July 3, 2015
We’ve visited Rochester before but given it’s the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta we thought it would be good to take a more in-depth look at Rochester Castle and the events that took place there after the sealing of the “Great Charter”.
Rochester Castle was first built in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings as a Norman stronghold to control the Medway and the Roman road – Watling Street – which crossed it at that point. There was a Roman-era town on the site and it’s likely the first castle – surrounded by a deep ditch and featuring walls of earth topped with timber – was built within the town’s walls – possibly on the site of the existing castle.
Work on a stone castle was started in the late 1080s by Gundulf, the Bishop of Rochester (he also built the first Tower of London), and the castle precincts outer walls still largely follow the line of his original curtain walls. The keep was built by William de Corbeil, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was granted the castle by King Henry I in 1127. It remained in the custody of the archbishops until the events of 1215.
Following the sealing of the Magna Carta in May, relations between King John and the barons soured again into outright civil war with the castle declared for the rebels. In October and November, 1215, it was held for some seven weeks by a force of knights – accounts suggest between 95 and 140 – against the forces of King John. These eventually breached the south curtain wall and after the forces of the knights – who were led by William de Albini and Reginald de Cornhill – retreated to the keep, the king ordered his sappers to work.
The miners were successful in undermining the south-west tower which collapsed along with a large section of the keep (the fat of 40 pigs were apparently used to make sure the fire in the mine was hot enough). The defenders nonetheless kept fighting, retreating further into the remains of the keep, until they were eventually forced to surrender when faced with starvation. King John’s fury at their resistance was said to be great but while some of the defenders lost their hands and feet when they were apparently lopped off on his orders after surrendering, he was convinced to spare the holdouts from being hanged on the spot and merely had them imprisoned.
The tower was later rebuilt by King John’s long ruling son, King Henry III, and you can see its distinct round shape (in contrast with the earlier, square towers) when looking at the keep today. (Incidentally, King John’s siege was the castle’s second major siege – the first had taken place in 1088 when the forces of King William II (Rufus) had besieged the castle which was then held by the rebellious Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux, who was involved in an attempt to put William the Conqueror’s eldest son, Robert, Duke of Normandy, on the throne in place of William (who was the second son). Odo was forced to come to terms and exiled as a result of the siege).
In the hands of the Crown after King John’s siege, the castle was again the site of a siege in 1264 – this time unsuccessful when rebels under the command of Simon de Montfort failed to take it from those of King Henry III (although the garrison was later forced to surrender following events elsewhere).
It was rebuilt and repaired a number of times, including during the reigns of King Edward III and that of King Richard II (during whose reign it was also ransacked in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381). Other kings to visit it over the years included King Henry VII and King Henry VIII.
Already much deteriorated and neglected, in 1610, King James I gave the castle to Sir Anthony Weldon whose family sold off some of the timber and stone to local builders. It survived the Civil War without incident and was used as a public pleasure garden from the 1870s onward before, in 1884, it was sold to the City of Rochester. In 1965 responsibility for its care was given to the Ministry of Public Building and Works. Current managers, English Heritage, took over the site in 1984.
The castle remains an imposing site in Rochester and the outer walls of the keep remain intact even if it’s no more than a shell. Worth the climb to the top simply to take advantage of the spectacular views of the town and cathedral below!
WHERE: Rochester Castle, Rochester, Kent – nearest train station is Rochester (half a mile); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily (until 30th September); COST:£6.20 adults/£3.90 children (aged 5-15) and concessions (free for English Heritage members); WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/rochester-castle.
Bermondsey Abbey, which was more than 130-years-old by the time King John put his seal to the Magna Carta in 1215, has an unusual connection to the unpopular king – it is one of a number of buildings in London which has, at various times in history, been erroneously referred to as King John’s Palace.
This suggestion – that it was a palace which was later converted into an abbey – may have arisen from a site on the former abbey grounds being known at some point in its history as King John’s Court (that name was said to commemorate the fact that King John visited the abbey).
Putting how King John’s name came to be linked with the abbey aside, we’ll take a quick look at the history of the abbey which rose to become an important ecclesiastical institution in medieval times.
