Australian-State-Coach
Among the treasures on show at this year’s summer opening of Buckingham Palace, the Australian State Coach was a gift to Queen Elizabeth II by Australia on 8th May, 1988, to mark the Australian Bicentennial.

The coach – the first to be built for the Royal Family since the Coronation of King Edward VII in 1902 – was built by Australian WJ “Jim” Frecklington who also designed the Diamond Jubilee State Coach.

The coach, which is usually kept in the Royal Mews where it can be viewed by the public, has been used at the State Opening of Parliament and other occasions involving foreign royal families and visiting heads of state. It was also used to carry Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall and Michael and Carole Middleton back to Buckingham Palace after the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

It was last used to carry the Duke of Edinburgh and Señora Rivera, wife of the president of Mexico, on a State Visit in March this year.

The summer opening of the palace runs from 25th July to 27th September. The coach will be on display in the Grand Entrance portico.

WHERE: Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace (nearest Tube stations are Victoria, Green Park and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: 25th July to 31st August – 9.30am to 7.30pm daily (last admission 5.15pm)/1st to 27th September – 9.30am to 6.30pm (last admission 4.15pm); COST: £35.60 adults/£20 under 17 and disabled/£32.50 concessions/£91.20 family (2 adults and three under 17s); WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-state-rooms-buckingham-palace/plan-your-visit.

PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2015 

For many Londoners, an opportunity to see the Queen means heading to Buckingham Palace to watch her wave from the balcony – or standing in the Mall to watch as her carriage goes by.

Given that, we thought we’d take the time to have a quick look at the history of The Mall, an important player in events like the annual Trooping the Colour.

This one kilometre long grand processional route which links Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace, was originally cut through St James’s Park in 1660 when King Charles II was looking for a new paille-maille pitch (see our earlier entry on Pall Mall for more on this). Two long avenues of trees were planted on either side, giving it a leafy feel that’s still in evidence today.

The Mall had become notorious by the 18th century and was spruced up in 1911 under the eye of Sir Aston Webb (who also designed other elements in the area including a new facade for Buckingham Palace, the Queen Victoria Memorial in front of the palace, and Admiralty Arch at the western end of the route) to become the grand avenue, complete with red-carpet like surface (this was done later), that it is today.

It is bordered by St James’s Park on the south side and on the north side is overlooked by various grand buildings – including Clarence House and the Institute of Contemporary Arts – as well as, toward the western end, Green Park.

These days the Queen publicly processes down The Mall for a number of events throughout the year – among them are the State Opening of Parliament (held earlier this month) as well as military ceremonies like Trooping the Colour and events like last year’s Royal Wedding when is it said that more than a million people were said to have filled the broad street.

The Mall is also the route along which Heads of State process in a horse drawn carriage during official visits (the road is then decorated with Union Jacks and flags of the visitor’s country). During the Olympics, it will be the start and end location of the marathons and cycling road races.

Apart from the Queen Victoria Memorial at the eastern end of The Mall, statues and monuments lining the road include the Queen Mother Memorial, a statue of explorer Captain James Cook, and a recently installed statue of cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin.

There are apparently a series of tunnels underneath with link Buckingham Palace with Whitehall.

We should also briefly mention Horseguards, which is at The Mall’s eastern end and where Trooping the Colour and Beating Retreat takes place. This was formerly the site of a tiltyard of the Palace of Whitehall and jousting tournaments were held here during the time of King Henry VIII. It has been used for parades and ceremonies since the 17th century. While cars were parked here for much of the 20th century, this practice was stopped in the mid-1990s.

Following her coronation, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, took up residence in Buckingham Palace and have resided there ever since.

The Queen and her family’s appearance on the palace’s balcony to wave to crowds at events like Trooping the Colour and last year’s Royal Wedding have become symbols of her reign.

We’ve already written about some of the history of the 775 room palace (see our earlier post here), so today we’re looking specifically at the palace as the residence of Queen Elizabeth II.

While the focus for visitors to the palace is on the grand state rooms (of which there are 19 located in the west block facing the palace gardens – they include the Throne Room and State Dining Room), the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh live in private apartments on the north side of the palace while rooms on the upper floors of the palace’s north and east sides are occupied by other members of the Royal Family. A large part of the ground floor and palace’s south wing are occupied by service quarters and members of the Royal Household.

