London's statues, bollards and road signs that were designed to stick two fingers up to the French

Anyone who's been to secondary school in the past few decades would have experienced the fabled French exchange - where we welcome pupils from France into our homes, and they return the favour. Roll back the clock just over 200 years and a French exchange would have involved cannon balls and expletives.

We've come a long way to build a positive connection with our nearest continental neighbour, given that we were at war on and off for a good 700 years - including the Hundred Years War. London still displays some pretty prominent examples of us flaunting our victories over the French - none more so than Trafalgar Square, where Napoleonic war hero Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson stands on a pedestal as big as they come.

But London, and England, are dotted with street furniture that's inspired by our desire to show off all the times we have bested France on the battlefield (they did it to us just as often by the way). We had a wander to explore some of them.

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Trafalgar Square's lions and relief panels

One of the four lion statues at the base of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square
The lions and relief panels at the base of Nelson's Column are made from the bronze of melted down French cannons -Credit:Dave Comeau/MyLondon

Walk along Whitehall, Northumberland Avenue or any of the five major roads leading up to Trafalgar Square and you'll see the great man himself towering above you. But it's at the base of his column that you'll find some examples of rubbing French noses in it.

On each side at the base of the pedestal are four panels - known as relief panels because the scenes depicted are three dimensional. They each show a scene from Nelson's most famous battles: the Battle of the Nile, the Battle of Copenhagen, the Battle of Cape St Vincent and the Battle of Trafalgar where he died. The bronze they are cast in is taken from melted down French cannons captured during battle.

And surrounding the base are four huge lions, which people love to climb on and take photos. That bronze is also from captured French cannons, so it's a very in-your-face way to remind them we won.

Cannon bollard in Bishopsgate

The cannon bollard outside St Helen's Church in Bishopsgate, City of London
The cannon bollard outside St Helen's Church in Bishopsgate, City of London, is buried muzzle down -Credit:Maggie Jones/Flickr

Our naval battles with the French during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic period produced plenty of victories for the British, which meant lots of captured French ships and a huge amount of captured cannons. As well as all those we captured from our enemy, Britain had a constant flow of its own cannons that were coming in and out of service and it became common practice to use them as street bollards, or as posts to tie ships to.

Bronze cannons would typically have been melted down as they were more valuable, but iron cannons were often buried in pavements as bollards to protect key buildings. Some were buried muzzle down with the bottom of the cannon sticking up. Others were buried breech-down, or bottom-down, meaning their open muzzle was at the top.

Sometimes a cannon ball would be placed on top, with the hole heated up so that it would expand, and as it cooled it'd grip the cannon ball and close off the hole. This is why you'll often see modern bollards with a rounded top, as the design is based on this.

One such cannon, buried muzzle down, can still be seen today outside St Helen's Church in Bishopsgate, in the City of London. It's a short walk from Liverpool Street station, and next to The Gherkin. In front of the church you'll see the original cannon from a captured French ship, thought to be from the 18th Century.

Cannon bollard on the South Bank

The cannon bollard on the South Bank, next to Southwark Bridge, next to a bin
The cannon bollard on the South Bank, next to Southwark Bridge, has made friends with a bin -Credit:Dave Comeau/MyLondon

Another cannon bollard that can still be seen today is on the South Bank next to Southwark Bridge, close to Zizzi restaurant. A popular story told about this bollard is that it was from a French ship captured at the Battle of Trafalgar when Napoleon was defeated by Nelson's forces.

However recent research by naval historian Martin Evans suggests this is virtually impossible, since only four ships were ever brought back to England from that battle. Three were Spanish and one was actually an English ship the French had captured a few years earlier. So it's almost certainly a cannon, but almost certainly not from that battle. This one is buried in the pavement with its muzzle sticking up, and it hasn't been closed off which means it collects water and often has cigarettes floating in it these days. It's also made friends with a bin.

Agincourt Road and Cressy Road

The junction of Cressy Road and Agincourt Road near Hampstead Heath in the borough of Camden, NW3
The junction of Cressy Road and Agincourt Road near Hampstead Heath in the borough of Camden, NW3 -Credit:Google

Near Hampstead Heath in North West London you'll find two roads that connect with each other, that are named after famous English victories in the Hundred Years War. The period from 1337–1453 was a particularly bad time to have a holiday home in France.

Among the bloodiest battles in that period were those fought at Crécy in 1346, and Agincourt in 1415. Both were famous English victories because they involved us beating overwhelming odds, and both are celebrated in NW3 where you'll find Cressy Road and Agincourt Road. They were laid out in 1878, some 400-500 years after those battles - we were still going on about it.

There is another road name in that area which is suspected of having a link to the Battle of Agincourt. St Crispin's Close, also in NW3, was named by a developer in the 1980s who, when questioned, said they chose it just because it 'sounded nice', according to research by the Camden History Society. But St Crispin's Day is the day on which the Battle of Agincourt was fought. So it's the 1980s and we're still going on about it.

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