While there was a monastic institution in Bermondsey as far back as the early 8th century, the priory which was here during the reign of King John was founded in 1082, possibly on the site of the earlier institution, by a Londoner named as Aylwin Child(e), apparently a wealthy Saxon merchant who was granted the land by King William the Conqueror.
In 1089, the monastery – located about a mile back from the river between Southwark and Rotherhithe – became the Cluniac Priory of St Saviour, an order centred on the French abbey of Cluny, and was endowed by King William II (William Rufus) with the manor of Bermondsey.
It was “naturalised” – that is, became English – by the first English prior, Richard Dunton, in 1380, who paid a substantial fine for the process. It was elevated to the status of an abbey by Pope Boniface IX in 1399.
It had some important royal connections – King John’s father, King Henry II and his wife Queen Eleanor celebrated Christmas here in 1154 (their second child, the ill-fated Henry, the young King, was born here a couple of months later), and Queen Catherine (of Valois), wife of King Henry V, died here in 1437. It was also at Bermondsey Abbey that Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of King Edward IV and mother of the two “Princes in the Tower”, died in 1492 following her retirement from court.
The abbey, which grew to have an enormous income thanks to its acquisition of property in a range of counties, survived until the Dissolution when, in 1537, King Henry VIII closed its doors. It was later acquired by Sir Thomas Pope who demolished the abbey and built a mansion for himself on the site (and founded Trinity College in Oxford apparently using revenues from the property). We’ll deal more with its later history in an upcoming post.
The ruins of the abbey were extensively excavated in the past few decades and some of the remaining ruins of the abbey can still be seen buildings around Bermondsey Square and a blue plaque commemorating the abbey was unveiled in 2010. Bermondsey Street runs roughly along the line of the path which once led from the abbey gates to the Thames and the abbey had a dock there still commemorated as St Saviour’s Dock. The abbey’s name is commemorated in various streets around the area.
For more on the history of the Magna Carta, see David Starkey’s Magna Carta: The True Story Behind the Charter.
June 30, 2015
This year’s Serpentine Pavilion, marking the 15th anniversary of the annual summer commission by the Serpentine Galleries in Kensington Gardens, is a polygonal multi-coloured structure designed by Spanish architects selgascano. Made from a fluorine-based polymer, the pavilion has multiple entry and exit points and takes as its inspiration the site itself as well as the way in which people move through London, notably via the web-like network of the London Underground. Say selgascano: “We sought a way to allow the public to experience architecture through simple elements: structure, light, transparency, shadows, lightness, form, sensitivity, change, surprise, colour and materials. We have therefore designed a pavilion which incorporates all of these elements.” The architects say the pavilion was also designed as a tribute to the previous pavilion commissions, designed by the likes of Frank Gehry, Oscar Niemeyer and Zaha Hadid. For more, see www.serpentinegalleries.org. PICTURE: © Iwan Baan
June 29, 2015
We recently ran a piece on the building of the first stone London Bridge (see our earlier post here) and so we thought it timely to take a look at the life of the builder, priest and ‘architect’ Peter de Colechurch.
Not a lot is known about the life of de Colechurch – although we do know he took his name from the fact he the chaplain of St Mary Colechurch, a church which once stood at the junction of Poultry and Old Jewry (and was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666).
The stone London Bridge wasn’t his first attempt at bridge-building – in 1163 he had supervised the rebuilding of the wooden London Bridge after a fire some 30 years before.
His role in building the subsequent stone bridge remains a little unclear but he was known to have been in charge of the building works themselves and also headed the fundraising and it is believed he headed a guild responsible for the upkeep of the bridge known as the Fraternity of the Brethren of London Bridge.
His seal depicts a priest celebrating mass at an altar with the Latin Sigillum Petri Sacerdotis Pontis Londoniarum (Seal of Peter Priest of London Bridge).
The chapel on the bridge was dedicated to St Thomas á Becket and it’s suggested that he and de Colechurch would have known each other – Becket had been christened at St Mary Colechurch in 1118.
Sadly, de Colechurch did not live to see the stone London Bridge completed – he died in 1205 and was buried under the floor of the Chapel of the Bridge.
