Once located on the north side of Cannon Street, St Swithin London Stone was first recorded in the 13th century, rebuilt after the Great Fire of London and finally demolished after being damaged in World War II.

The church’s curious name comes its dedication to St Swithin, a ninth century bishop of Winchester, and the London Stone, a stone of curious origins which was originally located across the road and then moved across to eventually be placed inside an alcove in the south wall of the church in the 1820s (you can read more about it here).

The medieval church was rebuilt in 1405 thanks to the largesse of Sir John Hind, twice Lord Mayor of London, and had one of the first towers built specifically for the hanging of bells.

The church was famously also the final resting place of Catrin Glyndwr, daughter of Welsh leader Owain Glyndwr, who was taken hostage in 1409 and imprisoned in the Tower of London before dying in mysterious circumstances four years later. Other notable connections include one with John Dryden who married Lady Elizabeth Howard in the church in 1663.

The church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. Now united with St Mary Bothaw, the church was rebuilt apparently using some of the original stones, to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren. Rectangular in shape, it featured a tower in the north-west corner and an octagonal dome.

The church, which also had an association with the Worshipful Company of Salters, was heavily damaged by bombing during the Blitz. United with St Stephen Walbrook in 1954, the ruined church was eventually demolished in 1962 (the pulpit is now at All Hallows by the Tower). There’s now a garden on the site which features a memorial to Catrin Glyndwr.

PICTURE: The Church of St Swithin, London Stone, as depicted in the 1839 book ‘The Churches of London’ by George Godwin. (public domain)

The Museum of London Docklands has released a number of images from its ‘Docklands at War’ collection – including some rarely on display – to mark the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe. These images of the East End show the scale of the damage and destruction caused to London’s docks during World War II when more than 25,000 German bombs were dropped on it in an attempt to impact the national economy and war production, making tens of thousands of home uninhabitable, damaging businesses and destroying docks with the West India Docks and St Katherine Docks suffering the most damage. The pictures also reveal the remarkable contribution to the war effort by the people who lived and worked in the densely populated area. For more on how the museum is marking the day online, head to www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands/ve-day.

St Katharine Dock after an air raid on 7th September, 1940, the first attack on Docklands.  PICTURE: John H Avery & Co (© PLA Collection / Museum of London)

Bomb damage to a shed, formerly Guiness’s on west side of eastern dock, looking north from the southend taken on 19th December, 1940, following an air raid on 8th December that year. PICTURE: John H Avery & Co (© PLA Collection / Museum of London)


Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Clementine Churchill, with the Flag Officer, London, and J Douglas Ritchie (on left), touring London’s dock in September, 1940, seen with a group of auxiliary firemen. PICTURE: © PLA Collection / Museum of London

Damage caused by a V1 rocket which hit Royal Victoria Dock in 1944. PICTURE: © PLA Collection / Museum of London

The Docklands ablaze during the Blitz on 7th September, 1940. The rising palls of smoke mark out the London Docks beyond the Tower of London, the Surrey Docks to the right of the bridge and the West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs in the distance. PICTURE: © PLA Collection / Museum of London


Tanks arriving in the London Docks prior to embarkation for the D Day beaches in 1944. PICTURE: © PLA Collection / Museum of London

It was 75 years ago this month – 8th May, 1945 – that Londoners poured out onto the city’s streets in celebration of the end of World War II.

Some celebrations had already started in London on 7th May as news of the unconditional surrender of all German troops to the Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower in the French city of Reims on 7th May became known.

But Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared 8th May a national holiday and, in response, vast crowds turned out on the streets to celebrate with bunting, flags and fireworks. Church bells were rung and services of thanksgiving held including at St Paul’s Cathedral where 10 consecutive services, each attended by thousands, took place.

British girls, of the Picture Division of the London Office of War Information dance in the street with American soldiers during the “VE Day” celebration in London. This scene took place outside the building of the US Army Pictorial Division has its offices. PICTURE: © IWM EA 65796

At 3pm, Churchill made a national radio broadcast from 10 Downing Street. He told listeners that while “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing”, they should “not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead” a reference to the ongoing war with Japan (the radio broadcast, incidentally, is being re-run on the BBC on 8th May this year to mark the anniversary).

Churchill then proceeded to Parliament where he formally reported the end of the war in Europe to Parliament before leading a procession of members to St Margaret’s Church for a service of thanksgiving. He later appeared on the balcony of the Ministry of Health building in Whitehall to address the teeming crowds below, telling them “This is your victory” to which they roared back that it was his.

