November 23, 2016
Now a Piccadilly institution, Fortnum and Mason’s origins (which we dealt with in 2011 in a London’s oldest post but couldn’t resist looking at again) famously go back the early 17th century when Hugh Mason rented out a spare room to William Fortnum, a Footman in the household of Queen Anne.
The entrepreneurial Fortnum decided to supplement his income by selling Queen Anne’s half-used candle wax (new candles were required every night) for a small profit. It was he who convinced his landlord, who also had a small shop in St James’s Market, to join with him in a joint venture – the first Fortnum & Mason – in Duke Street in 1707.
Initially founded as a grocery store, Fortnum & Mason, which moved to its current site at 181 Piccadilly in 1756, become known for its high quality and rare goods – in particular tea – and during the 18th and 19th centuries supplied the gentry who were in London for the ‘season’. Departments inside the store have included a rather bizarre ‘Expeditions Department’ which apparently supplied King Tut’s finder Howard Carter and a 1922 expedition to Mount Everest.
It has held numerous Royal Warrants since the mid 1800s with the first granted in 1863 when the firm was appointed as grocers to the then Prince of Wales.
A supplier of British officers during the Napoleonic Wars, Fortnums was also active during the Crimean War when Queen Victoria had shipments of “concentrated beef tea” sent to Florence Nightingale for use in her hospitals there.
Other claims to fame include the creation of the first Scotch egg in 1738 as a food for travellers and that in 1886, it became the first store in Britain to stock tins of Heinz baked beans. It also operated a post office between 1794 and 1839 when the General Post Office was founded.
The iconic clock which hangs on the facade of the building was commissioned in 1964 by Canadian businessman Garfield Weston who bought the business in 1951. Every hour models of Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason come forth and bow to each other. Other features on the building itself include four colonies of bees which have lived on the roof since 2008 in uniquely-designed hives.
The store, now famous for its luxury food hampers, underwent a £24 million restoration in the lead-up to its 300th anniversary in 2007. As well as the flagship store, it also now operates stores in St Pancras (2013) and Heathrow Airport (2015) as well as, since last year, in Dubai (it did open a store on Madison Avenue in New York in the 1930s but the business was short-lived thanks to the Depression). Fortnum & Mason products can also be found in a growing number of department stores around the world.
The Piccadilly store houses a number of eateries including The Parlour, The Gallery and The Wine Bar as well as, since it was opened by Queen Elizabeth II herself in 2012, the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon – already famous for its afternoon teas.
An official public record of the British Government, The London Gazette, initially known as The Oxford Gazette, was first published on 7th November, 1665.
But its publication didn’t take place in London – rather it was in Oxford (hence its being initially named – The Oxford Gazette) where King Charles II, having fled London due to the plague, ordered the publication to be printed at the University Press.
There’s several reasons behind its publication – one is that courtiers were apparently so worried about the plaque they didn’t even want to touch newspapers from London for fears of contagion of the plaque. But there was also a need, amid the swirl of rumours, gossip and sensationalism found in other publications, for a reputable publication of record (not the least because the introduction of censorship a few years before had suppressed other publications).
Published for the first couple of months under its Oxford masthead, it wasn’t until the following year – on 5th February, 1666 – that the gazette was first published in London (issue 24) after the royal court’s return.
The gazette had unparalleled access to government information – including reports from foreign embassies about what was happening abroad (important when news from overseas was limited), and official reports, including those ‘Mentioned in despatches’ from the War Office and Ministry of Defence.
Adopting the same model, official government gazettes followed in the coming years in Edinburgh (1699) and Dublin (1706 – later The Belfast Gazette). All three, from 1889, were published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. Today, The Gazette is published by The Stationary Office (TSO), on behalf of The National Archives (and is now online as well as in print).
Initially published only a couple of days a week, it is now published every weekday except on Bank Holidays.
