• The 25 metre high viewpoint in the grass and tree covered Marble Arch Mound opens to visitors on Monday. Created by Westminster City Council, the mound – which has been designed by Dutch architectural studio MVRDV, provides expansive views of Oxford Street, Hyde Park, Mayfair and Marylebone. Visitors can either climb the 130 stairs to the top or take a lift. The mound will be open to the public until January next year. Ticket holders are also invited to visit W1Curates art installation Lightfield, led by British/American artist, Anthony James, which is located inside the mound. For more information and to book tickets, see www.westminster.gov.uk/news/get-set-summit-marble-arch-mound-summer.
• The history, art and culture of the Native Americans who met the passengers of the Mayflower is explored in a new exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery. Opening on Friday, Wampum: Stories from the Shells of Native America centres on a newly-crafted wampum belt created by the Wampanoag people of Massachusetts alongside historic material from the British Museum. Wampum belts are the creative expression of the Wampanoag people, with each shell on the belt imbued with memory and meaning. The display is presented by The Box, Plymouth, and supported by Arts Council England as part of commemorations of the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower from England to America. Runs until 5th September. Entry is free (booking required). For more, head here.
• On Now: Paula Rego. This exhibition at Tate Britain – the largest retrospective of Paula Rego’s work to date – features more than 100 works including collage, paintings, large-scale pastels, drawings and etchings as it showcases the career of the Portuguese-born artist. As well as early work from the 1950s, the display features her large pastels of single figures from the acclaimed Dog Women and Abortion series and richly layered, staged scenes from the 2000s. Runs until 24th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/paula-rego.
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This City of London pub, located close to Liverpool Street Station, was originally known as The Old Jerusalem and dates back to the mid-18th century.
But the pub’s name was changed in the 19th century, inspired by the tragic history of a local businessman by the name of Nathaniel (there are some that suggest his name was Richard) Bentley.
The story goes that Bentley, who owned a hardware shop and warehouse, had been something of a dandy in his youth, earning the nickname, the “Beau of Leadenhall Street”.
But when his fiance died on the eve of their wedding day, he broke down and subsequently refused to clean anything, including himself (there was also speculation that he’d closed the dining room where the wedding breakfast was to be held with the spread still on the table). His home, shop and warehouse in Leadenhall Street became filthy and so famous that letters were apparently addressed to ‘The Dirty Warehouse, London’. He died in 1809 and the warehouse was later demolished.
William Barker, the owner of The Old Jerusalem, subsequently changed the name of his pub to Dirty Dick’s and it apparently became known for its own lack of cleanliness in sympathy with the man after whom it was named.
Charles Dickens is said to have been a patron of this establishment and it’s said that Bentley’s story inspired Dickens to create the character of Miss Havisham for this book, Great Expectations.
In keeping with its name, the cellar bar was for years cluttered with cobwebs and all sorts of items including a mummified cat but more recent years have seen the clutter removed (although some has been preserved and relocated to a glass display case).
• A new statue of the late Princess Diana is being unveiled today at Kensington Palace. The statue will be unveiled in the Sunken Garden at Diana’s former home. The garden – originally created on the orders of King Edward VII in 1908 – has been redesigned by designer Pip Morrison to provide a more reflective setting for the memorial. This included planting more than 4,000 of Diana’s favourite flowers including forget-me-nots and tulips. The statue, which is the work of sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley, is expected to be unveiled by Diana’s two sons, William and Harry, who commissioned it in 2017.
• A new permanent gallery has opened at the V&A which explores the role design plays in shaping, and being shaped by, how we live, work, travel and communicate. Design 1900 is housed within the museum’s former 20th Century Gallery and, among the displays are new acquisitions including Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir’s iconic British road signage system, Kim Kardashian’s Selfish book, Nike’s Nigeria football shirt for the 2018 World Cup and a one-of-a-kind desk designed by Future Systems for Condé Nast Chairman Jonathan Newhouse. The display also includes items from the Rapid Response Collecting programme such as 3D-printed door openers, designed to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and the I Believe in Our City bus shelter posters that highlighted increased anti-Asian bias. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.