Churchill waves to crowds in Whitehall on the day he broadcast to the nation that the war with Germany had been won, 8 May 1945. PICTURE: Horton W G (Major) (Photographer),
War Office official photographer/© IWM H 41849

Meanwhile, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, initially accompanied by their two daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace several times to wave to the cheering crowds. The King and Queen, who were at one point joined by Churchill, were still waving when their daughters secretly – and now rather famously – left the palace and joined the crowds outside in what Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, described as “one of the most memorable moments” of her life. The King also gave a radio address from the palace during which he paid tribute to all those who had died in the conflict.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret joined by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, London on VE Day. PICTURE: © IWM MH 21835

While celebrations took place across London, hotspots included Whitehall, outside Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square and Piccadilly Circus, where by midnight there were an estimated 50,000 people singing and dancing. Licensing hours were extended in pubs and dance halls staying open to midnight.

A mass of civilians and servicemen crowding around Piccadilly Circus, London. PICTURE: Poznak Murray, United States Army Signal Corps official photographerIWM EA 65879

One of the most iconic images of the day was a photograph of two sailors standing in one of the fountains at Trafalgar Square with two women, revealed, thanks to research by the Imperial War Museum to be Cynthia Covello and Joyce Digney who had travelled to join the celebrations from Surrey.

Two British sailors and their girlfriends wading in the fountains in Trafalgar Square on VE Day. PICTURE: Massecar T G, United States Army Signal Corps photographer/© IWM EA 65799

With thanks to the Imperial War Museum, London.

 


This east London district was recorded as far back as the 13th century when it was a rural area. The name comes from the obvious – it was located on the old London to Colchester Road about a mile east of Aldgate.

Its location so close to London – and the fact it was common land – meant Mile End was favoured as a recreational space by Londoners eager to escape the confines of the city.

It was here in 1381 that Jack Straw camped with the men from Essex during the Peasant’s Revolt and it was here that, even as Was Tyler and his men murdered Simon of Sudbury in the Tower of London, King Richard II famously met with the leaders of the revolt.

The area, which became known as Mile End Old Town (an unconnected area to the west was known as Mile End New Town), was gradually developed from the 16th century and attracted working class housing and, thanks to its affordability, a relatively high number of immigrants. The Mile End Tube station opened in 1902.

The area suffered in the Blitz during World War II and the first V-1 flying bomb to hit the city landed next to the Grove Road railway bridge on 13th June, 1944, killing eight civilians and injuring 30.

Famous figures connected to Mile End include explorer Captain James Cook, who lived in a now demolished house on Mile End Road between 1764-76.

Landmarks include the Trinity Almshouses (built in 1695, they’re the last survivors of several almshouses built in the area) and the Frederick Arthur Walters-designed Guardian Angels Roman Catholic Church which was built 1903 by Henry Fitzalan-Howard, 15th Duke of Norfolk, as a memorial to his youngest sister, Lady Margaret Howard.

The People’s Palace – a five acre entertainment and educational facility which included a library, swimming pool, gym and winter garden – was completed in 1892 on Mile End Road. Destroyed by fire in 1931, it was rebuilt but finally closed in 1954.

The two halves of the 79 acre linear Mile End Park, which bisected by Mile End Road, is joined by The Green Bridge over the road.

PICTURES: Top – Mile End Road featuring The Guardian Angels Catholic Church on the right and Mile End Park on the left (Matt Brown /licensed under CC BY 2.0); Below – Mile End Tube Station (Chris Jones/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Britain’s Baroque culture – spanning the period from the Restoration of King Charles II to the death of Queen Anne in 1714 – is the subject of a new exhibition which opened this week at Tate Britain. British Baroque: Power and Illusion – the first major exhibition on the subject – shows how magnificence was used to express status and influence and features works by painters including Sir Peter Lely, Sir Godfrey Kneller, and Sir James Thornhill as well as designs, prints and wooden models of the works of architects like Sir Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor and Sir John Vanbrugh. The importance of portraiture, the visual differences in Protestant and Catholic worship and the illusions contained in painted baroque interiors are all explored in the display along with how the subject of war was dealt with through heroic equestrian portraiture, panoramic battle scenes and accompanying propaganda. The exhibition, which is being accompanied by a programme of events, runs until 19th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: Godfrey Kneller, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, c1706, National Portrait Gallery, London.

The 25th Kew Orchid Festival kicks off at Kew Gardens on Saturday in a celebration of the wildlife and culture of Indonesia. Located in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, the festival will take visitors on an immersive journey evoking the sights, smells and sounds of Indonesia though a series of orchid displays which include a life-sized animals such as orang-utans, a tiger and a rhinoceros, an archway made of hundreds of carnivorous pitcher plants and an erupting volcano. A programme of evening events featuring gamelan music and traditional dancers as well as cooking demonstrations by renowned author and chef Petty Elliott is also planned – these must be booked online in advance. Admission charge applies. Runs until 8th March. For more, see www.kew.org.

