This Week in London – Remembering the Great Fire of 1666; rediscovering the Palace of Whitehall; and, the Queen’s dresses go on show…
July 21, 2016
• A new “theatrical” exhibition marking the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London is opening at the Museum of London on Saturday. Fire! Fire! takes visitors on an interactive journey from before, during and after the great fire, looking at how the fire started and spread and the personal stories of Londoners present at the time. Visitors will be able to step in Pudding Lane and see what life was like for 17th century Londoners, walk into the bakery where the fire started, and identify objects melted by the flames. Exhibits on show include a restored 17th century fire engine, originally built in London in the last 1670s, other firefighting equipment including a squirt, a leather bucket and fire hook, a pair of bed hangings, a burnt Geneva Bible, and letters written in the fire’s aftermath. Admission charges apply. Can be seen until 17th April next year. A series of events, including walks, tours, lectures, workshop and family activities, accompanies the exhibition. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/fire-fire. The museum has also commissioned a Minecraft building group recreate London as it was in 1666 with the first of three interactive maps to be released next week (available for free download from www.museumoflondon.org.uk) and further maps to follow in September and February. For more information on other events surrounding the anniversary, see www.visitlondon.com/greatfire350.
• The long lost Palace of Whitehall is the subject of a new visitor experience which kicks off at the last surviving part of the palace – the Banqueting House – today. Handheld devices, binaural 3D sound and haptic technology is being made available to guests as they stroll around the streets of modern Whitehall, allowing them to immerse themselves in the former palace during the time of the Tudors and the Stuarts. The Lost Palace experience, created in a collaboration between Historic Royal Palaces and Chomko & Rosier and Uninvited Guests, includes a chance to see the jousts which so delighted Queen Elizabeth I at Horse Guards Parade, accompany King Charles I as he walks through St James’s Park to his execution at the Banqueting House, meet Guy Fawkes following his arrest in the Gunpowder Plot, take part in a performance of King Lear and eavesdrop on an encounter between King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn before their doomed love affair began. The Palace of Whitehall was once the largest palace in Europe with 1,500 rooms spread across 23 acres. Tickets can be purchased at the Banqueting House. Runs until 4th September. For more details, see www.hrp.org.uk/thelostpalace.
• Dresses worn by Queen Elizabeth II during two of the most significant events in Her Majesty’s life – her wedding and her coronation – can be seen as part of the Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace from Saturday. The two dresses will form part of a special exhibition – Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe, the largest display of the Queen’s dress ever held. Alongside the two feature dresses, both designed by British couturier Sir Norman Hartnell, are around 150 outfits created by designers including Hartnell, Hardy Amies and Ian Thomas. The then Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress (pictured), made for her marriage to the Duke of Edinburgh on 20th November, 1947, was made in ivory silk, decorated with crystals and 10,000 seed pearls and attached to a 15 foot long train, while the Queen’s Coronation dress – created for the event on 2nd June, 1953, is made of white duchesse satin and encrusted with seed pearls, sequins and crystals (along with an extra four-leaf shamrock on the left side of the skirt, added secretly by Sir Norman, to bring her good luck). The exhibition, open to 2nd October, is being accompanied by special displays at both Windsor Castle and Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016.
• The world’s largest collection of London images – more than 250,000, dating from 1450 to now – are being made available on a free-to-access website hosted by the London Metropolitan Archives from today. Collage – The London Picture Archive features more than 8,000 historical photographs of capital’s streets as well as images of the Great Fire of London in 1666 and photographs of the construction of Tower Bridge along with maps, prints, paintings and films, all drawn from the collections at the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Art Gallery and the Clerkenwell-based London Metropolitan Archives. The collection can be accessed at www.collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk.
• It’s hands-on gaming at the Science Museum for two weeks from Friday with more than 160 systems and hundreds of games available to play on. Power UP spans 40 years of gaming with games ranging from classics like Pong and Pac-Man to modern games like Halo and systems from Atari and SEGA to PS4 and Xbox One. Ninety minute sessions are being held four times daily from 11am tomorrow until 7th August. Ticket charges apply. For more , see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/powerup.
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With the recent change at 10 Downing Street – David Cameron out/Theresa May in – we thought it a good time to look back at when the man considered Britain’s first PM moved in.
Sir Robert Walpole, commonly considered Britain’s first Prime Minister although he was never formally known by that title, was actually First Lord of the Treasury when in early 1730s King George II presented him with the terrace house at 10 Downing Street, off Whitehall, and the large mansion behind it (in fact the title of ‘First Lord of the Treasury’ can still be seen inscribed on the brass letter-box on the property’s front door).
Sir Robert accepted the king’s gift, but only on condition that it be made available to all future First Lords of the Treasury And he didn’t move in until 22nd September, 1735, having had architect William Kent join the terrace house with the mansion behind it before doing so.