As well as weekly meetings at the palace – including audiences with the Prime Minister, foreign and British ambassadors, clergy and senior members of the civil service, the Queen also hosts a variety of grand events at the palace throughout the year. These include the Diplomatic Reception given for members of the diplomatic corps in the autumn (more than 1,500 people attend from more than 130 countries), three large garden parties in the summer and grand State Banquets which are held in the Ballroom on the first evening of a visit from a foreign head of state. The Queen is also noted for the small private lunch parties she holds to which community leaders are invited.

The head of the 1,200 strong Royal Household is the Lord Chamberlain (since 2006 The Earl Peel), a non-political office responsible for the organisation of ceremonial activities at court as well as the palace’s upkeep. Under him are the various departments heads – these include the Comptroller, who heads the Lord Chamberlain’s Office (this oversees everything from State Visits to the Royal Mews), the Keeper of the Privy Purse (responsible for the management of the sovereign’s financial affairs) and the Master of the Household (responsible for domestic and staff arrangements as well as catering and official entertainment, this position dates back to 1539).

A typical day in the life of the Queen when at the palace involves her spending the morning at her desk where she reviews a sample of incoming letters (an estimated 200 to 300 arrive each day almost all of which are answered by her staff) and meets with her Private Secretaries to deal with official papers which arrive in the famous ‘red boxes’.

The Queen will then often hold a series of audiences during which she’ll meet with a range of people – from retiring senior members of the armed forces to newly appointed ambassadors and judges and people who have won awards for excellence in a particular field. She may then participate in an investiture at which honors and decorations are presented (about 25 of these are held every year, usually in the palace Ballroom).

Lunch is often private although as previously mentioned, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh are known for hosting small lunch gatherings for a range of people. In the afternoon, the Queen will often attend engagements outside the palace (she attends about 430 engagements and audiences a year) before possibly meeting with the Privy Council.

Evenings are spent reviewing a report of the day’s parliamentary proceedings, meeting with the Prime Minister (something she does every Wednesday when both are in London), attending further engagements or hosting events at the palace.

And, of course, when the Queen is in residence, Buckingham Palace is also home to the Queen’s corgis – Monty, Willow and Holly – and dorgis (a cross between a corgi and a dachshund) – Cider, Candy and Vulcan.

For more on Buckingham Palace and the life of the Queen, go www.royal.gov.uk.

WHERE: State Rooms, Buckingham Palace (includes special exhibition Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration) (nearest Tube stations are Victoria, Green Park and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: 9.45am to 6.30pm, 30th June to 8th July and 31st July to 7th October; COST: £18 an adult/£10.50 a child (under 17s/under fives free)/£16.50 concession/£47 family; WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/buckinghampalace.

PICTURE: Christa Richert/sxc.hu

Westminster Abbey has played a key role in the life of Queen Elizabeth II – it was here on 20th November, 1947, that she was married to Prince Philip (then Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten) and it was here on 2nd June, 1953, that she was crowned Queen Elizabeth II.

First to the wedding. Princess Elizabeth was only the 10th royal to be married in the Abbey (her predecessors included her parents who married here on 26th April, 1923). The ceremony started at 11.30am and the princess, who wore a white dress designed by Norman Hartnell, entered to a specially composed fanfare accompanied by eight bridesmaids and two pages.

Due to post war austerity measures, only about 2,000 people attended the wedding (we’ve previously mentioned that the princess had to save coupons for her wedding dress like any other bride). On the day, the grave of the Unknown Warrior was the only stone that was not covered by the special carpet and the day after the wedding, the now married Princess Elizabeth followed a royal tradition started by her mother, Queen Elizabeth, which involved sending her wedding bouquet back to the Abbey to be laid on the grave.

It was about five-and-a-half years after her wedding that the princess returned to the Abbey to be crowned a queen.

Then Princess Elizabeth was in Kenya (on her way to Australia) when news reached her on 6th February that year of the death of her father, King George VI. After Prince Philip broke the news to her, the new queen chose Elizabeth as her “regnal name”, and the couple returned to England.

Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother, Queen Mary, died on 24th March, but it was decided to proceed with the coronation anyway (Queen Mary had apparently asked that the coronation not be delayed by her death).