Notable events published in The London Gazette include the Great Fire of London in 1665 (issue 85), the founding of the Bank of England in 1694 (issue 2982), the burial of Sir Isaac Newton in 1727 (issue 6569), the announcement of the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 (issue 11690), the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo in a “Gazette Extraordinary” in 1815 (issue 17028), and the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 (Supplement 40020).
You can see The London Gazette today and back issues as well as to order commemorative editions, head to www.thegazette.co.uk.
This Week in London – Celebrate summer at the Tate; Titian revealed at Apsley House; and, exploring the unconscious at The Freud Museum…
July 23, 2015
• On Saturday, the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall on South Bank will host an “audio-visual feast” of music, performances, art installations and activities. The free Turbine Festival will feature everything from an alternative hair salon and a London bus built on the day by artist John Costi to a pop-up juice bar where you can make your own drinks and a record shop where you can design your own vinyl record sleeve. The day will also feature performances by Grime/HipHop/AfroPop artist Afrikan Boy, Felix’s Machines – who will transform live music and sound into a 3D visual show, and poet Jacob Sam-La Rose, as well as a programme of “bite-sized” films running in collaboration with the London Short Film Festival, and a series of interactive workshops covering everything from beatboxing to crafting. Visitors to the festival, sponsored by Hyundai, are also encouraged to contribute to a special project by My Culture Museum by submitting photographs or bringing objects to be archived and curated. Runs from 12.30pm to 9.30pm. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.
• Three paintings previously attributed to later followers of 16th century Venetian artist Titian but subsequently found to be by the artist himself and his studio have gone on display together for the first time at Apsley House. The three paintings – which include Titian’s Mistress (c1560), A Young Woman Holding Rose Garlands (c1550) and Danae (c1553) – were all in poor condition before conservation and cleaning by experts from English Heritage, the Museo del Prado in Madrid and the Hamilton Kerr Institute revealed their true quality (and Titian’s signature on two of the paintings). All three works were held in the Spanish Royal Collection and among 160 that Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon and King of Spain, tried to take out of the country following his defeat by the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Vittoria in 1813. Wellington was subsequently given the paintings by a grateful King Ferdinand VII. The Titian at Apsley House exhibition, which opened earlier this month, runs at the Duke of Wellington’s home at Hyde Park Corner until 31st October. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/wellington-arch/.
• On Now: Festival of the Unconscious. This festival at Sigmund Freud’s former London home and now home to The Freud Museum sees artists, designers, writers and performers taking another look at Freud’s seminar 1915 paper, The Unconscious. Features of the festival, which runs until 4th October, include specially commissioned films by animators from Kingston University running throughout the house, sound and video installations by London-based art project Disinformation in the dining room and an installation from stage designers at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in Freud’s study. There’s also a display by Julian Rothenstein, co-author of Psychobox, and a chance to recline and “free-associate” on a psycho-analytic couch in Freud’s bedroom. An extensive programme of events accompanies the displays. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.freud.org.uk.
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This Week in London – Wellington Arch marks the Battle of Waterloo; Shakespeare’s Globe celebrates the Bard’s birth; and the ‘cathedral on the marsh’ open day…
April 17, 2015
• The Battle of Waterloo comes under the microscope in a new exhibition opening at Wellington Arch on Hyde Park Corner tomorrow. Wellington Arch: Waterloo 1815 – The Battle for Peace provides an overview of the battle and the reasons which led to it, the people involved and the battle’s legacy. Displayed items include the sword the Duke of Wellington carried at the battle, his handwritten battle orders and an original pair of ‘Wellington boots’ as well as, of course, the arch itself, which was built in 1825-27 as a monument to Wellington’s victories over Napoleon. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/wellington-arch/.