Kent had joined the houses on two levels with the main entrance facing onto Downing Street instead of Horse Guards. The Walpoles would live at the back of the new house where Kent had created a series of grand rooms – suitable for receiving honoured guests – and had built an unusual three sided staircase which remains a star sight of the building today.
Walpole used the ground floor of the new property for business and set-up his study in what is now the Cabinet Room. Lady Walpole used the upstairs room now known as the White Drawing Room as her sitting room and what is now called the Terracotta Room (although the name of this room changes with the colour scheme) as the dining room.
Among those who attended 10 Downing Street during the Walpole’s residency were luminaries such as Queen Caroline (wife of King George II) as well as prominent politicians, writers and military figures.
The Walpoles left in 1742 and it was more than 20 years later before another First Lord of the Treasury moved in.
PICTURE: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC/ Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.
June 1, 2015
It’s not often that we feature living people in ‘Famous Londoners’, but this prominent figure, albeit not a human, deserves special mention.
A resident of Number 10 Downing Street in Whitehall, Larry the cat is officially Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office – a position for which he has won accolades (and, at times, reproaches, for a seeming lack of action in the face of invasion – this includes, most recently the arrival of a heron at the residence, with Larry nowhere to be found).
Larry arrived at Downing Street (then home to Conservative PM David Cameron) in February, 2011, then a four-year-old tabby who came from the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in south London and was apparently recruited to deal with a rodent problem after they were spotted in news broadcasts behind correspondents. It was June, some four months later, before he apparently made his first kill.
Larry has had an at times prickly relationship with the media – it started soon after his arrival at Downing Street when he scratched ITV reporter Lucy Manning who was trying to get him to pose for a news item (you can see it here).
He’s also apparently had some run-ins with visiting dignitaries – although US President Barack Obama apparently was able to stroke him without incident – and with Freya, Chancellor George Osborne’s cat (who has since been exiled to Kent).
Larry isn’t the first cat to live at Downing Street – his predecessors include Wilberforce who lived there for 18 years during the tenure of PMs including Edward Heath, Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, and Margaret Thatcher, and Humphrey, who served Ms Thatcher, John Major and, briefly Tony Blair, before he retired in 1997. But Larry is the first who has officially held the title of Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office.
PICTURE: HM Government (via Wikipedia).
Both Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster (these days better known as the Houses of Parliament – pictured) pre-date 1215 but unlike today in 1215 the upon which they stood was known as Thorney Island.
Formed by two branches of the Tyburn River as they ran down to the River Thames, Thorney Island (a small, marshy island apparently named for the thorny plants which once grew there) filled the space between them and the Thames (and remained so until the Tyburn’s branches were covered over).
One branch entered the Thames in what is now Whitehall, just to the north of where Westminster Bridge; another apparently to the south of the abbey, along the route of what is now Great College Street. (Yet another branch apparently entered the river near Vauxhall Bridge).
The abbey’s origins go back to Saxon times when what was initially a small church – apparently named after St Peter – was built on the site. By 960AD it had become a Benedictine monastery and, lying west of what was then the Saxon city in Lundenwic, it become known as the “west minster” (St Paul’s, in the city, was known as “east minster”) and a royal church.
The origins of the Palace of Westminster don’t go back quite as far but it was the Dane King Canute, who ruled from 1016 to 1035, who was the first king to build a palace here. It apparently burnt down but was subsequently rebuilt by King Edward the Confessor as part of a grand new palace-abbey complex.
For it was King Edward, of course, who also built the first grand version of Westminster Abbey, a project he started soon after his accession in 1042. It was consecrated in 1065, a year before his death and he was buried there the following year (his bones still lie inside the shrine which was created during the reign of King Henry III when he was undertaking a major rebuild of the minster).
Old Palace Yard dates from Edward’s rebuild – it connected his palace with his new abbey – while New Palace Yard, which lies at the north end of Westminster Hall, was named ‘new’ when it was constructed with the hall by King William II (William Rufus) in the late 11th century.
Westminster gained an important boost in becoming the pre-eminent seat of government in the kingdom when King Henry II established a secondary treasury here (the main treasury had traditionally been in Winchester, the old capital in Saxon times) and established the law courts in Westminster Hall.
King John, meanwhile, followed his father in helping to establish London as the centre of government and moved the Exchequer here. He also followed the tradition, by then well-established, by being crowned in Westminster Abbey in 1199 and it was also in the abbey that he married his second wife, Isabella, daughter of Count of Angouleme, the following year.
May 22, 2015
The headquarters of the East India Company, the ‘New’ East India House, was built in the 1720s at the corner of Leadenhall and Lime Streets on the site of what had been a late Elizabethan mansion known as Craven House.
