A Moment in London’s History – The opening of Royal Albert Hall…

Crowds gathered at the Opening of Royal Albert Hall, on 29th March, 1871, as seems in the Illustrated London News, on the 8th April, 1871.

Next week sees the Royal Albert Hall’s 150th anniversary concert taking place, one of a number of events to mark the anniversary of the hall’s opening.

This spectacular building in South Kensington was officially opened on 29th March, 1871, as The Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences (the opening was actually brought forward from 1st May – 20th anniversary of the opening of the Great Exhibition – at the request of Queen Victoria).

The Queen had laid the foundation stone in 1867 and the work on the building, the creation of which was partly funded by profits from the Great Exhibition of 1851, was complete by the end of 1870 (at least its structure – much of the interior decoration was apparently added later).

An image of the interior of the hall during the opening ceremony on 29th March. 1871. The illustration originally appeared in The Graphic. PICTURE: Via Wikipedia.

Queen Victoria and members of the Royal Family left Buckingham Palace in a line of state carriages for the event at noon escorted by the Royal Horse Guards Blue. Large crowds lined the route of her passage and a guard of honour composed of the Grenadiers stood opposite the entrance.

On arriving, the Queen was met by the Edward, the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), members of the building committee and some of those who has served as commissioners of the Great Exhibition of 1851.

The Queen processed to a dais inside the building’ auditorium where some 8,000 dignitaries and invited guests waited in the audience. But she was apparently too overcome by memories of her late husband – Prince Albert, after whom the building as named – to give a speech. So it was the Prince who did so, although the Queen did reportedly add her own comments, saying according to an account in The Guardian: “I cannot but express my great admiration for this beautiful building, and my earnest wishes for its complete success.”

A battery of artillery performed a salute in nearby Hyde Park after which the Queen and Royal Family took their seats in the Royal Box to watch the musical program that followed. The Queen then returned to Buckingham Palace.

Interestingly, the first concert at the hall, held to test acoustics, actually took place month earlier on 25th February for an audience of some 7,000 people made up of those who had worked on the building and their families as well as officials and various invited members of the public.

A Moment in London’s History – The coronation of King Edward IV…

It’s 560 years ago this month that the Yorkist King Edward IV was crowned at Westminster Abbey.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is king-edward-iv.jpg
King Edward IV by Unknown English artist, oil on panel, circa 1540 (NPG 3542). PICTURE: Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery

Only three months earlier, on 4th March, 1461, the 19-year-old Edward had been declared King at Westminster in London. He had then gone on to defeat the Lancastrian forces at the Battle of Towton in North Yorkshire during a snowstorm on 29th March, said to have been the bloodiest single day battle ever fought on English soil with an estimated 28,000 men dying.

While his coronation was first set for July, ongoing trouble from the Lancastrians saw him bring the date forward (his predecessor, Henry VI, was in exile at the time).

Edward arrived at the Tower of London on Friday, 26th June, and then retired to Lambeth for the night. The following day – Saturday, 27th June – he crossed London Bridge and made his state entrance into the City.

Accompanied by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen and some 400 of the elite citizens of the City, Edward, said to be an impressive figure at six foot, four inches tall, then processed through the City streets to the Tower of London.

Once at the Tower, he created some 28 new Knights of the Bath, including his younger brothers George and Richard. They then rode ahead of him as he rode through the streets to Westminster.

The following morning, Sunday, 28th June, Edward went to Westminster Abbey where he was crowned King. Thomas Bourchier, the Archbishop of Canterbury, presided over the ceremony, assisted by William Booth, the Archbishop of York.

After the coronation, a banquet was held in Westminster Hall with the King sitting under a cloth of gold. One of the highlights was apparently the moment when Sir Thomas Dymoke, the King’s champion, rode into the hall in full armour. Flinging down his mail gauntlet, he is said to have challenged anyone who disputed Edward’s right to be king to do battle with him. No-one took up the offer.

A further banquet was held the following day at the Bishop of London’s Palace – in honour of his brother George who was created Duke of Clarence, and on the Tuesday, King Edward, wearing his crown, attended St Paul’s Cathedral.