• Shakespeare’s Globe in Southwark celebrates the Bard’s birthday with a Hamlet-themed day of free family events this Sunday. Along with an Elsinore bouncy castle, there will be sword-fighting demonstrations, ‘skull’ coconut shies and a grave-digging ball pool while actors who have taken on the role of Hamlet over the years while appear on stage attempting to deliver the quickest ever reading of the play and famous film adaptions of Hamlet will be playing on screen around the site. The day will also mark almost a year since Shakespeare’s Globe embarked on an unprecedented two year global tour of Hamlet taking in every country in the world in honour of last year’s 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. The birthday event at the Globe runs between 11am and 4.30pm. For more, see www.shakespearesglobe.com.
• The famous “cathedral on the marsh” – the Crossness Pumping Station – is open to the public this Sunday, the first of five days it will be open this year. The pumping station at Abbey Wood in south-east London was built by Sir Joseph Bazalgette as part of a general sewerage system upgrade and was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1865. The Grade I-listed Beam Engine House was constructed in the Romanesque-style and features some of the “most spectacular ornamental Victorian cast ironwork” to be found today. The day runs from 10.30am to 4pm. Admission charges apply but no booking is required. For more, see www.crossness.org.uk.
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It’s Trafalgar Square but not as we know it. In a new Wednesday series we’re looking at eight proposed structures in London that were never realised and first up, is a proposal which would have seen a 300 foot high pyramid on what has become one of the city’s most iconic sites.
The stepped pyramid was the brainchild of an early 19th century Tory MP, Colonel (later General) Sir Frederick William Trench, and was designed in 1815 as a grand military and naval memorial to the Napoleonic Wars with each of the structure’s 22 steps apparently dedicated to a different year of the war.
Apparently drawn up by architects Philip and Matthew Cotes Wyatt – of the famous Wyatt architectural dynasty, the pyramid – which would have been taller than St Paul’s Cathedral and pretty much covered the entire space now occupied by the square – was, according to Nick Rennison’s The Book of Lists, costed at £1 million, a figure Sir Frederick – a veteran of the wars – apparently thought was not unreasonable.
But it didn’t prove a popular design with the public and got no further than the drawing board.
Among Sir Frederick’s other unrealised dreams was an elevated railroad running between London and Hungerford Bridges, an immense new royal palace which would have covered much of the West End, and an embankment – ‘Trench’s Terrace’ – along the north bank of the Thames. An embankment was, of course, later built, but not until after his death in 1859.
August 4, 2014
Famed around the world for her London-based wax museum (and the chain of waxworks which now bears her name), French-born Madame Tussaud is a towering figure of the early 19th century.
Born Anna Maria Grosholtz in Strasbourg on 1st December, 1761, Marie Tussaud’s association with waxworks came early when, her father Joseph having apparently died from wounds sustained in the Seven Years War just before her birth, she accompanied her mother Anna Maria Walder to Berne in Switzerland where her mother took up a position as a housekeeper for a physician and anatomical wax sculptor and portraitist Dr Philippe Curtius.
In 1765, Dr Curtius moved to pre-Revolutionary Paris where he was soon to open a couple of establishments – at the Palais-Royal and the Boulevard du Temple (later consolidated at the latter site) – displaying his works in wax. Marie, whom Dr Curtius brought to Paris with her mother in 1768, started working with him on wax models and in 1777, at the age of just 16, produced her first wax figure, that of philosopher Voltaire. Other early works of Madame Tussaud’s depicted Rousseau and Benjamin Franklin.
The story goes that such was the renown of Tussaud and her “uncle” Dr Curtius, that their social circle came to include members of the Royal Family. Tussaud is widely believed to have been an art tutor to King Louis XVI’s sister Elizabeth and may have even taken up residence at Versailles.
Tussaud recounts that she was arrested during the French Revolution – the story goes that she was imprisoned and eventually released thanks to the intervention of family friend and revolutionary Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois but whether this is true remains a matter of debate.
Tussaud claims she was then forced make death masks of those who ended their life on the scaffold including Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Marat and Robespierre. When Curtius died in 1794, she inherited his wax works and the following year married an engineer Francois Tussaud with whom she had two sons, Joseph and Francois (later known as Francis).