The company, which was founded in 1600, was housed in several different properties (including Crosby Hall – now located at Chelsea) until it moved into Craven House in 1648 – built by a former Lord Mayor, Sir Robert Lee, and named after one of its later occupants Sir William Craven. In 1661 an ornamental wooden structure featuring paintings of some of the Company’s ships and a wooden sculpture of a seaman, was added to the facade of the building.
By the 1720s, the mansion was crumbling and so construction began on a new building on the site designed by Theodore Jacobsen (the Company was relocated to a temporary premises in Fenchurch Street while it was built).
The three storey building on Leadenhall Street was designed with five bays and beyond the facade featured grand meeting rooms including the Directors’ Court Room, offices for the directors as well as a hall, courtyard, garden and warehouses. Famous art works inside included the fresco The East Offering its Riches to Britannia by then little known Greek artist Spiradone RomaThe East Offering its Riches to Britannia which once adorned the ceiling of the Revenue Committee Room (it’s now in the collection of the British Library).
The building was renovated and extended significantly in the 1790s creating what was essentially a grand new neo-classical building. Among the new additions – although it seems a matter of some debate the building was apparently designed by Henry Holland with the work was overseen by the Company’s surveyor Richard Jupp until his death in 1799 – were a museum and library. A new pediment topped by Brittania dominated the facade.
When the East India Company was wound up in 1858 after the Indian Mutiny its assets were transferred to the government and the building briefly became home to the India Office (which subsequently moved to a new purpose-built building which still stands in Whitehall).
In 1861, the building was sold for redevelopment and subsequently demolished. Many of its fittings, art collection and furnishings were transferred elsewhere including the British Library, V&A and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall where many of the fittings of the Directors’ Court Room – including a great marble chimneypiece – were reused.
The location of the property is now covered by the landmark Lloyd’s building with little to indicate such a grand premises had once stood here.
PICTURE: The extended East India House in about 1800, by Thomas Malton the Younger (1748-1804)/via Wikipedia.
For more on the history of the East India Company, see John Keay’s The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company.
This Week in London – Marking VE Day’s 70th; Rut Blees Luxemburg at the Museum of London; and India’s Sidi community on show at the NPG…
May 7, 2015
• Three days of events kick off in London tomorrow to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day. Events will include a Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall at 3pm tomorrow (Friday) coinciding with two minutes national silence while Trafalgar Square – scene of VE Day celebrations in 1945 – will host a photographic exhibition of images taken on the day 70 years ago (the same images will be on show at City Hall from tomorrow until 5th June) and, at 9.32pm, a beacon will be lit at the Tower of London as part of a nation wide beacon-lighting event. On Saturday at 11am, bells will ring out across the city to mark the celebration and at night, a star-studded 1940s-themed concert will be held on Horse Guards Parade (broadcast on BBC One). Meanwhile, on Sunday, following a service in Westminster Abbey, a parade of current and veteran military personnel will head around Parliament Square and down Whitehall, past the balcony of HM Treasury where former PM Sir Winston Churchill made his historic appearance before crowds on the day, to Horse Guards. A flypast of current and historic RAF aircraft will coincide with the parade and from 1pm the Band of the Grenadier Guards will be playing music from the 1940s in Trafalgar Square. Meanwhile, starting tomorrow, special V-shaped lights will be used to illuminate Trafalgar Square, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament as a tribute. For more information, see www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/ve-day-70th-anniversary.
• The works of leading London-based photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg are on show in at new exhibition at the Museum of London in the City. London Dust will feature three major newly acquired works by Luxemburg including Aplomb – St Paul’s, 2013, Walkie-Talkie Melted My Golden Calf, 2013, and the film London/Winterreise, 2013. Blees Luxemburg’s images – others of which are also featured in the exhibition – contrast idealised architectural computer-generated visions of London that clad hoardings at City-building sites with the gritty, unpolished reality surrounding these. In particular they focus on a proposed 64 floor skyscraper, The Pinnacle, which rose only seven stories before lack of funding brought the work to a halt. The free exhibition runs until 10th January next year. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• The Talk: The Cutting Edge – Weapons at the Battle of Waterloo. Paul Wilcox, director of the Arms and Armour Research Institute at the University of Huddersfield, will talk about about the weapons used at Waterloo with a chance to get ‘hands-on’ with some period weapons as part of a series of events at Aspley House, the former home of the Iron Duke at Hyde Park Corner, to mark the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo. To be held on Monday, 11th May, from 2.30pm to 4pm. Admission charge applies and booking is essential – see www.english-heritage.org.uk/apsley for more.
