December 21, 2016
This Regent Street establishment – the oldest and largest toy store in the world – dates back to 1760 when Cornishman William Hamley came to London and founded his toy store – then called ‘Noah’s Ark’ – on High Holborn.
Selling everything from wooden hoops to tin soldiers and rag dolls, the business aimed to capture the trade of affluent Bloomsbury families and proved rather successful, attracting a clientele in the early 19th century which included not only wealthy families but royalty.
Such was its success that in 1881, Hamley’s descendants opened a new branch of the shop at 200 Regent Street. The Holborn store, meanwhile, burned down in 1901 and was subsequently relocated to a larger premises at numbers 86-87 in the same street.
Faced with the Depression in the 1920s, the shop closed briefly in 1931 but was soon reopened by Walter Lines, chairman of Tri-ang Toys, and in 1938 was given a Royal Warrant by Queen Mary, consort of King George V.
The premises at 188-196 Regent Street was bombed five times during the Blitz but the shop (and its tin hat-wearing staff survived). In 1955, having presented a Grand Doll’s Salon and sizeable model railway at the 1951 Festival of Britain, the shop was given a second Royal Warrant – this time by Queen Elizabeth II, who has been given Hamleys toys as a child – as a ‘toys and sports merchant’.
The business, which has passed through several owners since the early 2000s, is now owned by Chinese-based footwear retailer C.banner. The flagship store is spread over seven floors and tens of thousands of toys on sale, located in various departments.
As well as the Regent Street premises (it moved into the current premises at number 188-196 Regent Street in 1981), Hamlets has some 89 branches located in 23 countries, from India to South Africa. A City of Westminster Green Plaque was placed on the store in February 2010, in honour of the business’s 250th anniversary.
The toy store holds an annual Christmas parade in Regent Street which this year featured a cast of 400 and attracted an estimated 750,000 spectators.
PICTURED: Hamleys during its 250th birthday celebrations.
December 12, 2016
This pub’s name isn’t too mysterious – it is, of course, named after Albert, Prince Consort to Queen Victoria, and given the date on which the building that now occupies the site was built – between 1862 and 1867, nor is the motivation to name it so – Prince Albert died on 14th December, 1861, leaving a bereft queen and a nation in mourning.
There had been a pub on this site at 52 Victoria Street prior to the current building – it was called The Blue Coat Boy and named after the nearby Blue Coat school – but in the mid-19th century the Artillery Brewery, which was located next door, bought the premises and renamed it.
The four storey building, which is now Grade II-listed (and dwarfed by the glass towers surrounding it), survived the Blitz and is the only building remaining from the first phase of the development of Victoria Street (and redevelopment of the area which had been a slum known as Devil’s Acre), only a stone’s throw from Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.
Inside, the Victorian features include ornate ceilings and hand-etched frosted windows and wrought iron balconies. Also of note is the Prime Minister’s gallery – including some who were patrons here – as well as memorabilia including a House of Commons Division Bell and one of Queen Victoria’s napkins.
For more, see www.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub/albert-victoria/c6737/.
It was 75 years ago this year – on the night of 10th/11th May, 1941 – that the German Luftwaffe launched an unprecedented attacked on London, an event that has since become known as the ‘Longest Night’ (it’s also been referred to as ‘The Hardest Night’).
Air raid sirens echoed across the city as the first bombs fells at about 11pm and by the following morning, some 1,436 Londoners had been killed and more than that number injured while more than 11,000 houses had been destroyed along and landmark buildings including the Palace of Westminster (the Commons Chamber was entirely destroyed and the roof of Westminster Hall was set alight), Waterloo Station, the British Museum and the Old Bailey were, in some cases substantially, damaged.
The Royal Air Force Museum records that some 571 sorties were flown by German air crews over the course of the night and morning, dropping 711 tons of high explosive bombs and more than 86,000 incendiaries. The planes were helped in their mission – ordered in retaliation for RAF bombings of German cities – by the full moon reflecting off the river below.
The London Fire Brigade recorded more than 2,100 fires in the city and together these caused more than 700 acres of the urban environment, more than double that of the Great Fire of London in 1666 (the costs of the destruction were also estimated at more than double that of the Great Fire – some £20 million).
