10 London memorials to foreign leaders…1. Abraham Lincoln…

PICTURE: JR P (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Standing on the edge of Parliament Square opposite the UK’s home of government, this statue of the 16th US President was erected to mark the friendship between Britain and the United States of America.

The statue was proposed by the American Committee for the Celebration of the Hundredth Anniversary of Peace Among English Speaking Peoples to commemorate the centenary of the end of conflict between the two nations in 1915.

But World War I broke out and so it wasn’t until July, 1920 that this statue, a replica of a statue Auguste Saint-Gauden made for the city of Chicago and now Grade II-listed in its own right, was formally presented to then UK Prime Minister David Lloyd George by the US Ambassador and subsequently unveiled by Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught.

The 12 foot high, larger than life, monument – which includes a granite plinth – depicts Lincoln wearing a frock coat standing in front of his Grecian chair and about to give a speech. The original was completed in 1887 and was unveiled in Chicago’s Lincoln Park with Abraham Lincoln II, grandson of the President, in attendance as well as a crowd of some 10,000.

Interestingly, the UK wasn’t the only nation given a copy of the statue – a replica was also given to Mexico in 1964 and now stands in the Parque Lincoln in Mexico City.

There is also a replica at Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Illinois and in 2016, a newly cast replica of the statue was installed at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site – the former home and studio of the sculptor – in Cornish, New Hampshire. There are also numerous smaller replicas including a bust which is sometimes displayed in the Oval Office in the White House.

This Week in London – V&A celebrates Alice; life under Nazi air raids; and, carbon capture at the Science Museum…

A view of the Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser exhibition at the V&A. PICTURE: Courtesy of the V&A

A landmark exhibition focusing on the iconic work of literature, Alice in Wonderland, opens at the V&A on Saturday. Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser features more than 300 objects encompassing film, performance, fashion, art, music and photography and explores the cultural impact of Alice in Wonderland and its ongoing inspiration for everyone from Salvador Dalí to The Beatles, Vivienne Westwood and Little Simz. Highlights of the exhibition, which boasts theatrical sets and immersive environments including a special VR experience, include Lewis Carroll’s handwritten manuscript, illustrations by John Tenniel, Ralph Steadman and Mary Blair for Walt Disney’s iconic 1951 film adaptation, Royal Opera House stage costumes, fashion from Iris van Herpen and photography from Tim Walker. Admission charges apply. Runs in The Sainsbury Gallery until 31st December. For more, see vam.ac.uk/alice.

Artworks which shine a new light on the experience of ordinary people forced into new patterns of living by Nazi air raids during World War II are the subject of a new exhibition which opened in the Churchill War Rooms this week. Wartime London: The Art of the Blitz includes newly acquired drawings from Henry Moore, as well as works from other British artists including William Matvyn Wright, Eric Ravilious, Ernest Boye Uden, Mabel Hutchinson, Evelyn Gibbs, Evelyn Dunbar, and Leila Faithfull. Admission charge applies. Runs until 12th September. For www.iwm.org.uk/events/wartime-london-art-of-the-blitz.

A prototype mechanical tree that absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is among objects on display in a new exhibition Our Future Planet – at the Science Museum. The exhibition offers visitors a look at the cutting-edge technologies and natural solutions being used to mitigate the impacts of climate change and, as well as Klaus Lackner’s Mechanical Tree – on display in the UK for the first time, it features experts including leading ecologists studying ancient forests, engineers at Arizona State University who developed the earliest versions of carbon capture machines, and chemists at C-Capture who are working to remove carbon dioxide from emissions at the UK’s largest power plant. This free exhibition runs until 4th September, 2022. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/our-future-planet.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LondonLife Special – Marking a year since the first national lockdown…

Remembering the more than 126,000 lost. A candle is lit outside 10 Downing Street on Tuesday night to mark the first anniversary of the first national lockdown. PICTURE: Pippa Fowles/No 10 Downing Street.

LondonLife – Looking down Whitehall…

From the Trafalgar Square end. PICTURE: Johen Redman/Unsplash

This Week in London – A 10 year ‘Larryversary’; Westminster street sign auction; and, recalling the Cichociemni…

Larry the cat outside Number 10 in 2014. PICTURE: Andy Thornley (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Larry the cat celebrated his 10th anniversary in Downing Street this week. Officially the “Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office”, Larry first came to Number 10 on 15th February, 2011, from the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home and has since been spotted many times in and around the property going about his duties (or seeing off rivals like the now retired Palmerston, the Foreign Office cat). Larry has served three Prime Ministers during his time in the seat of power – David Cameron, Theresa May and now Boris Johnson – and met with various world leaders (famously apparently taking a liking to US President Barack Obama and being spotted sleeping under Donald Trump’s car). Larry tweeted on Tuesday – the day of his “Larryversary” – that he has no plans of retiring at this stage.