• On Now: On Belonging: Photographs of Indians of African Descent. A selection of ground-breaking photographs depicting the Sidi community – an African minority living in India – is on show at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square. The works, taken between 2005 and 2011, are those of acclaimed contemporary Indian photographer Ketaki Sheth and the exhibition is his first solo display in the UK. They provide an insight into the lives of the Sidi, and include images of a young woman named Munira awaiting her arranged wedding, young boys playing street games, and the exorcism of spirits from a woman as a young girl watches. Admission is free. Runs in Room 33 until 31st August. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.
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April 27, 2015
One of the most famous streets (and photographed) in London (though sadly not open to the public), Downing Street in Whitehall is these days most well-known for being the location, at Number 10, of the official residence of the British Prime Minister.
But Downing Street’s history dates back to a time before the first British PM moved in (this was Sir Robert Walpole in the 1735 and even after that, it didn’t become a regular thing for Prime Ministers to live here until the Twentieth century). And its name bears testimony to its creator, Sir George Downing, a soldier and diplomat described as “a miserly and at times brutal” man who served first under both Oliver Cromwell and, following the Restoration, King Charles II (and was, coincidentally, one of the first graduates of Harvard University).
In the 1650s, Sir George took over the Crown’s interest in land here, just east of St James’s Park, and intended to build a row of townhouses upon it. His ambitions were delayed, however, due to an existing lease with the descendants of Elizabethan courtier Sir Thomas Knyvet who had once lived in a large home on the site of what is now Number 10 Downing Street.
By the 1680s, however, the lease had expired and between 1682-84, Downing was able to construct a cul-de-sac, closed at the St James’s Park end, featuring either 15 or 20 two storey terraced townhouses with stables and coach-houses, designed by no less than Sir Christopher Wren.
While the homes were apparently of shoddy craftsmanship and stood upon poor foundations (Churchill famously wrote that Number 10 was “shaky and lightly built by the profiteering contractor whose name they bear”), the street apparently attracted some notable residents from the start.
These included the Countess of Yarmouth, who briefly lived at Number 10 in the late 1680s, Lord Lansdowne and the Earl of Grantham, and even, briefly, apparently the diarist James Boswell in the mid 1700s. Downing himself isn’t thought to have ever lived here – he retired to Cambridge a few months after the houses were completed.
The houses between Number 10 and Whitehall – on the north side of the street – were taken over by the government and eventually demolished in the 1820s to allow for the construction of offices for the Privy Council, Board of Trade and Treasury while the houses on the south side remained until they were demolished in the early 1860s to make way for the Foreign, India, Colonial and Home Offices.
The numbers in the street have changed since Downing’s houses were first built. Of the original homes in the street only Number 10 (home of the PM) and Number 11 (home of the Chancellor of the Exchequer) survive.
Access to the street has been restricted since the 1980s with the current black steel gates put in place in 1989.
An underground tunnel apparently runs under the street connecting number 10 with Buckingham Palace and the underground bunker, Q-Whitehall, built in the 1950s in the event of nuclear war.
April 24, 2015
Tomorrow is the 25th April – commemorated every year as Anzac Day in Australia in memory of that country’s soldiers who lost their lives. This year marks 100 years since Australian troops first landed at Gallipoli during World War I.
While attention will be focused on Anzac Cove in modern Turkey and the Australian war memorials on what was the Western Front in western Europe, in London there will be several events including a wreath laying ceremony at The Cenotaph in Whitehall, a commemoration and thanksgiving service in Westminster Abbey and a dawn service held at the Australian War Memorial in Hyde Park Corner.
This last memorial, dedicated to the more than 100,000 Australians who died in both world wars, was unveiled on Armistice Day, 2003, in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II, then-Australian PM John Howard and then British PM Tony Blair.
It records the 23,844 names of town where Australians who served in World War I and II were born.
Superimposed over the top are 47 of the major battles they fought. Principal architect Peter Tonkin said the somewhat curvaceous design of the memorial, made of grey-green granite slabs, “reflects the sweep of Australian landscape, the breadth and generosity of our people, the openness that we believe should characterise our culture”.
For more on the wall – including the ability to search for town names – see www.awmlondon.gov.au.
Throughout his life – as a child, bachelor, husband and family man, Sir Winston lived in many properties in London (although, of course, a couple of the most famous properties associated with him – his birthplace, Blenheim Palace, and the much-loved family home, Chartwell in Kent – are located outside the city). But, those and 10 Downing Street aside, here are just some of the many places he lived in within London…
• 29 St James’s Place, St James: Having been born at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and then having spent time in Dublin, at the age of five (1880) he came to live here with his family. He remained here until 1882 when he was sent off to school in Ascot (he later attended schools in Sussex and, most famously, Harrow School). The family, meanwhile, moved to a townshouse at 2 Connaught Place which backed on to Hyde Park.
