This notable Marylebone Street contains the home of Henry Higgins, the professor of phonetics who attempts to help Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle pass for a duchess as part of a bet in George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion.
Written in 1912, the play which gives Professor Higgins’ address as 27A Wimpole Street was in 1964 adapted into the film, My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison.
The choice of Wimpole Street as the address of Professor Higgins – both for his home and “laboratory” – was apparently not co-incidental. Articles in The Telegraph and Daily Mail last year talk about the fact that 27a lies not far from a grand Georgian (Grade II-listed) townhouse (then on the market for £15 million) in Upper Wimpole Street which was formerly the home of a Professor Horace Hayman Wilson, a professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University in the early 19th century.
The articles say that while the “real-life academic ‘model'” for Higgins was Henry Sweet – an early 20th century Oxford professor of phonetics who is named in the preface to the play, the basis for Professor Higgins’ rather grand lifestyle was that of Professor Wilson.
They also suggest that the connection between Professor Higgins and Professor Wilson makes sense considering one of the mysteries of Pygmalion – how a humble phonetics professor could afford consulting rooms on a street known for wealthy private medical practices.
The answer lies in the Professor Wilson’s history – his father, a doctor, bought a house in the street in 1806 and subsequently bought a neighbouring property for his son who initially pursued a medical career before moving into academia where he specialised in languages. Splitting his time between Wimpole Street, Oxford and Calcutta in India, Professor Wilson’s lifestyle, straddling high society and academia, formed a prototype for that of Professor Higgins. Or so the story goes.
PICTURE: Looking down Wimpole Street; number 27 is second on the left. PICTURE: Google Maps.
This Week in London – The ‘William Charter’ on show; Donald Trump in London; and the Fourth Plinth shortlist…
January 19, 2017
• 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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July 13, 2016
The fact the properties can have many residents with the passing of the years means that there’s a select number of properties in London (18 to be exact) which bear more than one English Heritage blue plaque – among them 4 Carlton Gardens in St James’s (home to 19th century PM Lord Palmerston and where General Charles De Gaulle set up the headquarter of the free French forces in 1940).
But among that group is an even more select group – properties which bear two blue plaques with both of those people commemorated coming from the same family. The home at 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead (pictured above) falls into this group.
Now a museum, the home’s celebrated occupants have included psycho-analyst Sigmund Freud, who lived here briefly in the final years of his life (between 1938 and his death on 23rd September, 1939), and his daughter Anna Freud, the youngest of his six children and herself a pioneering psycho-analyst, who lived here from 1938 until her death in 1982.
Both occupants have their own blue plaques on the property: Sigmund’s original London County Council blue plaque was unveiled on the site by his daughter Anna – then still occupant in the home – in 1956, the 100th anniversary of his birth. It had deteriorated and was replaced in 2002, at the same time a plaque to Anna herself was unveiled.
When Freud had moved to London from Vienna in June, 1938 – following the annexation of Austria by the Third Reich, he had initially lived in Primrose Hill before settling in the property in Maresfield Gardens along with his family and a significant collection of furniture from his Vienna consulting rooms.
In 1986, four years after Anna’s death, property was reopened as the Freud Museum and the public can still go inside and see Freud’s study, including his famed consulting couch, just as it was when he lived there.
The Freuds aren’t, of course, the only family members commemorated by English Heritage Blue Plaques – others include suffragette mother and daughters Emmeline and Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst (the first two commemorated on a single plaque at 50 Clarendon Road in Notting Hill and the latter at 120 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea), and father and son Prime Ministers William Pitt the Elder and his son William Pitt the Younger (at 10 St James’s Square in St James’s and 120 Baker Street in Marylebone respectively).
WHERE: Freud Museum London, 20 Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead (nearest Tube stations are Finchley Road and Swiss Cottage); WHEN: Noon to 5pm, Wednesday to Sunday; COST: £7 adults; £5 seniors; £4 concessions (including children 12-16); children under 12 free; WEBSITE: www.freud.org.uk.
The concept of a scheme involving placing commemorative plaques on what was once the homes of notable people was first raised by MP William Ewart in 1863 in Parliament.