A series of auctions involving a collection of 260 London street signs started this week. Westminster City Council is selling the signs – which include Abbey Road NW8 (estimated price tag of £1,000-£2,000), Pimlico Road SW1 (£100-£200), Westbourne Park Road W2 (£100-£200) and Belgrave Place SW1 (£80-£120) – through Catherine Southon Auctioneers until 3rd March. The distinct signs were first created by Sir Misha Black in 1967. Head here for details.

Looking further afield and English Heritage has put out a call for people with connections to the Cichociemni – the name for a group of Polish Home Army parachutists, many of whom trained at Audley End House, who were dropped behind enemy lines in Poland to begin fighting for the liberation of their homeland – to share their stories. Monday marked the 80th anniversary of the operation involving the elite fighters. Some 527 of them completed their training at the Jacobean stately home in Essex where their presence is today remembered in a memorial and fragmentary remains such as a scrap of graffiti in the coal gallery candle store, remnants of a timetable in a former briefing room and insulators for telephone wires which remain in some trees. “We’d love to hear from the public who have a connection or story to share about the Cichociemni at Audley,” said Andrew Hann, an historian with English Heritage which looks after Audley End House. “We’re particularly interested in hearing from those in the local area at the time, who may remember hearing bangs in the night, or seeing troops crossing fields in the darkness. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that they were highly trained to be both ‘silent and unseen’ they left little obvious trace.”

Send items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com

This Week in London – ‘Fantastic Beasts’; artwork of The Blitz; and, ‘The Adoration of the Kings’ explored…

The links between mythical and fictional creatures with animals of the natural world are explored in a new exhibition which opened at the Natural History Museum this week. Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature, a partnership between the museum, Warner Bros Consumer Products and the BBC Studios Natural History Unit, features some 120 exhibits including Dracorex Hogwartsia dinosaur – named in recognition of Harry Potter’s school, Hogwarts, along with a hoax mermaid, a 16th century map depicting sea monsters, and what was once believed to be a unicorn horn. There’s also the chance to learn more about the Galapagos marine iguana and the boneless hagfish as well as fictional creatures like the mooncalf and erumpent. Admission charge applies and pre-booking required. For more, see www.nhm.ac.uk.

Preparing for the Natural History Museum’s ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature Conservation’ PICTURE: Trustees of the Natural History Museum

Artworks depicting The Blitz are the subject of a new exhibition at the Churchill War Rooms. Art of the Blitz shines a new light on the experiences of ordinary people who lived through the Nazi air raids. The display includes works by Henry Moore, William Matvyn Wright, Eric Ravilious, Ernest Boye Uden, Mabel Hutchinson, Evelyn Gibbs, Evelyn Dunbar, and Leila Faithfull. Free with general admission ticket purchase, the display can be seen until 30th April. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/events/wartime-london-art-of-the-blitz.

Jan Gossaert’s 16th-century masterpiece The Adoration of the Kings is at the heart of a new immersive digital experience which launched at the National Gallery this week. Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration, which has been designed with social distancing in mind, starts with the voice of the African King Balthasar speaking to viewers before light and sound guide them to an individual pod where they can experience an interactive version of the painting. The experience can be seen in Room 1 until 28th February. Admission is free but pre-booking is required. Meanwhile, Father Christmas is making a special appearance at the National Gallery on the 12th and 13th December – and again on 17th to 23rd December – along with the chance to step into a ‘winter wonderland’ inspired by the iconic National Gallery painting A Winter Scene with Skaters near a Castle (about 1608–9) by Hendrick Avercamp (1585–1634). Admission charge applies and pre-booking required. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 38 and 37…

The next two in our countdown…

38. Treasures of London – Winston Churchill statue, Parliament Square…

37. Lost London – The Egyptian Hall…

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 42 and 41…

The next two in our 10th bithday countdown…

42. Lost London – East India House…

41. Lost London – The Cockpit at Whitehall…

LondonLife – Chindit war memorial gets protection upgrade to mark VJ Day…

A memorial commemorating the role of the Chindit Special Forces in Burma during World War II has been awarded a Grade II listing on the National Heritage List for England in honour of the 75th anniversary of Victory in Japan (VJ) Day. Located in Victoria Embankment Gardens outside the Ministry of Defence building in Whitehall, the memorial’s granite plinth is topped with a bronze chinthe, a mythical beast that stands guard outside Burmese temples. The Chindit Special Forces, which were formed by British Army officer Major General Orde Charles Wingate and disbanded in early 1945, are credited with helping to turn the tide of World War II against Japan in the Far East. The memorial was designed by architect David Price and the chinthe sculpture the work of Frank Forster. It was unveiled by Prince Philip on 16th October, 1990. On Saturday, as the nation commemorated VJ Day, a military delegation lad a wreath at the foot of the memorial. PICTURE: Derek Voller (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