• Twentieth century dressmaker and fashion designer Jean Muir has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at the Mayfair address she worked for 30 years. The plaque was unveiled at 22 Bruton Street, the location of the showroom and office she operated out of from 1966 to 1995, by her house model, friend and client Joanna Lumley. Others among Muir’s clientele included actress Patricia Hodge and writer Lady Antonia Fraser. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.
• The City of London Corporation has unveiled the design for new ‘Digital Service Points’ which will reimagine the concept of the traditional police boxes. ‘The London Stones’, the work of architecture and design studio Unknown Works, will include information screens, life saving emergency equipment and serve as hubs for City of London Police officers and community events. Details from buildings, stories and images of the Square Mile will be collected and ‘digitally carved’ into the exterior of the ‘stones’ which will also be home to a vast array of lichen colonies and species expected to evolve in their colour and appearance as they grow.
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Commonly used as an alternative for the City of London, the term ‘Square Mile’ comes from the amount of land in the heart of the city which is under the jurisdiction of the City of London Corporation.
The City (with a capital ‘c’, it’s another commonly used term for the City of London) contains the core of the ancient city which has stood here since Roman times and is still the financial centre of the city. While called the ‘Square Mile’, it actually encompasses 1.12 square miles (equivalent to 716.80 acres or 2.90 square kilometres).
While the City has been roughly that size since medieval times (the City has long included land both within the medieval city walls as well as some without), the term ‘Square Mile’ is understood to have been a relatively recent invention, created in the Victorian era.
It’s interesting to note that the Square Mile was slightly smaller – just 1.05 square miles – up until the mid-1990s when some boundary changes increased it to its current size.
Below is a map showing the outline of the ‘Square Mile’ today…
This month marks 150 years since the passing of the Hampstead Heath Act, which confirmed the heath as a public open space, and, to celebrate, the City of London Corporation, the Heath & Hampstead Society and other partners have launched a year of commemorations. Upcoming planned highlights include an outdoor exhibition showcasing the heath’s history and the significance of the 1871 Act which will be launched on the heath (on the main path leading onto the heath from the Hampstead Heath Overground Station) on 23rd June, a community fun day (27th June), an outdoor cinema screening (8th September), a summer music event (tentatively scheduled for 5th September) and historic walks as well as an Historic Postcard Project featuring an interactive online map with historic images of the heath. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath.
Southwark Bridge celebrated its 100th birthday earlier this month so we thought it a good time to have a quick look at the bridge’s history.
The bridge was a replacement for an earlier three-arch iron bridge built by John Rennie which had opened in 1819.
Known by the nickname, the “Iron Bridge”, it was mentioned in Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend and Little Dorrit. But the bridge had problems – its narrow approaches and steep gradient led it to become labelled “the curse of the carman [cart drivers] and the ruin of his horses”.
Increasing traffic meant a replacement became necessary and a new bridge, which featured five arches and was made of steel, was designed by architect Sir Ernest George and engineer Sir Basil Mott.
Work on the new bridge – which was to cost £375,000 and was paid for by the City of London Corporation’s Bridge House Estates which was originally founded in 1097 to maintain London Bridge and expanded to care for others – began in 1913 but its completion was delayed thanks to the outbreak of World War I.
The 800 foot long bridge was finally officially opened on 6th June, 1921, by King George V who used a golden key to open its gates. He and Queen Mary then rode over the bridge in a carriage.
The bridge, now Grade II-listed, was significantly damaged in a 1941 air raid and was temporarily repaired before it was properly restored in 1955. More recently, the bridge was given a facelift in 2011 when £2.5 million was spent cleaning and repainting the metalwork in its original colours – yellow and ‘Southwark Green’.
