A charter granted by King William the Conqueror to the City of London in 1067 is on display at the City of London Heritage Gallery. The 950-year-old charter, known as the William Charter, was given by the king soon after his coronation at Westminster Abbey but before he had entered the City and is seen as key in his winning the support of the City as well as in how the City came to have its special autonomy. Written in Old English, the charter measures only 2 x 16 centimetres and has one of the earliest seal impressions of King William I. The oldest item in the City of London Corporation’s 100 kilometres of archives, it’s on display at the gallery until 27th April. For more, follow this link.

Madame Tussauds in Marylebone has unveiled a wax figure of US President-elect Donald J Trump this week in the lead-up to his inauguration in Washington, DC, on Friday. The future president stands in the ‘Oval Office’ section of the display. The organisation’s team of sculptors, make-up artists and hair inserters have been working on the figure since his victory in the US election back in October. For more, see www.madametussauds.com/london/en/.

• A scoop of ice-cream with a visiting fly and micro-drone, a recreation of an ancient sculpture destroyed by the so-called Islamic State and a tower made of a VW, scaffolding, oil drums and a ladder among the possibilities to replace David Shrigley’s Really Good on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth next year. Maquettes of five short-listed sculptures are on show at the National Gallery from today until 26th March. Two of those displayed will be chosen to be featured on the plinth – one next year and the other in 2020. Admission is free. As well as Heather Phillipson’s The End, Michael Rakowitz’s The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist, and Damián Ortega’s High Way, the short-listed works include Huma Bhabha’s Untitled (a massive figure like something from a sci-fi film) and Raqs Media Collective’s The Emperor’s Old Clothes (an empty robe).

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The first coffee house to be located in London, this premises was opened by a Greek, Pasqua Rosée, in 1652 and is believed to have been located in St Michael’s Alley off Cornhill.

st-michaels-alleyRosée had come to England as the manservant of Daniel Edwards, a member of the Levant Company who had first encountered him in Smyrna (in modern Turkey) and returned with him. One story says that Rosée decided to start the business after a falling out with Edwards on their return to England; another that Edwards helped Rosée start the business when they realised the interest people had in trying the new drink.

The establishment, which was originally located in a shed in the churchyard of St Michael’s Cornhill, was advertised by a sign which was apparently a portrait of Rosée – hence the name ‘The Sign of Pasqua Rosee’s Head’ – but it was also referred to as ‘The Turk’s Head’. Such was its success that Rosée was apparently selling up to 600 dishes of coffee a day.

Not everyone, however, was a fan of Rosée’s business – in particular tavern owners who saw it as a threat to their own – and aware of his status as an outsider, he is said to have decided to forge a partnership with a freeman of the City of London so there could be no dispute over his right to trade. He found just such a partner in a grocer, Christopher Bowman, in 1654.

The business was relocated following the creation of their partnership across the alley out of the shed and into a rather ruinous house but the new lease was signed only by Bowman. There is a suggestion that Rosée had to flee for some misdemeanour but for whatever reason, his name is no longer mentioned and Bowman was now apparently the sole owner of the business.

Despite the change of ownership, the business continued to trade under Rosée’s sign and it is said to have been Bowman who authored the handbill The Vertue of the Coffee Drink (sic) – an advertising document which credits its creation to Rosée and is filled with some rather dubious claims about the miraculous powers of the drink.

Notable visitors included Samuel Pepys who visited the famous coffee house in 1660, mentioning it in his famous diary.

Bowman apparently died in 1662 and the business went into decline before any trace of it was wiped away in the conflagration of the Great Fire of 1666. The Jamaica Wine House, which features a blue plaque to Rosée’s coffee house apparently erected by the Corporation of London in 1952, now stands near the site Rosée’s original shed.