Three years later, in 1866, the idea was adopted by the then Society of Arts (later the Royal Society of Arts) and in 1867 it erected two blue plaques, the first being one commemorating the birthplace of Lord Byron at 24 Holles Street just south of Cavendish Square in Marylebone and the second being that erected to Emperor Napoleon III in King Street (see last week’s post).
But the Byron plaque had the honour of being the first and it remained on the property until it was demolished in 1889 and the plaque, presumably, lost.
It has, however, been replaced several times on subsequent buildings on the site – the latest incarnation, is a “green plaque” erected by Westminster City Council on what is now a John Lewis store and was unveiled on National Poetry Day in 2012 (it replaced a non-standard, rectangular-shaped plaque – pictured above – which was installed after the building was bombed during World War II).
The current plaque describes Lord Byron as “one of the greatest British poets” and quotes him: “Always laugh when you can. It is a cheap medicine.”
Byron is said to have been born at the property on 22nd January, 1788 and was baptised George Gordon Byron at the nearby St Marylebone Parish Church. Interestingly, English Heritage says that recent research has shown there is no clear evidence for which house in Holles Street Lord Byron actually lived in meaning none of the plaques may have actually marked the correct site.
During the first 35 years of the scheme’s existence it erected on some 35 plaques (there are now some 900 in existence, so the pace has quickened since).
Less than half of them now survive but among those that do are plaques to poet John Keats (erected in 1896 on Keats’ House in Hampstead), novelist William Makepeace Thackeray (erected in 1887 on 2 Palace Green in Kensington) and politician and author Edmund Burke (erected in 1876 on 37 Gerrard Street in Soho.
May 16, 2016
This West End district, located between Bloomsbury, Marylebone and Soho, probably owes its name to the Fitzroy Tavern, a public house which in turn is believed to owe its name to the Dukes of Grafton, whose family name was Fitzroy.
The Fitzroys (the name derives from a Norman-French phrase and was typically associated with base-born royal sons), owned land in the area until the end of the 1800s.
The family first become associated with the area after the Manor of Tottenham (more on that name in an upcoming post) came into the possession of Henry Fitzroy, an illegitimate son of King Charles II who became the Earl of Euston and later Duke of Grafton.
Incidentally, the grand Fitzroy Square, developed by the duke’s grandson, and Fitzroy Street are both also named after the family as are numerous other locations in the area including Grafton Street.
Fashionable as a residential area in the 1700s, the houses were gradually transformed into workshops – the area was noted for furniture-makers in particular – or cheap tenements and it’s during this period in the early 1800s that artists like John Constable were living in the area.
The name Fitzrovia apparently became popularised for the district which in the inter-war years, due to the community of artists and writers that met at the pub; it is said to have first appeared in print in the 1940s. Among those who were associated with the area during this period were the likes of writers Dylan Thomas and George Orwell and artists like Roger Fry and Augustus John.
More recently the area has become home to numerous media companies, particularly TV-related companies, and still hosts ample pubs, restaurants and cafes.
Notable buildings in the area include the BT Tower, a communications tower completed in 1964 which was until 1980, the tallest building not only in London but in the UK (and from where panoramic views could once be had – sadly it’s been long closed to the public).
Fitzrovia is also home to the quirky Pollock’s Toy Museum.
PICTURE: David Castor (caster)/Wikipedia
December 21, 2015
Published 172 years ago this December, the five part morality tale centres on the miserly Londoner Ebenezer Scrooge who, following several ghostly visitations by the likes of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come, becomes a changed man and recaptures the essence of what Christmas is all about.
The book – whose characters (said to have been partly based on people he knew in real life) also include the abused clerk Bob Cratchit and his ever positive youngest son, Tiny Tim – is based in London.
Among key locations mentioned in the book is Scrooge’s counting house, said to have been located in a courtyard off Cornhill (it’s been suggested this is Newman’s Court, thanks to a reference to a church tower, believed to be St Michael’s Cornhill – pictured), the home of Scrooge (it has been speculated this was located in Lime Street), and the home in Camden Town where the Cratchits celebrate their Christmas (perhaps based on one of Dickens’ childhood homes in Bayham Street). City of London institutions like the home of the Lord Mayor, Mansion House, and the Royal Exchange are also mentioned.
