March 10, 2017
This sculpture by London-based Scottish artist David Mach can be found in Kingston upon Thames in south-west London. It depicts 12 K6 red phone boxes falling onto one another like a row of dominoes and was commissioned from the Royal Academician by the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames in 1988. Unveiled the following year, it was renovated in 2001. There’s been talk in the past of it being removed (and of the end phone being connected, so it works) but the iconic sculpture remains in situ near the Old London Road gateway (and unconnected). PICTURE: Jim Linwood/CC BY-SA 2.0 (image cropped)
This Week in London – Rosalind Franklin’s grave; American printmaking; and Disabled Access Day at royal residences….
March 9, 2017
• Acclaimed biologist Rosalind Franklin’s grave in Willesden United Synagogue Cemetery has been given listed status, Historic England announced in marking International Women’s Day this week. Franklin’s tomb commemorates her life and achievements – they include X-ray observations she made of DNA which contributed to the discovery of its helical structure by Crick and Watson in 1953. Meanwhile, Historic England has teamed with The Royal Society to highlight the achievements of 28 remarkable women noted for their achievements in the fields of chemistry, biology, physics and astronomy. The women’s stories have been explored and key historic locations mapped. They include the Marianne North Gallery in Kew Gardens (named for 19th century botanist Marianne North), the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital – founded in 1872 as the New Hospital for Women in London by Anderson, a suffragette and the first English woman to qualify as a doctor, and the Royal Academy of Arts where natural history illustrator and painter Sarah Stone was an honorary exhibitor in the 1780s.
• The first major exhibition focusing on contemporary American printmaking has opened in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery of The British Museum. The American Dream: pop to the present features more than 200 works from 70 artists including Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, Chuck Close, Louise Bourgeois and Kara Walker. Including loans from institutions such as The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, as well the museum’s own collection, the works span six decades – from the moment when pop art arrived in the New York and West Coast scene of the early 1960s, to the rise of minimalism, conceptual art and photorealism in the 1970s, and through to the practices of today’s artists. Among the works on show are Warhol’s Marilyn, Willie Cole’s Stowage and Claes Oldenburg’s sculpture of the Three-Way Plug. Admission charges apply. Runs until 18th June. For more, see www.americandreamexhibition.org. PICTURE: Andy Warhol (1928–1987), ‘Vote McGovern’, Colour screenprint/© 2016 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London.
• Visitors with disabilities will be offered free admission to royal residences – including the Royal Mews and The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace – this weekend to mark Disabled Access Day. Visitors to the Queen’s Gallery can join verbal descriptive tours of the Portrait of the Artist exhibition on 12th March while the Royal Mews will offer free admission to disabled visitors on 10th and 11th March. Standard access resources, including plain English tour scripts, induction loops, large-print and list access will be available across all venues. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.
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This Week in London – Skating on Ice; Christmas trees worth seeing; and, Westminster Abbey’s new galleries…
December 22, 2016
• London’s obsession with ice-skating is the subject of an exhibition which opened at the Museum of London earlier this month. Skating on Ice looks at the history of the popular pastime, from the 12th century – when locals are described strapping animals bones to their feet to skate on ice at Moorfields – across the centuries (and the developments that went with them) to today. Among the artefacts on show is an 1839 oil painting by J Baber depicting skaters on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, sketches from the London Illustrated News showing a rescue operation to recover the 40 of some 40 skaters who plunged beneath the ice in Regent’s Park on 15th January, 1867, a navy blue gabardine skirt suit from Fortnum & Mason dating from the 1930s and a series of skates, ranging from some made of animal bones through to a pair of Victorian racing skates known as Fen Runners and a pair of ice skates used from the late 1930s by Londoner Christina Greenberry at Streatham Ice Arena. Runs until 8th February. Entry is free. See www.museumoflondon.org.uk for more. (Pictured – ice-skating in the Tower of London moat).
• Christmas is looming and so, if you haven’t been out and about already, here’s five Christmas trees worth seeing over the coming few days (excluding the obvious one in Trafalgar Square):
- Covent Garden. Always a glittering treat (this year complete with virtual prizes!).
- St Pancras International. A rather odd design this year, this 100 foot tall tree is inspired by the Cirque du Soleil show Amaluna and lights up every time a donation is made to Oxfam.
- Granary Square, Kings Cross. Looking like a Christmas tree frozen inside an ice-cube, this seven metre high installation – Fighting fire with ice cream – by British artist Alex Chinneck features some 1,200 lights.
