Rochester-Castle

We’ve visited Rochester before but given it’s the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta we thought it would be good to take a more in-depth look at Rochester Castle and the events that took place there after the sealing of the “Great Charter”.

Rochester Castle was first built in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings as a Norman stronghold to control the Medway and the Roman road – Watling Street – which crossed it at that point. There was a Roman-era town on the site and it’s likely the first castle – surrounded by a deep ditch and featuring walls of earth topped with timber – was  built within the town’s walls – possibly on the site of the existing castle.

Rochester-Castle2Work on a stone castle was started in the late 1080s by Gundulf, the Bishop of Rochester (he also built the first Tower of London), and the castle precincts outer walls still largely follow the line of his original curtain walls. The keep was built by William de Corbeil, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was granted the castle by King Henry I in 1127. It remained in the custody of the archbishops until the events of 1215.

Following the sealing of the Magna Carta in May, relations between King John and the barons soured again into outright civil war with the castle declared for the rebels. In October and November, 1215, it was held for some seven weeks by a force of knights – accounts suggest between 95 and 140 – against the forces of King John. These eventually breached the south curtain wall and after the forces of the knights – who were led by William de Albini and Reginald de Cornhill – retreated to the keep, the king ordered his sappers to work.

The miners were successful in undermining the south-west tower which collapsed along with a large section of the keep (the fat of 40 pigs were apparently used to make sure the fire in the mine was hot enough). The defenders nonetheless kept fighting, retreating further into the remains of the keep, until they were eventually forced to surrender when faced with starvation. King John’s fury at their resistance was said to be great but while some of the defenders lost their hands and feet when they were apparently lopped off on his orders after surrendering, he was convinced to spare the holdouts from being hanged on the spot and merely had them imprisoned.

The tower was later rebuilt by King John’s long ruling son, King Henry III, and you can see its distinct round shape (in contrast with the earlier, square towers) when looking at the keep today. (Incidentally, King John’s siege was the castle’s second major siege – the first had taken place in 1088 when the forces of King William II (Rufus) had besieged the castle which was then held by the rebellious Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux, who was involved in an attempt to put William the Conqueror’s eldest son, Robert, Duke of Normandy, on the throne in place of William (who was the second son). Odo was forced to come to terms and exiled as a result of the siege).

Rochester-Castle3In the hands of the Crown after King John’s siege, the castle was again the site of a siege in 1264 – this time unsuccessful when rebels under the command of Simon de Montfort failed to take it from those of King Henry III (although the garrison was later forced to surrender following events elsewhere).

It was rebuilt and repaired a number of times, including during the reigns of King Edward III and that of King Richard II (during whose reign it was also ransacked in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381). Other kings to visit it over the years included King Henry VII and King Henry VIII.

Already much deteriorated and neglected, in 1610, King James I gave the castle to Sir Anthony Weldon whose family sold off some of the timber and stone to local builders. It survived the Civil War without incident and was used as a public pleasure garden from the 1870s onward before, in 1884, it was sold to the City of Rochester. In 1965 responsibility for its care was given to the Ministry of Public Building and Works. Current managers, English Heritage, took over the site in 1984.

The castle remains an imposing site in Rochester and the outer walls of the keep remain intact even if it’s no more than a shell. Worth the climb to the top simply to take advantage of the spectacular views of the town and cathedral below!

WHERE: Rochester Castle, Rochester, Kent – nearest train station is Rochester (half a mile); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily (until 30th September); COST:£6.20 adults/£3.90 children (aged 5-15) and concessions (free for English Heritage members); WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/rochester-castle.

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PrudhonThe drawings of “Napoleon’s draughtsman”, Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, have gone on display at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in an exhibition timed to coincide with the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo. The exhibition, Prud’hon: Napoleon’s Draughtsman, presents a selection of some of Prud’hon’s best works, including 12 works on paper from Gray’s Musée Baron Martin in eastern France as well as life studies such as Seated Male Nude and Standing Female Nude and a series of sketches from when Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, sat for Prud’hon 15 times in her home outside Paris. Runs until 15th November. Admission charge applies. A series of events is being run in conjunction with the exhibition. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

The City of London Festival has kicked off this week with a three week programme including music, performance and visual art, films, tours, walks and talks. Events include the City Beerfest in Guildhall Yard, a tour of the art of the Mansion House, Bank of England open days and a walk celebrating the democratic institutions of the City marking the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. The festival, which includes both ticketed and free events, runs until 10th July. For more, including a full programme, see www.colf.org.