The book, which apparently only took Dickens six weeks to write while he was living at 1 Devonshire Terrace in Marylebone, was first published on 19th December, 1843, by London-based firm Chapman & Hall. Based at 186 Strand, they published many of Dickens’ works – everything from The Old Curiosity Shop to Martin Chuzzlewit – along with those of authors such as William Makepeace Thackeray and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
A Christmas Carol‘s first print run of 6,000 sold out any Christmas Eve that same year and sales continued to be strong into the following year. Despite its warm reception by critics and popularity among the public, the book’s profits were somewhat disappointing for Dickens who had hoped to pay off his debts (he also lost out when he took on some pirates who printed their own version two months after its publication; having hauled them to court Dickens was apparently left to pay costs when they declared bankruptcy).
Dickens would later give some public readings of the book, most notably as a benefit for the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children (his last public reading of the book took place at St James’s Hall in London on 15th March, 1870, just three months before his death).
The book, which has apparently never been out of print, went on to become something of a Christmas classic and has been adapted into various films, theatre productions, radio plays and TV shows (one of our favourites is The Muppet Christmas Carol, dating from 1992).
December 14, 2015
A Marylebone street which is synonymous the world over with the private medical profession, Harley Street’s name is taken from the surname of the second Earl of Oxford, Edward Harley.
As was the fashion, he named Harley Street after himself – but it’s certainly not the only street which he dubbed with his own moniker. The earl also held the titles of Earl Mortimer (Mortimer Street) and Baron Wigmore (Wigmore Street, Wigmore Place and hence the music venue Wigmore Hall) and also came to own Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire (Wimpole Street) and Welbeck Abbey in Northamptonshire (Welbeck Street and Welbeck Way).
But the ties to the earl don’t end there: in 1713 he married Lady Henrietta Cavendish Holles (Henrietta Place, Cavendish Square, New Cavendish Street and Holles Street) while their daughter Margaret married William Bentinck (Bentinck Street), the 2nd Duke of Portland (Great Portland Street, Little Portland Street and Portland Place).
Incidentally, after the earl’s death, the area passed to his daughter and become known as the Portland Estate. It remained the property of the Dukes of Portland for five generations until the fifth duke died without issue in 1879 and the land passed to Lucy Joan Bentinck, widow of the 6th Baron Howard de Walden. Thus Harley Street now forms part of a 92 acre area known as the Howard de Walden Estate.
But back to Harley Street itself. Its association with the private medical profession dates from the latter half of the 19th century when there was a dramatic increase in the number of those engaged in the profession moving into the area, attracted by its quality housing and accessibility (the numbers still remain significant today). The name Harley Street today refers to both the street and also more generally to the surrounding area.
The long list of famous residents who have lived in the street have included painter JMW Turner (number 64 between 1799 and 1805), Victorian-era PM William Ewart Gladstone (number 73 and geologist Sir Charles Lyell also lived here in a premises which is now The Harley Street General Practice) and, made famous through the film, The King’s Speech, Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue who had his practice at number 146.
Over the past couple of months our special Wednesday series has looked at “10 small, ‘secret’ and historic gardens in central London”. So we’re finishing the series by taking a quick look back at the 10 gardens we featured (and providing a single point where you can find any you may have missed)…
Do you have a favourite? Or maybe there’s a ‘small, secret and historic’ garden we didn’t mention that you love (and we may mention in a future special)?
September 30, 2015
The church – the third to serve the parish – was built here in 1740 but was replaced when the current parish church was built between 1813 and 1817.
In 1951, the St Marylebone Society created a Memorial Garden of Rest on the site (also known as the Old Church Garden). It was opened in March, 1952, by Viscount Portman.
The foundations of the former church were marked out in the sunken portion of the garden. The predominantly paved garden also contains numerous gravestones and memorials.
These include that of Methodist movement leader Charles Wesley, erected in 1858 to commemorate his burial in 1788 (pictured right). There’s also a plaque recording notable burials at the church, including the painter George Stubbs (1806), royal apothecary John Allen (1774), architect James Gibbs and bare knuckle boxer James Figg (1734). Other plaques detail some of the church’s history.
Also of note in the garden is a Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum), named for being the variety upon which Judas hung himself or, alternately, because its fruit pods resemble bags of silver. The current tree replaces an earlier one.