• 33 Eccleston Square, Pimlico: The Churchills moved here in 1909 and it was here that their first two children Diana and Randolph were born in 1909 and in 1911. The family remained here until 1913. A blue plaque marks the property.
• Admiralty House, Whitehall: The Churchills first moved into Admiralty House – part of the Admiralty complex on Whitehall – in 1913 (from the aforementioned Eccleston Square) after Churchill was made First Lord of the Admiralty. They remained here until 1915 – years he would go onto to describe as the happiest in his life – before he resigned but returned in 1939 when he was once again appointed to the position.
• 2 Sussex Square, Bayswater: In 1920, the Churchills bought this property just north of Hyde Park which they kept until 1924 when they moved into 11 Downing Street (see below). The property is marked with a blue plaque.
• 11 Downing Street, Whitehall: The Churchills lived at 11 Downing Street when Sir Winston was Chancellor of the Exchequer, from 1925 to 1929. The property, located in Downing Street, is not accessible to the public.
• 11 Morpeth Mansions, Morpeth Terrace, Westminster: The Churchill family lived at this Westminster address between 1930 and 1939 (prior to him becoming Prime Minister). The property is marked by a brown plaque.
• 28 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington: Churchill died in this Grade II-listed, mid 19th century property on the morning of 24th January, 1965. The couple moved in after the end of World War II and, while it’s not clear whether they fully vacated the residence when he was prime minister between 1951-55, it remained their property until his death 10 years later. The property next door, number 27, provided accommodation for his staff. The property is marked with a blue plaque.
Sir Winston Churchill lived a number of residences in London but, of course, the most famous in its own right is the traditional home of British PMs, 10 Downing Street.
Located in a short street just off Whitehall (now closed to the public), the property has been home to Prime Ministers since Sir Robert Walpole, officially First Lord of the Treasury but effectively the first PM, took up residence in 1735.
Churchill moved in following his election to the office of Prime Minister in 1940 and he and his wife Clementine took up residence in a second floor flat. It was in this property where, cigar in hand, he is famously known to have dictated speeches and letters to his secretary while propped up in bed.
The building suffered some bomb damage during the Blitz – on 14th October, 1940, a bomb fell on nearby Treasury Green and damaged the home’s kitchen and state rooms. Three civil servants doing Home Guard duty were killed but the kitchen staff were saved thanks to Churchill who, dining in the Garden Rooms when the bombing raid began, ordered them to leave their duties and get into a bomb shelter.
The Garden Rooms – which included a bedroom, meeting area and the small dining room – were subsequently reinforced with steel and heavy metal shutters although these apparently would have made little difference had there been a direct hit.
Cabinet moved out of Number 10 into the underground bunker complex now referred to as the Churchill War Rooms (see last week’s post) in October, 1939, and, after several near misses, the Churchills – Sir Winston apparently very begrudgingly – moved into the Number 10 Annex above the war rooms in 1940 (although Churchill continued to visit Number 1o for working and dining).
Much of the furniture and valuables were removed from Number 10 and only the Garden Rooms, Cabinet Room and Private Secretaries’ office remained in use (along with a reinforced bomb shelter built underneath – King George VI is known to have sheltered here when he was dining with Churchill when a raid began).
At the end of the war the Churchills quickly moved back into Number 10 and it was from the Cabinet Room that he made his Victory in Europe (VE) Day broadcast on 8th May, 1945.
He vacated the premises after his election defeat later in 1945 but returned when re-elected PM in 1951 and left after he resigned in 1955 having held a dinner party attended by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip the night before.
A couple of interesting facts about Churchill’s time at number 10: Churchill had many pets who usually had free rein in the house – even at 10 Downing Street his poodle Rufus was known to have wandered into a meeting in the Cabinet Room (before he was ejected) – while in 1958, Georgina Landemare, the cook during his time at number 10, famously published a book, Recipes from No. 10, which featured an introduction by Churchill’s wife, Clementine.
There are apparently two portraits of Churchill among those of other PMs which grace the wall of the Grand Staircase.
For more on the history of 10 Downing Street, see www.gov.uk/government/history/10-downing-street
Now a museum, the Churchill War Rooms is actually the underground bunker system beneath Whitehall from where Churchill directed operations during the Blitz of World War II.
The subterranean complex includes a series of historic rooms where Churchill and his cabinet met which remain in the same state they were in when the lights were switched off at the end of the war in 1945. There’s also a substantial cutting-edge museum dedicated to exploring Churchill’s life which boasts an interactive “lifeline” containing more than 1,100 images and a similar number of documents as well as animations and films.
With the coming conflict on the horizon, the complex was constructed from 1938 to 1939 as an emergency government centre in the basement of the now Grade II* listed government building then known as the New Public Offices (and now home to HM Treasury). It became operational on 27th August, 1939, shortly before the outbreak of the war.