On Now: Hidden London: The Exhibition. This display at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden takes visitors on an immersive journey to some of the secret places in the Tube network. Featuring rare archive photos, objects, vintage posters, secret diagrams and decorative tiles from disused stations, it uncovers stories such as how Churchill took shelter in the Railway Executive Committee’s bomb-proof headquarters deep underground at Down Street station at the height of the Blitz during World War II and how almost 2,000 members of staff, mostly women, worked in the Plessey aircraft underground factory located in two 2.5 mile-long tunnels on the eastern section of the Central line. The exhibition is being accompanied by a series of events including late openings and tours. Runs until next January. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/hidden-london#.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com

Famous Londoners – Rip…

November 11, 2019


A hero of the Blitz during World War II, Rip was a stray dog who was
adopted by the Southill Street Air Raid Patrol in Poplar, east London. 

Found in the aftermath of a bombing by Air Raid Warden E King, he became the mascot of the air raid patrol and an unofficial rescue dog.

The mongrel terrier’s task was to help locate people and animals buried in rubble after an air raid and despite his lack of formal training, he is reported to have saved more than 100 lives as well as recovered many bodies.

In fact, such was his success that it was partially responsible for prompting authorities to start officially training dogs to find casualties in debris towards the end of the war.

Rip survived the war and was awarded a PDSA Dickin Medal in July, 1945. Created in 1943, the award is described as Victoria Cross for animals.

Rip apparently wore on his collar until his death 1946 and was buried in the PDSA cemetery in Ilford, Essex.

In 2009 his medal was sold at auction for £24,250, well above expectations of £10,000.

PICTURE: © IWM (D 5937)

This Marylebone square is one of the better preserved Georgian-era squares in London. 

Located on the Portman Estate, it was laid out in the 1770s as a residential square with the north side of the square dominated by Manchester House, built in the 1770s as the home of the 4th Duke of Manchester (from whom the house and square, now derive their name).

The house, meanwhile, changed its name when the 2nd Marquess of Hertford took over the lease in 1797. It became known as Hertford House and now houses The Wallace Collection (pictured below), a collection of artworks left to the nation – along with the house – by Lady Wallace, widow of Sir Richard Wallace, illegitimate son of 4th Marquess, in 1897, and opened to the public as a museum in 1900.

The almost circular private gardens in the centre were laid out in the mid-1770s with garden beds and railings (there was apparently a church planned for the centre of the square on which the gardens were located, but it was never built).

During World War II, trenches were dug in the garden and railings removed and the gardens did receive some bomb damage but they were restored in the 1960s and then extensively replanted in the mid-Noughties. The garden (pictured above, looking south) features mature London plane and lime trees.

Famous residents in the square, which has now largely been converted to offices, have included German-born composer Sir Julius Benedict (he lived at number two), surgeon and neurologist John Hughlings Jackson (number three) and colonial administrator Alfred, Lord Milner (number 14) – all of which have English Heritage Blue Plaques on their former properties – as well as Admiral Sir Thomas Foley (number one).

The square, which, along with Portman Square is Grade II-listed, also become briefly famous in around 1815 when it was reported a “pig-faced woman” lived there.

It is also known for being the former site of record label EMI – the cover shot for the Beatles’ first LP, Please Please Me, was shot in the modernist building’s stairwell in 1963 (the building has since been demolished but EMI took part of the staircase with them when they left in 1995).

Interestingly, Manchester Square Fire Station, which was decommissioned in 2005, was actually located a few blocks away in Chiltern Street (it was also known as the Chiltern Firehouse).

PICTURES: Google Maps

The story of the St Paul’s Watch, the volunteers who worked to protect St Paul’s Cathedral during the Blitz, will be told in a digital display projected onto the cathedral’s facade this weekend. Where The Light Falls is being held in partnership with Historic England and is part of Fantastic Feats: the building of London – the City of London’s six-month cultural events season. It will see a display of poetry, visuals and photography, created by Poetry Society and Double Take Projections, projected onto the cathedral’s south side, north side and main facade in honour of those men and women who, armed with sandbags and water pumps, risked their lives to save the cathedral. The free show lasts for about 20 minutes and can be seen between 6.30pm and 10pm from tonight until Saturday night and then from 8pm to 10pm on Sunday. Meanwhile, St Paul’s is also open for a special late opening on Friday night during which poets from the Poetry Society will be bringing to life accounts of loss, bravery and sacrifice. Admission charge applies. For more on both events, head here.

The history, teachings and contemporary relevance of Buddhism are being explored in a major new exhibition opening at the British Library on Friday. Buddhism features rare and colourful scrolls, painted wall hangings and folding books and will highlight the theory, practice and art of Buddhism, examine the enduring iconography of Buddha and consider what it means to be Buddhist today. The exhibition, which is accompanied by a program of events, runs until 23rd February. For more, see www.bl.uk.