Edward’s first reign ended in 1470 when on 30th October, he was forced into exile and King Henry VI. But it was only to be for a brief period – Edward IV reclaimed the throne on 11th April, 1471, defeating the Lancastrians in a decisive battle at Barnet on 14th April (April marked the 550th anniversary of that battle).

A Moment in London’s History – Sir Robert Walpole becomes first ‘Prime Minister’…

Portrait of Robert Walpole (1676-1745); probably a work of Godfrey Kneller (via Wikipedia).

This month – over the Easter weekend, in fact – marked the 300th anniversary of the date on which Sir Robert Walpole effectively became the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Walpole, who had entered Parliament as a Whig at the age of 25 in 1701, had had a tumultuous political career which had included rising quickly to the positions of Secretary at War and Treasury of the Navy before, having been targeted by his Tory opponents, spending six months in the Tower of London after he was found guilty of corruption.

The accession of King George I in 1714 was good news for the Whigs and the following year Walpole was appointed First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1715. He resigned a couple of years later due to a party split but by 1720 he was once again man of influence, appointed to the Privy Council and made Paymaster General as well as Paymaster of the Forces.

The following year, on 3rd April, 1721, he was effectively elevated to the position of Prime Minister after being appointed First Lord of the Treasury, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and leader of the House of Commons.

Walpole remained at the head of the government until 1742 when he resigned after a motion of no confidence was moved against him. But it wasn’t all bad news, King George II subsequently elevated him to the House of Lords as the Earl of Orford.

Interesting, it was also King George II who offered Walpole the residence in Downing Street (Walpole only accepted on condition that it be a gift to the office of the First Lord of the Admiralty so he wasn’t liable for the cost of upkeep).

Walpole was the first of what has since been an unbroken line of 77 Prime Ministers (although only 55 people have held the office due to the multiple occasions on which individuals have served).

While the term was used informally to describe Walpole as far back as the 1730s (although in 1741 he denied he was the “sole and prime minister” in the House of Commons, thanks to the association of the term with foreign tyrannies), it wasn’t until the following century that it was used in Parliament (Benjamin Disraeli, was the first to sign an act using the title in 1878) and not until 1905 was the post of prime minister officially given recognition in the order of precedence.

A Moment in London’s History – The “execution” of Oliver Cromwell…

It was 360 years ago late last month that the body of Oliver Cromwell, one time Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, was, having previously been exhumed from his grave in Westminster Abbey, hanged from a gallows at Tyburn before being beheaded.

Cromwell had died two years previously on 3rd September, 1658, at the age of 59. It’s thought he died of septicaemia brought on by a urinary infection (although the death of his favourite daughter Elizabeth a month before is also believed to have been a significant factor in his own demise).

He (and his daughter) were buried in an elaborate funeral ceremony in a newly created vault in King Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster Abbey.

Cromwell’s son Richard had succeeded him as Lord Protector but he was forced to resign in May, 1659, and divisions among the Commonwealth’s leadership soon saw Parliament restored and the monarchy restored under King Charles II in 1660.

In late January, 1661, on Parliament’s order, Cromwell’s body as well as those of John Bradshaw, President of the High Court of Justice for the trial of King Charles I, and Henry Ireton, Cromwell’s son-in-law and a general in the Parliamentary army during the English Civil War, were all exhumed from their graves.

A contemporary engraving of the execution of Cromwell, Ireton and Bradshaw. PICTURE: Via Wikipedia.

The bodies of Cromwell and Ireton were taken to the Red Lion Inn in Holborn where they lay under guard overnight and were joined by that of Bradshaw the following day.

That morning – the 30th January, a date which coincided with the 12th anniversary of the execution of King Charles I in 1649 – the shrouded bodies in various states of decomposition and laying in open coffins were dragged on a sledge to gallows at Tyburn were they were publicly hanged.

The bodies remained on the gallows until sunset when they were removed and beheaded (Cromwell’s beheading apparently took eight blows). The bodies were believed to have been subsequently thrown into a common grave at Tyburn (although there’s all sorts of speculation surrounding the fate of Cromwell’s – indeed some believe his body had already been removed from Westminster Abbey before the exhumation took place and that it was the body of someone else which was hanged and beheaded).