A new exhibition exploring the photographic works of Captain Linnaeus Tripe has opened at the V&A. Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1852-1860 includes more than 60 photographs of architectural sites and monuments, ancient and contemporary religious buildings, landscape vistas and geological formations. The Devon-born Tripe joined the East India Company army in 1839 and was stationed in India throughout the 1840s, learning the art of photography when back in England in the early 1850s. The photographs represent the output from two major expeditions with Tripe the first photographer to capture Burma’s remarkable architecture and landscapes and the first person to do so extensively in south India. The exhibition, part of the V&A India Festival which marks the 25th anniversary of the opening of the museum’s Nehru Gallery, is organised jointly by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in association with the V&A. Runs until 11th October.  Admission is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/linnaeustripe.

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London-Bridge2

The current London Bridge, which spans the River Thames linking Southwark to the City, is just the latest in several incarnations of a bridge which originally dates back to Roman times.

This week, we’re focusing on first stone bridge to be built on the site. Constructed over a period of some 33 years, it was only completed in 1209 during the reign of King John, some six years before the signing of the Magna Carta.

Construction on the bridge began in 1176, only 13 years after the construction of an earlier wooden bridge on the site (the latest of numerous wooden bridges built on the site, it had apparently built of elm under the direction of Peter de Colechurch, chaplain of St Mary Colechurch, a now long-gone church in Cheapside).

It was the priest-architect de Colechurch who was also responsible for building the new bridge of stone, apparently on the orders of King Henry II. While many of the wealthy, including Richard of Dover, the Archbishop of Canterbury, gave funds for the construction of the bridge, a tax was also levied on wool, undressed sheepskins and leather to provide the necessary monies – the latter led to the phrase that London Bridge was “built upon woolpacks”. King John, meanwhile, had decreed in 1201 that the rents from several homes on the bridge would be used to repair it into perpetuity.

The bridge, which featured 20 arches – a new one built every 18 months or so, was apparently constructed on wooden piles driven into the river bed at low water with the piers of Kentish ragstone set on top. It was dangerous work and it’s been estimated that as many as 200 men may have died during its construction.

The bridge was almost completely lined with buildings on both sides of the narrow central street. These included a chapel dedicated to St Thomas á Becket – a stopping point for pilgrims heading to the saint’s shrine in Canterbury, as well as shops and residences (although, apart from the chapel, we know little about the original buildings). There was also a drawbridge toward the southern end and the Great Stone Gate guarding the entrance from Southwark.

Peter de Colechurch died in 1205, before the bridge was completed. He was buried in the undercroft of the chapel on the bridge.

Three men subsequently took on the task of completing the bridge – William de Almaine, Benedict Botewrite and Serle le Mercer who would go on to be a three time Lord Mayor of London. All three were later bridge wardens, the City officials charged with the daily running of the bridge itself.

One of key events on the bridge in the years immediately after its completion was the arrival of Louis, the Dauphin of France, in May, 1216. Louis had been invited to depose John by the rebellious barons after the agreement sealed at Runnymede fell apart and in 1216, he and his men marched over London Bridge on their way to St Paul’s Cathedral. (We’ll deal with this in more detail in a later post).

What became known as ‘Old London Bridge’, which stood in line with Fish Street Hill, survived the Great Fire of 1666, albeit badly damaged, but was eventually replaced with a new bridge, known, unsurprisingly as ‘New London Bridge’, which opened in 1831. Designed by John Rennie, this bridge was later replaced by one which opened in 1971 (Rennie’s bridge was sold off and now stands in Lake Havasu City, Arizona).

For a detailed history of Old London Bridge, check out Old London Bridge: The Story of the Longest Inhabited Bridge in Europe.

St-Helen-Bishopsgate2

This church in the shadow of 30 St Mary Axe (aka The Gherkin) is all that remains of a Benedictine nunnery that was founded here during the reign of King John in 1210.

St-Helen's-BishopsgateEstablished by one “William, son of William the goldsmith” after he was granted the right by the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral, the priory was built to the north of a previously existing church with a new church for the nuns to use built right alongside the existing structure (thus accounting for the rarely seen side-by-side naves of the current building).

While the new church was built longer than the existing church, the latter was then lengthened to give them both the same length. A line of arches and a screen separated the nun’s choir and the parish church.

The church which stands today has been much altered over the centuries and what we now see there largely dates from the 14th and 15th centuries (although the bell turret which sits over the west front is an 18th century addition).

One of the priory’s claims to fame in medieval times was that it apparently was once home to a piece of the True Cross, presented by King Edward I in 1285.

The nunnery was dissolved in 1538 during the Great Dissolution of King Henry VIII and the buildings, excepting the church, sold off to the Leathersellers’ Company (all were eventually demolished by the 18th century). The screen separating the nun’s choir and the parish church, meanwhile, was removed, leaving the main body of the church as it can be seen today.