On Now: Elizabeth Peyton: Aire and Angels. This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery is the first to situate the work of contemporary artist Elizabeth Peyton within the historical tradition of portraiture. In additional to the more than 40 works on display in the exhibition, Peyton has been honoured by being first artist to be given the run of the entire gallery with a series of displays within the permanent collection which juxtapose Peyton’s art with historic portraits from the Tudor period onwards. Among her portraits on show are those of Napoleon, Queen Elizabeth II, Yuzuru Hanyu, Frida Kahlo, Tyler the Creator, Isa Genzken, David Bowie, Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, David Fray, and Louis XIV. Runs until 5th January. Entry is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk/elizabethpeyton.

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


This Soho square was laid out in the late 17th century, possibly by Sir Christopher Wren, and by the early 1700s most of the buildings surrounding the square were complete.

The name of the square is said to be a corruption of ‘gelding’ – the area, once apparently known as Gelding Close, was previously used for the grazing of geldings (there’s also a story that the gelding was featured on a nearby inn sign which locals objected to, renaming it ‘golden’).

It was, at first, the place to be among the well-to-do – among early residents were Barbara Villiers, the Duchess of Cleveland and mistress of King Charles II, James Bridges, who became the 1st Duke of Chandos, and Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke, a favourite of Queen Anne.

By the mid 18th century, however, the trendy crowd had moved to developments further west and the square subsequently became noted for the high number of foreign delegations which made their base here, including those of Bavaria, Russia, Genoa and Portugal, as well as foreign artists including Swiss painter Angelica Kauffmann – the first female member of the Royal Academy, and Anglo-Irish painter (and later Royal Academy president) Martin Archer Shee.

Other famous residents have included dancer Elizabeth Gamberini, singer Caterina Gabrielli and Scottish anatomist John Hunter (his former home is one of two marked with English Heritage Blue Plaques in the square). Thomas Jefferson, later a US president, stayed in Golden Square during March and April, 1786, in his only visit to London.

A couple of houses in the square – then occupied by the Bavarian minister Count Haslang – were attacked during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots. These properties were bought by James Talbot, the Roman Catholic Bishop for London, in 1788, so the Roman Catholic Church in Warwick Street could be build in the gardens behind.

The square had deteriorated somewhat by the time Charles Dickens placed it in his late 1830s story Nicholas Nickleby as the home of Ralph Nickleby, and it become the location of numerous boarding houses and small hotels as well as various professionals.

By 1900 the square had become closely connected with the wool trade with as many as 70 firms connected with it located here. Several such firms are apparently still located here but the square is better known these days for companies associated with the movie business.

The middle of the square was dug up for an air raid shelter in World War II but it was paved afterwards and the statue of King George II, attributed to John Van Nost and erected here in 1753 as part of beautification project (it has been suggested the statue actually represents King Charles II but that remains a matter of conjecture), returned to its place in the middle.

None of the original houses now remain but there are a number of residences which still have at least elements dating from late 18th century rebuilds including numbers 11, 21, 23 and 24.

PICTURE: Top – David Iliff (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0); Right – David Adams; Below – RozSheffield (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Yes, the name of this inner north-west London district – which sits between Hampstead and Kentish Town – does originate with an oak.

Up until the early 19th century, the tree was apparently used as a marker between the parish boundaries of Hampstead and St Pancras. So that’s the oak part.

The gospel part comes from the use of the term to describe the medieval custom of ‘beating the bounds’ – an annual event in which residents would walk around their parish boundary and literally beat prominent boundary markers as a way of conveying to a then largely illiterate people where the borders were located. The oak, said to have stood on the corner of Southampton and Mansfield Roads, was one such marker.

As well as the beating part, the event would also involve the singing of hymns and, yes, the reading of sections of the gospels while standing under the oak. Hence Gospel Oak.

The oak was also apparently used as a site for open-air preaching at other times and it’s said that St Augustine, 14th century Bible translator John Wycliffe, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and fellow evangelist George Whitefield are among the many who preached under the oak (although many of these claims can be taken with a grain of salt).

The area was predominantly rural until the mid-1800s when local landowners  Lord Mansfield, Lord Southampton and Lord Lismore began selling off the land for development. The houses built here were apparently at the more affordable end of the market, perhaps not surprising given the area became criss-crossed with railroad lines. Devastated by bombing during World War II, large parts of Gospel Oak were rebuilt in the mid-20th century.

The (now) London Overground station which bears the name Gospel Oak (pictured below) was opened in 1860, originally with the name Kentish Town (but quickly renamed Gospel Oak when Kentish Town was used elsewhere). Other landmarks include St Martin’s Church in Vicars Road (pictured above), which has been described as one of the “craziest” of London’s Victorian churches, and All Hallows Church in Shirlock Road.

One of the area’s more famous residents, Michael Palin, has lived in the area since the 1960s and reportedly planted a new oak in Lismore Circus in 1998 but the tree has apparently not survived.

PICTURES: Google Maps

We return to the series we mistakenly started earlier this year. Here’s a recap of the first story with a new article to come next week…


This private garden square in Marylebone was first laid out from the 1760s to 1780s by Henry William Portman and forms part of the expansive Portman Estate.