The decapitated heads, however, were kept. They were placed on 20 foot long spikes at Westminster Hall for public display (Samuel Pepys was among those who saw them).

In 1685, however, the spike holding Cromwell’s head broke in a storm. Cromwell’s head is said to have ended up in the possession of a soldier who took it and hid it in his chimney (a reward was offered but searches were unsuccessful). The fate of the head then remains somewhat clouded but in 1710 it was being displayed in the London museum of Swiss-French collector Claudius Du Puy.

It subsequently passed through various hands until it was eventually bought by Dr Josiah Henry Wilkinson in the early 19th century. It remained in the possession of his family until, following tests which concluded it was indeed Cromwell’s head, it was offered to Sydney Sussex College, Cromwell alma mater, where, in 1960, it was buried in a secret location.

A Moment in London’s History – The opening of the Royal Exchange…

This month marks the 450th anniversary of the opening of London’s Royal Exchange, a complex created to act as a commercial centre in the City of London.

The Royal Exchange in London as built by Thomas Gresham by Wenceslaus Hollar (etching, probably mid 17th century) NPG D25432 © National Portrait Gallery, London (licensed under Creative Commons)

The exchange was built on the orders – and with the funds – of the merchant Sir Thomas Gresham at a site on the junction of Cornhill and Threadneedle streets which was – and still is – jointly owned by the City of London Corporation and the Worshipful Company of Mercers.

Drawing inspiration from the Antwerp Bourse, credited as the oldest financial exchange in the world (and where Sir Thomas had served as an agent of the crown), the Royal Exchange was built in ranges around a central courtyard and designed by an architect from Antwerp.

It was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth I on 23rd January, 1571. The Queen, who was lodging in Somerset House at the time, reportedly took a detailed look at the premises – which had apparently been completed a few years earlier.

At the close of her visit, she awarded the exchange the use of the word ‘Royal’ in its title (an honour announced by a herald and with the sound of a trumpet). She also granted it a license to sell alcohol and other luxury goods.

Earlier in the day, the Queen had dined at Sir Thomas’ own house in Bishopsgate. She was later to return to Somerset House.

Gresham’s original building – to which two floors of retail had been added in 1660, creating what is said to have been England’s first shopping mall – was sadly destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

It was replaced by a second complex, this time designed by Edward Jarman, in 1669, but this too succumbed to fire, this time on 10th January, 1838. The building which now stands on the site – and is now an upmarket retail centre – was designed by Sir William Tite and was opened by another Queen, Victoria, in 1844.

Gresham’s contribution is remembered by the building’s weathervane which features a golden grasshopper – an insect featured on Sir Thomas’ crest.

A Moment in London’s History – The “Petticoat Duel”…

The “Petticoat Duel” was so-called because this late 18th century duel apparently took place between two women – Lady Almeria Braddock and Mrs Elphinstone.

An engraving of “The Petticoat Duellists” for Carlton House Magazine.

The story goes that the duel, which reportedly took place in 1792, came about after, during a social visit to Lady Braddock’s home, Mrs Elphinstone suggested the aforementioned lady was much older than her 30-odd years. It was clearly a sensitive subject and Lady Braddock demanded satisfaction via a duel.

The two women met in Hyde Park and initially exchanged pistol shots, the only casualty being Lady Braddock’s hat. Swords were then drawn and the women crossed blades until Mrs Elphinstone received a minor wound to her arm.

Following her wounding, Mrs Elphinstone wisely decided to apologise to Lady Braddock for doubting her age (she apparently wrote a lengthy apology later on) and the women put down their weapons. Crisis averted.

Despite the many times the story of the “Petticoat Duel” has been repeated, however, there’s some considerable doubt over whether it actually took place.

The key source appears to be an article in a 1792 edition of Carlton House Magazine and it has been suggested that “Lady Almeria Braddock” may be an invented character perhaps based partly on Georgian actress George Anne Bellamy.