WHERE: Garden of Rest Marylebone, Marylebone High Street (nearest tube stations are St Paul’s and Barbican); WHEN: 7am to dusk; COST: Entry is free; WEBSITE: www.myparks.westminster.gov.uk/parks/garden-of-rest-marylebone/.
This Week in London – The Waterloo Cartoon on show; see inside a former Huguenot’s home; and, Royal Parks’ harvest festivals…
September 3, 2015
• A monumental Victorian-era drawing of the Battle of Waterloo has gone on display in London for the first time since 1972. The Waterloo Cartoon, more formally known as The Meeting of Wellington and Blucher after the Battle of Waterloo, measures more than 13 metres long and three metres high. A preparatory drawing for a wall painting which still exists in the House of Lords’ Royal Gallery, it took artist Daniel Maclise more than a year to complete in 1858-59 and was based on eye-witness accounts (the artist even recruited Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to use their German contacts to gather information from Prussian officers present on the day). Long considered a masterpiece, it was bought by the Royal Academy in 1870 – the year of Maclise’s death – and was on show at Burlington House until the 1920s. It has been in storage for much of last century and, newly restored following a grant from Arts Council England, has now gone on display to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. The newly conserved drawing is the focus of a new exhibition – Daniel Maclise: The Waterloo Cartoon, which opened at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly yesterday (between May and August, it was on show as part of a Waterloo exhibition at the Royal Armouries in Leeds). Runs until 3rd January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.
• There’s a rare chance to see inside a former Huguenot merchant’s house dating from 1719 in Spitalfields this weekend. The property at 19 Princelet Street was the home of the Ogier family, who had come to London escaping persecution in France and worked in the silk weaving trade. It was later subdivided into lodgings and workshops with later occupants following a range of trades and professionals while a synagogue was opened in the garden in 1869. The site – which the Spitalfields Centre charity hopes to establish as a museum of immigration – is not generally open to the public but will be open this Saturday and Sunday – from 2pm to 6pm. Entry is free (but donations would be welcome) and there may be queues so its suggested you arrive early. For more, see www.19princeletstreet.org.uk.
• Watch a bee keeping demonstrations, help dig up some potatoes and introduce the children to some farm animals. The Kensington Gardens’ Harvest Festival will be held this Sunday, between 11am and 4pm, and will also include a range of children’ activities, experts from the Royal Parks Guild on hand to answer your questions about food growing and complimentary hot and cold drinks available throughout the day while stocks last. It’s the first of three harvest festivals to be held in Royal Parks this month with Greenwich Park set to host its inaugural harvest festival on 13th September (11am to 4pm) and The Regent’s Park Allotment Garden to host one on 19th September (11am to 5pm). For more, see www.royalparks.org.uk.
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July 14, 2015
Flowers in Regent’s Park, north London. The park, which was designed by John Nash, was opened to the public in 1835. For more on the history of the park, see our earlier post here.
This Week in London – London Tree Week kicks off; illustrated London at the LT Museum; and, Joshua Reynolds at the Wallace Collection…
May 21, 2015
• London Tree Week kicks off on Saturday with a range of free events happening across the city. They include ‘tree walks’ in Richmond and Greenwich Royal Parks, a tour of paintings featuring trees at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, an exhibition at City Hall featuring some of the city’s great trees, and family-friendly activities at Stave Hill Ecological Park in the city’s south-east. Londoners can also download a free ‘Tree Route’ app which uses the Tube map to showcase the capital’s trees including “must see” trees located near Underground stations such as St Pauls (a swamp cypress) and Angel (a black poplar). There’s also a photo sharing challenge where you can upload photos of trees that have made a difference to your part of London to Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #LondonTreeWeek. For the complete listing of what’s on, follow this link. Runs until 31st May.
• One hundred illustrations capturing a variety of aspects of life in London form the heart of an exhibition, The Prize for Illustration 2015: London Places & Spaces, which has opened at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. The artworks – which range from the past to the present and the contemplative to the loud – are all on the shortlist for the prestigious Prize for Illustration and were selected from more than 1,000 entries. Each of the works is accompanied by a short description written by the artist. The works are on show until 6th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.