PICTURE: View down St Michael’s Alley with the church on the left looking toward’s the Jamaica Wine House. © Copyright Paul Collins/CC BY-SA 2.0

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A new exhibition celebrating the life of John Lockwood Kipling – described as an “artist, writer, museum director, teacher, 2-_lockwood_kipling_with_his_son_rudyard_kipling_1882__national_trust_charles_thomasconservationist and influential figure in the Arts and Crafts movement” as well as being the father of world famous writer Rudyard Kipling – opens at the V&A in South Kensington on Saturday. The exhibition is the first exploring the life and work of Kipling (1837-1911) who campaigned for the preservation of Indian crafts as well as being a craftsman himself (his terracotta panels can still be seen on the exterior of the V&A) and an illustrator of his son’s books. Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London features paintings of the Indian section of the 1851 Great Exhibition as well as objects which were on display (the exhibition was visited by Kipling while a teenager), Kipling’s sketches of Indian craftspeople observed during his many years living in India as well as objects he selected for the V&A while there, designs and illustrations for books, and furniture he helped his former student architect Bhai Ram Singh design for royal residences Bagshot Park and Osborne. The free exhibition, a collaboration between the V&A and the Bard Graduate Centre in New York, runs until 2nd April (it will be on display at the Bard Graduate Center, New York, from 15th September this year). For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/kipling. PICTURES: Top: The Great Exhibition, India no. 4, by Joseph Nash/Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016 ©; Right: Lockwood Kipling with his son Rudyard Kipling, 1882/© National Trust, Charles Thomas

Anyone named Emma will receive free entry into the National Maritime Museum’s exhibition on Emma Hamilton this weekend in honour of the 202nd anniversary of her death on 15th January, 1815. Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity shines a light on the remarkable woman who overcame poverty to become one of the most famous international celebrities of her age. The display features more than 200 objects on loan from public and private collections as well as from the museum’s own collection including paintings, personal letters, prints and caricatures, costumes and jewellery. Simply bring proof that your name is Emma – such as a passport, driver’s licence or utility bill – and gain free entry on 14th and 15th January. The exhibition runs until 17th April. Admission charges usually apply. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/emmahamilton.

Members of the public will be granted a close-up look of the ceiling of the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich this April. The hall, described as the “Sistine Chapel of the UK” is undergoing a two year transformation which includes conservation of Sir James Thornhill’s famous painted ceiling. As part of the project, a series of ceiling tours will be launched on 1st April this year with visitors taken up close via a lift where they can see the conservators at work. For more, see www.ornc.org.

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The upmarket department store chain John Lewis traces its origins back to 1864 when the man himself opened a drapers at 132 Oxford Street (later renumbered, it’s the site of the current store).

Originally from Somerset and brought up by an aunt after he was orphaned at a young age, Lewis served as an apprentice to a linen draper in Wells as a teenager before he moved to London to work as salesman for an Oxford Street draper, eventually becoming a silk buyer. He apparently turned down offer of partnership in that business, deciding instead to put out his own shingle.

Lewis slowly expanded his business into neighbouring properties and diversified into a growing range of goods – everything from clothing to furniture to kitchen china. By 1895 he had rebuilt his original shop, which now had fronts on Oxford and Holles Streets, into a multi storey department store with retail showrooms as well as a warehouse and a restaurant for customers.

More than 40 years after he opened his first shop in London, in 1905 Lewis acquired Peter Jones in Sloane Square. His sons, John Spedan Lewis and Oswald, became partners in the business in 1907. Oswald was later bought out but John, particularly while convalescing following a riding accident, began to think about how he could improve staff wages and working conditions.

However, his new ideas led to conflict with his father (known to be a tough employer) and so, in 1914, Spedan Lewis took over total control of the Peter Jones business in exchange for no longer taking any part in the Oxford Street store. Instead, turning his attention to the Sloane Square business, he introduced a profit-sharing scheme for employees as well as a representative staff council and other initiatives including the introduction of the weekly in-house magazine, The Gazette.

In 1924, Spedan Lewis was reconciled with his father and so it was that following his father’s death in 1928, he became sole owner of both businesses, bringing them together into a single entity. The famous motto – “Never Knowingly Undersold” – has apparently been in use in the Peter Jones store since it was introduced by Spedan Lewis in 1925.