The coronation, the 38th to be conducted in the Abbey, was the first to be televised (with the exception of the anointing and communion) and was “instrumental” in helping to popularise it in the UK and elsewhere.

The building was closed for five months so preparations could be made for the more than 8,000 wedding guests. The Queen’s coronation dress, meanwhile, was made by Norman Hartnell (as had been her wedding dress) and was made of white satin embroidered with emblems of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

Having arrived from Buckingham Palace in the Gold State Coach, the Queen entered the Abbey at 11.20am and, having been invested with the Regalia while seated in the Coronation Chair, was crowned with St Edward’s Crown at 12.34pm. She left the Abbey at 2.53pm and rode through the streets of London back to the palace.

Of course, the Queen has since attended many other events at the Abbey – including thanksgiving services for their golden and silver wedding anniversaries and last year’s Royal Wedding – since her coronation which we don’t have space to talk about here. But it is worth noting before signing off that the Abbey continues to have a special relationship to her – it is a “Royal Peculiar” meaning it is exempt from any ecclesiastical jurisdiction but that of the Sovereign.

WHERE: Westminster Abbey, Westminster (nearest Tube station is Westminster or St James’s Park); WHEN: Open to tourists everyday except Sunday  (times vary so check the website); COST: £16 an adult/£13 concessions/£6 schoolchildren (11-18 years), free for children aged under 11/£38 for a family (two adults, two children); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org

And so we come to it – the most popular posts on Exploring London this year – one of which is perhaps surprising, the other of which not!

2. Treasures of London – The Cheapside Hoard: A look at the “greatest find of Jacobean and Elizabethan jewellery ever made”, much of which is now held at the Museum of London;

1. The Royal Wedding – Eight curious facts about Royal Weddings past and present: Perhaps not a surprising winner, given the worldwide interest in 2011’s Royal Wedding, this post looked at some of the stranger facts surrounding royal weddings in Britain in the relatively recent past.

And that brings our countdown to an end. Our usual coverage resumes next week…

We’re getting down to the pointy end of the countdown now. Here’s numbers four and three in Exploring London’s list of our most popular posts for 2011…

4. Curious London Memorials – 4. The Suffragette MemorialOne of our series on curious London memorials, this looked at a memorial in St James, erected in the 1970s to mark the contribution of those who fought for women’s right to vote;

3. The Royal Wedding – London’s royal reception venue: Another of our Royal Wedding themed posts, this looked at the history of Buckingham Palace, location of the reception which took place after the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge.

The countdown of our 10 most popular posts for 2011 continues with numbers six and five…

6. The Royal Wedding – A view from The Mall: Another Royal Wedding entry, this post from April was all about the glamour and excitement of the day itself as we joined the crowds lining The Mall;

5. Treasures of London – The Whispering Gallery, St Paul’s Cathedral: One of London’s star sights, the Whispering Gallery at St Paul’s has long held a fascination for visitors and Londoners alike.

Our countdown continues with numbers 8 and 7…

8. Where’s London’s oldest…outdoor statue? – A somewhat controversial post for some, this talks about London’s oldest full-length statue – that of King Alfred the Great in Trinity Square as well as referencing some of the other oldest statues in the city;

7. The Royal Wedding – London’s Royal Wedding Venues – Part of our coverage of the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton (now the Duchess of Cambridge) in April, this looks at where royal weddings have taken place in the past, including Westminster Abbey.

Sixteen London Underground stations were this week listed as Grade II heritage buildings. The Tube stations – several of which were designed by Leslie Green, known for his pioneering use of ‘ox-blood’ red tiles on the exterior of stations to create a consistent brand for the stations – include the now-closed Aldwych (pictured) along with Oxford Circus (originally two stations), Covent Garden and Russell Square as well as Belsize Park, Brent Cross, Caledonian Road, Chalk Farm, Chesham, Perivale, Redbridge, St John’s Wood, West Acton and Wood Green. Three other stations – Arnos Grove, Oakwood and Sudbury Town – have had their status upgraded from Grade II to Grade II*. These three were all designed by modernist architect Charles Holden for the extension of the Piccadilly Line in the 1930s. The new listings were made by Tourism and Heritage Minister John Penrose on the advice of English Heritage.