So we apologise for any who have felt misled, for this “moment” may actually be no more than a creative writer’s story. But, whether true or not, it does make for an interesting tale.

A Moment in London’s History…First air raid of the London Blitz…

It was on 7th September, 1940, that the German bombers raided London in what was to be the first of 57 consecutive nights of bombings and the start of the air attacks on the city known as the Blitz (short for ‘Blitzkrieg’ meaning ‘lightning war’ in German).

Almost 350 German bombers, escorted by more than 600 Messerschmitt fighters, were involved in the raid on what became known as “Black Saturday”.

This first wave of bombing, which ended just after 6pm on what had been a hot day, largely targeted London’s docks in attempt to destroy the city’s infrastructure and industrial sites including the munitions factories of the Woolwich Arsenal, gasworks at Beckton, West Ham power station and oil storage tanks at Thameshaven.

A second wave, which lasted eight hours and involved another 400 bombers, arrived from 8pm striking Millwall, commercial docks at Tilbury and Thameshaven, and the heavily populated slums of the East End in localities including Silvertown, Canning Town, East Ham, Poplar, Stratford, Wapping, and Whitechapel.

Hundreds of tons of bombs were dropped in the raids during which some 448 of London’s civilians were killed and 1,600 injured. Some of the fires started in the bombing burned for five days with the flames visible for miles.

While the attack was the first day of the Blitz, it was actually the 60th day of the Battle of Britain in which the German Luftwaffe had targeted air fields, oil installations and other war-related infrastructure.

While Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring had gone on radio on the day of the raid, describing it as an “historic hour, in which for the first time the German Luftwaffe has struck at the heart of the enemy”, the strategy shift – to target London instead of the air defence-related installations – proved to be what Hugh Dowding, chief of Fighter Command described as a “mistake”, giving the defences time to rebuild.

But at the time, the attack on London was believed at the time to herald the start of a full invasion. It’s known that as the Luftwaffe attacked the East End, the military chiefs of staff were meeting in Whitehall – at 8pm that night, just as the second wave of planes was starting to bomb the city, they issued the code word ‘Cromwell’ which indicated that invasion was imminent and defending troops need to prepare.

The planned invasion – Operation Sea Lion – never eventuated but the Blitz was to continue until May the following year.

PICTURE: The London docks ablaze during the Blitz on 7th September, 1940. Palls of smoke rise in the docks beyond the Tower of London with the Surrey Docks to the right of the bridge and the West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs in the distance. PICTURE: © Port of London Authority Collection / Museum of London. For more on the ‘Docklands at War’, head to www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands/permanent-galleries/docklands-war.

A Moment in London’s History…The Mayflower leaves London

This year marks 400 since the Mayflower set off from Plymouth in England’s south to Massachusetts in North America.

But what isn’t as well known is that the ship was hired in London and so it is from London – commonly believed to be from Rotherhithe on the south bank of the Thames – that the ship set off for Plymouth to pick up its passengers and supplies.

The Mayflower departed from London in mid July, 1620, and was already in Plymouth by the time another ship, the Speedwell, arrived from Delfshaven in the Netherlands in late July. The two ships would depart Plymouth for their journey across the Atlantic Ocean on 5th August (although the Speedwell proved less than seaworthy and so, after a couple of aborted attempts, the Mayflower eventually proceeded alone).

Rotherhithe was home to many of the 30 crew of the Mayflower including Captain Christopher Jones.

As a result, there’s numerous memorials to the voyage in the area, including, most famously, the pub, The Mayflower, which is said to overlook the site from where the ship sailed (pictured above). There’s also a statue  of Jones himself in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin where he was buried in an unmarked grave – he died soon after returning from America.

A series of events, including the Mayflower 400 London Lectures, had been planned to commemorate the event this year but are currently suspended. We’ll keep you informed.

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 68 and 67…

The next two entries in our countdown…

68. A Moment in London’s History – Peace Day Parade, 1919…

67. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 2. 27a Wimpole Street…

A Moment in London’s History – London celebrates VE Day…

It was 75 years ago this month – 8th May, 1945 – that Londoners poured out onto the city’s streets in celebration of the end of World War II.