Some bones in a small casket were disinterred in from the chapel undercroft in 1832 – now in the Museum of London these were rumoured to be those of de Colechurch although after analysis the bones were found to be part of a human arm bone, a cow bone and goose bones. (Other accounts suggest most of Peter’s bones were tossed into the Thames and a small number sold at auction).
June 26, 2015
This former City church – now part of the parish of St Helen’s Bishopsgate – once stood on the corner of Threadneedle Street and Bishopsgate (the site is marked by a blue plaque).
A medieval church which was apparently rebuilt in the 14th century in the Gothic style, it was dedicated to St Martin while there is some discrepancy over the use of the name Outwich – some sources say it comes from a corruption of the name of the family who paid for its reconstruction – the Oteswich family – while others say the family in fact took their name from the church and that ‘outwich’ simply means the outer side of the wich (one of a number of Saxon words for a town).
It survived the Great Fire of 1666 but gradually fell into disrepair and in 1765 was badly damaged in another fire which destroyed some 50 houses.
In 1796, Parliament passed an act allowing the parish to raise money for its building – the donations included some from the powerful City livery companies – and after a couple of years of construction, it was consecrated in November, 1798.
Designed by Samuel P Cockerell, the church was unusual in that it featured an oval interior. Medieval stained glass from the original church was placed in a window over the altar while some of the monuments that had been present in the old church – including one commemorating John Oteswich and his wife – were transferred to the new. The dead buried at St Martin Outwich, meanwhile, were reburied in the City of London churchyard (where a memorial to them can now be seen).
A painting from 1838 shows a curved interior with high semi-circular windows, some intricate medieval monuments and closed in box pews.
Thanks to a falling population and pressure to widen the streets, the church was eventually demolished in 1874 and the parish amalgamated with St Helen’s. As had previously happened, a number of monuments – including the Oteswich memorial – which were in the old church were moved to St Helen’s before its demolition.
Proceeds from the sale of the church grounds were used to fund the construction of Holy Trinity Church in Dalston. Built in the late 1870s to the designs of Ewan Christian, it is perhaps best known as the Clown’s Church and is where the clown service is usually held each year.
This week in London – Napoleon’s draughtsman at Dulwich; the City of London Festival; and, the photography of Captain Linnaeus Tripe…
June 25, 2015
• The drawings of “Napoleon’s draughtsman”, Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, have gone on display at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in an exhibition timed to coincide with the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo. The exhibition, Prud’hon: Napoleon’s Draughtsman, presents a selection of some of Prud’hon’s best works, including 12 works on paper from Gray’s Musée Baron Martin in eastern France as well as life studies such as Seated Male Nude and Standing Female Nude and a series of sketches from when Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, sat for Prud’hon 15 times in her home outside Paris. Runs until 15th November. Admission charge applies. A series of events is being run in conjunction with the exhibition. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.
• The City of London Festival has kicked off this week with a three week programme including music, performance and visual art, films, tours, walks and talks. Events include the City Beerfest in Guildhall Yard, a tour of the art of the Mansion House, Bank of England open days and a walk celebrating the democratic institutions of the City marking the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. The festival, which includes both ticketed and free events, runs until 10th July. For more, including a full programme, see www.colf.org.
• A new exhibition exploring the photographic works of Captain Linnaeus Tripe has opened at the V&A. Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1852-1860 includes more than 60 photographs of architectural sites and monuments, ancient and contemporary religious buildings, landscape vistas and geological formations. The Devon-born Tripe joined the East India Company army in 1839 and was stationed in India throughout the 1840s, learning the art of photography when back in England in the early 1850s. The photographs represent the output from two major expeditions with Tripe the first photographer to capture Burma’s remarkable architecture and landscapes and the first person to do so extensively in south India. The exhibition, part of the V&A India Festival which marks the 25th anniversary of the opening of the museum’s Nehru Gallery, is organised jointly by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in association with the V&A. Runs until 11th October. Admission is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/linnaeustripe.
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The current London Bridge, which spans the River Thames linking Southwark to the City, is just the latest in several incarnations of a bridge which originally dates back to Roman times.
This week, we’re focusing on first stone bridge to be built on the site. Constructed over a period of some 33 years, it was only completed in 1209 during the reign of King John, some six years before the signing of the Magna Carta.