- Tate Britain, Millbank. An upside down tree, designed by Iranian artist Shirazeh Houshiary.
- Connaught Hotel, Mount Street, Mayfair. Designed by British sculptor Antony Gormley, this 57 foot tall tree features a trunk transformed into a pillar of light.
• Prince Charles last week unveiled the foundation stone for a tower that will take visitors to Westminster Abbey into the institution’s new museum and galleries. The tower is being built outside Poet’s Corner – between the 13th century Chapter House and 16th-century Henry VII’s Lady Chapel – and will be the principal entrance to the medieval triforium, which has never before been opened to the public and which house the proposed The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries. The tower and galleries, costing almost £23 million, will be the most significant addition to the abbey since Nicholas Hawksmoor’s west towers were completed in 1745. The galleries, which will be located 70 feet above the abbey’s floor, are due to open in summer 2018, and will display treasures from the abbey’s history as well as offering magnificent views of Parliament Square and the Palace of Westminster. To help meet the cost of the new galleries, the abbey has launched a #makehistory campaign asking for public donations to the project. For more, see www.westminster-abbey-galleries.org/Content/Filler.
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December 13, 2016
Kinson Leung captures the vibrant colours of the annual Winter Wonderland fair in Hyde Park. PICTURE: Via Unsplash.
November 22, 2016
Autumnal colour on display in Bushy Park, south-west London. For more on the history of the park, see our earlier post here.
PICTURE: David Adams
October 18, 2016
The UK’s first airport “garden gate” – featuring some 1,680 plants – has been planted at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 in a six month trial of the concept which could see the garden gates being implemented across the airport. Designed by urban greening specialists Biotecture, the installation at Gate 25 covers seven different sites in the gate room and features plants such as English native ivy and the Peace Lily and provides an “eco-sanctuary”, conveying a sense of calm to passengers as they embark on their journey.
This Week in London – GPO’s archaeological finds on show; Flora Japonica at Kew; and, a blue plaque for Freddie Mercury…
September 15, 2016
• The most prized archaeological finds from a 1975 excavation of the General Post Office on Newgate Street, one of the largest archaeological sites ever excavated in London, are on show in a new exhibition at the Museum of London. Delivering the Past, the free display features objects from across a 3,000 year period and include everything from Roman era finds such as a dog skull, a rare amber die, a spoon and mortar with the makers’ names of Albinus, Sollus and Cassarius stamped on the side (pictured) to floor tiles and architectural fragments from the medieval parish church of St Nicholas Shambles. There’s also a 17th century Bellarmine beer bottle (these were widely imported from Germany in the 1600s), the only 19th century twisted clay tobacco pipe ever excavated in London, and a 19th/20th century ceramic fragment showing General Post Office branding. The exhibition runs until 8th January. The museum is also offering free 45 minute walks to notable excavation sites around Newgate Street every weekday until the end of October. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• Japan’s native flora comes to Kew from this weekend with a new exhibition in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art. Flora Japonica features paintings from 30 of the Asian nation’s best contemporary artists as they attempt to capture the beauty of everything from camellias to cherry trees and the delicate Japanese maple. The watercolours have been produced based specimens collected from across Japan as well as, in a couple of cases, specimens found within Kew Gardens. Also on display are works never before seen outside Japan including historic drawings and paintings by revered botanists and artists such as Dr Tomitaro Makino (1863-1957), Sessai Hattori and Chikusai Kato (both Edo period artists), artefacts from Kew’s Economic Botany Collection including traditional Japanese lacquerware collected in the 1880s and wooden panels from 1874, and illustrations from Kew’s collections such as a 17th century illustrated manual of medicinal plants. Runs from Saturday until 5th March after which the exhibition will move to Japan. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.
• An English Heritage blue plaque honouring late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury was unveiled at his childhood home in Feltham, in London’s west, earlier this month. Mercury’s parents bought the house in Gladstone Avenue in 1964 after the family had left Zanzibar for the UK. He was still living in the home when he met Queen band mates Brian May and Roger Taylor. The new plaque was revealed on 1st September, on what would have been the singer’s 70th birthday. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.
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June 27, 2016
Sir Joseph Paxton was one of the pre-eminent landscape gardeners and architects of the Victorian age, although his name is remembered today in great part because of his role in creating one of the most famous buildings of the era – London’s Crystal Palace.