• On Now – Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint. Now entering its final days, this exhibition at the Wallace Collection in Marylebone provides a fresh perspective on a giant of the British art world, 18th century portraitist Joshua Reynolds and features such famous works as Nelly O’Brien, Mrs Abingdon as Miss Prue, and Self Portrait Shading the Eyes. Admission is free. Runs until 7th June. For more information, see www.wallacecollection.org.
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Located in Queen Mary’s Gardens in The Regent’s Park, this round fountain features a bronze centrepiece depicting a sea triton blowing on a conch shell with two mermaids (also sometimes referred to as dryads or nereids) springing out of the water at his feet.
Designed by William McMillan (he also designed one of the fountains in Trafalgar Square), the sculpture was offered to the gardens by the painter and sculptor Sigismund Goetze when the gardens were redesigned.
Goetze lived in Grove House (now Nuffield House) on the northern perimeter of the gardens for 30 years until his death in 1939 and had a studio within the grounds; this sculpture was one of a number of features he donated to Queen Mary’s Gardens.
The sculpture, however, was not finished due to the interruption of World War II and it was only in 1950, long after Goetze’s death that it was erected and dedicated by his wife Constance to Sigismund’s memory – “painter, lover of the arts and benefactor of this park”.
The site on which the fountain – which received a gold medal for being the best sculpture exhibited in London that year – was located was formerly occupied by a conservatory which belonged to the Royal Botanical Society.
Incidentally, in 1944 Constance Goetze founded the Constance Fund which funded fountains in Green Park and Hyde Park.
WHERE: Queen Mary’s Gardens, The Regent’s Park (nearest Tube stations are Regent’s Park, Great Portland Street and Baker Street); WHEN: 5am to 7pm daily (closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/the-regents-park.
This Week in London – Garden art from the Royal Collection; A Royal Welcome at Buckingham Palace; photographic history; and, Joshua Reynolds reconsidered…
March 19, 2015
• King Henry VIII’s well-thumbed gardening manual, a late 15th century copy of the Ruralia Commoda, and a 16th century portrait of Jacopo Cennini, factor and estate manager to the House of Medici – believed to be the earliest surviving portrait of a gardener – are among more than 150 objects on display at a new exhibition celebrating the art of gardens. Opening at The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace tomorrow, Painting Paradise: The Art of the Gardens features some of the earliest surviving records of gardens and plants in the Royal Collection including Jan Brueghel the Elder’s Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (1615), The Family of Henry VIII (c. 1545) featuring King Henry VIII’s Great Garden at Whitehall Palace – the first real garden recorded in British art, and A View of Hampton Court by Leonard Knyff (c. 1702-14) – described as the “greatest surviving Baroque painting of an English garden”. There are also works by Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Martin, Swiss artist Johan Jacob Schalch and Sir Edwin Landseer. The exhibition runs until 11th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: Illustration from Henry VIII’s copy of the gardening manual, c. 1490-95. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015.
• Buckingham Palace, meanwhile, has announced its summer opening under the theme of A Royal Welcome. From 25th July to 27th September, displays in the State Rooms will recreate the settings for some of the many occasions in which the palace welcomes guests – from State Visits and garden parties to investitures and private audiences. The displays will show the behind-the-scenes preparations that go into a state visit and show the ballroom set up for a State Banquet. There will also be a display featuring the knighting stool and a knighting sword and, for the first time ever, visitors will enter the State Rooms through the Grand Entrance, used by those who come to the palace at the invitation of the Queen, including heads of state and prime ministers. The Australian State Coach, most recently used to carry the Duke of Edinburgh and the wife of the Mexican President, Señora Rivera, in March this year, will be displayed in the Grand Entrance portico. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.
• About 100 of the “most stunning photographs ever created” go on show in the Science Museum’s Media Space in South Kensington from tomorrow. Revelations explores the role of early scientific photography in inspiring later art photographers and will feature rare shots from the National Photography Collection including an original negative of X-Ray, 19th century photographs capturing electrical charge and William Henry Fox Talbot’s experiments with photomicrography. Displayed alongside are images by some of the 20th century’s pre-eminent art photographers such as Trevor Paglen, Idris Khan and Clare Strand. Runs until 13th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/revelations.