Key rooms include the Map Room (pictured, top, it was manned around the clock by military officers producing intelligence reports) and the War Cabinet Room where more than 100 meetings of Cabinet were held (including just one gathering of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s cabinet in October, 1939).
Other facilities included a private office/bedroom for Churchill (this came with BBC broadcasting equipment which Churchill used four times and, although it had a bed, Churchill apparently rarely used it), the Transatlantic Telephone Room (pictured above, it was disguised as a toilet) from where Churchill could speak directly to the US President. There are also staff dormitories, bedrooms for officers and government ministers, and rooms for typists and telephone switchboard operators.
In October, 1940, a massive layer of concrete – up to five feet thick and known simply as ‘The Slab’ – was added to protect the rooms. Other protective devices included a torpedo net slung across the courtyard overhead to catch falling bombs and an air filtration system to prevent poisonous gases entering.
Abandoned after the war, the premises hosted some limited tours but, despite growing demand to see inside, it wasn’t until the early 1980s when PM Margaret Thatcher pushed for the rooms to be opened to the public that the Imperial War Museum eventually took over the site. The museum opened on 4th April, 1984, in a ceremony attended by the PM as well as members of Churchill’s family and former staff.
Then known as the Cabinet War Rooms, they were extended in 2003 to include rooms used by Churchill, his wife and associates, and, in 2005, following the development of the Churchill Museum, it was rebranded the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms. In 2010, the name was shortened to the Churchill War Rooms. The entrance to the premises was redesigned in 2012.
Among the objects in the museum are one of Churchill’s famous “siren suits”, an Enigma machine and the flag from his funeral.
WHERE: Churchill War Rooms, Clive Steps, King Charles Street (nearest Tube stations are Westminster and St James’s Park); WHEN: 9.30am to 6pm daily; COST: £18 adults (with donation)/£9 children aged 5-15 (with donation)/£14.40 concessions (with donation) (family tickets available); WEBSITE: www.iwm.org.uk/visits/churchill-war-rooms/
PICTURES: Churchill War Rooms/Imperial War Rooms
January 23, 2015
Standing tall among some of the towering figures of British politics (and others), the over life-sized bronze statue of Sir Winston Churchill on Parliament Square in Whitehall was designed by Welsh sculptor Ivor Roberts-Jones and is located on a site on the square’s north-east corner chosen by the great man himself.
Standing 12 feet (3.6 metres) high on an eight foot (2.4 metre) high pedestal opposite the Houses of Parliament (which he faces), Churchill, who was 90 when he died, is portrayed during the years of World War II wearing a navy greatcoat but wears no hat and leans on a cane.
The full length, Grade II-listed statue, which Roberts-Jones was commissioned to create in 1970, was unveiled by Lady Churchill with the aid of Queen Elizabeth II in 1973.
Interestingly, it’s said that there’s a mild electric current which runs through the statue to ensure pigeons don’t perch and snow doesn’t gather on his head. Another quirky fact – Roberts-Jones was subsequently commissioned to make another Churchill statue in 1977 – this one for New Orleans.
PICTURE: Adam Carr
This Week in London – New Year’s Eve sold out; New Year’s Day Parade; and, National Gallery buys Corot work…
December 18, 2014
• All 100,000 tickets for London’s New Year’s Eve fireworks are now booked, the Greater London Authority announced this week. They’ve advised those without a ticket to avoid the area around Embankment and South Bank on the night, saying that the best alternative view of the fireworks will be live on BBC One. Meanwhile, don’t forget the New Year’s Day Parade which will kick off in Piccadilly (near junction with Berkeley Street) from noon on New Year’s Day. The parade – which takes in Lower Regent Street, Pall Mall, Trafalgar Square and Whitehall before finishing at 3.30pm at Parliament Square in Westminster – will feature thousands of performers. Grandstand tickets are available. For more, see www.londonparade.co.uk.
• The National Gallery has acquired French artist Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s work, The Four Times of Day, it was announced this month. The 1858 work, acquired with the aid of the Art Fund, has something of a star-studded pedigree – it was bought by Frederic, Lord Leighton, in 1865, and the four large panels were displayed at his London home until his death. In the same family collection for more than a century after that, they have been on loan to the National Gallery since 1997. They complement 21 other paintings by Corot in the gallery’s collection. The Four Times of Day can be seen in Room 41. Entry is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.
Exploring London is taking a break over Christmas, so this will be the last This Week in London update until mid-January. But we’ll still be posting some of our other usual updates including our most popular posts for 2014 round-up!
Still on designs for royal palaces and today we’re looking at two designs for the same palace. Both Inigo Jones (1573-1652) and Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) drew up designs for the remodelling and expansion of Whitehall Palace.