The 2.5 acre garden square, which is for use by residents only, features London plane trees, a lawn and informal plantings as well as a children’s play area and tennis court.

The current configuration was created in the early 1900s – the railings, which were originally installed in the 1880s, were removed as part of the war effort in 1942 but restored in 1972.

Significant buildings once located on the square include the James “Athenian” Stuart-designed Montagu House, built for Elizabeth Montagu between 1777-1782. Located on the north-west corner, it was destroyed during World War II and the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel now stands on the site.

The Robert Adam-designed Home House (1773-77) can be found at number 20 (once part of the Courtauld Institute and now a private members club) and the hotel, the Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill, can be found at number 30.

PICTURES: Google Maps

Located in Carlton House Terrace, not far from the Duke of York Column in St James’s, is a small headstone dedicated to “Giro”.

Giro was the pet hound – some accounts say he was a terrier but it has also been claimed he was an Alsatian – of German Ambassador Leopold von Hoesch, who took up his post in London in 1932 (initially under the Weimar Republic and then under Hitler’s regime from 1933).

Ambassador von Hoesch and his family, along with Giro, lived at the embassy at number nine Carlton House Terrace.

Until 1934, that is, when Giro apparently chewed through a cable in the back yard and was fatally electrocuted.

Giro was buried in the backyard, the grave marked with a small headstone written in German which describes Giro as “a faithful companion” and records the date of his death as February, 1934.

The headstone, which has been described as London’s only Nazi memorial (although that’s perhaps a bit unfair given the dog had little choice), was moved to its current location behind an iron fence just off the street thanks to building works in the 1960s. The protective plastic shield was added later.

Apparently much loved among his British hosts (and said to be a less than ardent supporter of the Nazis), Hoesch, meanwhile, died of heart failure in 1936 (prompting speculation he had been assassinated by the Nazis) – his body repatriated via Dover where it was shipped home aboard the HMS Scout. His replacement was Joachim von Ribbentrop.

PICTURE: Iridescenti (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

Created as part of the City of London’s contribution to 1951’s Festival of Britain, these gardens are found just to the south-east of St Paul’s Cathedral.

One of a series of gardens located around the cathedral, they were created on the former site of the street known as Old Change in an area which had suffered considerable bomb damage in World War II.

Laid out by Sir Albert Richardson, the gardens feature a sunken lawn with a wall fountain at the west end which was a gift of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners.

The gardens, which are permanently open to the public, also contain Georg Erlich’s sculpture, The Young Lovers, which was erected on the garden’s upper terrace – above the water fountain at the west end – in 1973.

Some relandscaping took part in 2012 including the creation of a new garden to the west, called the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Gardens.

PICTURES: Top – Diliff (licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0/image cropped); Right – David Adams

Designed by the architect Charles Fitzroy Doll in distinctive French Renaissance-style for the Frederick Hotels Company, the Hotel Russell opened on the east side of Russell Square in 1898.

The now Grade II*-listed building, which is said to have been based on the 16th century Château de Madrid in Paris, is clad in decorative Doulton’s thé-au-lait (“tea with milk”) terracotta.

Its facade incorporates the coats-of-arms of the world’s nations as they were in 1898 and above the entrance are life-sized statues of four queens – Elizabeth I, Mary II, Anne and Victoria – which were designed by sculptor Henry Charles Fehr (pictured). The Guilford Street frontage features busts of four Prime Ministers: Lord Derby, Lord Salisbury, William Gladstone, and Benjamin Disraeli.

The hotel’s interior features ornate fixtures and fitting including a Pyrenean marble staircase which runs off the opulent marble foyer and an interior courtyard housing a Palm Court. Each bedroom was fitted with an en-suite bathroom.

Its restaurant, now named the Neptune but originally named after Doll, was designed almost identically to the RMS Titanic‘s dining room (Doll designed both). That’s not the only Titanic connection – the hotel also features a bronze statue of a dragon on the stairs named ‘Lucky George’ and the Titanic carried an identical statue.

The hotel survived World War II largely intact – with the exception of a roof-top dome which was damaged in an air raid in 1941 and not replaced.

Fast forward to April, 2018, and the hotel reopened as the The Principal Hotel (on the 106th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic) following an extensive £85 million, two year renovation by designer Tara Bernerd.

But the Principal Hotel Company sold its portfolio of hotels to Covivio a few months later and they, in turn, leased the management of the hotels to the InterContinental Hotels Group. The Principal was renamed the Kimpton Fitzroy London in October that year.

Alongside 330 or so rooms, amenities at the five star hotel include the glass-roofed Palm Court, cocktail bar Fitz’s (named for Charles Fitzroy Doll), and the coffee shop Burr & Co. There’s also a grand ballroom, meeting rooms and a fitness centre.