Paxton was born to a large Bedfordshire farming family on 3rd August, 1803 (although the year has been a matter of dispute at times, apparently because, wanting to appear older than he was, early on in his career he claimed that he had been born in 1801).
He attended school locally before venturing into the gardening profession (a number of other family members were already involved in gardening), taking on a number of gardening-related jobs before his first break came in 1823 when he was admitted by the Horticultural Society of London to work as a student gardener in the experimental gardens of Chiswick House in London’s west – then leased by the society from the Duke of Devonshire.
His work was soon noticed and, in 1826, the duke, with whom Paxton would come to have a close friendship, was apparently so enamoured that he appointed him to the position of head gardener at Chatsworth House, his family pile in Derbyshire.
It was something of a dream job for the then still young Paxton, who, over the ensuing years would be responsible for designing gardens as well as fountains (including the Emperor Fountain, named after Emperor Nicholas I of Russia), an arboretum, a model village, a conservatory of unprecedented size – known as the Great Conservatory, and a lily house, the latter featuring a design based on the leaves of the giant Victoria amazonica water lily.
Paxton’s ties to Chatsworth were strengthened further when he married the niece of Chatsworth’s housekeeper, Sarah Bown, in 1827. They would have eight children, six of whom survived.
Chatsworth became the most famous garden in England under Paxton’s watch but for many, it is his instrumental role in the Great Exhibition pavilion which stands out as his greatest achievement.
His involvement was really that of an opportunist – all of the original 245 plans for the main exhibition hall had been rejected when Paxton, on hearing of this while in London on business with regard for his role as a director of the Midland Railway, delivered his own design.
Inspired very much by the lily house he had designed (and which had yet to be completed) at Chatsworth, the design was innovative for a number of reasons, including its modular and prefabricated nature and the copious amounts of glass it used (only possible due to recent technological developments concerning the use of iron and glass).
Following its acceptance (this despite the fact it apparently breached the design competition’s rules), it took some 2,000 men eight months to build the 500 metre long building which, despite some criticism, was such a success at the Great Exhibition that in October of 1851 – some five months after its opening – Paxton was knighted by Queen Victoria. (For more on the Crystal Palace, see our earlier entry here).
Following the Great Exhibition, the building, with Paxton’s aid, was relocated to Sydenham in south London after the exhibition where it remained until it burned down in 1936.
Paxton, meanwhile, returned to his post as head gardener at Chatsworth (a role he fulfilled until 1858), but he is also credited with numerous other projects including the design of public parks in places as far afield as Liverpool and Glasgow, and the design of the London Road Cemetery in Coventry.
He was also involved in the commission charged with improving the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and designed numerous residences, the most famous being Mentmore Towers which he designed for Baron Mayer de Rothschild (among his other contributions to the world of design was a plan for an ‘atmospheric railway in London’ which was never built – for more on that, see our previous post here).
Paxton, who also acted as a Liberal MP for Coventry for the last 11 years of his life and was for many years involving in publishing various gardening-related magazines, general newspapers and writing a couple of books, became wealthy by speculating on the growing railway industry.
He died on 8th June, 1865, at his home, Rockhills, in Sydenham and was buried in St Peter’s Churchyard at Edensor on the Chatsworth Estate. His wife Sarah continued to live at Chatsworth until her death in 1871.
PICTURE: Via Wikimedia Commons.
There’s quite a few whose London residence (or otherwise) is commemorated by more than one blue plaque. So, breaking away from our usual ‘one plaque’ format, here were listing five of those who have made the grade…
1. William Wilberforce (1759-1833). The late 18th century and early 19th century politician and anti-slavery campaigner tops our list with three English Heritage blue plaques. The first is at 111 Brookwood Road in Battersea – the site of Brookwood House where Wilberforce resided during his anti-slavery campaign. The second is on Holy Trinity Church on Clapham Common, the church where Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect with whom he is associated worshipped. And the third is on a property at 44 Cadogan Place in Chelsea where Wilberforce died.
2. Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). Like Wilberforce, the 18th century lexicographer Dr Johnson has three English Heritage blue plaques to his name. The first, on his famous Gough Square property in the City of London we’ve already mentioned (see our earlier post here), while the second is on a property at 8 Russell Street, Covent Garden, then occupied by bookseller Thomas Davies, which was where Dr Johnson famously first met James Boswell in 1763. The third time Dr Johnson’s name appears, more unusually, is on a plaque commemorating Essex Street – Dr Johnson is among a number of names listed on it for his role in establishing an “evening club” at the pub, the Essex Head, in the street in 1783.