A new permanent exhibition showing would-be sailors what it is like to fight at sea opens at the HMS Belfast this weekend. Gun Turret Experience: A Sailor’s Story, 1943, is an immersive experience using lights, imagery, sound, smoke effects, movement and smell to recreate the atmosphere and conditions of a gun turret tower when a crew was at battle stations. Visitors are encouraged to follow the story of a young sailor on Boxing Day, 1943 when the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst is sighted leading to the Battle of the North Cape. The Gun Turret Experience, housed within the original triple gun turrets overlooking the quarterdeck, was developed with the help of Royal Navy veterans and eye-witness accounts from the Imperial War Museum (of which the HMS Belfast is part). Entry is included in normal admission price. For more information, see www.hmsbelfast.iwm.org.uk.

• Now On: See the dress the Duchess of Cambridge wore when she was married to Prince William in April at this year’s summer opening at Buckingham Palace. The gown, which features a nine foot long train, will be displayed along with the Halo Tiara until 3rd October in the palace ballroom (the same room used for the newly married couple’s reception). The exhibition features video footage of designer Sarah Burton, explaining how the dress was made. This year’s summer opening also features a display of the work of Carl Faberge – including his magnificent jewel-encrusted Imperial Easter Eggs as well as bejewelled boxes and miniature carvings of favorite pets of the royal family. More than half a million people are expected to visit the exhibition. For more information, see www.royalcollection.org.uk/default.asp?action=article&ID=30

The Brixton Windmill, the only surviving windmill in inner London, was reopened to the public amid much celebration on 1st May. The windmill, located at Windmill Gardens, was built in 1816 and leased the following year by John Ashby. The Ashby family – including the sons and grandsons of John – operated the mill until the 1860s when the Ashby’s milling business was transferred to what was then a more rural location at Mitcham. Two years later the sails were removed and the mill was subsequently used for storage. A steam and later a gas engine were fitted to the mill in the early 20th century but it was finally closed down in 1934. In the 1970s, the mill passed into the ownership of Lambeth Council. A £400,000 Heritage Lottery grant obtained by Friends of Windmill Gardens and Lambeth Council has enabled a complete restoration of the Grade II* listed building. For more details on the mill, including opening hours and events, see www.brixtonwindmill.org.

• Wanting to offload some Royal Wedding tat? The Museum of London is looking for objects which help tell the story of how London celebrated the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton. They are particularly interested in acquiring materials people used in street parties or private celebrations – everything from paper plates and napkins to bunting and “funny hats”. Donations are unable to be returned even if not used. For details on where to send items, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/Corporate/Press-media/Remembering+the+Royal+Wedding.htm

Now On: Women War Artists at the Imperial War Museum. Covering the period from World War I to the Kosovo conflict of the 1990s, the exhibition features the work of artists including Anna Airy, one of the first women officially commissioned during the First World War, Dame Laura Knight, Linda Kitson and Frauke Eigen. Admission is free. Runs until 8th January, 2012. For more information, see www.iwm.org.uk.

Along with tens of thousands of others, Exploring London took up a post in The Mall to watch festivities surrounding the London wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Here’s some of what we saw…

Kate Middleton, newly titled Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge, rides in a 1977 Rolls Royce Phantom IV from the Goring Hotel in Belgravia to Westminster Abbey via The Mall, greeting crowds along the way. Others, including Prince William, had already passed by.

The crowds cheered along The Mall throughout the morning, including after Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was heard over loudspeakers announcing that the couple were now man and wife. The Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres, delivered the address while James Middleton read the lesson.

After the ceremony, the newly married couple processed in the 1902 State Landau down Whitehall and The Mall through a sea of flag-waving well-wishers towards Buckingham Palace after the wedding ceremony. The Landau was the same used by Prince Charles and Princess Diana after their 1981 wedding.

The couple, along with other members of the royal family and Kate Middleton’s parents, appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace at around 1.30pm, waving to the crowd and exchanging kisses. Here they are flanked by Queen Elizabeth II (right) and the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall (left) along with bridesmaids and pageboys.