The current bridge has appeared in numerous films including 1964’s Mary Poppins and, in more recent times, 2007’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
• The glittering world of playwright and songwriter Noël Coward is on show in a new exhibition openingat the Guildhall Art Gallery this Monday. The much delayed Noël Coward: Art & Style, which marks the 100th anniversary of Coward’s West End debut as a 19-year-old earlier this year, brings together never-before-seen materials from the Coward Archive and demonstrates the impact he and his creative circle had on the culture of his time – and today. Highlights include an original page of Coward’s handwritten lyrics for Mad Dogs and Englishmen, the chocolate brown evening suit he wore in the film Boom!, two of his signature silk dressing gowns, his iconic ‘Hamlet’ chair, and several of his own paintings. There’s also a specially commissioned new reconstruction of the iconic white satin dress that Molyneux designed in 1930 for Gertrude Lawrence in Private Lives and a never-before-exhibited gold lamé theatre cape by Lucile (Titanic survivor Lady Duff Gordon) from 1920. The exhibition, which is free, runs until 23rd December. Tickets must be booked in advance. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/noelcoward.
• A new portrait depicting Dido Belle (1761-1804) has gone on display at Kenwood House – one of six works depicting historic figures from the African diaspora now on show at English Heritage properties across the nation. Belle, who is depicted by artist Mikéla Henry-Lowe, was the illegitimate daughter of a young black woman named Maria Bell and a Royal Naval officer, Sir John Lindsay. She spent much of her life at Kenwood House with her great-uncle William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice. Other portraits in the series depict the likes of African-born Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (the work of Elena Onwochei-Garcia, it’s on display at Corbridge Roman Town on Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland), North African-born 7th century Abbot Hadrian (the work of Clifton Powell, it’s on display at St Augustine’s Abbey in Kent) and Queen Victoria’s god-daughter Sarah Forbes Bonetta (the work of Hannah Uzor, it’s on display at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight). For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/histories/black-history/.
• More than 25 works by Australian artists exploring debates around land rights and colonialism have gone on show in a new exhibition at the Tate Modern. A Year in Art: Australia 1992 takes as its starting point the High Court of Australia’s landmark 1992 Mabo ruling which overturned the doctrine of terra nullius. Works on show include Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s 1989 Untitled (Alhalkere) – an expression of her cultural life as an Anmatyerre elder, Gordon Bennett’s 1991 work Possession Island (Abstraction) which is presented in dialogue with Algernon Talmage’s 1937 work The Founding of Australia 1788, and Tracey Moffatt’s 1997 photographic series Up in the Sky, which speaks to the ‘Stolen Generations’ – the forced separation of Aboriginal families by government agencies. At the heart of the display is Vernon Ah Kee’s 2010 four-screen video installation tall man which shows footage of the protests and riots following the death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island in 2004. The exhibition is free. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.
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It’s 560 years ago this month that the Yorkist King Edward IV was crowned at Westminster Abbey.
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).
Said to have been modelled on a rose window once inside Old St Paul’s Cathedral (which was destroyed in the Great Fire of London), the window, also known as Catherine (Katharine) Wheel, features some beautiful examples of 17th century stained glass.
The window, which is located in the chancel of the church of St Katharine Cree in Leadenhall Street in the City not far from Leadenhall Market, was installed when the church was rebuilt in the early 1630s (replacing an earlier medieval church – the church’s tower, however, dates from 1504 and was part of the earlier church on the site). It is abstract in design but
The window, which was removed to ensure its protection during World War II, has undergone repairs and the centre of the wheel was replaced after it was blown out in 1992 when a massive truck bomb went off at the nearby Baltic Exchange.
The Catherine Wheel, incidentally, was an execution device associated with the martyrdom of St Catherine of Alexandria. Catherine had upset the Emperor Maxentius in the early 4th century by speaking out against his persecution of Christians in the early fourth century. Tradition has it that after failing to break her spirit through torture (and, so say some, a marriage proposal which she refused), Maxentius ordered her to be put to death on a spiked wheel, it broke at her touch and she was later beheaded.