Some celebrations had already started in London on 7th May as news of the unconditional surrender of all German troops to the Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower in the French city of Reims on 7th May became known.

But Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared 8th May a national holiday and, in response, vast crowds turned out on the streets to celebrate with bunting, flags and fireworks. Church bells were rung and services of thanksgiving held including at St Paul’s Cathedral where 10 consecutive services, each attended by thousands, took place.

British girls, of the Picture Division of the London Office of War Information dance in the street with American soldiers during the “VE Day” celebration in London. This scene took place outside the building of the US Army Pictorial Division has its offices. PICTURE: © IWM EA 65796

At 3pm, Churchill made a national radio broadcast from 10 Downing Street. He told listeners that while “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing”, they should “not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead” a reference to the ongoing war with Japan (the radio broadcast, incidentally, is being re-run on the BBC on 8th May this year to mark the anniversary).

Churchill then proceeded to Parliament where he formally reported the end of the war in Europe to Parliament before leading a procession of members to St Margaret’s Church for a service of thanksgiving. He later appeared on the balcony of the Ministry of Health building in Whitehall to address the teeming crowds below, telling them “This is your victory” to which they roared back that it was his.

Churchill waves to crowds in Whitehall on the day he broadcast to the nation that the war with Germany had been won, 8 May 1945. PICTURE: Horton W G (Major) (Photographer),
War Office official photographer/© IWM H 41849

Meanwhile, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, initially accompanied by their two daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace several times to wave to the cheering crowds. The King and Queen, who were at one point joined by Churchill, were still waving when their daughters secretly – and now rather famously – left the palace and joined the crowds outside in what Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, described as “one of the most memorable moments” of her life. The King also gave a radio address from the palace during which he paid tribute to all those who had died in the conflict.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret joined by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, London on VE Day. PICTURE: © IWM MH 21835

While celebrations took place across London, hotspots included Whitehall, outside Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square and Piccadilly Circus, where by midnight there were an estimated 50,000 people singing and dancing. Licensing hours were extended in pubs and dance halls staying open to midnight.

A mass of civilians and servicemen crowding around Piccadilly Circus, London. PICTURE: Poznak Murray, United States Army Signal Corps official photographerIWM EA 65879

One of the most iconic images of the day was a photograph of two sailors standing in one of the fountains at Trafalgar Square with two women, revealed, thanks to research by the Imperial War Museum to be Cynthia Covello and Joyce Digney who had travelled to join the celebrations from Surrey.

Two British sailors and their girlfriends wading in the fountains in Trafalgar Square on VE Day. PICTURE: Massecar T G, United States Army Signal Corps photographer/© IWM EA 65799

With thanks to the Imperial War Museum, London.

 

A Moment in London’s History…The escape of Ranulf Flambard…

There’s been about 40 successful escapes from the Tower of London over the centuries but the first recorded one was of Ranulf Flambard. 

Flambard, the bishop of Durham, was the chief minister of King Willam Rufus (William II) (and, among other things, oversaw the construction of the inner wall around the White Tower at the Tower of London, the first stone bridge in London and Westminster Hall).

When William died in 1100, William’s younger brother Henry became king. William’s rule had been increasingly harsh and characterised by corruption and when Henry assumed the throne, Flambard was made a scapegoat for the previous administration’s failings. He was arrested on 15th August, 1100, and imprisoned on charges of embezzlement in the White Tower.

Flambard managed to escape on 3rd February, 1101. The story goes that he had lulled his guards into getting drunk by bringing in a barrel of wine for them to drink and then climbed out of a window and down a rope, which he’d had smuggled into the tower in the wine. It’s also said that the man charged with his care, William de Mandeville, allowed the escape.

Flambard subsequently escaped England to Normandy where he incited Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy (and elder brother of Henry), to attempt an invasion of England.

The invasion was unsuccessful but the warring brothers reconciled and Flambard was restored to royal favour. He regained his bishopric, although he never again served as chief minister.