3. Samuel Pepys (1633-1703): The 17th century diarist seems to pop-up everywhere in central London so it’s not surprising there are two plaques in the English Heritage blue plaques scheme dedicated to him (although both are located in the same street – one he apparently liked very much). The plaques are located at number 12 and number 14 Buckingham Street in Covent Garden and both mark the site of a Pepys residence.
4. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941): The writer, publisher and literary critic’s name appears on two properties – at 29 Fitzroy Square in Fitzrovia where Woolf lived between 1907-1911 and on Hogarth House at 34 Paradise Road in Richmond where she and Leonard Woolf lived between 1915-1924 (and also where they founded the Hogarth Press in 1917).
5. William Morris (1834-1896): The poet and artist has two English Heritage blue plaques to his credit – the first on 17 Red Lion Square in Holborn where Morris lived in a flat from 1856-1859 with Sir Edward C Burne-Jones, and the second on Red House in Bexleyheath where he and his wife Jane Burden lived from 1860-1865.
March 11, 2016
Described as the first dedicated Indian restaurant in Britain, the Hindoostanee (also spelt Hindoostane) Coffee House was established by Dean Mahomet (later Sheikh or ‘Sake’ Dean Mahomet), an Indian who served with the East India Company Army before coming to Britain.
Accompanying East India Company man Godfrey Baker to Ireland, he lived initially with the Baker family before meeting and marrying a young woman while learning English and subsequently establishing his own household in Cork.
In 1794, he published a book, The Travels of Dean Mahomet, which, written as a series of letters to an imaginary friend, described his own life and Indian customs. It is credited as the first book to be written and published in English by an Indian.
Around 1807, he and his wife and son moved to London where he initially found employment with Sir Basil Cochrane at a “vapour spa” Sir Basil had established in Portman Square. While Mahomet introduced Indian innovations such as “shampooing” to the spa, he was given little credit for his work, however, and so decided to break out on his own.
In 1810, he set-up the coffee house at 34 George Street, Portman Square, just behind Sir Basil’s house.
The establishment was aimed at Anglo-Indians who had spent time in India and offered them Indian-style foods – such as curries and spiced dishes – along with other reminders of the sub-Continent such as a room set up for the use of the hookah with “real Chilm tobacco” – all in an Indian-style setting.
Sadly, the establishment was only rather short-lived and, despite taking on a partner, Mahomet was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1812. But he did go on to establish a very successful Indian-style baths in Brighton, Mahomet’s Baths (and later even opened a second branch in St James’s London which would be managed by his son).
A plaque was erected by the City of Westminster close to the site of the former coffee house in 2005.
PICTURE: Simon Harriyott from Uckfield, England [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
January 26, 2016
Brompton Cemetery in London’s west is to undergo a major renovation thanks to a £6.2 million project. Designed by Benjamin Baud and consecrated by the Bishop of London in 1840, the 39 acre cemetery – one of the oldest Grade I listed cemeteries in the country and known as one of London’s “magnificent seven” cemeteries – was strongly influenced by landscapes around St Peter’s in Rome. Among the 205,000 people buried there are suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, Sir Thomas Spencer Wells – Queen Victoria’s surgeon, and thousands of former Chelsea pensioners. The project will see the chapel, central colonnades and catacombs restored and the transformation of North Lodge into a visitor’s centre with shop and cafe as well as other conservation and improvement works. It is funded by an almost £4.5 million grant from the BIG Lottery Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as a £1.2 million investment from The Royal Parks, managers of the site, and £500,000 from The Royal Parks Foundation, only half of which has been raised. Those looking to donate to the foundation’s appeal, can visit www.SupportTheRoyalParks.com. PICTURE: © The Royal Parks
January 15, 2016
Holywell Street, which ran parallel to the Strand in the West End, was – as we pointed out in a story earlier this week – named for a ‘holy well’ which is still located in the basement of Australia House.
Once a favoured location for secondhand clothes dealers (it was then known to many as ‘Rag Street’), the street became known as something of a hot-house for those selling books containing radical and dissenting opinions in the late 18th century and early 19th century and it was during this time that it also started to attract a less reputable trade – that of the pornography industry.
So much so that by the 1820s, the narrow street – also then known as Bookseller’s Row – had effectively become the centre of the pornographic industry in London (one estimate puts at 57 the number of purveyors of indecency in the street by 1834). William Dugdale, who died in ignominy in prison, was the most infamous purveyor of such goods to work in the street.