The last of the three hills at least partly within the walls of the old City of London is Tower Hill, located at the City’s eastern end.
Famed as a site of public execution, Tower Hill – which rises to almost 14 metres above sea level – was traditionally where traitors who had been imprisoned in the nearby Tower of London met their final moments.
More than 120 people have been executed on the site, everyone from Sir Simon de Burley, tutor to King Richard II, in 1388, through to Thomas Cromwell in in 1540 and a soldier arrested during the Gordon Riots of 1780.
These days the gallows and scaffold – and the crowds which accompanied them – are long gone, marked by a stone set in the pavement at the western end of Trinity Square.
The hill, which is just to the north of the Tower of London and takes its name from it, was historically part of the tower liberties – meaning authorities could ensure nothing was developed on it which would affect the defences of the fortress.
It is the site of one of the remaining sections of the Roman and medieval wall which once surrounded the City of London (the hill is located on both sides of the wall).
A Tube station, Tower Hill, which opened in 1884 (it was originally named Mark Lane and the name changed to Tower Hill in 1946; it relocated to the current site in 1967).
The hill is also home to the Tower Hill Memorial – a pair of memorials dedicated to the mercantile marines who died in World War I and World War II – set inside the public park known as Trinity Square Gardens.
The highest of the city’s three ancient hills (at 17.7 metres or 58 feet above sea level), it was on Cornhill that the first Romans settled following the invasion of 43AD and the later the site of the basilica.
In medieval times, a grain market was established on Cornhill which gave it the name it now bears.
Cornhill was also the location of a pillory (Daniel Defoe famously spent a day here in 1703 after writing a seditious pamphlet), stocks, and a prison known as the Tun where street walkers and lewd women were incarcerated.
Remembered in the name of the street which today runs from Bank junction to the western end of Leadenhall Street as well as being the name of one of London’s 25 wards, the hill is the site of several churches.
These include the aptly named St Michael Cornhill and St Peter-upon-Cornhill (said to be the oldest place of Christian worship in London) as well as the curiously named St Benet Fink (despite being rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666 this was eventually demolished in 1844 when the Royal Exchange was rebuilt).
The hill was also the location of The Standard, at the junction of Cornhill and Leadenhall Streets. Constructed in 1582, this was the first mechanically pumped public water supply in London. It was sometimes used as a point from where to measure distances out of London.
Rome has its seven hills, Athens has the Acropolis and Paris – well, who can go past Montmatre? Yet, while hills may not be the first thing which come to mind when thinking of London, the city is home to numerous (low) peaks which have shaped the urban environment since ancient times (and some of which provide magnificent viewing points).
First up, we’re looking at Ludgate Hill, located in the western end of the City of London. One of the three ancient hills within the City walls, Ludgate Hill, which is now the site of St Paul’s Cathedral, is believed in Roman times to have been the site of a temple dedicated to Diana.
The hill, which today rises just 17.6 metres above sea level (the highest point lying apparently just to the north of the cathedral), is named after the former city gateway of Ludgate which is, in turn, named after the mythical King Lud.
These days the hill’s name is also commemorated in a street – Ludgate Hill – which runs from Ludgate Circus at its western end to St Paul’s Churchyard at its eastern end. It was also formerly the name of a railway station which opened in the late 1860s but was closed in 1923.
The final in our series on St Thomas Becket’s London is not about a static site but a pathway, one that people have been walking since the Middle Ages as pilgrims to the shrine of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury.
Famous today through its association with Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, the Pilgrim’s Way actually refers to not one path but a series of routes taken by pilgrims as they made their way from London to Canterbury, linking up along the way with another route originating in Winchester.
The pilgrimage from London typically started at the now long lost St Thomas Becket Chapel in the middle of Old London Bridge and then headed south through Southwark where the Tabard Inn – where Chaucer has his pilgrims staying at the start of his journey – was located.