In 1929, he created the John Lewis Partnership Ltd and while he continued to have practical control of the business, his reforms meant profits were distributed among employees. Twenty-one years later, in 1950, he signed settlement which saw the partnership become the property of the employees.

In 1933, the partnership purchased its first store outside London in Nottingham and it is now regarded as the largest department store retailer in the UK with 46 John Lewis shops including 32 department stores. It also owns the Waitrose supermarket chain.

The flagship Oxford Street store was almost completely destroyed during World War II. The present premises, which features a roof garden, opened in 1961. It features a famous (now Grade II*-listed) artwork – Barbara Hepworth’s Winged Figure – on the Holles Street facade near the corner with Oxford Street.

In 2008 this store was awarded a Royal Warrant from Queen Elizabeth II as “suppliers of haberdashery and household goods”.

This is the final in our current Wednesday series. We’ll be starting a new series shortly.

PICTURE: James Petts/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 2.0

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No sign of Tube turmoil as we look south across the River Thames to The Shard and Southwark. The 95 storey high building is the tallest in London (and the fourth tallest in Europe). PICTURE: Fred Mouniguet/Unsplash

st-katharine-docksThe name for this dock, located just to the east of Tower Bridge, comes from a 12th century established to help the poor known as St Katharine’s Hospital which was once located in the vicinity.

The hospital, which was named at St Katharine – whom tradition holds was martyred in the 4th century by the Roman Emperor Maxentius – was founded by Matilda, the wife of King Stephen, in 1147, for the maintenance of 13 poor people.

It was supported by various English queens over the ensuing centuries, including Eleanor, beloved wife of King Edward I, who granted it a new charter in 1273, and Queen Philippa, wife of King Edward III, who drew up new regulations for the running of the hospital in 1351.

Having survived an attempt to have the hospital abolished by Puritans in the 17th century and an attempt to burn it down during the late 18th century Gordon Riots, in the early 19th century demand for new docks brought about the old hospital’s final demolition.

In 1825, the hospital relocated to Regent’s Park. Now known as the Royal Foundation of St Katharine, it is currently located in Limehouse, having moved there in 1948 (we’ll take a more in depth look at the history of St Katharine’s Hospital in an upcoming post).

The docks, meanwhile, was opened in 1828 following the removal of more than 1,200 homes and a brewery as well as the old hospital – works carried out despite a public outcry and, apparently, no compensation. Designed by Thomas Telford (of the Iron Bridge fame – this was apparently his only London project), the docks occupy a 23 acre site and featured a central basin opening to two docks lined with brick warehouses.

The docks were closed in 1968 and in the years since, the warehouses have been converted into shops, eateries, offices and residences while the waters are now used as a marina for luxury yachts.

nye2016Have a great start to 2017 – we at Exploring London are looking forward to more of doing just that – exploring London’s history and culture – with you in the coming year!

And so here are the five most popular new articles we published in 2016…

5. LondonLife – New Underground line named in honour of Queen Elizabeth II…

4. This Week in London – Norway on show at Dulwich; Bruegel the Elder at the Courtauld; and, Kew Gardens celebrates the orchid… 

3. A Moment in London’s History – Sir Walter Raleigh leaves the Tower… 

2. Lost London – The King’s Mews at Charing Cross…

1. (10) iconic London film locations…1. Mary Poppins and feeding the birds at St Paul’s Cathedral… 

It’s been another busy year and we hope you’ve enjoyed our coverage of London’s history and culture in 2016. But we’ve now reached the end and that means it’s time to review Exploring London’s 10 most popular new posts this year. To kick if off, we’re looking at numbers 10 through to six (we’ll look at numbers five to one tomorrow). So, without further ado…

10. 10 iconic London film locations…8. The Tube and Sliding Doors’ defining moment…

9. A Moment in London’s History – The (other) Great Fire of London…

8. A Moment in London’s history…The ‘longest night’…

7. 10 sites commemorating the Great Fire of London – 1. Thomas Farriner’s plaque 

6. Famous Londoners – Joseph Grimaldi…

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Trafalgar Square at Christmas. PICTURE: London & Partners

nonsuch-palaceThe earliest and most detailed depiction of King Henry VIII’s famed Nonsuch Palace, a watercolour by the celebrated Flemish painter Joris Hoefnagel, has been recently acquired by the V&A. 

