from 1809 until it was destroyed by an IRA group in 1966.

Rumour Alert : A popular story that has been circulating for years claims the architect, William Wilkins, leapt to his death from the top of the pillar when he discovered that Britannia was facing the “wrong” way. This was not true, it was the Superintendent of Works, Thomas Sutton, who had a heart attack and died at the top of the pillar while inspecting the monument in 1819.

Acknowledgements : Thanks to Robin for taking the time during her holidays to send me the photos.

References :

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