The now Grade I-listed church, which was William Shakespeare’s parish church when he lived in the area in the 1590s, survived both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz but was severely damaged by two IRA bombs in the early 1990s leading to some major – and controversial – works under the direction of architect Quinlan Terry.

Inside the church today is a somewhat spectacular collection of pre-Great Fire monuments including the 1579 tomb of Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange, the 1636 tomb of judge, MP and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Julius Caesar Adelmare, and the 1476 tomb of merchant, diplomat, City of London alderman and MP, Sir John Crosby.

It was also once the site of the grave of 17th century scientist Sir Robert Hooke but these were apparently removed from the church crypt in the 19th century when repairs to the floor of the nave were being made and placed in an unmarked common grave. Their location apparently remains unknown.

WHERE: St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Great St Helens (nearest Tube stations are Aldgate, Bank and Liverpool Street); WHEN: 9.30am to 12.30pm weekdays daily (also usually open Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons but visitors are advised to telephone first); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.st-helens.org.uk.

Dunkirk-Little-Ships-More than 20 Dunkirk Little Ships will gather at London’s Royal Docks this weekend ahead of their Return to Dunkirk journey marking the 75th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuations. The event, which is part of the UK’s annual festival of late openings Museums at Night, will see the ships parade around Royal Victoria Dock on Saturday night with the Silver Queen offering twilight trips and the chance to step on board some of the other ships (the Little Ships will continue with their own festival on Sunday commencing with a church service by the quayside at 11am). Other events being offered in London as part of Museums at Night include ‘Dickens After Dark’ in which the Charles Dickens Museum will open its doors to visitors for night of Victorian entertainment on Friday night and a night of music featuring the Royal College of Music at Fulham Palace (also on Friday night). Among the other London properties taking part are the Handel House Museum, Benjamin Franklin House, the Wellcome Collection, Museum of the Order of St John, and the National Archives in Kew. For a full list of events, check out http://museumsatnight.org.uk

Meanwhile, Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London is holding its first weekend culture festival, MayFest: Men of Mystery, as part of Museums at Night. On Friday and Saturday nights, there will be tours of the gallery’s new exhibition featuring the work of artist Eric Ravilious followed by outdoor cinema screenings of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and The 39 Steps as well as free swing dance lessons, street foods and a pop-up vintage shop which will help people get the vintage look. Visitors are being encouraged to dress up in styles of the 1930s and 1940s with a prizes awarded to those with the “best vintage style”. The gallery will also be inviting visitors to take part in a mass installation drop-in workshop held in the gallery’s grounds over the weekend and Saturday morning will see special events for children. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/whats-on/.

A major new work by acclaimed artist Cornelia Parker goes on display in the entrance hall of the British Library in King’s Cross tomorrow to mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. The almost 13 metre long Magna Carta (An Embroidery) replicates the entire Wikipedia entry on the Magna Carta as it was on the 799th anniversary of the document and was created by many people ranging from prisoners and lawyers to artists and barons. It accompanies the library’s exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy. Entry to see the artwork is free. For more, see www.bl.uk/cornelia-parker.

The works of Peter Kennard, described as “Britain’s most important political artist”, are on display in a new exhibition which opens at the Imperial War Museum in London today. Peter Kennard: Unofficial War Artist is the first major retrospective exhibition of his work and features more than 200 artworks and other items drawn from his 50 year career including an art installation, Boardroom, created especially for the display. Works on show include his iconic transposition of Constable’s painting Haywain which he showed carrying cruise missiles about to be deployed in Greenham Common, the Decoration paintings created in 2004 in response to the Iraq War of 2003, his seminal STOP paintings which reference events of the late 1960s such as the ‘Prague Spring’ and anti-Vietnam war protests and his 1997 installation Reading Room. The free exhibition runs at the Lambeth institution until 30th May next year. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/london.

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It was on 9th May, 2015, 800 years ago this year that, in the lead-up to the creation of the Magna Carta in June, King John issued a charter granting the City of London the right to freely elect its own mayor.

The charter, which was issued at the Temple – King John’s power base to the west of the City (for more on it, see our earlier post here), was a fairly blatant bid to keep the support of the city.

King-John-CharterKnown simply as the King John Charter, it stated that the barons of the city, “may choose to themselves every year a mayor, who to us may be faithful, discreet, and fit for government of the city, so as, when he shall be chosen, to be presented unto us, or our justice if we shall not be present”.

In return, the mayor was required to be presented to the monarch to take an oath of loyalty each year – a practice commemorated in the Lord Mayor’s Show each November.