A Lancaster bomber and two Spitfires flew over the top of Buckingham Palace as part of an RAF flypast. They were followed by two tornados and two typhoons. The flypast brought official celebrations to an end after which the royal rejoined the champagne and canape reception already underway.

Crowds fill The Mall in the wedding’s aftermath. The newly weds later left Buckingham Palace driving a vintage convertible Aston Martin owned by Prince Charles. Overhead hovered a Sea King helicopter manned by some of Prince William’s colleagues.

PICTURE: Bunting in Regent Street ahead of the Royal Wedding tomorrow.

Ahead of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton tomorrow, here’s a look at some of the more curious and interesting facts related to London’s Royal Wedding past…

The first public Royal Wedding in modern times was that of Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI), and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) which took place on 26th April, 1923. Instead of being held at a royal chapel as was more usual, they were married at Westminster Abbey in a public display which was apparently staged to lift the national spirit in the aftermath of World War I.

Lady Diana Spencer (later Diana, Princess of Wales) memorably said Prince Charles’ name in the wrong order during their wedding ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral on 29th July, 1981. Lady Diana accidentally called him Philip Charles Arthur George instead of the correct Charles Philip Arthur George.

• Queen Victoria’s extravagant wedding cake was the first to feature a model of the bride and groom on its summit (with a figure of Britannia looming over them). The two tier cake measured nine foot across and weighed 300 lbs.

While white wedding dresses had been worn for some time, it was apparently after Queen Victoria wore a white dress at her 1840 wedding that the idea spread to the masses. (Interestingly, the first documented princess to wear a white wedding dress is said to have been Philippa of England, the daughter of King Henry IV, in 1406).

The first televised Royal Wedding was that of Princess Margaret, younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, to Antony Armstrong-Jones (Lord Snowdon) on 6th May, 1960. It attracted some 300 million viewers worldwide.

The tradition of a royal bride leaving her bouquet on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey was started by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. She apparently did so in tribute to her brother Fergus who had died during World War I. Princess Mary, daughter of King George V, made a similar gesture at her wedding in 1922 – she left her bouquet at the Cenotaph in Whitehall after her wedding.

One of the most scandalous Royal Weddings was that of George, Prince of Wales (later King George IV) to Princess Caroline of Brunswick on 8th April, 1795 at the Chapel Royal in St James’s Palace. Described as being “far from a love match” on the Historic Royal Palaces’ website, Prince George was said to have been drunk during the wedding and at one stage apparently even attempted to escape from the ceremony.

If the rain stays away, the newly married prince and his bride will be returning to Buckingham Palace in the 1902 State Landau. The open-topped carriage was constructed for King Edward VII’s coronation and apparently made roomy to accommodation him. The carriage was used by Prince Charles and Lady Diana when they left St Paul’s Cathedral after their 1981 wedding. If the weather it poor, it’s expected that the 1881 Glass Coach, bought for the coronation of King George V in 1911, will be used instead.

For more fascinating facts on Royal Weddings, see the BBC website (www.bbc.co.uk/history/royal_weddings), or Historic Royal Palaces’ blog, The ‘other’ royal weddings (http://blog.hrp.org.uk). For more on the current Royal Wedding, see the official website (www.officialroyalwedding2011.org).

Word is that Prince William and his soon-to-be wife, Catherine Middleton, have yet to formally decide where they will live when in London (they are expected to spend much of their first two-and-a-half years of marriage in North Wales). 

Their initial London base, however, will reportedly be Clarence House. Located in The Mall, just down the road from Buckingham Palace and beside St James’s Palace, the grand building is currently the home of William’s father Charles, the Prince of Wales, his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and, William’s brother, Prince Harry (it is also the home of William himself).

In years gone past, Clarence House served as the home of the newly married Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) and her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Prince Charles, who lived there with his parents until the age of three, returned to the property in August 2003 after the death of his grandmother Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who had lived in the building from 1953.

Clarence House was built between 1825 and 1827 to the designs of architect John Nash on the orders of Prince William Henry, the Duke of Clarence and later King William IV.

Choices for a permanent home in London for the soon-to-be married couple reportedly include Buckingham Palace (see yesterday’s entry), as well as Kensington Palace.