Construction on the bridge began in 1176, only 13 years after the construction of an earlier wooden bridge on the site (the latest of numerous wooden bridges built on the site, it had apparently built of elm under the direction of Peter de Colechurch, chaplain of St Mary Colechurch, a now long-gone church in Cheapside).
It was the priest-architect de Colechurch who was also responsible for building the new bridge of stone, apparently on the orders of King Henry II. While many of the wealthy, including Richard of Dover, the Archbishop of Canterbury, gave funds for the construction of the bridge, a tax was also levied on wool, undressed sheepskins and leather to provide the necessary monies – the latter led to the phrase that London Bridge was “built upon woolpacks”. King John, meanwhile, had decreed in 1201 that the rents from several homes on the bridge would be used to repair it into perpetuity.
The bridge, which featured 20 arches – a new one built every 18 months or so, was apparently constructed on wooden piles driven into the river bed at low water with the piers of Kentish ragstone set on top. It was dangerous work and it’s been estimated that as many as 200 men may have died during its construction.
The bridge was almost completely lined with buildings on both sides of the narrow central street. These included a chapel dedicated to St Thomas á Becket – a stopping point for pilgrims heading to the saint’s shrine in Canterbury, as well as shops and residences (although, apart from the chapel, we know little about the original buildings). There was also a drawbridge toward the southern end and the Great Stone Gate guarding the entrance from Southwark.
Peter de Colechurch died in 1205, before the bridge was completed. He was buried in the undercroft of the chapel on the bridge.
Three men subsequently took on the task of completing the bridge – William de Almaine, Benedict Botewrite and Serle le Mercer who would go on to be a three time Lord Mayor of London. All three were later bridge wardens, the City officials charged with the daily running of the bridge itself.
One of key events on the bridge in the years immediately after its completion was the arrival of Louis, the Dauphin of France, in May, 1216. Louis had been invited to depose John by the rebellious barons after the agreement sealed at Runnymede fell apart and in 1216, he and his men marched over London Bridge on their way to St Paul’s Cathedral. (We’ll deal with this in more detail in a later post).
What became known as ‘Old London Bridge’, which stood in line with Fish Street Hill, survived the Great Fire of 1666, albeit badly damaged, but was eventually replaced with a new bridge, known, unsurprisingly as ‘New London Bridge’, which opened in 1831. Designed by John Rennie, this bridge was later replaced by one which opened in 1971 (Rennie’s bridge was sold off and now stands in Lake Havasu City, Arizona).
For a detailed history of Old London Bridge, check out Old London Bridge: The Story of the Longest Inhabited Bridge in Europe.
June 23, 2015
A series of bronze sculptures inspired by the characters of William Shakespeare’s plays is appearing at the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on Bankside this summer. The work of Susan Bacon, the sculptures are being displayed alongside some of the clay maquettes – or “sculptural calligraphy” – Bacon created before working in bronze. She explains: “The characters start with a small sketch in clay. These maquettes are to me the beginning of an idea, the seeds that make up Shakespeare’s characters. As in the study of the spontaneous fluency in Zen Calligraphy with ink, so it can be in clay; a natural attempt to transfer these ideas and their energy into uninterrupted form. Working on images and speeches I combine in my mind many ideas and thoughts that are drawn out by the words. Only then do I execute a quick sculptural response.” The sculptures can be seen in the foyer of the Globe until 18th October (open daily, 9am to 11pm, free admission). For more, see www.shakespearesglobe.com.
PICTURE: Pete Le May
June 22, 2015
Given the recent commemorations surrounding the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo (including a re-enactment of the arrival of news of Wellington’s victory in London where it was delivered to the Prince Regent), we thought it only fitting to take a look at the use of the name in London.
The name Waterloo, which now refers to a district in Lambeth centred on Waterloo Station, was first used to designate the bridge which crosses the Thames here.
Opened in 1817 as a toll bridge, the John Rennie-designed structure was known as Strand Bridge during its construction but renamed Waterloo at its opening two years after the battle. (Rennie’s bridge was later demolished and rebuilt in the 20th century – the current bridge is pictured above).