• On Now: Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint. This exhibition at the Wallace Collection in Marylebone provides a new perspective on the portraits of Reynolds, one of the greatest artists of his day. Works on show including Nelly O’Brien, Mrs Abington as Miss Prue and Self Portrait Shading the Eyes as well as lesser known pictures and a rare history painting. The exhibition reveals discoveries made recently during a four year research project into the works of Reynolds now in the care of the collection. Runs until 7th June. Admission is free. For more, see www.wallacecollection.org.
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January 30, 2015
Designed by architect Decimus Burton (he of the Kew Palm House fame), the London Colosseum was a vast, 16-sided domed structure erected in the 1820s to the east of Regent’s Park to house a panoramic view of the city.
Said to be the largest ever painting created at the time, Thomas Hornor – a land surveyor – oversaw the creation of the work which was based on drawings he had made from the top of St Paul’s Cathedral (he had apparently sat in a special, temporary hut or “crow’s nest” positioned where the cross and ball would normally sit – but it was in the process of being replaced). Several artists – led by the renowned ET Parris – were involved in creating the work which took four years to make before it was completed in 1829.
The building – located where Cambridge Gate now stands – had been modelled on the Pantheon in Rome (not the Colosseum as the name would suggest) and was constructed from brick rendered with cement to imitate the appearance of stone. It featured a portico with Doric columns at the front and had inside an “ascending room” or lift to take people to see the panorama.
It’s opening was apparently delayed after Horner and his chief backer, MP Rowland Stevenson, took off to the US after running up rather large debts, leaving the property in the hands of trustees.
The Colosseum changed hands several times over the years and its purpose evolved. At one stage it was reinvented as a museum of sculpture displaying some 180 works while other attractions added to the great rotunda and its surrounding gardens over the years included a “Gothic aviary”, a Swiss chalet from which a visitor could look at a real waterfall and a stalactite cavern as well as a theatre and various other panoramas depicting everywhere from Paris to Lisbon.
Among visitors to the attraction were Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
The Colosseum was put up for auction in 1855 but failed to attract a bid of the size required and, having passed through several hands (with some of the owners at one stage flirting with the idea of turning it into a grand hotel), it was eventually was demolished in the 1870s.
PICTURE: Via Wikipedia.
This Week in London – Gothic literature at the British Library; founder of War Graves Commission honoured; and, New Year’s Eve tickets on sale…
October 2, 2014
• The UK’s largest exhibition of Gothic literature opens at the British Library in Kings Cross on Saturday (4th October), marking the 250th anniversary of the publication of the breakthrough book, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will feature manuscripts and rare and personal editions of Gothic classics like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist as well as the work of contemporary writers like Angela Carter and Mervyn Peake. There will also be Gothic-inspired artworks by the likes of Henry Fuseli and William Blake and modern art, photography, costumes and movies by the likes of Chapman Brothers and Stanley Kubrick. A range of literary, film and music events will accompany the exhibition which runs until 20th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/gothic/. PICTURE: Percival Delivering Belisane from the Enchantment of Urma, Henry Fuselli. © Tate.
• The founder of the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission, Sir Fabian Ware (1869-1949), has been honoured with an English Heritage blue plaque at his former home in Marylebone. Sir Fabian lived at the early 19th century Grade II-listed terraced house at 14 Wyndham Place between 1911 and 1919. It was during this period that he served with the British Red Cross in France and first began recording the graves of soldiers killed in battle. In 1917, the Imperial War Graves Commission was formed with the task of reburying the war dead in permanent cemeteries in France. Knighted in 1920, Sir Fabian was to be director of graves registration and enquiries at the War Office during World War II and it was at this time that he extended the war graves scheme to civilians killed in the conflict. The commission changed its name to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 1960. Today it cares for cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations in 153 countries. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.
• New Year’s Eve in London will be a ticketed event for the first time this year with 100,000 tickets being made available to the public with each costing a £10 administration fee – the entire sum of which will apparently be used to pay for the ticketing system. Making the announcement last month, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson’s, office, said the growth in numbers of those who have gathered to watch the fireworks on the Thames – from around 100,000 in 2003 to an estimated 500,000 last year – has put an enormous strain on transport and safety infrastructure and meant people have had to turn up earlier and earlier to get a good view, facing hours waiting in cold and cramped conditions, or risk being among the “hundreds of thousands” unable to get a good view or even see the display at all. Booking tickets – people may secure up to four – will guarantee “good views of the celebrations and a better visitor experience”. To book tickets, head to www.london.gov.uk/nye.