PICTURE: Amy-Leigh Barnard/Unsplash

A Moment in London’s History – The National Trust acquires Eastbury Manor House…

This month (12th January to be exact) marks 125 years since the National Trust was founded by Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley. So we’re taking a quick look at another, somewhat related, milestone – the acquisition of the Trust’s first London property.

Located in Barking, Eastbury Manor House, initially known as Eastbury Hall, was built between 1560 and 1573 (during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I) for Clement Sisley on land which once belonged to Barking Abbey.

The H-shaped house and surrounding estate remained in the family until 1629 after which it passed through the hands of a number of well-to-do families, gradually falling into disrepair.

By the early 19th century, decay had led to one of the property’s unique octagonal stair turrets being pulled down and wooden flooring and fireplaces removed. The ground floor was being used as a stable and dairy.

The property struggled on into the early 20th century when it was threatened with demolition. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, recognising its significance as a rare example of mid-16th century brick built gentry house, lobbied for it to be saved and, working alongside the National Trust, ran a campaign to raise funds for its acquisition.

The house – and surrounding gardens – were acquired by the Trust for the nation in 1918 and then, in 1934, leased to Barking Borough Council. The following year the property became the home of Barking Museum.

It was awarded Grade I-listed status in 1954 and is now managed by the Borough of Barking and Dagenham. A restoration program in recent years has seen the addition of a permanent exhibition on the property’s history.

WHERE: Eastbury Manor House, Eastbury Square, Barking (nearest Tube station is Upney); WHEN: From 13th  February, 10am to 4pm Thursdays and Fridays and, from 22nd March, 11am to 4pm Sundays; COST: £5.20 adults/£2.60 children and concessions/£9.30 family (LBBD residents, SPAB and National Trust members free); WEBSITE: www.eastburymanorhouse.org.uk.

PICTURE: David Nicholls (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 94 and 93…

Our countdown continues…

94. Lost London – York Watergate

93. A Moment in London’s History – The execution of William Wallace…

 

A Moment in London’s History…The election of Nancy Astor

This marks the 100th anniversary – last month in fact – of the entry of the first woman to the British Parliament.

Nancy Astor, who won the seat of Plymouth Sutton on 15th November, 1919, took her seat in Parliament two weeks later on 1st December, about a year after women won the right to stand as an MP.

Astor, whose husband, Waldorf Astor, had previously occupied her seat (but whose seat became vacant when he was elevated to the House of Lords following the death of his father, Viscount Astor), was the first to take her seat in the House of Commons but not the first elected.

That honour goes to Constance Markiewicz, who won for Sinn Fein in 1918 – while she was detained in Holloway Prison – and who never took her seat in the House of Commons.

The American-born Astor met with a somewhat hostile reception from some – Winston Churchill famously told her MPs had hoped to “freeze her out”.

She delivered her maiden speech on 24th February, 1920, warning the MPs that given some women aged over 30 could now vote, they intended to use it and “use it wisely”.

Astor ended up winning seven elections and, despite being seen increasingly as a figure of controversy in part because of her support – along with her husbands and their associates – of Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement with Germany in the lead-up to World War II, remained MP for Plymouth Sutton until 1945.

She decided not to stand again based on the advice of the Conservative Party – who saw her increasingly as a liability, and her husband.

PICTURE: A Blue Plaque commemorating Nancy Astor on a property at 4 St James’s Square, St James’s (Leo Reynolds (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0/image cropped)

A Moment in London’s History…Greenwich is established as the prime meridian for all nations…

It was 135 years ago this month that the International Meridian Conference held in Washington, DC, declared the Greenwich meridian to be the prime meridian of the world.

The conference had been held at the request US President Chester A Arthur with the aim of finding a “common zero of longitude and standard of time reckoning throughout the world”.

Pressure to designate such a prime meridian had been building thanks to the need for navigation purposes as well as the need to create uniform train timetables.

Twenty-six nations were represented at the 1884 conference including Great Britain and the US as well as France, Russia, Germany, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire.

The resolution, fixing Greenwich as the Prime Meridian, was passed on 22nd October. The delegations voted 22 in favour to one against. San Domingo, now called the Dominican Republic, voted against while France and Brazil abstained.