The combination of its proximity to the church of St Clement Danes – which sits at the eastern end of what was the street (St Mary le Strand stands at what was the western end) – and the indecent trade which went on in it led to it being nicknamed the “Backside of St Clements”.
The street and is disreputable trade were removed during the building of what is now Aldwych – a crescent at the southern end of Kingsway – in 1901.
PICTURE: Holywell Street shown in 1888 book, The District Railway Guie to London, with coloured maps, plans etc./via British Library Flickr
December 22, 2015
Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of one of five highly ornate towers, luxurious banqueting houses from which the court would view tournaments in King Henry VIII’s walled tiltyard at Hampton Court Palace.
Built in the 1530s, the multi-storey towers were largely demolished by the 1680s and, with the exception of one of the towers which still stands at the palace (and is now a Grade I listed building), their precise location eventually lost.
Until now, that is. The green-glazed tiled floor of one of the ‘lost’ towers were unearthed earlier this month during works taking place as the tiltyard undergoes a family-oriented makeover by award-winning landscape architect, Robert Myers (to be known as ‘The Magic Garden’, it will be unveiled next Easter).
The richly decorated towers – where the king entertained dignitaries and ambassadors – are thought to slightly predate the tiltyard which was apparently laid out in 1537 – perhaps, it’s been suggested, to mark the birth of King Henry VIII’s son, the future King Edward VI.
The first recorded tournament at Hampton Court took place in 1557 when Queen Mary I held one to celebrate Christmas. Her sister Queen Elizabeth I continued the tradition by occasionally holding tournaments there but most days the tiltyard was used to train the young men of the court in warfare.
When tournaments gradually fell out of fashion, the towers were used as multi-purpose storage facilities housing, according to Historic Royal Palaces, everything from pigeons to two Catholic priests in service to King Charles I’s queen, Henrietta Maria, who were spent time ‘quarantined’ there after an outbreak of plague.
For more on Hampton Court Palace, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.
December 9, 2015
Yes, we’re a bit out of order here given we looked at the subsequent Battle of Turnham Green last week, but today we’re taking a look at the Civil War fight known as the Battle of Brentford.
As recounted last week, having taken Banbury and Oxford in the aftermath of the Battle of Edgehill, the Royalist army marched along the Thames Valley toward London where a Parliamentarian army under the Earl of Essex waited.
Having arrived at Reading to the west of London, King Charles I, apparently unconvinced peace talks were heading in the right direction, ordered Prince Rupert to take Brentford in order to put pressure on the Parliamentarians in London.
On 12th November, 1642, up to 4,600 Royalists under the command of the prince engaged with two Parliamentarian infantry regiments at Brentford, one of the key approaches the City of London. The Parliamentarians were under the command of Denzil Hollis (who wasn’t present) and Lord Brooke – various estimates put their number at between 1,300 and 2,000 men.
Prince Rupert’s men – consisting of cavalry and dragoons – attacked at dawn under the cover of a mist. An initial venture to take a Parliamentarian outpost at the house of Royalist Sir Richard Wynne was repulsed by cannon fire but Sir Rupert ordered a Welsh foot regiment to join the fight and the outpost was quickly taken.
The Cavaliers then pushed forward across the bridge over the River Brent (which divided the town) and eventually drove the Parliamentarians from the town and into the surrounding fields (part of the battle was apparently fought on the grounds of Syon House – pictured at top).
Fighting continued into the late afternoon before the arrival of a Parliamentarian infantry brigade under the command of John Hampden allowed the Roundheads to withdraw.
About 170 are believed to have died in the battle (including a number who drowned fleeing the fighting). Followed by the sack of the town, the battle was a success for the Royalists who apparently captured some 15 guns and about 400 prisoners. The captured apparently included Leveller John Lilburne, a captain in Brooke’s regiment.
The Royalists and Parliamentarians met again only a few days later – this time at Turnham Green (for more on that, see last week’s post).
Incidentally, this wasn’t the first battle to be fought at Brentford. Some time over the summer of 1016, English led by Edmund Ironside clashed with the Danes under the soon-to-be-English king Canute. Edmund was victorious on the day, one of a series of battles he fought with Canute.
Meanwhile, more than 1000 years earlier, it was apparently at Brentford that the British under the King Cassivellaunus fought with Julius Caesar’s men in 54 BC on their approach to St Albans (Verulamium).