The painting, made in 1568, is the most faithful only six surviving images of the palace which was located in Cheam, Surrey. The fanciful building was commissioned by the king in 1538 and featured a facade decorated with elaborate plasterwork in Franco-Italianate style with the aim of rivalling the Fontainebleau residence of French King Francois I.

One of the most important buildings of the English Renaissance period, it was unfinished when the king died in 1547 and was subsequently purchased from Queen Mary I by Henry Fitzalan, 12th Earl of Arundel, in 1557 – it was he who finished the building and most likely commissioned the Antwerp-born Hoefnagel to paint it. Later acquired by Queen Elizabeth I, it became one of her favourite residences and was eventually demolished by King Charles II’s mistress, the Duchess of Cleveland, between 1682 and 1688 to pay off gambling debts.

Nonsuch Palace from the South, which is the first major work of Hoefnagel to enter the collection, can be seen in the museum’s British Galleries in South Kensington. Entry is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

PICTURE: Nonsuch Palace from the South, Joris Hoefnagel, 1558, Watercolour © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

ice-skating-in-the-tower-moatLondon’s obsession with ice-skating is the subject of an exhibition which opened at the Museum of London earlier this month. Skating on Ice looks at the history of the popular pastime, from the 12th century – when locals are described strapping animals bones to their feet to skate on ice at Moorfields – across the centuries (and the developments that went with them) to today. Among the artefacts on show is an 1839 oil painting by J Baber depicting skaters on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, sketches from the London Illustrated News showing a rescue operation to recover the 40 of some 40 skaters who plunged beneath the ice in Regent’s Park on 15th January, 1867, a navy blue gabardine skirt suit from Fortnum & Mason dating from the 1930s and a series of skates, ranging from some made of animal bones through to a pair of Victorian racing skates known as Fen Runners and a pair of ice skates used from the late 1930s by Londoner Christina Greenberry at Streatham Ice Arena. Runs until 8th February. Entry is free. See www.museumoflondon.org.uk for more. (Pictured – ice-skating in the Tower of London moat).

• Christmas is looming and so, if you haven’t been out and about already, here’s five Christmas trees worth seeing over the coming few days (excluding the obvious one in Trafalgar Square):

  • Covent Garden. Always a glittering treat (this year complete with virtual prizes!).
  • St Pancras International. A rather odd design this year, this 100 foot tall tree is inspired by the Cirque du Soleil show Amaluna and lights up every time a donation is made to Oxfam.
  • Granary Square, Kings Cross. Looking like a Christmas tree frozen inside an ice-cube, this seven metre high installation – Fighting fire with ice cream – by British artist Alex Chinneck features some 1,200 lights.
  • Tate Britain, Millbank. An upside down tree, designed by Iranian artist Shirazeh Houshiary.
  • Connaught Hotel, Mount Street, Mayfair. Designed by British sculptor Antony Gormley, this 57 foot tall tree features a trunk transformed into a pillar of light.

Prince Charles last week unveiled the foundation stone for a tower that will take visitors to Westminster Abbey into the institution’s new museum and galleries. The tower is being built outside Poet’s Corner – between the 13th century Chapter House and 16th-century Henry VII’s Lady Chapel – and will be the principal entrance to the medieval triforium, which has never before been opened to the public and which house the proposed The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries. The tower and galleries, costing almost £23 million, will be the most significant addition to the abbey since Nicholas Hawksmoor’s west towers were completed in 1745. The galleries, which will be located 70 feet above the abbey’s floor, are due to open in summer 2018, and will display treasures from the abbey’s history as well as offering magnificent views of Parliament Square and the Palace of Westminster. To help meet the cost of the new galleries, the abbey has launched a #makehistory campaign asking for public donations to the project. For more, see www.westminster-abbey-galleries.org/Content/Filler.

