This Fitzrovia pub, famous for its literary connections (more about those in a moment), takes its name from a popular 18th century military hero.

marquis-of-granbyJohn Manners, the Marquis of Granby, played a key role for Britain during the Seven Years War – between Britain and her allies and France and hers – and, thanks to his popularity among the soldiers who served under his command, had numerous pubs named for him (he apparently also had a hand in setting up many old soldiers as publicans).

In his most famous battlefield exploit, while leading a series of cavalry charges at the Battle of Warburg in 1760 (in actions which saved the day), he apparently lost his hat and wig and was forced to salute his commander, Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, without them.

All of which explains why the pub sign doesn’t show him wearing a hat and why soldiers from his former regiment, the Blues and Royals, have the unique privilege in being able to salute while not wearing headwear. The fact Manners was bald also apparently led to the coining of the phrase, “going at it bald-headed” – a reference to his fearlessness.

The pub, located at 2 Rathbone Street (on the corner with Percy Street – the address was formerly known as 38 Percy Street), is famous for its literary clientele during the years between the two World Wars – among those who drank here were writers Dylan Thomas and TS Eliot. They apparently shared the space with some low-level gangland figures.

For more, see www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/london/themarquisofgranbyrathbonestreetlondon.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0/

chinese-new-year

A scene from Chinese New Year celebrations heralding the Year of the Rooster held in central London last weekend. PICTURE: Garry Knight/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

john-lewis-oxford-street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.hamleys.com

PICTURED: Hamleys during its 250th birthday celebrations.

London is illuminated for Christmas. Here’s some of what photographers on Flickr have captured this year…
regent-street

Christmas in Regent Street. PICTURE: Michael Reilly/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

west-end

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

carnaby-street

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

oxford-street

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

st-katharines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more, see www.debenhams.com.

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

The Museum of London Docklands is currently running an exhibition exploring the history of the Royal African Company through the story of William Ansah Sessarakoo. But just who was this African ‘prince’ who came to London (albeit only briefly) and caused such a stir through Georgian society?

Born around 1736, William Ansah Sessarakoo was the son of John Correntee, head of Annamaboe, the largest slave-trading port on Africa’s Gold Coast (now Ghana). Correntee had earlier sent one of his sons to France to be educated and the English traders, apparently worried at the close relationship Correntee had with the French, offered Correntee the chance for another of his sons to receive an English education.

portrait-of-william-ansah-sessarakoo-1749-c-national-portrait-gallery-londonCorrentee agreed and his son Ansah subsequently spent much of his time at Fort William, the English base in the region,  learning English and their customs and culture. When offered the chance to send Ansah to England, Correntee again agreed and it was decided he would take ship aboard the Lady Carolina with Captain David Bruce Crichton.

Crichton, however, soon betrayed his trust and instead of taking Ansah to England, sold him into slavery in Bridgetown, Barbados. Back in Africa, his family were led to believe he was dead.

But, well known as he was among the Fante people, Ansah was “discovered” four years later by a Fante trader in Barbados. When news reached Correntee he petitioned the English to free him and honour the original deal to send him to England. Anxious to protect their trade, the English agreed and the Royal African Company, which traded along Africa’s west coast, liberated him and transported him to England.

Upon his arrival in early 1749, he was presented as Prince William Ansah Sessarakoo or ‘The Royal African’. Staying as a guest in the Grosvenor Square home of George Montagu Dunk, the 2nd Earl of Halifax, he made numerous appearances in London society. Most notably, on 1st February, 1749, when he attended a showing of Thomas Southerne’s play Oroonoko which tells the story of an African prince sold into slavery by Europeans who then rebels and, after being forced to kill his wife, is himself executed. Sessarakoo was apparently so disturbed by the similarities between that story and his own, that he left the performance early.

In 1750, Ansah returned home. Within a year of his return he had gained work as a writer at Cape Coast Castle, the seat of English power on the Gold Coast and, using his connections there and abroad, he helped his father in his trading with both the English and French. His relationship with the English soured, however, after a physical altercation with William Mutter, the governor of Cape Coast Castle, over a pay dispute involving watered-down whiskey.

Ansah lived the rest of his life in relative obscurity back in Annamaboe and while there are records he did work as a slave trader during this period, little else is known. While no records exist, it is generally believed he probably died around 1770.