First up was the neo-classical architect Jones who drew up plans for a vast complex of buildings (pictured left) which would replace the Tudor palace King Henry VIII had created when he transformed the grand house formerly known as York Place into a residence suitable for a king (York Place had previously been a residence of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and prior to that, the London residence of the Archbishops of York).
Jones’ complex – which apparently featured seven internal courts – covered much of what is now known as Whitehall as well as neighbouring St James’s Park with a magnificent River Thames frontage.
The first part of Jones’ grand scheme – the Banqueting House (see our earlier post here) – opened in 1622. It still survives today – pictured above – and gives a taste of the grandeur of his overall scheme.
Yet, despite the eagerness of King James I for the project, it failed to materialise. English Heritage chief executive Simon Thurley told the BBC in 2012 that the hall represented only five per cent of what Jones had planned.
King James I died in 1625 and his son King Charles I was apparently keen to continue the project – so much so that Jones submitted new plans in 1638 – but he didn’t find the funds the project needed (and, of course, as we know, then became consumed by the events of the Civil War before being beheaded outside the Banqueting House in 1649).
Following the Restoration, in the 1660s King Charles II apparently had Sir Christopher Wren quietly draw up plans to redevelop the palace but these weren’t follow through on although during the reign of King James II he did work on several projects at the palace including a new range of royal riverside apartments, terrace (remains of which can still be seen) and a chapel.
In 1698, much of the bloated Whitehall Palace – then the largest palace in Europe with more than 1,500 rooms – burnt down although the Banqueting House, though damaged, survived basically intact (in fact there’s an interesting anecdote, its veracity questionable, which has it that on hearing of the fire Wren rushed to the site and had an adjacent building blown up to create a firebreak and ensure the Banqueting House was saved).
The then king, King William III, approached Wren and he again submitted plans for its rebuilding (prior to the fire, he had already worked on several aspects of the palace including a new range of royal apartments and a chapel for King James II).
But Wren’s plans – images show a grand domed building – were largely never realised (although he did convert the Banqueting House into a chapel) and the destroyed palace never rebuilt (no doubt in large part due to the fact that King William III preferred a more rural and less damp location – such as that of Kensington Palace – thanks to his asthma).
For more on the history of the Palace of Whitehall, see Simon Thurley’s Whitehall Palace: The Official Illustrated History.
This Week in London – New gallery at Hampton Court; Northwest Passage explorers remembered; and, celebrating Churchill’s birthday…
November 20, 2014
• A new gallery opens today in the restored Cumberland Suite at Hampton Court Palace. The Gothic Revival suite of rooms, designed by William Kent for William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and the youngest son of King George II, were the last major royal commission ever undertaken at the palace. They will now house a selection of the Royal Collection’s finest paintings including masterpieces by Holbein, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Bassano and Gainsborough. The restoration followed two years of research aimed at returning the rooms to a state which as closely as possible represents Kent’s original decorative scheme. One of the rooms – the duke’s large light closet – is being opened to the public for the first time in 25 years and will house 12 of Canaletto’s smaller Grand Canal views of Venice. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/.
• The exploration of the Northwest Passage is the subject of a new exhibition which has opened at the British Library in King’s Cross. Lines in the Ice: Seeking the Northwest Passage looks back over 400 years with exhibits including King Charles II’s personal atlas, 19th century woodcut illustrations and wooden maps made by Inuit communities, and artefacts related to three of the most eminent explorer to seek out the Northwest Passage – Martin Frobisher, Sir John Franklin and Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole. The exhibition has opened just weeks after the discovery of the HMS Erebus, one of Sir John Franklin’s lost ships. There’s a full programme of events to accompany the exhibition. Runs until 29th March. Admission is free. For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: The world we live in, c. 1958, on display in Lines in the Ice. Courtesy of British Library.
• Celebrate Winston Churchill’s birthday at a special after-hours event in the Churchill War Rooms in Whitehall next week. Advance booking is required to buy tickets for the event which will include a silent disco, drink tasting workshops and the chance to strike your best Churchill pose in a special photo booth. The event runs on the evening of 27th November. To book, head to www.iwm.org.uk/events/churchill-war-rooms/lates-at-churchill-war-rooms-churchill-s-birthday.
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November 17, 2014
With Remembrance Sunday having been observed earlier this month, we thought it was an appropriate time to take a quick look at the Peace Day Parade of 19th July, 1919, at which the Cenotaph – the National War Memorial – was first unveiled.
The parade, organised by a Peace Celebrations Committee appointed by the War Cabinet, was seen as the high point of a series of celebrations to mark the end of the war which had only officially ended on 28th June with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
Prime Minister David Lloyd George, on hearing French troops were to salute a ‘great catafalque’ (a raised structure upon which sits a coffin) built beside the Arc de Triomphe in honour of their war dead as part of their victory march, commissioned architect Edwin Lutyens to create a similar monument for the occasion.