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hamleysThis Regent Street establishment – the oldest and largest toy store in the world – dates back to 1760 when Cornishman William Hamley came to London and founded his toy store – then called ‘Noah’s Ark’ – on High Holborn.

Selling everything from wooden hoops to tin soldiers and rag dolls, the business aimed to capture the trade of affluent Bloomsbury families and proved rather successful, attracting a clientele in the early 19th century which included not only wealthy families but royalty.

Such was its success that in 1881, Hamley’s descendants opened a new branch of the shop at 200 Regent Street. The Holborn store, meanwhile, burned down in 1901 and was subsequently relocated to a larger premises at numbers 86-87 in the same street.

Faced with the Depression in the 1920s, the shop closed briefly in 1931 but was soon reopened by Walter Lines, chairman of Tri-ang Toys, and in 1938 was given a Royal Warrant by Queen Mary, consort of King George V.

The premises at 188-196 Regent Street was bombed five times during the Blitz but the shop (and its tin hat-wearing staff survived). In 1955, having presented a Grand Doll’s Salon and sizeable model railway at the 1951 Festival of Britain, the shop was given a second Royal Warrant – this time by Queen Elizabeth II, who has been given Hamleys toys as a child – as a ‘toys and sports merchant’.

The business, which has passed through several owners since the early 2000s, is now owned by Chinese-based footwear retailer C.banner.  The flagship store is spread over seven floors and tens of thousands of toys on sale, located in various departments.

As well as the Regent Street premises (it moved into the current premises at number 188-196 Regent Street in 1981), Hamlets has some 89 branches located in 23 countries, from India to South Africa. A City of Westminster Green Plaque was placed on the store in February 2010, in honour of the business’s 250th anniversary.

The toy store holds an annual Christmas parade in Regent Street which this year featured a cast of 400 and attracted an estimated 750,000 spectators.

www.hamleys.com

PICTURED: Hamleys during its 250th birthday celebrations.

London is illuminated for Christmas. Here’s some of what photographers on Flickr have captured this year…
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Christmas in Regent Street. PICTURE: Michael Reilly/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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Christmas tree in Waterloo Place. PICTURE: William Warby/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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Carnaby Street. decorations PICTURE: Roger/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

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Oxford Street under lights. PICTURE: Paolo Braiuca/Flickr/CC BY 2.0  (image cropped).

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A floating Christmas tree at St Katharine Docks. PICTURE: Matt Brown/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

The practice of sending Christmas cards really began in the Victoria era and it was in London, in 1843, that the first commercial Christmas cards are widely said to have been designed and printed.

first-christmas-cardThe idea had come from Sir Henry Cole, the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, who, overwhelmed with the volume of correspondence he was receiving, conceived it as answer to his problem, allowing him to send Christmas greetings to a wide group of people – all at once.

He asked his friend, artist John Callcott Horsley, to design the card and an edition of 1,000 were printed by Jobbins of Warwick Court in Holborn.

The hand-coloured card, published by Summerley’s Home Treasury Office in Old Bond Street, showed a family gathered for a Christmas celebration with two side images showing people engaged in charitable acts and a message, ‘A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You’. Designed as a single flat card (not foldable like they are today), it came complete with ‘To’ and ‘From’ spaces for the sender to fill in.

The cards which Sir Henry didn’t need for his personal use were placed on sale for a shilling each but it was a fairly steep price and that – and the fact that the image of people drinking at the festive season apparently roused the ire of temperance campaigners, helped to ensure the cards weren’t an immediate success.

Nonetheless, further cards were produced in the following years and within a couple of decades, they were being mass produced.