It was converted from a Jacobean mansion for King William III and Queen Mary II and has since been the home of many royals including, most famously, Diana, Princess of Wales. She and her then husband, Prince Charles, moved in following their wedding in 1981, and Princess Diana continued to live there after her divorce in 1996.

Other notable royal residents have included Queen Anne and Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth II.

Another option – St James’s Palace – was built in 1531 on the site of a medieval leper hospital by King Henry VIII. Used initially for state occasions and to house royal relatives (Tudor monarchs actually lived at Whitehall Palace), it became the official royal residence in 1702, when Whitehall Palace burnt down, and remained so until the 1830s when King George III moved to Buckingham Palace.

Following the wedding ceremony at Westminster Abbey on Friday, the now married happy couple will head in a carriage via a processional route down The Mall to Buckingham Palace.

There, they will enjoy a champagne reception with 600 guests hosted by the Queen before, at 1.30pm, appearing on the balcony of the palace to wave to the crowds and watch an aircraft flypast expected to include a Lancaster, Spitfire, Hurricane, two Typhoons and two Tornados.

Buckingham Palace, which has served as the official London residence of the reigning monarch since 1837, has a long tradition of hosting royal events. Then much smaller and known as Buckingham House, the property was built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1705.

It passed into royal hands when it was bought by King George III in 1761 for his wife, Queen Charlotte, to use as a family home located conveniently close to St James’s Palace where many court functions were held.

The house was extensively remodelled in 1762 and again, this time on the orders of King George IV, in the 1820s (after initially wanting to use it, like his father, as a family home, the king decided after the works had started to instead transform it into a palace, created to the designs of architect John Nash).

When King George IV died in 1830, his brother King William IV ordered the works to be continued albeit with a new architect, Edward Blore (the spiralling costs of Nash’s work are said to have cost him the contract). The king himself never lived in the house – even offering at at one stage as a seat for Parliament after the Houses of Parliament were destroyed by fire in 1834 – and it wasn’t until the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837 that the palace became the sovereign’s official residence.

Further works were subsequently needed to ensure there was adequate accommodations for the Queen’s family and it was during these works that the monumental Marble Arch – designed as the centrepiece of the palace’s courtyard – was moved away to its present location on the north-eastern corner of Hyde Park.

The palace, which now boasts 775 rooms including 19 staterooms, has since been the site of numerous royal wedding receptions – it was on the balcony  where Queen Elizabeth II and Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, greeted crowds on 20th November, 1947, after their wedding in Westminster Abbey and, similarly, where Prince William’s parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, held a reception before greeting crowds on 29th July, 1981, after their ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral.

Buckingham Palace was also the location for Queen Victoria’s wedding breakfast following the ceremony in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace on 10th February, 1840.

In the first of a series this week looking at aspects of royal weddings in London in days past, we canvas some of the venues which have hosted the sometimes glittering occasions.

First up is Westminster Abbey (pictured), the location of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding this Friday, which, despite its thousand year history, is only believed to have hosted 15 royal weddings.

Among them is said to have been the wedding of King Henry I to Matilda of Scotland on 11th November, 1100, as well as that of Richard, Earl of Cornwall and brother of King Henry III, who married his second wife, Sanchia of Provence, there on 4th January, 1243, and Joan of Acre, daughter of King Edward I, who married Gilbert, Earl of Gloucester, on 30th April, 1290 (her sister Margaret married John, Duke of Brabant, at the same venue less than three months later). The abbey also hosted the wedding of King Richard II to Anne, daughter of Emperor Charles IV of Bohemia, on 20th January, 1382.

The abbey church has become increasingly favored as a venue for royal weddings in more recent times. Among the most prominent hosted there last century were that of Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI), who married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon on 26th April, 1923 and that of their daughter Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) who married Prince Philip of Greece (later the Duke of Edinburgh) there on 20th November, 1947.

Two of the current Queen’s children were also married there – Princess Anne, who married Captain Mark Phillips on 14th November, 1973, and Prince Andrew, who married Sarah Ferguson on 23rd July 1986. (For more on Royal Weddings at the Abbey, see www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/royals/weddings)

A notable break with the trend in recent times was the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer – they were married in a fairytale ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral on 29th July, 1981.