Interestingly, Doll designed another hotel, the Imperial, also on Russell Square, which opened in 1911. It was demolished in 1966.

For more, see www.kimptonfitzroylondon.co.uk/us/en/.

PICTURES: Top – David Iliff (licensed under CC BY 3.0); Right and below – Jack1956.

This is the final in our series on historic London hotels. We’ll be launching a new special series next Wednesday.

The Connaught Hotel, another five star Mayfair establishment, was built in 1892 on the site of smaller hotel which had opened in what is now Carlos Place in the early 19th century.

Known as The Prince of Saxe-Coburg Hotel (or The Coburg for short), the first hotel on the site opened in 1815 as an offshoot of Alexander Grillon’s hotel in Albemarle Street. The Coburg was created out of two houses owned by the Duke of Westminster.

In 1892, the owners of The Coburg – Lewis Isaacs and H L Florence – embarked upon a complete rebuild of the hotel and in 1897 it reopened with a 90-year lease on the building signed by Sir John Blundell Maple, of a famous furniture making family.

The new premises was renamed The Connaught during World War I amid anti-German sentiment. The new moniker was a reference to the seventh child of Queen Victoria, Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn.

Frequented by the gentry between the wars thanks to its handy position between Buckingham Palace and Harley Street, during World War II the hotel served as home to French President General Charles de Gaulle.

In the post war years, the hotel soon established a reputation for fine food and drink thanks in part to the opening, in 1955, of The Grill Room. This was only enhanced with the arrival of Michel Bourdin as head chef in 1975 – a position he held for 26 years.

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, opened the hotel’s new kitchens in 1992 and 10 years later Angela Harnett’s Menu at The Connaught opened, winning a Michelin star in 2004 (it closed in 2007).

In the mid 2000s, the Grade II-listed hotel underwent a major £70 million restoration and refurbishment with new additions including a new wing, the Aman Spa and a Japanese garden. In 2008, French chef Hélène Darroz opened a restaurant at the hotel and the following year, in 2009, a new art deco ballroom designed by Guy Oliver – Mayfair’s first in more than 80 years – opened its doors.

Most recently, in 2017, New York-based French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened a new restaurant at the Connaught. Other newer additions include Tadao Ando’s Silence, a water feature installed outside the main entrance in 2011.

With around 120 rooms and suites (not to mention the world-famous Connaught Bar), the hotel, which had been acquired by the Savoy Group in the 1950s, is now part of the Maybourne Hotel Group along with Claridge’s.

Famous names which have been recently associated with the hotel include Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and Gwyneth Paltrow. And, of course, Ralph Lauren, who was so enamoured of the hotel’s famous staircase that he had a replica made for his Madison Avenue store in New York.

For more, see www.the-connaught.co.uk.

PICTURE: Via Google Street View.

 

This five star luxury Mayfair hotel opened in 1931 and quickly established a reputation for luxuriousness.

Located at 35 Park Lane on the site of what was formerly the London residence of the Earl of Dorchester (and later a mansion built for millionaire RS Holford), the hotel was the dream of Sir Robert McAlpine who bought the site in partnership with Gordon Hotels in 1929 for £500,000 and vowed to create a luxury hotel that would “rank as the finest in Europe”.

Engineer Sir Owen Williams initially oversaw the building’s design but a falling out saw architect William Curtis Green take over the project (meaning while the structural frame was Sir Owen’s work, the elevations are largely the work of Green). A quarter of the building was constructed underground.

When the 10 storey modernistic building was opened on 18th April, 1931, by Lady Violet Astor, it featured luxurious rooms and suites (with, apparently, the deepest baths of any hotel in London), a ballroom built to accommodate 1,000, an Oriental Restaurant and, of course, the Dorchester Bar (it was here the ‘Dorchester of London’ cocktail was invented).

The Dorchester survived World War II with only minor damage (its basement served as an air-raid shelter). In fact, during World War II, such was the reputation of its reinforced concrete structure, that UK Cabinet members including Lord Halifax stayed here while US General Dwight D Eisenhower planned the D-Day invasion from his suite – now the Eisenhower Suite – during World War II.

In the 1950s, stage set designer Oliver Messel revamped various aspects of the hotel including designing some suites in an extension in Deanery Street (the Oliver Messel Suite is named for him).

The hotel has hosted its share of the rich and famous – Prince Philip hosted his bachelor party in the hotel’s Park Suite on the eve of his wedding to Queen Elizabeth II in 1947 (the Queen, meanwhile, had dined there the day before the engagement was announced), and actors Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor used the hotel as something of a “second home”.

Other notable figures who have stayed at the hotel include writers Cecil Day-Lewis and Somerset Maugham, painter Sir Alfred Munnings, director Alfred Hitchcock and film stars Gloria Swanson, Marlene Dietrich, Danny Kaye and James Mason as well as Tom Cruise, Meg Ryan and Nicole Kidman.