In 1802, Madame Tussaud accepted an invitation to go to London to exhibit her work at the Lyceum Theatre but thanks to the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars, she and her four-year-old son Joseph were unable to return to France. Separated from her husband, she subsequently spent the next three decades travelling with her exhibition – which included relics from the Revolution and, like those of Curtius, was being constantly updated to reflect current affairs – around Britain and Ireland.
Her son Francois joined her in 1822 and Tussaud continued travelling until 1835 when she first established a permanent exhibition in Baker Street, London. Known as the Baker Street Bazaar, it apparently contained more than 400 wax figures. In 1846, Punch Magazine is credited with having invented the term ‘Chamber of Horrors’ for the room where the relics of the French Revolution were displayed.
Tussaud wrote her memoirs in 1838, and, in 1842, completed a wax model of herself. She died in her sleep on 16th April, 1850, in London. Her son Francois became chief artist for the exhibition after her retirement – he was succeeded by his son and then grandson. The exhibition moved to its current site in Marylebone Road in 1884.
Now owned by the Merlin Entertainments Group, Madame Tussauds has branches in cities in some 10 countries as well as its London base. Many of her original models still exist and are on display in the London museum along with the exhibition’s oldest attraction – known as ‘Sleeping Beauty’, it dates from 1863 – a breathing likeness of Louis XV’s sleeping mistress Madame du Barry.
For more on Madame Tussauds today, see www.madametussauds.com.
For more on the life of Madame Tussaud, see Kate Berridge’s book, Waxing Mythical: The Life and Legend of Madame Tussaud.
March 15, 2013
An amazing feat of model-making, Siborne’s Large Model is a painstakingly detailed model reconstruction of the Battle of Waterloo on display at the National Army Museum. Controversial even to this day, the story behind the model’s creation is an incredible tale of one man’s perseverance.
A career soldier, Captain William Siborne was commissioned in 1830 by Lord Rowland Hill, then Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, to construct a model of the Battle of Waterloo, fought between British and allied forces under the command of the Duke of Wellington and Prussian field marshal Gebhard von Blücher and French forces under the command of the Emperor Napoleon on 18th June, 1815.
Siborne, who hadn’t been present at the battle but had previously been involved in the construction of a model of the Battle of Borodino, extensively researched it before beginning work including spending eight months surveying the entire field where the battle took place and corresponding with hundreds of those who had fought there.
The model wasn’t completed until 1838, partly due to the fact that Siborne still had military duties to perform and also due to the fact that he ran out of funds and, when the authorities refused to pay up, ended up financing the project out of his own pocket (and then spent much time trying to recover the funds).
In his fascinating book, Wellington’s Smallest Victory: The Duke, the Model Maker and the Secret of Waterloo (well worth a read if you’re interested in learning more about the history of this amazing model), Peter Hofschroer writes in detail about the acrimonious relationship the Duke of Wellington developed with Siborne, thanks to a clash over the model’s depiction of the battle which shows the crisis point in the battle at 7pm – when the French Imperial Guard attacked Wellington’s centre – and has the Prussians helping to win the day.
The model was placed on public display in October 1838 at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly after which it went on tour around the UK. He went on to write up his research in a book on the battle, published in 1844, and it was while preparing this – in 1841 – that he announced he had changed his mind and would revise the model, eventually removing figures representing some 40,000 Prussians from the model and thus reducing the role they played at the decisive moment of the battle – a move which could only be seen as a win for Wellington.
It’s also worth mentioning that Siborne created a second, larger scale model of just part of the battlefield, exhibited in 1844 in London and later in Berlin (it’s now on display at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds). Siborne’s subsequent efforts to sell either model didn’t bear fruit before he died, said to have been a “broken man”, on 13th January, 1849.
After his death the large model was subsequently purchased by the United Service Museum and can now be found at the National Army Museum in Chelsea.
WHERE: National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea (nearest Tube station is Sloane Square); WHEN: 10am to 5.30pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.nam.ac.uk.