These days, there’s several routes – the official Pilgrim’s Way website has a couple of different routes through London. Both start at Southwark Cathedral and one then follows the line of A2 south before heading east to the Thames through Deptford where it joins up with a second route. This route, on leaving Southwark Cathedral, follows the south bank of the Thames east.
On becoming one route at Deptford, the Pilgrim’s Way then follows the Thames through Greenwich and Woolwich before turning southward to Dartford and eventually linking up with the Pilgrim’s Way from Winchester in the village of Otford in Kent (and then on to Canterbury).
Other versions of the pilgrimage route start at Westminster Abbey and take in St Paul’s Cathedral before crossing over the Thames and heading east to Gravesend and on to the Medway towns and eventually Canterbury.
Interestingly, some believe that King Henry II took the route from London to Canterbury when performing his very public act of atonement for his role in the saint’s death (although others believe he made the pilgrimage from Winchester).
The Museum of London is currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic but we run this story in the hope you’ll be able to visit soon.
The Museum of London contains a large collection – in fact, it’s said to be the largest in the UK – of pilgrim badges relating to the commemoration of the Archbishop of Canterbury, St Thomas Becket, who was brutally murdered in 1170.
Produced largely in Canterbury (possibly some in London), the lead-alloy badges were worn, typically on a hat or staff, by pilgrims as a means of commemorating their pilgrimage to the Shrine of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury.
They came in various shapes and sizes. Many simply depict a bust of Becket’s head wearing the Archbishop of Canterbury’s mitre (see picture right).
But others are more elaborate and depict the full-length figure of the archbishop, scenes of his martyrdom at the hands of King Henry II’s knights (see picture above) and even the elaborate bejewelled shrine housing St Thomas’ remains that was erected in about 1220 in Canterbury Cathedral (the endpoint of the pilgrimage).
The museum also has small tin ampullae which were created to hold “Canterbury Water” or “St Thomas’ Water” – water into which drops of the martyred archbishop’s blood were dripped before it was blessed – which was given to pilgrims to take home as a kind of “cure all”.
The collection of badges can be seen when the museum reopens. Keep an eye out for the reopening at www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
The name of this street is self-explanatory – it follows the line of part of the wall that once surrounded the City of London, of which only fragments now remain.
The wall dates from as far back as Roman times and this street – which runs from the intersection with Aldersgate Street to the west to Old Broad Street in the east – broadly follows the course of its northern edge.
The road was re-laid out – it features dual carriageways at the east and west ends – after the area was devastated by bombing during World War II.
A roundabout at the western end of London Wall – named the Rotunda – provides a link with Aldersgate Street, which runs perpendicular, and in the centre was built the Museum of London (which is now being relocated to West Smithfield).
The western end of the street, part of which is straddled by the hulking early 1990s building known as Alban Gate, has until recent years also featured a series of raised walkways which were part of the post war redevelopment of the area (and partly integrated with office buildings).
Known as ‘pedways’, some of them are now in the process of being replaced with a more modern take on the idea (such as can be seen at London Wall Place).
The street features a number of remnants of the actual wall along its length including the remains of a Roman gate close to the western end (on the street’s north side, it’s known as Bastion 14) and in St Alphage Gardens (St Alphage, London Wall is one of several now lost churches along the street – St Olave, Silver Street is another).
Close to the eastern end of the street is the church of All Hallows-on-the-Wall which dates from 1767 (replacing an earlier church that had survived the Great Fire of London).
Other prominent buildings on London Wall include the Brewer’s Hall, the Carpenter’s Hall and the Plaisterer’s Hall.
High profile and influential though he was during his lifetime – serving as Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, it was the brutal and shocking nature of Thomas Becket’s death that ensured he would be remembered down through the ages.
Already strained, relations between King Henry II and Becket took a further downturn after the Archbishop excommunicated Roger de Pont L’Évêque, the Archbishop of York, Gilbert Foliot, the Bishop of London, and Josceline de Bohon, the Bishop of Salisbury, thanks to their role in crowning Henry, the Young King, in York, without the Archbishop’s permission.