The name was also used to designate Waterloo Road and in the early 1820s was given to the church St John’s Waterloo (now St John’s and St Andrew’s at Waterloo) located on the road.
In 1848, Waterloo Station opened and it was after this that the surrounding district, known in past ages for its swampiness (hence streets like Lower Marsh), generally became known as Waterloo.
On 3rd July, Waterloo will host the Waterloo Carnival with a picnic on Waterloo Millennium Green and a procession (for more on that, see www.waterlooquarter.org/news/come-and-support-this-years-waterloo-carnival) while the month-long Waterloo Food Festival kicks on on 1st July. For more on events in Waterloo commemorating bicentenary, see www.wearewaterloo.co.uk/waterloo200/.
June 19, 2015
Unveiled earlier this month at Waterloo Station to mark the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, the memorial features a supersized solid bronze replica of the obverse side of the Waterloo Campaign medal depicting Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.
The memorial, which was installed on a balcony above the main concourse by The London Mint Office on behalf of Waterloo200 – the organisation overseeing bicentenary commemorations, is dedicated to the 4,700 members of the allied armies who were killed in the battle on 18th June, 1815 (which also left 14,600 wounded and 4,700 missing).
The upsized medal, which has a diameter of 65 centimetres, is a replica of one which was the first to be commissioned for every soldier who fought in the battle, regardless of their rank.
Designed by London-based artist Jason Brooks, the memorial also features a famous quote from the Duke of Wellington on granite: “My heart is broken by the terrible loss I have sustained in my old friends and companions and my poor soldiers. Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.”
It was unveiled on 10th June by the 9th Duke of Wellington (pictured with the memorial) in a ceremony attended by some of the descendants of those who fought and died in the battle.
Waterloo Station was itself, of course, named in commemoration of the battle (well, indirectly – it, like the surrounding district itself, took its name from nearby Waterloo Bridge which was in fact named after the battle).
This Week in London – The Waddesdon Bequest has a new home; history painted at the Tate; and, early release NYE tickets…
June 18, 2015
• The Waddesdon Bequest, a collection of medieval and Renaissance treasures left to the British Museum by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in 1898, has a new home. Redisplayed in a new gallery which opened at the museum last week, the collection features the Christian relic known as Holy Thorn Reliquary (pictured) – a concocotion of gold, enamel and gems set around a thorn supposedly taken from Christ’s Crown of Thorns, the Lyte Jewel – a diamond-studded locket made in London in 1610-11 to hold a miniature of King James I and presented by the king to Thomas Lyte as thanks for a genealogy he created representing the king as a descendant of the Trojan Brutus, and the Cellini Bell – cast from silver in Nuremberg around 1600 and later displayed by Horace Walpole at his west London villa in Strawberry Hill. The bequest collection, which must always be displayed in a room of its own under its original terms, was first displayed at Baron Ferdinand’s country home of Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire (now a National Trust property) and moved to the museum after his death. The redisplay reconnects the collection with its past at the manor and the history of the museum – the room where it is now displayed, Room 2a, was the museum’s original Reading Room and part of a neo-classical suite of rooms designed by Robert Smirke in 1820. It has been given the “most ambitious digital treatment” of any permanent gallery in the institution. Admission is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• The “enduring significance and emotional power” of British history painting is under examination in a new exhibition which opened at Tate Britain on Millbank last week. Fighting History features everything from the large scale works of 18th century painters John Singleton Copley and Benjamin West through to 20th century and contemporary works by Richard Hamilton and Jeremy Deller and looks at how they reacted, captured and interpreted key historical events. Works on show include Singleton Copley’s 1778 work The Collapse of the Earl of Chatham in the House of Lords, 7 July, William Frederick Yeames’ 1877 work Amy Robsart, John Minton’s 1952 work The Death of Nelson and Deller’s 2001 work The Battle of Orgreave, a re-enactment of 1984 protest in South Yorkshire. The exhibition also compares traditional and contemporary renderings of events from scripture, literature and the classical world and features a room dedicated to interpretations of the great Biblical flood of Noah. Runs until 13th September. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.
• A limited number of early release tickets to London’s New Year’s Eve celebrations will go on sale from noon tomorrow (Friday, 19th June). The tickets, the bulk of which will be released in September, cost £10 a person with the proceeds being used to cover costs including printing and infrastructure. As was the case last year, people without tickets will not be able to access the event. To get hold of tickets, head to www.london.gov.uk/nye.