LondonLife – Boris Johnson returns to Number 10 Downing Street…

Boris Johnson returns to 10 Downing Street, home of the Prime Minister, on Monday, having recovered from COVID-19. PICTURE: Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

LondonLife Special – ‘Clap for Carers’…

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were among those taking part in ‘Clap for Carers’ – in their case outside Number 10 Downing Street in Whitehall – on Thursday night. People across London took part in the countrywide initiative thanking healthcare workers for their efforts during the current coronavirus crisis. We join in thanking them! PICTURE: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

LondonLife – A trip down memory lane…

Images of London from the 1960s showing, top, a view of Whitehall ad the Cenotaph, and below, looking across the Thames to the Houses of Parliament. PICTURES: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

LondonLife – “Secret” door rediscovered in the Houses of Parliament…

A forgotten door built for festivities surrounding the coronation of King Charles II in 1661 has been rediscovered in the Houses of Parliament. 

The door, hidden behind panelling in cloister formerly used as offices by the Parliamentary Labour Party, was originally constructed to allow guests at the coronation to make their way to his celebratory banquet in Westminster Hall.

It was subsequently used by the likes of Robert Walpole, often referred to as the first Prime Minister as well as architect-led rivals Charles James Fox and William Pitt the Younger, and diarist Samuel Pepys.

The door and passageway behind it survived the fire which destroyed much of the Palace of Westminster in 1834 but it was thought the passage had been filled in during restoration works after the Palace of Westminster was bombed in World War II.

Liz Hallam Smith, an historical consultant from the University of York who is working with the team undertaking the renovations, said they were trawling through “10,000 uncatalogued documents relating to the palace at the Historic England Archives in Swindon, when we found plans for the doorway in the cloister behind Westminster Hall”.

“As we looked at the paneling closely, we realised there was a tiny brass key-hole that no-one had really noticed before, believing it might just be an electricity cupboard,” she said. “Once a key was made for it, the paneling opened up like a door into this secret entrance.”

In the small room behind the door, the team discovered the original hinges for two wooden doors some three-and-a-half meters high that would have opened into Westminster Hall. They also found graffiti, scribbled in pencil by bricklayers who worked on the restoration of the palace in 1851 following the 1834 fire.

One section reads “This room was enclosed by Tom Porter who was very fond of Ould Ale” and another, “These masons were employed refacing these groines…[ie repairing the cloister] August 11th 1851 Real Democrats”, the latter a reference suggesting the men were part of the working class male suffrage Chartist movement.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the House of Commons Speaker, described the find as “part of our parliamentary history”: “To think that this walkway has been used by so many important people over the centuries is incredible.”

PICTURE: Sir Lindsay Hoyle and the door (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

 

Lost London – The Holbein Gate…

The most grand of the entrances to the now demolished Whitehall Palace, this monumental gateway – located in what is now Whitehall, at the south end of and on the other side of the road to the Banqueting House – was built in 1531-32 on the orders of King Henry VIII.

The name apparently comes from the tradition that the three story gate was designed by Hans Holbein but there is apparently some doubt that was the case.

The gate had rooms on the first and second floor with small flanking turrets to either side. It boasted a Royal Coat of Arms over the archway under the gate along with other royal emblems including the Tudor rose. There were also several busts set into roundels on the black and white chequerboard facade, possibly by Giovanni da Maiano.

King Henry VIII apparently used the chambers as a study and library (and later, it’s said, to store the wheelchairs he required late in life). Most famously, the upper room is also believed to have been the location where he secretly married Anne Boleyn on 25th January, 1533.

The upper floor was used as the Paper Office between 1672 until 1756 while the lower floor was used as lodgings with residents including the Ludovic Stewart, 2nd Duke of Lennox and Barbara Villiers, Lady Castlemaine, famed as one of the mistresses of King Charles II.

Remarkably, the building, along with the Banqueting House, survived the fire of January 1698 which destroyed most of the palace. Proposals were subsequently put forward to demolish the gate to allow better flow of traffic but these were fended off until August, 1759, when it was destroyed along with an adjacent house.