Despite his ignoble end, one of the legacies of Ansah’s visit to London was to show the nobility of the African people – a line of thought which did contribute to the rise of the abolitionist movement in Britain.

The Royal African display, featuring the story of William Ansah Sessarakoo, can be seen at the Museum of London Docklands until 4th June, 2017. Admission is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands/whats-on/exhibitions/royal-african.

PICTURE: William Ansah Sessarakoo by John Faber, Jr. c. 1749 © National Portrait Gallery, London

 

liberty1Liberty, now a West End institution, was founded by Arthur Lasenby Liberty in 1875 with a vision to transform the way people thought of fashion and homewares.

Born the son of a Buckinghamshire draper, Liberty worked with relatives from a young age before he eventually started work with a women’s fashion house, Farmer and Rogers. Rising to management, when they refused to make him a partner in the business, he decided to strike out on his own and established Liberty & Co at 218a Regent Street, an ‘oriental warehouse’ selling ornaments, fabric and objets d’art. He named the property East India House.

libertyOnly 18 months after he first set up shop – financed with a £2,000 loan from his future father-in-law and employed three staff – he was already expanding his premises into properties to the south in Regent Street to house furnishings and carpets. He eventually took over all the buildings between 140 to 150 and named the extended building Chesham House.

The costume department was introduced in 1884 and together with its director EW Godwin, Liberty created in-house fashions to challenge those of Paris. He is also noted for having encouraged and collaborated with designers like Archibald Knox and William Morris.

Liberty, who took the company public in 1894, was knighted in 1913. He died in 1917, seven years before the current Liberty store – the mock-Tudor building on the corner of Regent Street and Great Marlborough Street – was built.

Designed by Edwin T Hall and son, the shop was built from the timbers of two ships, the HMS Impregnable and the HMS Hindustan (and the shop frontage measures the same length as the latter). It was built around three light wells, each of which was surrounded by smaller rooms – many of which have fireplaces and were designed to give the feel of rooms in a house.

Features on the Grade II*- listed building include its weathervane – an exact replica of the Mayflower, which took pilgrims to the US in 1620, decorative shields including the arms of Shakespeare and those of the wives of King Henry VIII, and the clock above the Kingly Street entrance.

Liberty, which is generally acknowledged to have been a powerful influence on 19th and 20th century fashions and tastes, was bought by its current owners, BlueGem in 2010.

~ www.libertylondon.com

selfridges
Christmas lights are appearing already and shop windows are being unveiled. So in the lead-up to the yuletide celebrations this year, we’re taking a look at eight of London’s most historic department stores.

To kick it off, we’re looking at how it all started for Selfridges, the department store started by American Harry Gordon Selfridge and made famous, in recent times, as the setting for the TV series, Mr Selfridge.

Selfridge, who had been born in Wisconsin in the US, formed the company Selfridges & Co in 1906, having made his way to London from Chicago where he had been extensively involved in the department store Field & Leiter (later Marshall Fields) rising to become a junior partner in the business (he had, after leaving Marshall Fields, apparently subsequently opened his own store in Chicago but not wanting to compete with his former employees, decided to head for London).

As well as drawing on his own resources, he was backed by Samuel Waring of furniture makers Waring & Gillow, who did so on condition that he not sell furniture in his store, a condition respected long after W&G had ceased trading.

Work began on his new purpose-built neo-classical department store at 400 Oxford Street soon after. Featuring rows of columns and taking up a whole block, it was designed by American architect Daniel Burnham whom Selfridge knew from Chicago and wasn’t fully completed until 1928. As mentioned in a previous post, an idea for a colossal tower on the building was never realised.

The grand opening was held on 15th March, 1909, and, a master of the theatrical, Selfridge’s publicity campaigns had ensured a crowd and as many as 30 police officers were apparently required to help hold back the crowds.

Known to his staff as The Chief, Selfridge – who now preferred the name Gordon to Harry, kept the masses talking about his store when in July that same year he put on display the plane French aviator Louis Bleriot had used when making the first flight over water. More than 150,000 people came to see it.

Selfridge, driven by his credo that “the customer is always right”, revolutionised the way the British shopped – particularly women – with his stylish display of goods in-store and in the windows, not to mention store features like the women’s toilets (a novelty for the age), Art Deco lifts, rooftop gardens and the Palm Court Restaurant (destroyed by fire caused by bombing in the 1940s). Other facilities included a post office, theatre booking office, library and an information bureau.