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This church in the shadow of 30 St Mary Axe (aka The Gherkin) is all that remains of a Benedictine nunnery that was founded here during the reign of King John in 1210.
Established by one “William, son of William the goldsmith” after he was granted the right by the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral, the priory was built to the north of a previously existing church with a new church for the nuns to use built right alongside the existing structure (thus accounting for the rarely seen side-by-side naves of the current building).
While the new church was built longer than the existing church, the latter was then lengthened to give them both the same length. A line of arches and a screen separated the nun’s choir and the parish church.
The church which stands today has been much altered over the centuries and what we now see there largely dates from the 14th and 15th centuries (although the bell turret which sits over the west front is an 18th century addition).
One of the priory’s claims to fame in medieval times was that it apparently was once home to a piece of the True Cross, presented by King Edward I in 1285.
The nunnery was dissolved in 1538 during the Great Dissolution of King Henry VIII and the buildings, excepting the church, sold off to the Leathersellers’ Company (all were eventually demolished by the 18th century). The screen separating the nun’s choir and the parish church, meanwhile, was removed, leaving the main body of the church as it can be seen today.
The now Grade I-listed church, which was William Shakespeare’s parish church when he lived in the area in the 1590s, survived both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz but was severely damaged by two IRA bombs in the early 1990s leading to some major – and controversial – works under the direction of architect Quinlan Terry.
Inside the church today is a somewhat spectacular collection of pre-Great Fire monuments including the 1579 tomb of Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange, the 1636 tomb of judge, MP and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Julius Caesar Adelmare, and the 1476 tomb of merchant, diplomat, City of London alderman and MP, Sir John Crosby.
It was also once the site of the grave of 17th century scientist Sir Robert Hooke but these were apparently removed from the church crypt in the 19th century when repairs to the floor of the nave were being made and placed in an unmarked common grave. Their location apparently remains unknown.
WHERE: St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Great St Helens (nearest Tube stations are Aldgate, Bank and Liverpool Street); WHEN: 9.30am to 12.30pm weekdays daily (also usually open Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons but visitors are advised to telephone first); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.st-helens.org.uk.
June 16, 2015
The death mask of Daniel Good, executed outside Newgate prison on 23rd May, 1842, for the murder of his wife Jane Jones. It was thanks to delays in apprehending Good caused by communication problems that a dedicated detective was formed within the Metropolitan Police. Good’s death mask is just one of the many items from the Metropolitan Police’s Crime Museum which will be on display at the Museum of London’s forthcoming exhibition, The Crime Museum Uncovered. Opening in October, the display will feature never-before-seen objects from the police museum which are usually only accessible to police professionals and their invited guests. Along with the death mask, other objects to be seen in the display will include a memoir by Donald Swanson, senior investigating officer on the investigation into the Jack the Ripper killings in the late 1880s, a pin cushion embroidered with human hair by Annie Parker, who died in 1879 after having been arrested more than 400 times for alcohol-related offences, and ‘microdots’ containing secret messages along with a microdot reader founder in Mrs Helen Kroger’s handbag when she was arrested for involvement in the Portland Soviet Spy Ring in 1961. The exhibition will run from 9th October to 10th April, 2016. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
June 15, 2015
We interrupt our regular programming today to mark a truly historic milestone – 800 years since King John set his seal to the Magna Carta (Great Charter) in a field at Runnymede to the west of London.
So, where can you see a copy in London?
The British Library actually holds two of the four surviving documents from 1215 (one is pictured above) – the other two are held by Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals.
One of the copies in the British Library was damaged in an 18th century fire; the other was found in a tailor’s shop in London in the 17th century – made of sheepskin, it was apparently about to be taken apart to line collars.
The library’s current Magna Carta exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, features the two documents (along with Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence and one of the original copies of the US Bill of Rights). For more about the exhibition, see www.bl.uk/events/magna-carta–law-liberty-legacy (runs until 1st September – for more see our earlier post here).
Meanwhile, the City of London Corporation also possesses a copy of the Magna Carta – although a later one that that issued in 1215.