The charter, which has a particularly good impression of the king’s seal, is currently on display in the City of London’s newly opened Heritage Gallery, located at the Guildhall Art Gallery.

The event was one of a series leading up to the signing of the Magna Carta in June. Only 10 days after King John issued the charter to the City of London, rebel barons, who have previously taken Bedford, marched on the city to demand their rights and arrived their before the Earl of Salisbury (whom John had ordered to occupy the city).

Aldgate was apparently opened to them by some supporters within the city and the forces of the rebel barons went on to attack the home of royalists as well as those of Jews along with a Jewish burial ground in Barbican – the latter because Jewish moneylenders had lent money to the king.

They later besieged the Tower of London and while they couldn’t take the fortress, their seizure of the city was enough to help force the king to open negotiations late in the month, asking the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langdon, on 27th May  to arrange truce (which, while it was apparently not observed terribly well, did help pave the path to the Magna Carta).

The exhibition at the Heritage Gallery runs until 4th June. For more information, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visiting-the-city/attractions-museums-and-galleries/guildhall-art-gallery-and-roman-amphitheatre/Pages/Heritage-Gallery.aspx.

PICTURE: City of London: London Metropolitan Archives

This week we’re starting a new series in honour of the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta in which we look back at the London of 1215. First up we take a look at the Tower of London which was a smaller version of the complex of buildings which today exists on the site.

By 1215, the Tower of London – the fortress first constructed on the orders of William the Conqueror – had already existed for more than 100 years, nestled into a corner of the city’s walls which had existed since Roman times.

Then, as now, the White Tower – initially itself known as the Tower of London, it was later dubbed the White Tower thanks to the whitewash used to cover the Kentish limestone to protect it from the weather (and for its visual impact) – stood at the heart of the complex. Unlike today’s building, it lacked the large windows which date from the early 18th century, and while the towers were believed to be capped with cones, the present cupolas date from the reign of King Henry VIII.

White-Tower

While it had long been surrounded by a palisade and ditch, in 1189, King Richard I’s chancellor William Longchamp, the Bishop of Ely, had begun to extend the castle’s defences while the king was on crusade (in fact, the first siege of the Tower took place in 1191 when the then Prince John did so in opposition to Longchamp’s  regime – it only lasted three days before Longchamp surrendered).

This extension, which was completed by King John following his accession to the throne in 1199, saw the size of the bailey around the White Tower doubled and a new curtain wall and towers – including the Bell Tower – built around its outer perimeter with a ditch below (the ruins of the Wardrobe Tower, just to the east of the White Tower show where the original Roman-era wall ran).

But it wasn’t until the reign of King John’s son, King Henry III, that the royal palace which now stands on the river side of the White Tower was constructed. Until that point – and at the time of the signing of the Magna Carta – the royal apartments remained within the White Tower itself, located on the upper floor.

Like those of the garrison commander known as the constable (located on the entrance level), the king’s apartments would have consisted of a hall and a large chamber, which may have been divided into smaller chambers with wooden partitions as well as a chapel (on the upper level this was the still existing Chapel of St John the Evangelist, although it would have then been more more richly decorated). Unlike the lower levels, the king’s level was of double height with a gallery (this level now has its own full floor).

The royal apartments had a variety of uses – as well as a residence and refuge for the king, they were also at times a place to keep high profile prisoners such as the Bishop of Durham, Ranulf Flambard, who was imprisoned on the orders of King Henry I (and who escaped from an upper window on a rope which had been smuggled in to him and fled to Normandy).

It is also worth noting that while King John apparently kept exotic animals at the Tower, it is his son, King Henry III who is usually credited with founding the Royal Menagerie there.

And it was his son, King Edward I, who expanded the Tower to its current size of  about 18 acres by rebuilding the western section of the inner ward and adding the outer ward.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £24.50 adults; £11 children under 15; £18.70 concessions; £60.70 for a family (discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.  

great-seal-king-john-eton-college-british-library-magna-carta-law-liberty-legacyThe largest ever exhibition related to the Magna Carta opens at the British Library in King’s Cross tomorrow to mark the 800th anniversary of the document’s sealing. Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy features two original Magna Carta manuscripts from 1215 as well as 1215 document, the Articles of the Barons (known as ‘draft’ of the Magna Carta), the Petition of Right (1628), the English Bill of Rights (1689), and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). It will also display two of the most celebrated documents in American history – the Delaware copy of the Bill of Rights and Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence (both on loan from the US National Archives) –  along with UK cabinet papers from 1941 in which it was proposed an original Magna Carta manuscript from 1215 be given to the US in return for their support in World War II and artefacts including King John’s teeth, thumb bone and fragments of clothing taken from his tomb in 1797 as well as his will. The exhibition tells the story of the Magna Carta from its creation in 1215 through to its later use by people fighting for various rights and freedoms and its continuing impact on the world today. There’s also a series of interviews with politicians, historians and public figures including Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi, former US President Bill Clinton and William Hague. Runs until 1st September. Admission charge applies. For more – and a digitised gallery of artifacts – visit www.bl.uk/magna-carta-exhibition. PICTURE: Great Seal of King John, 1203 © Eton College Archives on display in Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy.