One of Sir Henry’s original cards was reportedly sold at an auction in 2013 for £22,000.

tower-of-londonA new “family friendly” permanent exhibition, Armoury in Action, opens today on the top floor of the White Tower at the Tower of London. The display, presented by Royal Armouries and Historic Royal Palaces, brings to life 1,000 years of history in a hands-on experience in which visitors can explore the weapons, skills and people from the Norman through to the Victorian eras. Featured are a master mason who explains the building of the White Tower – constructed on the orders of William the Conqueror, a medieval longbowman who explains the different types of arrows, a Civil War artillery captain who guides visitors through the process of firing a cannon, and a Victorian superintendent of firearms from the Ordnance Office who invites visitors to design their own musket. There’s also the chance to have a go at drawing back a medieval longbow, to dress King Henry VIII in his armour, to fire a half-sized Civil War cannon and sharpen sword skills against cabbages in an immersive interactive installation. The exhibition can be seen as part of a visit to the Tower. Meanwhile the Tower of London ice rink has opened once more in the fortress’ moat while, between 27th and 31st December, King Richard III and Queen Anne Neville are roaming the tower with their court as well as jesters and minstrels. Admission charges apply (ice-skating is separate to tower entry). For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/ or www.toweroflondonicerink.co.uk. PICTURE: HRP. 

Three iconic outfits worn by former PM Margaret Thatcher have gone on show in the fashion galleries at the V&A in South Kensington. The outfits, which were worn by Baroness Thatcher at significant moments in her public and private life, are among six outfits donated to the museum earlier this year by her children. The outfits include a distinctive blue wool Aquascutum suit she wore to the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool in 1987 and again to place her vote in the general election that year, a custom-designed brocade suit and taffeta opera cape with sweeping train designed by Marianne Abrahams for Aquascutum which she wore when delivering the keynote speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet at London’s Guildhall in 1988, and a wool crepe suit in striking fuchsia-pink by Starzewski that she wore to the Women of Achievement reception at Buckingham Palace on 11th March, 2004. There’s also a black slub silk hat with feathers and velvet-flecked tulle designed by Deida Acero, London, that she wore to the funeral of her husband, Sir Denis Thatcher, in 2003. The display is free to visit. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

On Now: Intrigue: James Ensor by Luc Tuymans. The first major exhibition of Belgian artist James Ensor’s work in the UK in 20 years, the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts Sackler Wing of Galleries off Piccadilly features some 70 paintings, drawings and prints by the modernist artist, who lived between 1860 and 1949, and is curated by contemporary Belgian artist Luc Tuymans. The display features three of his most important works – The Intrigue (1890), The Skate (1892) and Self-Portrait with Flowered Hat (1883). Runs until 29th January. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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Debenhams’ origins go back to 1778 when a draper’s store started trading at 44 Wigmore Street in London’s West End. Soon run by Thomas Clark and his partner Mr Flint, the shop sold fabrics, bonnets, gloves and parasols. 

debenhamsThe Debenhams name entered the story in 1813 when William Debenham, still young but having already learnt something of the trade at a hosiery in Nottingham, invested in the firm, now known as Clark & Debenham.

Success followed (apparently they expanded into a store across the road, calling one Clark & Debenham and the other Debenham & Clark) and in 1818, the firm opened its first store outside London – an exact replica of the Wigmore Street store in fashionable Cheltenham. This was followed by stores in other locations across England. (The original Debenhams store, which was rebuilt as a department store in the Edwardian era, is now largely occupied by offices).

The firm prospered in the coming years thanks to the demand for mourning attire in the Victorian age and in 1851 underwent another name change when Clement Freebody, brother of Debenham’s wife Caroline, invested in the firm, becoming Debenham, Son & Freebody and later just Debenham & Freebody (when William Debenham retired, it was his son William, Jr, who entered into partnership with Freebody) . At this time a wholesale business was established selling cloth and other items to dressmakers and other large retailers.