Issued by King Edward I in 1297, this was the one which saw the document’s clauses, somewhat changed from 1215, written into the statutes for the first time.
Stored at the Guildhall Art Gallery, it is too delicate to be on permanent display but is currently on display in the City of London Heritage Gallery until 1st October (for more follow this link).
You can read more about the Magna Carta and its London connections in our Wednesday series, 10 sites from London at the time of the Magna Carta.
PICTURE: British Library.
June 9, 2015
Work continues on repurposing the former Battersea Power Station as part of the £15 billion Nine Elms project that will create a whole new precinct located on the south bank of the Thames. Photographer Ian Wylie recently captured the work in progress. He writes: “I’ve been keeping an eye on the huge redevelopment of the entire Nine Elms area, including the new American Embassy quarter and the Battersea Power Station development. Also noticing the work going on to remove, rebuild and replace the four iconic power station chimneys as seen from other London viewpoints, including this one: flic.kr/p/rpGocV. So (these) photos were simply a result of another walk around the area where so much is changing so fast and yet reminders of London’s past still remain, such as this very old street sign: flic.kr/p/tQVY9W. It’s not an area that attracts a large number of visitors but it was interesting to see a few people walking around, just as I was, obviously also intrigued by the past, present and future of this site.” For more on the project, see www.batterseapowerstation.co.uk and www.nineelmslondon.com.
June 5, 2015
News this week that Historic Royal Palaces and the Royal Botanic Gardens are embarking on a two year project to restore eighty decorative dragons to the Kew Pagoda has led us to take a look at the history of the exotic tower set amid the trees.
Designed by architect Sir William Chambers (one of his drawings is depicted here), the pagoda was built in 1762 during the eighteenth century craze for Chinoiserie and was probably commissioned by Princess Augusta as part of the ongoing works she undertook in the gardens after the death of her husband Prince Frederick, eldest son of King George II and Queen Caroline.
Standing 163 feet (or almost 50 metres) high, the 10 storey pagoda was originally decorated with eighty golden dragons. It was designed to be the high point of a world tour through the gardens which also took in Roman ruins and Arabic mosques.
While the pagoda remains, the dragons were only on the structure for some 22 years before being removed in 1784 during roof repairs. Thanks to rumours they were made of solid gold, it was suggested they were sold off to pay the debts of the Prince Regent (the future King George IV), but experts say the wooden figures had simply rotted and so had to be removed.
Following their removal, the dragons subsequently disappeared and despite several attempts to find them – including one by Decimus Burton, architect of the famous Palm House (for more on that, see our earlier post), in 1843 – they have never been found.
Historic Royal Palaces and the Royal Botanic Gardens have now decided to replace them with new ones, drawing on contemporary accounts and drawings and using a team of specialist craftsmen to create them.
The restored pagoda – complete with new dragons – will be open to the public in 2017.
It is one of several ornamental buildings still located in the gardens. Others include a Japanese gateway and a Japanese wooden house called a minka.
WHERE: The Great Pagoda, Kew Gardens (nearest Tube station is Kew Gardens); WHEN: 10am daily (closing times vary – see websites for details); COST: £16.50 adults/£13 concessions/children £3.50 (discounts apply for online bookings); WEBSITE: www.kew.org.
PICTURES: RBG Kew
This Week in London – London Festival of Architecture’s ‘Work in Progress'; objects and sestudes at the Foundling Museum; and, sculpting Sir Tim Berners-Lee…
June 4, 2015
• The month-long London Festival of Architecture is underway with this year’s theme ‘Work in Progress’. Highlights of this year’s programme – which includes 220 exhibitions, installations, talks and tours – include a discussion at this year’s Serpentine Gallery (pictured) by architects SelgasCano, access to development sites including Olympic Park, Goodman’s Fields, and Nine Elms, a London Transport Museum tour of London’s first skyscraper, an installation exploring the role of coffee shop as workspace by the Not to Scale Collective, and a Routemaster tour of the West End. For more, including a downloadable PDF of the programme, see www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org.