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September 15, 2014
We’re looking at some of London’s World War I memorials so it’s only fitting we look at the life of acclaimed architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, the man credited with designing the Cenotaph – the UK’s national war memorial – in Whitehall (pictured below).
Lutyens was born in London at 16 Onslow Square, South Kensington, on 29th March, 1869, and – the ninth son and 10th of 13 children of soldier Captain Charles Lutyens and his wife Mary – was named for painter and sculptor Edwin Henry Landseer, a friend of his father’s. He grew up in London and Surrey and in 1885 commenced studying architecture at the South Kensington School of Art. In 1887, he left before completing the course, briefly joining the practice of Ernest George and Harold Peto before starting his own practice in 1889.
Early commissions included country houses and it was during this period that he met with mentor and landscape gardener Gertrude Jekyll, a relationship which led him to design her home, Munstead Wood near Godalming in Surrey.
In 1897, Lutyens, known familiarly as ‘Ned’, married Emily Lytton – daughter of the late Viceroy of India and first earl of Lytton, Edward Buller-Lytton – and by 1908 the couple had five children. The family’s London addresses included 29 Bloomsbury Square (which also served as his office), 31 Bedford Square and 13 Mansfield Street, Marylebone, while his offices were located in numerous places including at 17 Queen Anne’s Gate.
Lutyens continued designing country houses – he eventually designed more than 35 major properties and altered and added many more – and among his commissions were Castle Drogo in Devon and the refurbishment of Northumberland’s spectacularly sited Lindisfarne Castle – both now National Trust properties. He was also involved in helping to plan and design Hampstead Garden Suburb in London, work which included designing two churches.
In 1912, Lutyens was invited to advise on the planning of the new Indian capital in New Delhi and his most important contribution was the design of the Viceroy’s House which combined elements of classical architecture with traditional Indian decoration. He was knighted in 1918 for his contributions in India and for his advice to the Imperial War Graves Commission.
It was his role in this latter effort which led to his becoming a national figure. He was involved in the creation of numerous monuments to commemorate the war dead, the best known of which are the Cenotaph in Whitehall – initially commissioned as a temporary structure (see our earlier post here) – and the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in Thiepval in northern France as well as the Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux and the Anglo-Boer War Memorial in Johannesburg.
He also designed more than 100 war cemeteries in France and Belgium and other war memorials – including overseas in places like Dublin – as well as London’s Tower Hill Memorial (see our earlier post here). Other London buildings he designed included the headquarters of Country Life magazine in Tavistock Street, Britannic House in Finsbury Square, the head office of the Midland Bank in Poultry and the Reuters and Press Association headquarters at 85 Fleet Street (now home to the Lutyens Restaurant, Bar and Private Rooms).
Lutyens was elected a fellow of the Royal Academy in 1920 (he was later president) and in 1924 was appointed a founding member of the Royal Fine Arts Commission. Even as he continued work in Delhi, he took on other commissions – such as the British Embassy in Washington, DC – and in 1924 he completed one of his most lauded – and smallest – designs: that of the one twelfth scale Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House which was shown at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley and which can still be seen at Windsor Castle.
In 1929 Lutyens was commissioned to design a new Roman Catholic Cathedral for Liverpool but when he died on 1st January, 1944, this work was still unfinished with only the crypt completed thanks to the outbreak of World War II broke. Lutyens’ funeral was held in Westminster Abbey a few days later and his ashes were subsequently placed in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral.
For more information on Lutyens’ life and works, check out The Lutyens Trust, founded in 1984 to preserve and protect his legacy.
August 4, 2014
Famed around the world for her London-based wax museum (and the chain of waxworks which now bears her name), French-born Madame Tussaud is a towering figure of the early 19th century.
Born Anna Maria Grosholtz in Strasbourg on 1st December, 1761, Marie Tussaud’s association with waxworks came early when, her father Joseph having apparently died from wounds sustained in the Seven Years War just before her birth, she accompanied her mother Anna Maria Walder to Berne in Switzerland where her mother took up a position as a housekeeper for a physician and anatomical wax sculptor and portraitist Dr Philippe Curtius.