As a result of the decision, the International Date Line was drawn up and the world’s 24 time zones were created.

North America and most European nations had aligned their clocks with Greenwich with 10 years.

The official mean time clock at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, is known as the Shepherd Gate Clock.

PICTURE: The Shepherd Gate Clock at the Royal Observatory (Alvesgaspar/licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

A Moment in London’s History – The opening of Tower Bridge…

This year marks 125 years since the opening of Tower Bridge.

The bridge, which took eight years to build and was designed by City of London architect Sir Horace Jones in collaboration with engineer Sir John Wolfe Barry, was officially opened on 30th June, 1894, by the Prince and Princess of Wales (the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra).

Others among the tens of thousands who turned out to mark the historic event were the Duke of York (later King George V), Lord Mayor of London Sir George Robert Tyler and members of the Bridge House Estates Committee.

A procession of carriages carrying members of the royal family had set out from Marlborough House that morning, stopping at Mansion House on its way to the bridge.

Once there, it drove back and forth across before official proceedings took place in which the Prince of Wales pulled a lever to set in motion the steam-driven machinery which raised the two enormous bascules and allowed a huge flotilla of craft of all shapes and sizes to pass under it.

The event was also marked with a gun salute fired from the Tower of London.

Plaques commemorating the opening can be found at either end of the bridge. The event was also captured in a famous painting by artist William Lionel Wyllie who had attended with his wife. The painting is now held at the Guildhall Art Gallery.

Tower Bridge has been running a series of special events to mark the anniversary this year. For more, see www.towerbridge.org.uk.

Tower Bridge today. PICTURE: Charles Postiaux/Unsplash

 

A Moment in London’s History – An iconic image of Abbey Road is taken…

It’s 50 years this month – it was last Thursday, 8th August, in fact – when an iconic photograph featuring the Fab Four on a zebra crossing was taken for cover of the Abbey Road album.

The photograph – which featured (in order) George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and John Lennon striding across the pedestrian walk in St John’s Wood – was taken by the late Scottish photographer Iain Macmillan.

He apparently climbed onto a ladder in the middle of the street while a policeman held back traffic briefly (there are vehicles driving down the road in the distance in the image).

The entire shoot – which was apparently McCartney’s idea – reportedly took just 10 minutes and saw the band walk across the road six times (the chosen image – said to have been taken at 11:38am – was number five; the only one in which all their legs were in a perfect V shape).

The image carries a particular poignancy for Beatles fans because of the fact that they “officially” broke up less than a year later (the album it featured on, Abbey Road, was released on 26th September, 1969, and was the last recorded by the group even though it was released prior to Let It Be).

As well as being recreated by tourists at the site itself, the image has been reproduced and adapted countless times – including its reproduction on a 64p Royal Mail stamp in 2007 and an adaption involving the Simpsons for a Rolling Stone cover in 2002.

Abbey Road Studios – where the Abbey Road album was recorded – is located just a hop, skip and jump away and has operated a live webcam of the crossing since 2002. (For more on Abbey Road and the origins of its name, see our previous post here).

PICTURE: Via Wikipedia.

A Moment in London’s History – Samuel Pepys writes the last entry in his diary…

This year marks 350 years since London’s now famous diarist, Samuel Pepys, wrote the final entry in what was his private diary.

The final entry was written on 31st May, 1669, and mentions a liaison with one Betty Mitchell, a trip on the Thames to Whitehall where he met with the Duke of York, and an outing with his wife Elizabeth and friends to the The World’s End, a drinking house at the western end of Hyde Park in Knightsbridge.

Pepys had started writing the diary on 1st January, 1660, at the age of just 26, and over the next nine years, its more than a million words covered some of the critical events including the coronation of King Charles II, the Great Plague of 1665 and The Great Fire of 1666.

Many believe that the diary was never intended for a mass readership (although some scholars disagree with this opinion), but, if that was the case, Pepys did take some precautions just in case, using codes for the mistresses he met, for example.

He stopped writing the diary because he assumed he was going blind – he asks in the final sentence for God to help him “prepare all the discomforts that will accompany my being blind”.