The company continued to expand and offices opened in various countries around the world – from Australia and South Africa to Canada and China. It’s said that in 1899, the store even had its own fire brigade and constabulary and around the start of the 20th century it became one of the first businesses to get a telephone.

In 1905, Debenhams Ltd was incorporated and in 1919 the business merged with Marshall and Snellgrove. Knightsbridge retailer Harvey Nichols was acquired in 1920 and seven years later the Debenham family’s involvement ended as the company went public.

Famous faces associated with the store in the early part of the 20th century included King Edward VII, for whom the business supplied coronation robes.

By 1950, Debenhams had become the largest department store group in the UK, owning 84 companies and 110 stores. Between 1985 and 1998, it was part of the Burton Group and it was during this period that it launched the Designers at Debenhams initiative as well as, in 1997, opening the first international franchise store in Bahrain. Debenhams listed on the London Stock Exchange following its demerger with the Burton Group and remain so until 2003 – when it was acquired by Baroness Retail Ltd – before returning to the London Stock Exchange in 2006.

It acquired nine stores from Roches in Ireland in 2007 and in 2009 acquired Danish department store chain Magasin du Nord.

As well as its flagship store in Oxford Street (refurbished for Debenhams 200th birthday in 2013), these days Debenhams owns and operates more than 18o stores in the UK, Ireland and Denmark (these include Browns of Chester which, following its acquisition in 1976, was allowed to keep its name). There are also some 60 franchise stores in more than 25 other countries.

For more, see www.debenhams.com.

PICTURE: Debenhams flagship Oxford Street store dressed up for Christmas.

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Kinson Leung captures the vibrant colours of the annual Winter Wonderland fair in Hyde Park. PICTURE: Via Unsplash.

the-albert2This pub’s name isn’t too mysterious – it is, of course, named after Albert, Prince Consort to Queen Victoria, and given the date on which the building that now occupies the site was built – between 1862 and 1867, nor is the motivation to name it so – Prince Albert died on 14th December, 1861, leaving a bereft queen and a nation in mourning.

There had been a pub on this site at 52 Victoria Street prior to the current building – it was called The Blue Coat Boy and named after the nearby Blue Coat school – but in the mid-19th century the Artillery Brewery, which was located next door, bought the premises and renamed it.

The four storey building, which is now Grade II-listed (and dwarfed by the glass towers surrounding it), survived the Blitz and is the only building remaining from the first phase of the development of Victoria Street (and redevelopment of the area which had been a slum known as Devil’s Acre), only a stone’s throw from Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.

Inside, the Victorian features include ornate ceilings and hand-etched frosted windows and wrought iron balconies. Also of note is the Prime Minister’s gallery – including some who were patrons here – as well as memorabilia including a House of Commons Division Bell and one of Queen Victoria’s napkins.

For more, see www.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub/albert-victoria/c6737/.

PICTURE: Patche99z/Wikimedia

A fixture of London’s Christmas festivities since 1947, the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree is given annually to the people of Britain by the city of Oslo as gift thanking them for their support of Norway during World War II.

christmas-treeThis included hosting the Norwegian Government-in-exile and the Royal Family during the Nazi occupation of the country between 1940 and 1945.

The tree is harvested from forests near the Norwegian capital and the selection process for the giant, known by forestry workers as the “Queen of the Forest”, starts in May.

The tree is typically a Norway spruce aged somewhere between 50 and 60 years and stands at least 20 metres high. This year’s tree – the 70th – is said to be 116-years-old, stands 22 metres tall and weighs

In keeping with tradition, it was cut down on 16th November in a special ceremony attended by the Mayor of Oslo, Marianne Borgen, and the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Cr Steve Summers, along with various local school children so it can shipped to Britain ready in time for its unveiling at the start of December.

The tree is adorned with lights – in more recent years these are energy efficient light bulbs – in Norwegian style and these are turned on at a special ceremony on the first Thursday in December. The tree remains on display until just before the Twelfth Night of Christmas when it is taken down and recycled as mulch.

The tree now has its own Twitter account.