On hearing the news of the excommunication, King Henry II is said to have uttered those immortal words, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” (although there is considerable dispute over exactly what he said – contemporary biographer (and Canterbury monk) Edward Grim, for example, has the quote as: “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?”).
Whatever the exact words, the King’s utterance – made while he was at Bur-le-Roi near Bayeaux in modern France – was interpreted as a command by four knights who were present – Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy and Richard le Breton. Leaving the castle, they set out for England to confront the Archbishop.
The knights arrived at Canterbury Cathedral on 29th December, 1170, and informed Becket that he was commanded to go to Winchester to answer for his actions. Becket refused and the knights, retrieving weapons and armour they had stashed outside the cathedral, returned to the cathedral and hunted down Becket (who had apparently ordered the doors to remain open) with swords in their hands.
They found him at a door to the cloister near the stairs leading up to the cathedral quire where monks were chanting vespers. Becket is reported to have said “I am no traitor and I am ready to die” before one of the knights tried to pull him inside. Grabbing a pillar, he refused to go. The knights then struck him with a series of blows on the head which proved fatal.
A modern memorial to Becket which features a statue depicting him lying back with his hand raised as though to ward off blows as he is attacked, is located in St Paul’s Churchyard. The statue, which is made from resin coloured to appear as bronze, is the work of Bainbridge Copnall and was created in 1970 as part of commemorations marking 800 years since his death. It was acquired by the City of London Corporation in 1973.
It was damaged by a falling cherry tree in 1987 but was restored by a student of Copnall.
There are 110 livery companies in London, representing various “ancient” and modern trades. But the oldest is said to be the Worshipful Company of Weavers.
What was then known as the Weavers’ Guild was granted a charter by King Henry II in 1155 (although the organisation has an even older origins – there is an entry in the Pipe Rolls as far back as 1130 recording a payment of £16 made on the weaver’s behalf to the Exchequer).
In 1490, the Weaver’s Guild obtained a Grant of Arms, in the early 16th century it claimed the status of an incorporated craft, and, in 1577 it obtained ratification of its ordinances from the City of London.
By the late 16th century, the company – its numbers swollen by foreign weavers including Protestants fleeing persecution in Europe – built a hall on land it owned in Basinghall Street. A casualty of the Great Fire of London, the hall was rebuilt by 1669 but by the mid-1850s had fallen into disrepair and was pulled down and replaced by an office block.
After the office building was destroyed during World War II (fortunately some of the company’s treasures which had been stored there had already been moved), the company considered rebuilding the hall but decided its money could be better used, including on charitable works.
For many years, the company’s business was run from various clerk’s offices outside the City of London but since 1994 it has been run from Saddlers’ House.
The company, which ranks 42nd in the order of precedence for livery companies, has the motto ‘Weave Truth With Trust’.
This month marks 200 years since the death of Romantic poet and London resident John Keats – famous for poems including Ode to a Grecian Urn and Ode to the Nightingale – at the age of just 25.
Born on 31st October, 1795, Keats was the eldest of Thomas Keats and Frances Jennings’ four children. The story goes that he was born in the stable – owned by his mother’s father and managed by his father, located near Finsbury Circus.
At the age of eight, Keats attended the boy’s academy at Enfield (his brothers George and Tom would also attend). He had been at the school for less than a year when, on the night of 15th April, 1804, his father was seriously injured in a horse-riding accident and died the following day.
Within a couple of months, his mother entered an ill-fated marriage and eventually left her family to live with another man. She returned to her family by 1808 but, now ill, she died of tuberculosis in March, 1809. following his mother’s death, his grandmother appointed two London merchants including tea broker Richard Abbey as Keats’ guardians.
Keats, meanwhile, built up a close friendship with headmaster John Clarke and his older son Charles Cowden Clarke at Enfield and through them really began to foster a love of literature (in particular Edmund Spenser‘s Faerie Queene is said to have helped awakened his love of poetry).