• A series of 26 ‘sestudes’ – texts exactly 62 words long – are being displayed along with the objects that inspired them in a new exhibition, 26 Pairs of Eyes, at The Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. The sestudes have been written by the likes of former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion in a bid cast new light on the objects, which are all from the museum’s collection and which range from a pencil which once belonged to Hospital Secretary John Brownlow to George Frideric Handel’s will. The display, which opens today, is on show until 6th September. Meanwhile the museum is also hosting another exhibition, Lines of Beauty, which explores the tradition of decorative plasterwork including the restored Rococo splendour of the hospital’s Court Room (donated by William Wilton in the 1740s and saved when the Foundling Hospital building was demolished in the 1920s). Admission charges apply. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.
• A new portrait of the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has been unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery. The work of Sean Henry, the painted bronze sculpture depicts a two-thirds life size Berners-Lee carrying the leather rucksack in which he keeps his laptop. It was commissioned to mark Sir Tim’s 60th birthday and is the gallery’s first commissioned portrait sculpture for seven years. On display in Room 40. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.
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The London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Palace was first acquired by the archbishopric in around the year 1200 with Archbishop Stephen Langdon – an important figure in the whole Magna Carta saga – believed to be the first to have lived there.
The complex built in the early 13th century included a chapel, a great hall, a ‘great chamber’ where the archbishop would receive guests, and private apartments for Archbishop Langdon, who was appointed to the archbishopric in 1207 and remained in the post until his death in 1228 (his appointment was a major point of contention between King John and Pope Innocent III and a key factor in the dispute which led to the creation of the Magna Carta).
Not much remains of the original palace but the sections that do include the originally free-standing Langdon’s Chapel (although now much altered and connected to the rest of the complex) and the crypt beneath it (described as one of the best preserved medieval stone vaults in London it is now a chapel but was originally used for the storage of wine and beer).
They are both believed to have been completed in about 1220 with the other buildings now present added later over the centuries.
These include the formidable red brick gatehouse that fronts the complex today – known as Morton’s Tower, it is named after Archbishop Cardinal John Morton and dates from 1490 – while the Guard Room, which has its origins in the archbishop’s ‘great chamber’, dates from the 14th century and the infamous Lollard’s Tower – used as a prison in the 17th century – from the 15th century.
The Great Hall – now used as a library, first established in 1610 – was rebuilt in the mid 17th century although it is believed to stand on the site of that first used by Langdon (we’ll deal more with the later history of Lambeth Palace in a later post).
WHERE: Lambeth Palace, corner of Lambeth Palace Road and Lambeth Road (nearest tube stations are Westminster, Waterloo, Vauxhall, and Lambeth North); WHEN: Guided tours (90 minutes) only – check website for details; COST: £12 a person plus £2.95 booking fee (under 17s are free); WEBSITE: www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/pages/about-lambeth-palace.html.
June 1, 2015
It’s not often that we feature living people in ‘Famous Londoners’, but this prominent figure, albeit not a human, deserves special mention.
A resident of Number 10 Downing Street in Whitehall, Larry the cat is officially Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office – a position for which he has won accolades (and, at times, reproaches, for a seeming lack of action in the face of invasion – this includes, most recently the arrival of a heron at the residence, with Larry nowhere to be found).
Larry arrived at Downing Street (then home to Conservative PM David Cameron) in February, 2011, then a four-year-old tabby who came from the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in south London and was apparently recruited to deal with a rodent problem after they were spotted in news broadcasts behind correspondents. It was June, some four months later, before he apparently made his first kill.
Larry has had an at times prickly relationship with the media – it started soon after his arrival at Downing Street when he scratched ITV reporter Lucy Manning who was trying to get him to pose for a news item (you can see it here).
He’s also apparently had some run-ins with visiting dignitaries – although US President Barack Obama apparently was able to stroke him without incident – and with Freya, Chancellor George Osborne’s cat (who has since been exiled to Kent).
Larry isn’t the first cat to live at Downing Street – his predecessors include Wilberforce who lived there for 18 years during the tenure of PMs including Edward Heath, Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, and Margaret Thatcher, and Humphrey, who served Ms Thatcher, John Major and, briefly Tony Blair, before he retired in 1997. But Larry is the first who has officially held the title of Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office.
PICTURE: HM Government (via Wikipedia).