A pillar stands High Street in Brentford commemorating all three battles while there is an explanatory plaque about the battle in the grounds of Syon Park.
For more the Battles of Brentford and Turnham Green, see www.battlefieldstrust.com/brentfordandturnhamgreen.
December 2, 2015
Part of the English Civil War, this battle – really no more than a skirmish – between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians which prevented the Royalists from attacking London which ultimately forced the Royalists to spend winter in Oxford.
Having taken Banbury and Oxford in the aftermath of the inconclusive Battle of Edgehill, a Royalist army had marched along the Thames Valley toward London.
On the 12th November, 1642, the Royalists had defeated two Parliamentarian regiments at Brentford to the west of the City of London. Under the command of Patrick Ruthven, Earl of Forth, but with King Charles I among them, the Royalists, who numbered some 12,000 men, then camped overnight at a site believed to be at or near the village of Turnham Green, now in west London.
Meanwhile, a Parliamentarian army under command of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, joined up with London militia under the command of Major General Philip Skippon at Chelsea Field. Numbering some 24,000, they advanced upon Turnham Green where the Royalists awaited them.
By 8am on the 13th, the two armies had formed lines running roughly north to south across Turnham Green, Chiswick Common Field and Acton Green with the Parliamentarian line stretching from the site of what is now Turnham Green Tube station to the grounds of Chiswick House and the Royalist lines stretching from south of Chiswick Park Tube station to the Great West Road.
Both lines apparently had infantry at the centre with cavalry on the flanks. Essex, attempting to outflank the Royalists, sent troops to high ground at Action but, concerned about splitting his army, soon withdrew them.
The battle them became something of a stalemate – Essex, not seeking to do any more than block the Royalist advance, was happy to wait while the Royalists, outnumbered, short of ammunition and said to have been unwilling to put the Londoners offside, did likewise.
Eventually, late in the afternoon, the Royalists withdrew westward and Essex, who was much criticised for it afterward, gave a half-hearted pursuit. King Charles I then ordered his army back up the Thames Valley to Oxford where they ended up passing the winter.
Less than 50 men in total are said to have died in the indecisive clash which, it can be argued, helped to ensure that the Civil War would go on for another four long years.
While much of the site of the skirmish has been built upon, glimpses of the open ground which once stood here can still be seen. There is an information panel about the battle opposite Turnham Green Tube station.
For more on the English Civil War, see Blair Worden’s The English Civil Wars: 1640-1660.
September 14, 2015
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the building of Hampton Court Palace in Greater London’s south-west. We speak to Sheila Dunsmore, a State Apartment warder at Hampton Court Palace (pictured above in centre on the left)…
1. It’s Hampton Court Palace’s 500th anniversary – who first built the palace and why? “In 1514, Thomas Wolsey came to survey the land at Hampton Court. He wanted to find a suitable place to build a sumptuous country retreat away from the dirt of London, but close enough to the capital to travel back for meetings. It was also to be a place to entertain the important company his position as Archbishop of York provided, of which none were more important than young King Henry VIII.”
2. Where are the oldest parts of the palace today? “The oldest part of the palace is the Tudor kitchens, more specifically the area were the great fire is. This was once part of Sir Giles Daubeney’s original kitchen, and dates back to the manor already on the site when it was acquired by Wolsey. Sir Giles Daubeney was Lord Chamberlain to Henry VII, and acquired an 80 year lease on the property from the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, the then owners. The bell in the tower above the astronomical clock is also said to have come from the Knights Hospitallers’ original manor house.”
3. Hampton Court’s 500 years of history spans a number of definable eras – from Tudor to the 21st century. Which is your favourite and why? “My favourite era is the 1660s when Charles II came back to England to take up his rightful place as king. Although visitors do not really associate Charles with the palace, he did spend time here, most famously his honeymoon!”
4. With this in mind what is your favourite part of the palace? “I love the west front façade – it just looks so imposing and mysterious. Whether you are driving or walking past it it’s guaranteed to draw you in under its spell!”
5. Do you have a favourite anecdote from the palace’s history? “I love the story of Horace Beauchamp Seymour, a dashing military hero who had fought at the Battle of Waterloo. He came to live at the palace in 1827 and, as a handsome eligible widower, he caused quite a sensation amongst the ladies, especially when he joined the Sunday services at the Chapel Royal. It was not long before a series of fainting episodes began, with the strategically placed young lady fainting into the arms of the dashing Horace, who then proceeded to carry the lady out and stay with her until she regained her composure. After a third successive Sunday of fainting’s, the epidemic was brought to a swift halt by the aunt of Mr Seymour, herself also a palace resident. The feisty old lady pinned a sign to the chapel door warning any lady feeling faint that forthcoming Sunday that Bransome the dustbin man would be carrying her out. Needless to say the fainting ceased!”