And the innovations kept coming: in 1910, he opened a beauty department inside the ground-floor entrance and in 1911, the Bargain Basement was born. The world’s biggest bookshop became part of the store in 1911 as well as a pet department. He also launched a delivery system using a fleet of horse-drawn vans and then petrol and electric powered vans.

And Selfridge continued to draw crowds with events ranging from a gala charity ball on the rooftop in 1913 to a showing of John Logie Baird’s televisor in 1925. In 1931, the famous clock, The Queen of Time was installed over the flagship store’s entrance.

Selfridge, who was forced to retire in 1939 after losing much of his personal fortune – thanks at least in part to his free-spending lifestyle, died in 1947.

Aside from the flagship store in London, Selfridges stores can now be found in Birmingham and Manchester (two).

PICTURE: Russ London/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 2.5/Image cropped

For more on the history of Selfridges, see Lindy Woodhead’s Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge.

the-coal-holeThis pub’s name is fairly self-explanatorily related to coal but there’s a couple of different versions floating around as to why.

One story, mentioned on the pub’s website, says the name comes from the legend that the pub occupies the space which once contained the coal cellar for the Savoy Hotel – not a great leap given its location on the corner of Carting Lane and the Strand, with the Savoy Hotel just behind.

The other is that it takes its name from the “coal heavers” – men who moved coal – who worked nearby on the River Thames. Again, not too much of a stretch.

Which-ever is true (or maybe both), the current Grade II-listed building at 91-92 Strand dates from just after the turn of the 19th century and, according to a plaque on the property, was apparently briefly known as as the New Strand Wine Lodge.

During Edwardian times it was apparently a ‘song and supper’ club where patrons were encouraged to sing (something like the karaoke bars of today).

Gilbert and Sullivan apparently regularly performed here regularly during Edwardian times and the great Shakespearean thespian, Edmund Keane, apparently started the Wolf Club – ostensibly “for oppressed husbands forbidden to sing in the bath” but apparently as a pretence for considerably more debauched activities – in the basement.

Now part of the Nicholson’s chain. For more, see www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/london/thecoalholestrandlondon

PICTURE: Ewan Munro/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0/Cropped

shaftesbury-avenue-london

Looking down Shaftesbury Avenue, the heart of London’s Theatreland, in the West End. PICTURE: Pedro Szekely/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

This popular Covent Garden pub lies in the heart of London’s Theatreland and is noted for its popularity with actors.

SalisburyLocated at 90 St Martin’s Lane, the pub was built in the late 1800s on the site of an earlier public house which had been known under various different names including The Coach & Horses and Ben Caunt’s head (the latter after the famed bare knuckle fighter when the pub apparently hosted such bouts).

It was first named the Salisbury Stores – an ‘SS’ motif can still be seen in some of the glasswork, with the origins of the name coming from the fact that the site was leased from Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury, who was thrice PM in the late 19th and early 20th century, in about 1899.

The Cecil family’s coat-of-arms can be seen above the door on the corner of St Martin’s Lane and St Martin’s Court (Cecil Court is located nearby).

The now Grade II-listed Taylor Walker pub, which dropped the ‘Stores’ off its name in the 1960s, was restored in the mid-20th century and again at the end. It features original etched glass, hand-carved mahogany woodwork and art nouveau candelabra.

The pub, which, as well as its association with actors, has also long had an association with the gay community in London, has appeared in numerous films including Dirk Bogarde vehicle Victim and Travels With My Aunt as well as, in more recent times, The Boat That Rocked.

For more, see www.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub/salisbury-covent-garden/c3111/.