Lutyens had apparently already started sketching, having been sounded out earlier about the possibility of such a structure, and eventually opted for a cenotaph, an empty tomb erected in honour of people buried elsewhere, in place of the catafalque.
The Cenotaph, one of a number of temporary structures built for the day, was unveiled in Whitehall early on the morning of Saturday, 19th July. Made of plaster and wood, it had been constructed in just two weeks (and, of course, it was replaced the following year with the stone Cenotaph which now stands there). Wreaths were soon piled high around its base.
As many as five million people reportedly turned out for the parade along a seven mile route from Knightsbridge (depicted above) through to Westminster and onto Buckingham Palace on Saturday – many of them had arrived from other parts of the country the previous night – and, eager not to miss out, had secured their space by sleeping in parks or streets overnight.
Also known as the London Victory Parade, the procession included some 15,000 Allied forces representing 12 victorious nations including, of course, Britain as well as France, the US, various European and Asian nations and small contingents from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Also marching were military commanders such as Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig – the British Commander-in-Chief, French Marshal Ferdinand Foch – Supreme Allied Commander during the last year of the war, and General John J Pershing, head of the American Expeditionary Force.
Some veterans apparently refused to take part, seeing the parade as “militaristic celebrations”.
After splitting into two columns and filing past the Cenotaph – inscribed with the words ‘The Glorious Dead”, those in the parade then marched down the Mall, which was lined with stands set aside for widows and orphans before King George V took their salute standing beneath a golden cupola erected at the base of the Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace.
October 28, 2014
Located on the South Bank of the Thames opposite Whitehall is the former vast headquarters of the London County Council and later, the Greater London Council. The Grade II* listed building, first opened in 1922, these days houses everything from the London Sea Life Aquarium, the London Dungeon and the visitor centre for the London Eye as well as hotels, restaurants and even flats.
August 13, 2014
Commemorations of the outbreak of World War I have begun, so we thought we’d take a look at 10 of London’s memorials to those who died in the Great War.
Initially a wood and plaster structure, it was just one of a number of a memorials unveiled in July 1919 for a special ‘Peace Day’ commemoration of the previous year’s armistice.
But such was its popularity that it was replaced in the following year by the Portland stone monument – built by Holland, Hannen & Cubitts – which now stands on the site. It was officially unveiled by King George V on Remembrance Day in 1920.
Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the decision to model it after a ‘cenotaph’ – a classical Greek design depicting an empty tomb for those who remains are elsewhere – was apparently Lutyens’ own. The cloth flags on both sides – part of the original design (although Lutyens apparently wanted them in stone) – represent various elements of the British armed forces.
Temporary railings were added on the south side of the memorial in 1938 by Lutyens and are brought out for the Remembrance Sunday service each year. The Cenotaph was updated after World War II with the addition of Roman numerals recording its dates after which it was unveiled a second time, this time by King George VI, on 10th November, 1946.
The Cenotaph – designated a Grade I-listed building – has spawned a host of replicas in places once part of the British Empire – from Australia to Canada and Hong Kong.
This Week in London – New drawbridge for the Tower; Churchill War Rooms celebrate 30 years; and, the mid-Twentieth century home at the Geffrye…
April 10, 2014
• There’s a working drawbridge at the Tower of London, something not seen at the fortress since the 1970s. The bridge, which would have originally spanned a water-filled moat, was created in 1834 to allow munitions to be brought into the basement level of the White Tower from the wharf (the moat was drained in 1843 on the orders of the then-Constable, the Duke of Wellington). The bridge has been altered many times but the last time it was completely replaced was in 1915 while the tradition of raising it was carried on until the 1970s before it was permanently fixed in 1978. The new bridge draws on historic designs from 1914 and has been constructed of steel and English oak. It will be raised and lowered on “high days” and holidays and for educational purposes. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/.
• The Churchill War Rooms – a complex of underground rooms from where then PM Winston Churchill and others directed the course of Allied troops during World War II – is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its public opening with a new displaying showcasing never before seen objects related to its creation as a tourist attraction. The objects include a private admissions ticket from the days when the only way inside was via specially granted permission, correspondence about the fate of the War Rooms and a poster from 1984 advertising the opening of the Cabinet War Rooms to the public. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/churchill-war-rooms.
• On Now: John Pantlin: photographing the mid-century home. This free exhibition at the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch celebrates the work of Pantlin who is noted for his extensive work for the architectural press in the 1950s and 1960s. The small exhibition focuses on his shots of domestic interiors with shots of sun-filled living rooms and bedrooms filled with toys with all images drawn from the Robert Elwall Photographs Collection. Runs until 29th June. For more, see www.geffrye-museum.org.uk.