But at Abbey’s instruction he left Enfield in 1811 and began to work toward a career as a surgeon, apprenticed to surgeon Thomas Hammond, in nearby Edmonton.
In October, 1815, he left his apprenticeship with Dr Hammond, apparently after a quarrel between them. Moving into London, he registered at Guy’s Hospital for the six-month course of study which was required for him to become a licensed surgeon and apothecary. Lodging with two older students at 28 St Thomas Street, he progressed quickly and was soon promoted to “dresser”, a role which saw him involved dressing wounds daily to prevent or minimize infection, setting bones, and assisting with surgery.
Poetry, however, continued to occupy his mind and his sonnet OSolitude! became his first published poem when it appeared in The Examiner on 5th May, 1816 (editor Leigh Hunt, who was introduced to Keats by Clarke later that year, also went on to publish other works including his sonnet On First Looking into Chapman’s Home).
Keats, who became a certified apothecary in late 1816 (he’d holidayed in Margate with his brother Tom after passing his exams earlier that year), now faced further studies to become a surgeon. But he instead decided to give up medicine and devote himself entirely to his poetry (a move which apparently infuriated his now sole guardian Abbey). About the same time he moved into lodgings at 76 Cheapside with his two brothers, George and Tom (there was also a sister Fanny), having previously lived with that at 8 Dean Street in Southwark.
His circle of artistic acquaintances – which included fellow Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and painter Benjamin Robert Haydon – now growing, in March, 1817, Keats’ first book of poetry – Poems – was published. It was also around that time that he moved with his brothers to a property at 1 Well Walk in Hampstead, no longer needing to be near the hospitals where he had worked and studied.
In May, 1818, Keats published his 4,000 line allegorical romance, Endymion, but it received a rather scathing reception including by Blackwood’s Magazine which apparently declared the work nonsense and recommended Keats give up writing poetry.
In summer that year, Keats went on a walking tour of Scotland, Ireland and the Lake District with his friend Charles (Armitage) Brown. Following his return to Hampstead, Keats nursed his brother Tom who was ailing from tuberculosis (George having by now left for America) and who died on 1st December.
Following his brother’s death, Keats accepted Brown’s invitation to move into his property at Wentworth Place, located on the edge of Hampstead Heath (now the Keats House museum).
While living at Wentworth Place, Keats developed an intimate relationship with next-door neighbour Frances (Fanny) Brawne and the couple “came to an understanding” but his literary ambitions and failing health – by early 1820 he too had tuberculosis – meant it never came to marriage.
Keats third volume of poetry – containing his famous odes including Ode to a Nightingale and Ode to a Grecian Urn – was published in mid-1820 but now increasingly suffering from tuberculosis, he was advised by his doctors to head to a warmer climate. In September that year he left for Rome with his friend, the painter Joseph Severn (who painted a famous posthumous portrait of Keats), knowing he would probably never see Brawne again.
In Rome – having had to spend 10 days quarantine after the ship arrived in Naples due to a suspected cholera outbreak, he moved into a villa on the Spanish Steps (now home to the Keats-Shelley Memorial House museum) but, despite medical efforts, his health continued to deteriorate.
John Keats died on 23rd February, 1821, and was buried in the city’s Protestant cemetery. His tombstone bears no name or date, just the words “Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water” and an epitaph which speaks of a “young English poet”.
Keats had only been a serious poet for some six years prior to his death and his three volumes of poetry had probably only amounted to some 200 copies. But his reputation continued to grow after his death with support from the likes of Shelley, Tennyson and the pre-Raphaelites, and he is now well-established in the literary canon as one of the greatest English poets.
As well as Keats’ House – which is managed by the City of London and which features an English Heritage Blue Plaque on the facade, Keats is memorialised with several other plaques in London and a famous statue at Guy’s Hospital which features him seated in a former alcove removed from London Bridge – see image above).