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'Nelson's Hook'

The mysterious hook as reported in A Century Ago (July 16) was once known as "Nelson's Hook".

Situated a few feet from the top of St John Street corner with Merchants Street, in Valletta, the huge iron hook fixed to the wall was placed there in the times of the Knights of Malta.

It is claimed to have been part of the equipment used in the 1740's to raise a 6.25 ton bell onto the steeple of the nearby church (now the co-cathedral).

Later in 1760, when the courts of justice were moved to the corner building it is said to have been used for hoisting and holding into position a pillory from which convicted offenders were exposed to punishment in public. This practice was stopped when Malta came under British protection.

The Nelson legend of the hook is based on a story that when he was ashore in Malta in 1803 he and several of his officers, after having attended a dinner party in Valletta, had to walk down St John Street to return to their ship in the harbour. On reaching the top of the street one of the officers dared Nelson to try and squeeze through it. As with everything Nelson did he tried and succeeded.

After the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 the hook became known as the "Nelson Hook" and midshipmen were told on entering the Royal Navy that if they wished to be assured of promotion in the service they had to follow Nelson's example and crawl through the hook.

A photograph taken in 1972 showing a Fleet Air Arm naval officer climbing through the hook later appeared in The Daily Telegraph and it was placed on display in the barber's shop situated directly opposite the hook.

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