PICTURE: Garry Knight – Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Battle-of-the-SommeThe Imperial War Museum in Lambeth is holding a free late night opening tonight featuring live music, film screenings, immersive theatre and poetry to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. Highlights of Night Before the Somme, which runs from 8pm to midnight tonight, include slam poet Kat Francois’ critically acclaimed play Raising Lazarus, poet and broadcaster Ian McMillan’s show Magic Lantern Tales, and extracts from the immersive production Dr Blighty – which tells the story of the million Indians who travelled to fight in the war. Visitors will also have the chance to watch the film, The Battle of the Somme (filmed and screened in 1916, it was the first feature-length documentary about war), listen in to a series of Q&A’s with experts on the battle, and preview the major exhibition, Real to Reel: A Century of War Movies. Real to Reel, which officially opens on Friday, explores how film-makers have found inspiration in compelling personal stories and the real events of wars from the past century. As well as audio-visual installations, the display features film clips, costumes, props, scripts, sketches and designs from films such as The Dam Busters, Where Eagles Dare, Apocalypse Now, Battle of Britain, Das Boot, Casablanca, Jarhead, Atonement and War Horse along with original archival material and artefacts from the IWM collections. The exhibition, which is divided into five sections, runs until 8th January. Admission charges apply. See www.iwm.org.uk for more. PICTURE: © IWM (Q 70164. Staged scene from The Battle of the Somme film, 1916 British troops go ‘over the top’ into ‘No Man’s Land’. This scene was staged for the camera at a training school behind the lines.

• Don’t forget tonight’s vigil at Westminster Abbey to mark the 100th anniversary (as mentioned in last week’s entry here).

Still on the centenary of the Battle of the Somme and a new exhibition opened at the Science Museum in South Kensington this week focusing on the innovations in medical practice and technologies developed as a result of the new kind of industrialised warfare seen in the battle. Wounded: Conflict, Casualties and Care has at its centre a collection of historic objects from the museum’s World War I medical collections including stretchers adapted for use in narrow trenches and made-to-measure artificial arms fitted to the wounded in British hospitals as well as lucky charms and personal protective items carried by frontline soldiers. There are also artworks from the period including Henry Tonk’s famous pastel drawings of facial injuries and a 1914 painting by John Lavery that depicts the arrival of the first British wounded soldiers at the London hospital. Admission is free and the exhibition can be seen until early 2018. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.

Regent Street will be transformed on Sunday, 3rd July, with the Transported by Design Festival featuring transport designs which have shaped and will shape London. The festival, which will stretch from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus Tube stations, will see the street divided into three zones – past, present and future. Among the objects on show in ‘past’ section will be a horse-drawn bus and other heritage buses, a 1927 train carriage and an exhibition of classic advertising posters and signage while the ‘present’ section will feature ‘Cycle Spin Fun’ by Santander Cycles, Moquette Land – a showcase of fabric used across the transport network, and, a ‘design a bus’ competition, and the ‘future’ section will feature a range of technologies, including virtual reality headsets, exploring what transport could look like in 2040. The free festival, part of the ‘Summer Streets’ program which sees Regent Street closed to traffic on Sundays over summer, runs from noon to 6pm. For more, see www.tfl.gov.uk/campaign/transported-by-design/event-calendar?intcmp=40582.

• The work of artist Winifred Knights, the first British woman to win the Prix de Rome scholarship, is the subject of a recently-opened exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. The display, the first major retrospective of the work of Knights (1899-1947), brings together more than 70 preparatory studies and her most ambitious works including The Deluge (1920), The Potato Harvest (1918) and Leaving the Munitions Works (1919). Winifred Knights (1899-1947) runs until 18th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Located on the south side of the Strand, the then-named Exeter House was built in the 1300s as the London palace of the Bishops of Exeter on land which had previously been occupied by the Knights Templar.

The-DevereuxIt was Bishop Walter Stapledon who had the palace constructed – as well as being Bishop of Exeter, he was Lord High Treasurer to the unpopular King Edward II, a role which eventually led to him being dragged from his horse in the City of London and murdered.

King Henry VIII gave the property to his Secretary of State, William, Lord Paget, and, in the late 16th century, it came into the hands of Robert Dudley, the 1st Earl of Leicester. He rebuilt it and renamed it Leicester House which it remained until, following his death in 1588, it was inherited by his stepson, Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex and a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, and renamed Essex House.

The house was rather large and in 1590 was reported as having as many as 42 bedrooms as well as a picture gallery, a banqueting suite and chapel.

Devereux ended up beheaded for treason on Tower Hill in 1601 but his son, also Robert Devereux, became a distinguished general for the Parliamentarians during the Civil War. He received a delegation from the House of Commons at the property to offer their congratulations after the Battle of Newbury in 1643 and was laid out in state there in 1646 (insatiable diarist Samuel Pepys, then a 13-year-old boy, was among those who saw the body).