The Dorchester was listed as a Grade II building in 1981 and, having been sold by the McAlpine family to a consortium headed by the Sultan of Brunei in the mid-1970s, it was purchased outright by the Sultan of Brunei in the Eighties (and later transferred ownership to the Brunei Investment Agency).

The hotel was completely renovated between 1988 and 1990 and was again refurbished in 2002.

Facilities today at the hotel – alongside the 250 rooms and suites – include numerous restaurants and bars such as the three Michelin star Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, China Tang, The Spatisserie and The Grill at the Dorchester, as well as The Bar at the Dorchester and The Promenade where afternoon tea is served. There’s also a spa.

Today The Dorchester is the flagship of the Dorchester Collection of hotels which also includes 45 Park Lane, Cowarth Park in Ascot, The Beverly Hills Hotel and The Hotel Bel-Air in LA, the Hotel Eden in Rome, Le Meurice and Hotel Plaza Athenee in Paris and the Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan.

Out the front of the hotel is a London Plane tree which was named one of the “great trees of London” in 1997.

For more, see https://www.dorchestercollection.com/en/london/the-dorchester/.

PICTURE: || UggBoy♥UggGirl || PHOTO || WORLD || TRAVEL || (licensed under CC BY 2.0/image cropped)


Built on the site of what was Grosvenor House in Park Lane – London residence of the Dukes of Westminster, the Grosvenor House Hotel opened in 1929 but wasn’t completed until the 1950s.

The Mayfair hotel was conceived and constructed on the orders of commercial speculator Albert Octavius Edwards and was designed by Wimperis, Simpson and Guthrie with luxury in mind (Sir Edwin Lutyens was responsible for the external elevations).

Originally designed as two apartment blocks, it was apparently only when the first block was completed that it was decided the second north block would be a hotel. It opened on 14th May, 1929, with an event described as “outstanding”.

Along with some 472 rooms – it was the first hotel in London to feature en suite bathrooms which came with running ice-cold water in each, its facilities included The Great Room, originally an ice-skating rink where then Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) learned to ice skate which Edwards decided in the 1930s to convert into one of the largest banqueting spaces in Europe.

It was subsequently the scene of many awards evening and charity events including Queen Charlotte’s Ball as well as BBC broadcasts (the Beatles are among those who have performed there). The hotel was also the first in London to have a swimming pool.

The hotel, which only suffered minor damager during the Blitz, saw service during World War II. The Great Room was initially home to the Officers’ Sunday Club and later as one of the largest US officers’ mess. During the war, the premises hosted everyone from Charles de Gaulle and King Haakon of Norway as well as US generals Dwight D Eisenhower and George S Paton.

The hotel actually has strong American connections from the get go – American methods were used during construction to speed things along – and its restaurant was noted for swerving American-style food. Among other Americans who have stayed there include Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, Orson Welles, Jackie Onassis, Henry Kissinger, Sammy Davis, Jr, and Madeline Albright.

The actual construction of the hotel continued into the 1950s when permission was given to demolish a house at 35 Park Street (located next door to the hotel) following the death of its owner – Bruno, Baron Schroder, and a 92 bedroom extension to the hotel was built. It was officially opened by Peter Thorneycroft, Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1957.

The hotel, which was acquired by Trust Houses in 1963, underwent several changes of ownership in more recent years and following an extensive renovation in the Noughties, it reopened in September, 2008 as a JW Marriott hotel.

It was reportedly announced late last year that Qatari-owned Katara Hospitality was buying the hotel from Indian conglomerate Sahara India Pariwar, which has owned the hotel since 2010, for an undisclosed sum.

For more, see www.LondonGrosvenorHouse.co.uk.

PICTURES: Park Lane facades and entrance in Park Street. Courtesy of Google Maps.

A small air raid shelter designed for people to erect on their properties in preparation for the expected bombing campaigns of World War II, the first of London’s ‘Anderson’ shelters were rolled out 80 years ago in a backyard garden of a house in Islington on 25th February, 1939.

The shelter’s name comes from Sir John Anderson, Lord Privy Seal and the man tasked with the job of overseeing air-raid preparations across the country. As part of that job, he commissioned engineers to come up with an easy-to-construct, affordable shelter that could be used by the population at large.

The resulting arched-roofed structures, designed to be flexible and absorb the impact when bombs hit, were made from six curved sheets of corrugated steel or iron and, at six feet tall, 6.5 feet long and 4.5 feet wide, could house a family of six. They were designed to be buried under four feet of earth in backyards and the roof covered with a minimum of 15 inches of soil.

The shelters were given out for free to lower income families but those with the means had to buy them for £7. Some chose to incorporate them into their gardens and grew vegetables and plants on top and some decorated them – there were even competitions held for the best looking.

By the time bombs started hitting London in the Blitz, more than 1.5 million of the shelters had been built (and a further 2.1 million were erected as the war raged).