Fighter Command sent some 326 aircraft into the fight that night, not all of them over London, and, according to the RAF Museum, the Luftwaffe officially lost 12 aircraft (although others put the figure at more than 30).
By the time the all-clear siren sounded just before 6am on 11th May, it was clear the raid – which turned out to be the last major raid of The Blitz – had been the most damaging ever undertaken upon the city.
Along with the landmarks mentioned above, other prominent buildings which suffered in the attack include Westminster Abbey, St Clement Danes (the official chapel of the Royal Air Force, it was rebuilt but still bears the scars of the attack), and the Queen’s Hall.
Pictured above is a statue of firefighters in action in London during the Blitz, taken from the National Firefighters Memorial near St Paul’s Cathedral – for more on that, see our earlier post here.
For more on The Longest Night, see Gavin Mortimer’s The Longest Night: Voices from the London Blitz: The Worst Night of the London Blitz.
January 13, 2016
The final in our series looking at London ‘battlefields’, this week we take a look at the so-called Battle of London, the air war fought over London during World War II which, along with the bombing of other British cities, is best known by the phrase The Blitz (it forms part of the greater Battle of Britain).
Taking place from the afternoon of 7th September, 1940, until May, 1941, the Blitz saw London sustain repeated attacks from the German Luftwaffe, most notably between 7th September and mid November when the city was bombed on every night bar one.
The night of 7th September, the first night of the Blitz (a short form of ‘Blitzkrieg’ – German for ‘lightning war’), was among the worst – with more than 450 killed and 1,300 injured as wave after wave of bombers attacked the city. Another 412 were killed the following night.
One of the most notorious raids took place on 29th December when incendiary bombs dropped on the City of London starting what has been called the Second Great Fire of London. Around a third of the city was destroyed, including more than 30 guild halls and 19 churches, 16 which had been rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666.
The city was only attacked sporadically in the early months of 1941 but the night of the last major raid of the Blitz – that of 10th May, a night subsequently known as The Longest Night – saw the highest casualties of any night with almost 1,500 people reportedly killed.
The Blitz killed almost 30,000 civilian in London, and destroyed more than a million homes with the worst hit districts poorer areas like the East End.
The battle wasn’t one-sided – the RAF fought the Luftwaffe in the skies and did have some wins – on 15th September (a day known as Battle of Britain Day), for example, they shot down some 60 aircraft attacking London for the loss of less than 30 British fighters.
It was this victory which led the Germans to reduce the number of daylight attacks in favour of night-time raids which, until the launch of the RAF’s night-time fighters in 1941, meant they met little effective resistance. This included that of ground defences – throughout December, 1940, it’s said that anti-aircraft fire only brought down 10 enemy planes.
Yet, the Blitz did not lead to a German victory. For the Nazi regime, the purpose of the constant bombing of London (and other cities) was aimed at sapping the morale of its residents to the extent that they would eventually be forced to beg for peace. But the plan failed and Londoners, digging deep, proved their mettle in the face of fear.
Hundreds of thousands of people were involved in Civil Defence working in a range of jobs – everything from air raid shelter wardens to rescue and demolition teams – and worked alongside firefighters whose numbers were supplemented by an auxiliary service. Naturally all suffered a high level of casualties.
As the weeks passed, the carnage mounted in terms of the loss of and damage to life, destruction of property and psychological toll. And yet the Londoners – sheltering Underground, most famously in the tunnels of the Tube – survived and, as had been the case after the first Great Fire of London, the ruined city was eventually rebuilt.
There are numerous Blitz-related memorials in London, many related to specific bombings. But among the most prominent are the National Firefighters Memorial, located opposite St Paul’s Cathedral, which pays tribute to the firefighters who lost their lives in the war (as well as in peacetime), and a riverside memorial in Wapping honouring civilians of East London killed in the Blitz.
October 2, 2015
This church, which survived until it was largely destroyed by bombing in World War II, isn’t completely lost – its tower still survives in the middle of Wood Street in the City.
The church, one of a number dedicated to St Alban (Britain’s first Christian martyr) in London throughout its history, was medieval in origin although it has been argued its foundation dates back to the 8th century Saxon King Offa of Mercia who is believed to have had a palace here with the chapel on this site (Offa is also credited as the founder of St Alban’s Abbey).
The church had fallen into disrepair by the early 17th century and was demolished and rebuilt in 1630s. It proved unfortunate timing for only 32 years later it was completely destroyed again, this time in the Great Fire of London.