PICTURE: Whitehall Showing Holbein’s Gate and Banqueting Hall by Thomas Sandby, c1760 (now at the Yale Center for British Art)

Treasures of London – Sir Walter Raleigh, Greenwich…

This Greenwich statue, which stands on King William Walk to the left of the entrance to the Pepys Building – once part of the Royal Naval College, depicts the Elizabethan adventurer and court favourite (well, at times) in a suitably heroic pose. The life-sized bronze of Raleigh (1552-1618), which stands on a stone plinth, was designed by William McMillan. It was originally unveiled by then-US Ambassador John Hay Whitney in 1959 on Raleigh Green outside the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall to mark the 350th anniversary of the foundation of the Commonwealth of Virginia (it was apparently originally suggested it be placed in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square but that didn’t eventuate). Grade II-listed, it stood in Whitehall until 2001 until, deemed as out of scale with other statues, was moved to its current location. PICTURE: Loco Steve (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

 

10 sites from Victoria and Albert’s London – 7. The Palace of Westminster…


Following the destruction of much of the Palace of Westminster in a fire which broke out on 16th October, 1834, work was launched on a new building to house both the House of Commons and the House of Lords – a building to which both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had strong connections.

Rebuilding commenced in earnest for the new building 27th August, 1840, when Sarah Barry, wife of architect Charles Barry (his plans for a new Perpendicular Gothic-style Parliament building had been selected from some 97 submissions), laid the foundation stone of the new complex.

Work, to the designs of Barry with the aid of Augustus Pugin, progressed (although a lot slower than was originally envisaged – and a lot more expensively) and the new House of Lords was opened in 1847 followed by the new House of Commons in 1852 (when Barry received a knighthood).

The Clock Tower, meanwhile, now renamed the Elizabeth Tower, was not completed until 1858, but when the Victoria Tower was roofed in 1860, the work was largely complete (although construction wasn’t officially completed until 10 years later – Barry died in 1860 and the work was continued by his son, Edward Middleton Barry).

In 1852, Queen Victoria became the first monarch to take the route since used by all sovereigns at the State Opening of Parliament – arriving in the Irish State Coach (still used by Queen Elizabeth II today) she entered the entrance at the base of the Victoria Tower (now known as the Sovereign’s Entrance) and proceeded to the Robing Room where she was dressed in the Imperial State Crown and the Robe of State before processing through the Royal Gallery to the chamber of the House of Lords where she took her seat on the Throne (located opposite the door leading to the House of Commons).

Prince Albert, known for his passion for the arts, chief connection came when he was appointed chair of the Royal Fine Arts Commission in 1835. It oversaw the placement of paintings and sculptures in the building, including five vast frescoes by William Dyce depicting the Arthurian legend which can be seen in the Robing Room.

The prince tragically died on 14th December, 1861, and while the structural work had largely been completed, much of the decorative schemes the commission had envisaged for the palace hadn’t been finished. As a result, many of the decorative aspects Prince Albert had overseen the planning of were never completed.

Portrayals of the Queen and Prince in the building today include a white marble statue of Queen Victoria holding a sceptre and laurel crown in the Prince’s Chamber and portraits of the Queen and Prince Albert by Franz Xaver Winterhalter which flank the Chair of State in the Robing Room.

WHERE: Houses of Parliament (nearest Tube stations are Westminster, St James’s Park and Embankment); WHEN: Tours are held on Saturdays until 25th January 2020 and Monday to Friday between until 30th August 2019 (except 26th August); COST: £26.50 adults/£22 concessions/£11.50 children five to 15 years (children under five are free); WEBSITE: www.parliament.uk.

LondonLife – A new occupant heading for Number 10…

News today that Boris Johnson will be the next Prime Minister of the UK. Johnson, who will take over from Theresa May – only the second woman to hold the office – as PM tomorrow after winning the Conservative Party vote over Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, will be the 14th Prime Minister to serve in the office during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. PICTURE: US State Department

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LondonLife – Trooping the Colour marks the Queen’s birthday…

The Queen’s birthday was marked on Saturday with the annual Trooping the Colour in central London. More than 400 soldiers, close to 300 horses and 400 musicians took part in the event, believed to have first been performed during the reign of King Charles II. As well as Queen Elizabeth II, other members of the Royal Family in attendance included Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex (see image below). ALL PICTURES: US Department of Defence photo by US Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A Pineiro (Via Flickr account of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/licensed under CC BY 2.0).