It was expected that families would use them every night but the shelters were found to be cold and damp and often flooded which meant many people only used them when air raid sirens sounded (and some not even then – one 1940 survey apparently found only 27 per cent of Londoners used them).

After the war, most were scrapped for the metal but some of the Anderson shelters were repurposed as garden sheds. A small number of them survive across London.

PICTURE: An intact Anderson shelter sits amid devastation in Poplar caused after a land mine fell a few yards away in in 1941. The three people inside were not hurt. Via Imperial War Museum (© IWM (D 5949))

Another of the opulent Victorian hotels built at London’s railway termini, the Midland Grand Hotel was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in an ornate High Gothic style.

Scott’s design for the new hotel – which was to be built adjoining the railway station and would form its southern facade on Euston Road – was selected over 10 other submissions to win an 1865 competition run by the Midland Railway Company.

Scott was apparently reluctantly involved – he only entered the competition after pressure from one of the company’s directors despite apparently previously refusing to get involved with the project prior to that.

His expensive – and expansive – design (apparently resembling his rejected plans for government offices in Whitehall) included an 82 metre high clock tower at the east end of the more than 170 metre long facade and a 76 metre high tower at the west end (it also originally had an extra floor that wasn’t included in the final building).

The luxurious property – considered from the outset one of London’s best hotels, it cost whopping £438,000 – featured some 300 bedrooms, a grand double staircase, curved dining room and mod-cons like water-driven lifts (it was the first private building to boost these and one remained in place until 1958), an electric bell calling system and flushing toilets.

Staff communicated via a system of speaking tubes and wary of fires after the Palace of Westminster burned down, a “fireproof floor”. The property also boasted the first ladies’ smoking room in London in 1873 and, in 1899, the first revolving door in Britain was installed at the entrance.

Decorative details in the best guest rooms, meanwhile, included Axminster carpets, carved marble fireplaces, 18 foot high ceilings, and vast windows. En suite bathrooms, however, were not included.

The hotel’s east wing opened on 5th May, 1873, but it wasn’t completed until spring of 1876. One Herr Etzesberger, formerly of the Victorian Hotel in Venice, was apparently appointed general manager.

Guests included music hall singer and comedian Marie Lloyd, Jesse Boot (of Boots chemists fame), railroad and shipping entrepreneur Cornelius Vanderbilt and George Pullman (of the Pullman sleeping car fame).

The hotel was taken over by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1922. It closed in 1935 thanks to its now outdated and expensive-to-maintain facilities and, despite innovations like a Moroccan coffee house and in-house orchestra.

Renamed St Pancras Chambers, the building was subsequently used as railway company offices. It survived the Blitz and attempts to have it demolished thanks to a high profile campaign led by poet Sir John Betjeman, architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner and the Victorian Society and in 1967 the hotel and St Pancras station were given Grade I-listed status.

British Rail continued using it as offices but in the 1980s the building was deemed unsafe and closed. It was restored in the 1990s and in 2004, permission was given for it to be redeveloped into a new hotel – the same period during which the station was being redeveloped into one of the largest rail termini in Europe in order to accommodate cross-channel trains.

This project saw the main public rooms of the old Midland Grand Hotel kept and restored as well as some bedrooms while the former driveway for taxes was converted into the new lobby and a new bedroom wing constructed. The upper floors of the original building, meanwhile, were converted into 68 apartments.

The five star, 245 room St Pancras Renaissance Hotel opened on 14th March, 2011, to guests but the formal opening took place on 5th May that year – exactly 138 days after it first opened its doors.

Facilities at the property today, part of the Marriott group, include The Chambers Club, The Booking Office Bar & Restaurant, MI + ME, The Marcus Wareing-designed Gilbert Scott Restaurant, the Hansom Lounge – where afternoon tea is served, and George’s Bar. There’s also a spa and leisure club and pool and meeting facilities.

The premises has appeared in films including the The Secret GardenRichard III, Batman Begins, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It also served as the backdrop for the Spice Girls video clip, Wannabee.

For more, see www.stpancraslondon.com.

PICTURE: Top – LepoRello (licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0);  Right – David Adams; Below – Jwslubbock (licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0).

Located just to the north of the City, The Wenlock Arms takes its name from the former Wenlock Brewery (the name was also given to the nearby Wenlock Basin which runs off Regent’s Canal).

Located at 26 Wenlock Road in Hoxton, the pub is said to have opened in 1836 as a tap for the nearby brewery and went on to become a rare survivor of the Blitz (for the area in which it’s located).

The pub has an interesting recent history – it was successfully saved from demolition several years ago following a campaign from locals and is now a protected building. Having undergone a bit of a spruce up since, it is highly regarded for both its ales and its live music.

It also featured as a location in the 2013 film, The World’s End, starring Simon Pegg.

For more, see http://wenlockarms.com.

PICTURE: Marcuswenlock (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)