6. A complex of buildings dating back as far as 500 years obviously requires considerable upkeep. What are the greatest challenges with regard to maintaining the palace? “I think the biggest challenge would have to be generating the money to keep restoring and conserving this historic palace. To do this we have to keep making sure that people want to visit, from international tour groups to local families who might visit again and again. To do this teams right across the palace work to create exciting exhibitions, immersive events and guided tours to ensure we’re offering people a memorable experience.”
7. Are there any areas of the palace which remain unseen by the public? And any plans to open further areas up? “The palace contains over 1,000 rooms, and visitors get to discover about a quarter of these during their visit. Some years ago we held a Servants, Soldiers and Suffragettes exhibition in a suite of rooms on the top floor of Fountain Court (previously unseen). It was incredibly popular so I’d imagine that in the future we’d look for other such opportunities to share other areas of the palace with our visitors. For anyone that can’t wait that long, on one night of the year (Halloween no less), our adults-only ghost tour offers the chance to peek behind the scenes and explore some areas of the palace off the beaten track!”
8. Are there any ‘secrets’ about the palace you can reveal to us? “A palace as old and as large as Hampton Court holds its fair share of secrets…When the fire took hold in 1986 it was devastating, but in a strange twist of fate some good came from it as well. As restoration of the damaged interiors took place little secrets were revealed to us; behind wood panelling in King William’s damaged rooms hand prints were found in the plaster from the palace’s builders, and sketches were found from the architects with designs for the rooms, all worked directly onto the bare walls. Most exciting of all, however, was the object found downstairs. During work to return King William’s private dining room (which had lost its original look over the years and been used as a function room for the grace and favour residents) to its former glory, a gun was found behind some wooden panelling. The gun dated from the late 1800s, and had a regimental dinner menu was wrapped around it. This is so intriguing – what was the story behind this gun? Who did it belong to? Why did they hide the weapon?”
9. If someone has just one day to visit the palace, what’s your ideal itinerary? “This is a tricky one, and depends very much on the individual…and the weather! I would say on a sunny day start by enjoying a historic welcome with our costumed interpreters, which really helps to set the scene. If it’s a bit chilly pick up a cloak to wear – you can choose between dressing as a Tudor or Georgian courtier. Heading inside, I’d start in the Tudor State Apartments to discover the rich opulence of Henry VIII’s Hampton Court, then visit the recently opened Cumberland Art Gallery, which contains masterpieces by Rembrandt, Canaletto and Van Dyck. Next I’d take in the baroque splendour of the Queen’s State Apartments, then explore the maze, East Front Garden and Privy Garden (weather permitting!). After a spot of lunch I’d suggest visiting the Mantegna Gallery, then the Young Henry exhibition which explores the life of the young Henry VIII, before finishing the day in King William III’s apartments.”
10. Finally, Historic Royal Palaces has already commemorated the 500th anniversary in numerous ways – from a spectacular fireworks display to a jousting tournament. Are there any more events coming up? “The beginning of September saw our costumed interpreters back with their own inimitable brand of entertainment, while at the end of September we’re hosting a sleepover inside the palace! As the evenings draw in, our popular ghost tours return for the winter season. Even further ahead we’ve got a series of carol evenings and even an ice rink for our visitors to enjoy!”
WHERE: Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey (nearest station is Hampton Court from Waterloo); WHEN: 10am to 6pm until 24th October after which it’s open to 4.30pm); COST: Adult £19.30, Concession £16, Child under 16 £9.70 (under fives free), family tickets, garden only tickets and online booking discounts available; WEBSITE:www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/.