After the Civil War, the family’s debts resulted into the property passing into the hands of other families. The main part of the house was eventually demolished in the 1670s and part of the property sold to developer Nicholas Barbon. He built Essex Street, which still stands in the area, was built on the site.

The remaining part of the house, meanwhile, was used to house the Cotton Library before, in 1777, it too was demolished.

The mansion’s chapel, meanwhile, became a dissenters meeting house, known as the Essex Street Chapel, which became the birthplace of Unitarianism in England. The denomination’s headquarters, named Essex Hall, still stands on the site.

The pub The Devereux (pictured above), named for Robert Devereux, is among the buildings which now stand on the site (for more on the pub, see our earlier post here).

BT_Tower-1This 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

Cavell

It’s International Women’s Day, so we’re celebrating by remembering two heroic women immortalised in statues in central London. Above is Edith Cavell, a British nurse who was trapped in Brussels by advancing German armies in 1914 and then subsequently arrested for aiding French and British soldiers to escape before being executed by firing squad on 12th October, 1915 – an event widely condemned around the world. The marble statue, located in St Martin’s Place at the intersection of Charing Cross Road and St Martin’s Lane, is by George Frampton and was erected in 1920. Below, meanwhile, is a bust of Violette Szabo which tops a memorial to the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Szabo, who was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre after she was captured and eventually executed by the German Army in early 1945, was among 117 SOE agents who did not return from their missions to France. Located on Albert Embankment, the statue – which is the work of Karen Newman – was unveiled in 2009.
Szabo

William-Shakespeares-Will

Recently conserved by the National Archives, Shakespeare’s last will and testament is at the heart of a new exhibition on show at Somerset House.

By Me William Shakespeare: A Life In Writing, the first joint exhibition of the National Archives and King’s College London, features four of the six known signatures of Shakespeare still in existence and, along with his last will and testament, shows some of the most significant Shakespeare-related documents in the world tracking his existence as everything from a London citizen, businessman, family man, servant to possibly even a thief and subversive.

But back to the will. While not written in the Bard’s hand, the will is signed by him in three places and indicates the wealth and status he had garnered by the time of his death on 23rd April, 1616.

Evidence shows that Shakespeare revised his will as his estate changed, and just before his death, he added personal bequests including that a silver bowl be given to his second eldest daughter Judith, memorial rings to actor friends in London and his second best bed to his wife Anne. He left most of his property to his eldest daughter, Susanna, although his will, according to the National Archives, indicates that he had hoped to establish a male legacy.

Other beneficiaries named in the will include his sister Joan and her sons and his grand-daughter Elizabeth Hall while Susanna and her husband John Hall were named as his executors.

The exhibition, which is being held in the Inigo Jones Rooms in Somerset House’s East Wing as part of the series of events being held to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, runs until 29th May. Admission charge applies.

Other documents featured in the display – all of which are registered with UNESCO – include accounts listing the grant of four-and-half yards of red cloth to Shakespeare by King James I for participation in his coronation procession in 1604, accounts from the Master of Revels showing when plays were performed at court (useful for helping to date when Shakespeare wrote particular plays), and a document recording testimony Shakespeare gave in court when his landlord, Christopher Mountjoy, failed to provide his son-in-law with a dowry for his daughter’s hand (Shakespeare is likely to have played a role in arranging the marriage).

For more on the exhibition, see www.bymewilliamshakespeare.org.

John Dee (1527-1609), the enigmatic Elizabethan “mathematician, magician, astronomer, astrologer, imperialist, alchemist and spy”, is the subject of an exhibition currently running at the Royal College of Physicians Museum in Regent’s Park. Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee explores his life through remnants of his personal library and features mathematical, astronomical and alchemical texts, many of which he elaborately annotated and even illustrated. The texts are drawn from the collection of the college library which has more than 100 of the doctor’s volumes and which forms the largest collection of Dee’s books in the world. The books represent only a fraction of the more than 3,000 books and 1,000 manuscripts he claimed to own before his library was, so Dee claimed, sold off illicitly by his brother-in-law Nicholas Fromond after he gave them into his care when he travelled to Europe in the 1580s. Many of them apparently fell into the hands of Nicholas Saunder, possibly a former student of Dee’s and later passed into the hands of book collector Henry Pierrepont, the Marquis of Dorchester, whose family gave his entire library to the Royal College of Physicians after his death in 1680. The free exhibition runs until 29th July. For more, see www.rcplondon.ac.uk.