Other London locations for royal weddings have included the now non-existent Greenwich Palace (King Henry VIII married Katherine of Aragon on 11th June, 1509) and Hampton Court Palace (another of King Henry VIII’s marriages – that in which he was wed to Catherine Parr – was held here in a private chapel on 12th July, 1543).

Along with St George’s Chapel at Windsor, the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace  in London was particularly popular in Victorian times – Queen Victoria married Prince Albert there on 10th February, 1840, and their eldest daughter, Princess Victoria, married Prince Frederick (the future German Emperor Frederick III) there on 25th January, 1858. On 6th July, 1893, the chapel also hosted the wedding of the future King George V and Princess Mary of Teck.

PICTURE: Copyright Dean and Chapter of Westminster

• South Bank is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Festival of Britain with a four month series of events. The official celebrations kicked off yesterday and will run until early September. Highlights of the celebrations include the Museum of 1951 – a temporary museum located in Royal Festival Hall featuring exhibits relating to the 1951 festival, themed weekends including next weekend’s ‘London in Love’, featuring performances by Billy Bragg, and a Festival of Britain-inspired ‘Meltdown’ curated by Ray Davies of The Kinks (runs from 10th to 19th June). The original Festival of Britain was opened on 3rd May, 1951, with the intention of developing a sense of “recovery and progress” among the British in the aftermath of World War II and marked the centenary of the 1851 Great Exhibition. The South Bank Exhibition was at the heart of what were national celebrations and was attended by more than eight million people. For more information on what’s happening, see www.southbankcentre.co.uk.

• Historic royal wedding cakes have been recreated this Easter weekend  in an exhibition celebrating the lead-up to this Friday’s Royal Wedding. The English Heritage-event Let Them Eat Cake, which is being held at Wellington Arch near Hyde Park Corner, features a “four-and-20 blackbirds pie” of the sort King Henry VIII gave to his new wife Anne Boleyn as well as recreations of Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding cake and that of Queen Elizabeth II. The event, which is sponsored by Tate & Lyle Sugars, involves some of Britain’s leading bakers. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/events/765107/. See Exploring London this week for more on the upcoming Royal Wedding.

• The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, confirmed this week that work will begin on a new cable car to cross the Thames River in East London this summer. The 34 gondola cable car will stretch for 1.1 kilometres, connecting Greenwich Peninsula and the O2 on the river’s south bank with Royal Victoria Docks and the ExCel centre on the north and carrying up to 2,500 people every hour. Construction will be carried out by a consortium of firms led by Mace – the company currently building the Shard Tower – and it is hoped it will be completed before next year’s Olympics.

• The Royal Wedding will be broadcast live on giant screens at Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park under plans announced by the Department for Media, Culture & Sport, the Mayor of London and The Royal Parks. The live coverage will be free to watch from 7am on 29th April and guests are advised to get there early. A “celebration wheel” has also been set up in Hyde Park – fees apply. See www.london.gov.uk/royalwedding.

• A blue plaque has been unveiled at the house where novelist Graham Greene wrote Brighton Rock. Greene, who died in 1991, lived at 14 Clapham Common North Side in London from 1935 to 1940 and while here wrote several works – these also included the Cannes’ winning collaboration with Carol Reed, The Third Man, and The Power and the Glory – before he joined the forerunner to intellgience service MI6 in 1941. Graham moved out of the house at Clapham Common after it was hit by a bomb in October 1940 (the Queen Anne-style property has since been rebuilt). No-one was in the house at the time – Greene’s wife Vivien and his children had been evacuated to Sussex while Greene himself was staying in Bloomsbury with his lover Dorothy Glover when the bomb hit. The English Heritage plaque was unveiled by Greene’s daughter, Caroline Bourget.

• On Now: Dirt, the Filthy Reality of Everyday Life. Get down amongst it at the Wellcome Collection where they’re running an innovative exhibition on dirt and humanity’s at times desperate efforts to keep it under control. The exhibition features 200 artefacts including visual art, scientific artefacts, film and literature with highlights including the earliest sketches of bacteria, John Snow’s ‘ghost map’ showing the spread of cholera in London in the 1850s, and a bejewelled broom. The exhibition features six different locations – from a street in Victorian London to a New York landfill site in 2030 – from where to begin the exhibition. Runs until 31st August. See www.wellcomecollection.org.