May 5, 2015
Guns fired a royal salute in Hyde Park on Monday to mark the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s new daughter (and Prince George’s new sister), named Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana (or more formally, Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte of Cambridge). Seventy-one horses pulling six World War I-era 13-pounder field guns from the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery rode out in procession with the Royal Artillery Band from Wellington Barracks, past Buckingham Palace, up Constitution Hill to Wellington Arch, and into Hyde Park to fire the salute. The 41 gun salute was fired at the same time as a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. By custom, gun salutes are fired for the birth of every prince or princess, regardless of where they sit in the order of succession. A basic salute is 21 rounds with an additional 20 rounds fired because Hyde Park is a Royal Park while at the Tower of London an extra 20 rounds are fired because it is a royal palace along with a further 21 because of its City of London location. The princess, fourth in line to the throne, was born at 8:34am on Saturday at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, and weighed 8lbs, 3oz (3.7kg). PICTURE: © Courtesy of Ian Wylie Photo.
This Week in London – Hampton Court Palace turns 500; celebrating the influence of Rubens; and, remembering the liberation of Auschwitz…
January 22, 2015
• Hampton Court Palace turns 500 this year and the palace is conducting a programme of events in celebration of the landmark anniversary. Sadly, the first in a series of events – a night in which Historic Royal Palace’s chief curator Lucy Worsley, inspired by the recent BBC Two programme Britain’s Tudor Treasure: A Night at Hampton Court, will explore one of the greatest nights in Hampton Court’s history, the christening of King Henry VIII’s longed for son, Edward (later King Edward VI) – is already sold out but there are a range of further events planned (we’ll try and keep you informed as they come up through the year). In the meantime, HRP have announced that a rare 16th century hat which is rumoured to have once belonged to King Henry VIII is to return to the palace later this year after undergoing restoration. The story goes that the hat, which will become the oldest item of dress in the palace’s collection by almost a century, was caught by Nicholas Bristowe, the king’s Clerk of the Wardrobe, when Henry threw it in the air on hearing of the French surrender of Boulogne in 1544. Treasured by the Bristowe’s descendants, it has now been acquired by HRP and is expected to go on show in a future exhibition. We’ll be looking at the hat in more detail in a future post. For more on the palace, see www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/. PICTURE: HRP/Newsteam
• The first major exhibition in the UK to examine the influence of Peter Paul Rubens on the history of art opens at the Royal Academy of Arts on Piccadilly on Saturday. Rubens and His Legacy: Van Dyck to Cezanne brings together more than 160 works by Rubens and artists who were inspired by him both during his lifetime and later including everyone from Van Dyck, Watteau, Turner and Delacroix to Manet, Cezanne, Renoir, Klimt and Picasso. The exhibition is organised around six themes: poetry, elegance, power, lust, compassion and violence. Runs until 10th April in the Main Galleries. For more, see www.royalacademy.co.uk.
• The 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz will be marked at Westminster Abbey with a special service at 6.30pm on 1st February. At least 1.1 million prisoners died at the camp, located in south-west Poland, around 90 per cent of them Jewish. It was liberated on 27th January, 1945 by the Red Army. Tickets are free but need to be booked. Follow this link to book. Meanwhile, the Imperial War Museum London in Lambeth has invited people to mark Holocaust Memorial Day – 27th January – with a visit to the free Holocaust Exhibition which has a 13 metre long model depicting the arrival of a deportation train from Hungary at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in 1944, accompanied by testimonies from 18 survivors. Recommended for children aged 14 and above. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-london.
December 3, 2014
Fresh from the success of designing The Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851 (see our earlier post here), in 1855 Sir Joseph Paxton came up with the idea of building a covered elevated railway “girdle” which would circle parts of central and west London and alleviate traffic congestion.
The proposed 10 mile long, eight track railway – which would feature trains propelled by air pressure (an “atmospheric” system) rather than conventional steam engines and included “express” trains which would only stop at select stations – was to be constructed inside a vast, 108 foot high glass covered arcade which would also contain a road, shopping and even housing.
The trains would travel at such a speed that to get from any one point on the “girdle” to its opposite point would only take 15 minutes.
Paxton presented his proposal to a Parliamentary Select Committee in June 1855 – he had already shown it to Prince Albert whom, he said, “gives it his approval”.
He estimated the cost of his proposal – which he thought would carry some 105,000 passengers every day – at some £34 million – a figure which parliament, which had initially been supportive of the idea, found a little hard to stomach.
This was especially thanks to the fact they were already dealing with the costs of Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s vast sewer system (see our earlier post here), created as a result of the ‘Great Stink’ in 1858 when the smell of untreated human excrement and other waste in the Thames became so strong, parliament had to act.
As a result, the project – which would have crossed the Thames three times, once with a spur line that ended near Piccadilly Circus – never eventuated but the Underground’s Circle Line today follows roughly the same route Paxton’s railway would have.