In 1765, Dr Curtius moved to pre-Revolutionary Paris where he was soon to open a couple of establishments – at the Palais-Royal and the Boulevard du Temple (later consolidated at the latter site) – displaying his works in wax. Marie, whom Dr Curtius brought to Paris with her mother in 1768, started working with him on wax models and in 1777, at the age of just 16, produced her first wax figure, that of philosopher Voltaire. Other early works of Madame Tussaud’s depicted Rousseau and Benjamin Franklin.
The story goes that such was the renown of Tussaud and her “uncle” Dr Curtius, that their social circle came to include members of the Royal Family. Tussaud is widely believed to have been an art tutor to King Louis XVI’s sister Elizabeth and may have even taken up residence at Versailles.
Tussaud recounts that she was arrested during the French Revolution – the story goes that she was imprisoned and eventually released thanks to the intervention of family friend and revolutionary Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois but whether this is true remains a matter of debate.
Tussaud claims she was then forced make death masks of those who ended their life on the scaffold including Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Marat and Robespierre. When Curtius died in 1794, she inherited his wax works and the following year married an engineer Francois Tussaud with whom she had two sons, Joseph and Francois (later known as Francis).
In 1802, Madame Tussaud accepted an invitation to go to London to exhibit her work at the Lyceum Theatre but thanks to the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars, she and her four-year-old son Joseph were unable to return to France. Separated from her husband, she subsequently spent the next three decades travelling with her exhibition – which included relics from the Revolution and, like those of Curtius, was being constantly updated to reflect current affairs – around Britain and Ireland.
Her son Francois joined her in 1822 and Tussaud continued travelling until 1835 when she first established a permanent exhibition in Baker Street, London. Known as the Baker Street Bazaar, it apparently contained more than 400 wax figures. In 1846, Punch Magazine is credited with having invented the term ‘Chamber of Horrors’ for the room where the relics of the French Revolution were displayed.
Tussaud wrote her memoirs in 1838, and, in 1842, completed a wax model of herself. She died in her sleep on 16th April, 1850, in London. Her son Francois became chief artist for the exhibition after her retirement – he was succeeded by his son and then grandson. The exhibition moved to its current site in Marylebone Road in 1884.
Now owned by the Merlin Entertainments Group, Madame Tussauds has branches in cities in some 10 countries as well as its London base. Many of her original models still exist and are on display in the London museum along with the exhibition’s oldest attraction – known as ‘Sleeping Beauty’, it dates from 1863 – a breathing likeness of Louis XV’s sleeping mistress Madame du Barry.
For more on Madame Tussauds today, see www.madametussauds.com.
For more on the life of Madame Tussaud, see Kate Berridge’s book, Waxing Mythical: The Life and Legend of Madame Tussaud.
July 14, 2014
The site of public executions for hundreds of years, it’s generally accepted that at about 9am on 3rd November, 1783, John Austin became the last person to be hanged there (for more on the history of executions at Tyburn – and in particular the massive gallows known as the Tyburn Tree – see our previous post here).
Austin had been convicted of being a highwayman – specifically for inflicting “robbery with violence” upon labourer John Spicer, two weeks before during which Austin had attacked Spicer, beating and cutting him, “in a cruel manner”.
As he stood on the cart beneath the gallows (a mobile gallows had been in use since 1759 when the Elizabethan-era Tyburn Tree was dismantled), Austin’s last words were somewhat predictable – he requested that the crowd pray for his “departing soul”, that they would heed his example and that Jesus would have “mercy upon my poor soul”.
His death, it is said, was “hard”. As the cart was moved off, the halter around his neck apparently slipped “to the back part of his head” and instead of his neck being broken, Austin slowly choked to death.
The decision to cease executions at Tyburn (near where Marble Arch now stands) and move them to outside Newgate Prison was apparently due to complaints. These came from both City traders who felt the condemned person’s three mile procession from Newgate to Tyburn disrupted making money and the fashionable who sought to live in the city’s outlying western areas like Marylebone and who didn’t want to see the unruly mob that typically accompanied outside their front doors. Such groups had long been lobbying for the practice to come to an end.
For more on the history of Tyburn see Robert Bard’s Tyburn: The Story of London’s Gallows.