You can read Pepys’ final entry and the the complete diary of Pepys online at www.pepysdiary.com.

PICTURE: Samuel Pepys by John Hayls, 1666 © National Portrait Gallery, London (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

A Moment in London’s History – The coronation of King William III and Queen Mary II…

This month (we’ve just managed to sneak it in) marks the 330th anniversary of the coronation of joint sovereigns, King William III and Queen Mary II – the first and only time such a coronation has ever happened in England.

The two were crowned in a joint – and glittering – ceremony at Westminster Abbey on 11th April, 1689, following what was known as the “Glorious Revolution” in which they assumed the monarchy after Mary’s father, King James, II fled to the continent following William’s invasion in late 1688.

At the coronation, King William took the abbey’s famous Coronation Chair while a second seat was brought in for the Queen.

William also used the coronation regalia which had been created for King Charles II in 1661 but Mary, a monarch in her own right, needed a new set. Given the time constraints (the ceremony was to take place as soon as possible given the uncertain political climate), she ended up using the repurposed regalia created for her step-mother, second wife and consort of King James II, Mary of Modena, as well as some newly created pieces.

Controversially, the ceremony was presided over by the Bishop of London, Henry Compton, after William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury – his title meant he would usually undertake such a task, refused to be involved thanks to his support of the now deposed King James II.

Earlier that day, the King and Queen had travelled separately from Whitehall to Westminster – him by barge and she by chair – and after being taken into Westminster Hall, processed, surrounded by dignitaries and to the sound of trumpets, to Westminster Abbey where the ceremony took place.

After the coronation, the newly crowned Sovereigns returned to Westminster Hall where a lavish banquet was held.

PICTURE: William III and Mary II  in part of an image by Dutch printmaker Romeyn de Hooghe (c1690) (via Wikipedia)

A Moment in London’s History…The World Cup is stolen…

It’s 53 years ago this month that the World Cup trophy – offiicially known as the Jules Rimet Trophy – was stolen from Methodist Central Hall in Westminster (OK, it’s not a very round figure, but it’s a fascinating story).

The trophy had arrived in the UK in January for the tournament to be held later that year and was mostly kept at FA headquarters at Wembley. But in March, it went on show at a stamp exhibition being held at the hall (pictured).

Despite being kept under (relatively) constant guard in a glass cabinet, the trophy was discovered missing just after 12pm on 20th March (the crime had apparently occurred while the guards were on a break). Scotland Yard immediately set about investigating the theft but to no avail (the FA, meanwhile, secretly commissioned a replica to be made, just in case the trophy couldn’t be recovered).

A couple of days later Joe Mears, chairman of the FA, received an anonymous package. It contained the removable top lining of the trophy and a demand for £15,000 in return for the trophy. An exchange was to be set up involving codes placed in newspaper personal ads.

The FA chairman then worked with Scotland Yard to set up a false exchange. On 24th March, Flying Squad Detective Inspector Leonard Buggy, posing as Mears, met a former soldier who turned out to be Edward Betchley in Battersea Park, showing him a briefcase filled with newspapers covered with a layer of £5 notes. Betchley then accompanied Buggy in a car, ostensibly driving to pick up the trophy, but he got spooked along the way and jumped out.

Betchley was arrested minutes later but refused to reveal the trophy’s whereabouts, claiming he was just the middleman come to collect the ransom (he was later convicted of demanding money with menaces with the intent to steal).

The trophy was actually discovered a week after it was stolen by a collie-cross named Pickles who found it lying near a neighbour’s car outside the Norwood home of his owner, Thames lighterman David Corbett. Pickles – who went on to become something of a celebrity in his own right appearing in TV shows and even a film, The Spy with a Cold Nose – has, of course, since died (his collar is on display in the National Football Museum in Manchester).

The crime has never been officially solved although there were claims last year that late London gangster Sidney Cugullere and his brother Reg were behind it.

England, meanwhile, did go on to beat West Germany 4-2 in the World Cup final that year. Life, meanwhile, didn’t turn out so well for the trophy. It was stolen again in 1983 in Brazil and this time was not recovered.

PICTURE: David Adams