The first gallery exhibition devoted to the Duke of Wellington opens at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square today. Marking the 200th anniversary year of the Battle of Waterloo, Wellington: Triumphs, Politics, and Passions explores Wellington’s political and military career as well as his personal life. Highlights include Goya’s 1812 portrait of Wellington following his entry into Madrid (later modified to recognise further battle honours and awards), and Thomas Lawrence’s famous portrait painted in 1815, the same year as the Battle of Waterloo (the painting, which normally hangs in Apsley House, was used as the basis of the design of the £5 British note from 1971 to 1991). The exhibition of 59 portraits and other works also includes rarely seen works loaned by Wellington’s family include a John Hoppner portrait of the duke as a young soldier and a daguerreotype portrait taken by Antoine Claudet for Wellington’s 75th birthday in 1844. Runs until 7th June. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk or for more on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, see www.waterloo200.org.

An exhibition celebrating the works of the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen opens at the V&A in South Kensington on Saturday. Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty presents his works in 10 sections which focus on everything from McQueen’s roots in London, his “skilful subversion of traditional tailoring practices”, his fascination with the animal world and his longstanding interest in Eastern cultures. At the centre of the exhibition is The Cabinet of Curiosities, a display showcasing more than 100 garments and accessories and shown with film footage from his many catwalk presentations. The exhibition runs until 2nd August. Admission charge applies but you’ll have to be quick – the exhibition has already set the record for the most ever advance sales for an exhibition at the museum. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/savagebeauty.

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Magna-Carta• The only four surviving copies of the original Magna Carta from 1215 will go on display together for the first time ever  at the British Library in King’s Cross next February – and you have a chance to be among the 1,215 people to see them. In an event to mark the 800th year of the creation of the document, the library – which holds two copies of the document – along with Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral – each of which holds one copy – are holding a ballot with winners able to attend an event in which they’ll have the unique opportunity to see the documents side-by-side as well as be treated to a special introduction on its history and legacy by historian and TV presenter Dan Jones. The ballot to see the documents is open until 31st October with winners drawn at random. It’s free to enter – head to www.bl.uk/magna-carta to do so. The four documents will subsequently feature separately in displays at each of the three institutions. One not to miss! PICTURE: Salisbury Cathedral’s Magna Carta/Ash Mills.

The Silent Swoon Free Film Festival kicks off in St Martin’s Courtyard, Covent Garden, next week. The courtyard will be transformed into an open air movie theatre showing a different movie each night – The Talented Mr Ripley on 14th October, Crazy, Stupid, Love on 15th October and Rebel without a Cause on 16th October. Most of the free tickets will be allocated through an online draw but a small number will be allocated each night on a first come, first serve basis. For those with tickets, a range of freebies will be available on the night (including popcorn!). For more information, head to www.stmartinscourtyard.co.uk/silent-swoon-cinema-festival.

Crime writer and film noir pioneer Raymond Chandler has been remembered with the placement of an English Heritage blue plaque outside his childhood home in Upper Norwood, south east London. Chandler, who received global acclaim for his Philip Marlowe novels and his work on movies like The Blue Dahlia, lived at the home from 1901 after emigrating from the US with his mother, aunt and grandmother at the age of 12. He remained at the double-fronted red brick villa until 1908 – the same year he published his first poem, The Unknown Love. In his early Twenties, Chandler worked as a freelance reporter for London newspapers but, disillusioned with writing, returned to the US in 1912. He spent the next decade working for an oil company before the loss of his job in 1932 pushed him to restart writing. He first novel was published in 1939, and he went on to write further books and movie screenplays to ongoing renown. For more on the blue plaques scheme, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

Two early works of Rembrandt have gone on display at Kenwood House this month. Anna and the Blind Tobit and Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, both of which date from around 1630, will be seen in the Hampstead landmark until May next year. The two paintings replace Rembrandt’s Portrait of the artist which usually hangs in Kenwood and is on show at the National Gallery and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (from where the two paintings now at Kenwood have come). For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/kenwood. An exhibition of Rembrandt’s works opens at the National Gallery next week – more details then!

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