Image_2_Paradiso-II• Botticelli’s drawings for Dante’s epic poem, the Divine Comedy, are at the heart of a new exhibition which opened earlier this month at the Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House. Botticelli and Treasures from the Hamilton Collection, which is being run in collaboration with the Kuperferstichkabinett (Prints and Drawings Museum) in Berlin, features treasures which were sold to Berlin by the 12th Duke of Hamilton in 1882 despite efforts by Queen Victoria to prevent the transaction. They include a selection of 30 of Botticelli’s drawings – which date from about 1480-95 – as well as illuminated manuscripts including the Hamilton Bible. Said to be one of the most important illuminated manuscripts in the world, it is being returned to the UK for the first time since 1882. The exhibition, which coincides with Botticelli Reimagined opening at the V&A next month, runs until 15th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.courtauld.ac.uk. PICTURE: Sandro Botticelli – Beatrice explains to Dante the order of the cosmos (Divine Comedy, Paradiso II), around 1481-1495/© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett/Philipp Allard.

The stories of women in times of war form the heart of a new display on show at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth. Eleven Women Facing War features photographs and films taken by award-winning British photographer and film-maker Nick Danziger. He first photographed the 11 women, who all lived in conflict zones, in 2001 for an International Committee of the Red Cross study documenting the needs of women facing war before setting out 10 years later to find each of the women and see what had become of their lives. The exhibition features 33 photographs and 11 short films from conflict zones including Bosnia, Kosovo, Israel, Gaza, Hebron (West Bank), Sierra Leone, Colombia and Argentina. Among the stories told are those of Mah Bibi, a 10-year-old orphan who was begging for food for herself and two brothers when first photographed in Afghanistan and who, 10 years later, had vanished and is believed to have died in 2006. Another is that of Mariatu, who was struggling to rebuild her life in Sierra Leone after her hands had been forcibly amputated by guerrilla soldiers at the age of 13 when she was photographed in 2001 and who 10 years later had moved to Canada. The exhibition runs until 24th April. Admission is free. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

TheatreLondon’s West End “Theatreland” and New York’s Broadway are jointly the subject of a new exhibition which opened at the V&A this week. Curtain Up: Celebrating 40 Years of Theatre in London and New York takes visitors on an immersive, behind the scenes look at how award-winning plays, musicals and productions are made as well as the history of theatrical awards and life on the red carpet. Objects – taken from the V&A collection and that of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Centre – on display include Maria Bjornson’s original costume designs from The Phantom of the Opera (1986), one of the longest-running West End musicals and the longest running Broadway production in history as well as a selection of golden top hats from A Chorus Line which won both the Tony Award and the inaugural Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 1976, a tunic worn by Rudolf Nureyev in Romeo and Juliet, winner of the Olivier Award in 1977, and a dress designed by Bob Crowley and worn by Dame Helen Mirren in The Audience, a production which earned the actress both an Olivier award in 2013 and a Tony Award in 2015. The free exhibition, organised in partnership with the Society of London Theatre as part of a year long celebration of 40 years of the Olivier Award, runs until 31st August in the V&A’s Theatre and Performance Galleries before touring to The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Centre later this year. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/curtainup. PICTURE: © Victoria and Albert Museum.

A visually stunning exhibition highlighting the talents of Leonardo da Vinci opened at the Science Museum in South Kensington yesterday. Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Genius takes a look at some of the unique mechanical concepts dreamt up by one of “history’s greatest minds”. The display features 39 historical models of designs da Vinci drew – including those of flying machines, diving apparatus and weapons – which were made in Milan in 1952 to mark the 500th anniversary of his birth. Runs until 4th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/leonardo.

Kensington Palace is taking you even further into the wardrobes of Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales, in a new display of dresses as part of the Fashion Rules exhibition. The new display continues the exhibitions exploration of how each of the three women have navigated the fashion ‘rules’ defined by their royal duties in their own unique style. Among the dresses on display is a candy-striped dress in the “Parisian style” created by Norman Hartnell in the late 1940s for Princess Margaret – on show for the first time at the palace, as well as formal dresses worn by the Queen on state visits to France and the Middle East, and a bottle green silk velvet halterneck worn by Diana which was later made famous in images by photographer Mario Testino. The new display goes on show today. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensingtonpalace.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.