Following the Great Fire, the church, now combined with the parish of St Olave, Silver Street, was among those rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren and completed in the mid-1680s.
It was restored in the late 1850s under the eye of Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott and the four pinnacles on the tower, which stood on the north side of the church, were replaced later that century.
It survived until World War II when the building was burnt out and partly destroyed on a single night during the Blitz in December, 1940. The remains, with the exception of Wren’s Perpendicular-style tower, were later demolished in the 1950s (by which time the church had been united with the parish of St Vedast, Foster Lane).
The Grade II*-listed tower was converted into a rather unusual private dwelling in the 1980s.
September 30, 2015
The church – the third to serve the parish – was built here in 1740 but was replaced when the current parish church was built between 1813 and 1817.
In 1951, the St Marylebone Society created a Memorial Garden of Rest on the site (also known as the Old Church Garden). It was opened in March, 1952, by Viscount Portman.
The foundations of the former church were marked out in the sunken portion of the garden. The predominantly paved garden also contains numerous gravestones and memorials.
These include that of Methodist movement leader Charles Wesley, erected in 1858 to commemorate his burial in 1788 (pictured right). There’s also a plaque recording notable burials at the church, including the painter George Stubbs (1806), royal apothecary John Allen (1774), architect James Gibbs and bare knuckle boxer James Figg (1734). Other plaques detail some of the church’s history.
Also of note in the garden is a Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum), named for being the variety upon which Judas hung himself or, alternately, because its fruit pods resemble bags of silver. The current tree replaces an earlier one.
WHERE: Garden of Rest Marylebone, Marylebone High Street (nearest tube stations are St Paul’s and Barbican); WHEN: 7am to dusk; COST: Entry is free; WEBSITE: www.myparks.westminster.gov.uk/parks/garden-of-rest-marylebone/.
September 2, 2015
Situated just off Cannon Street, this much overlooked tiny raised garden was created on the site of the former Church of St Swithin. The church is believed to have existed here as early as the 11th century and was replaced, thanks largely to the generosity of Lord Mayor Sir John Hind, with a larger building in the early part of the 15th century – it featured one of the first towers built specifically for the task of hanging bells inside.
The church was among those destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 but, now united with the parish of St Mary Bothaw, was rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren shortly after in 1677-88.
Later known as St Swithin, London Stone thanks to the mysterious London Stone being built into the south wall of the church in the late 18th century (for more on the stone and its current location, see our earlier post here), the church survived until World War II when it was damaged beyond repair during bombing and was later destroyed.
Relandscaped in 2010, the garden features a rather dramatic memorial (pictured) to the suffering of women and children in war in general and medieval figure, Catrin Glyndwr in particular. Unveiled in 2001, it was designed by Nic Stradlyn-John and sculpted by Richard Renshaw.
The daughter of the Welsh Prince Owain Glyndwr, she was captured in 1409 and brought with her children and mother to the Tower of London. Catrin and two of her children died in late 1413 and were buried in the former church.
WHERE: St Swithin’s Church Garden, Salters Hall Court off Cannon Street (nearest Tube station is Cannon Street); WHEN: daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.bost.org.uk/open-places/red-cross-garden/.
August 24, 2015
Best known as the “Hanging Judge” thanks to his role in the so-called Bloody Assizes of 1685, George Jeffreys climbed the heights of England’s legal profession before his ignominious downfall.
Born on 15th May, 1645, at the family home of Acton Hall in Wrexham, North Wales, Jeffreys was the sixth son in a prominent local family. In his early 20s, having been educated in Shrewsbury, Cambridge and London, he embarked on a legal career in the latter location and was admitted to the bar in 1668.
In 1671, he was made a Common Serjeant of London, and despite having his eye on the more senior role of Recorder of London, was passed over. But his star had certainly risen and, despite his Protestant faith, he was a few years later appointed to the position of solicitor general to James, brother of King Charles II and the Catholic Duke of York (later King James II), in 1677.
The same year he was knighted and became Recorder of London, a position he had long sought, the following year. Following revelations of the so-called the Popish Plot in 1678 – said to have been a Catholic plot aimed the overthrow of the government, Jeffreys – who was fast gaining a reputation for rudeness and the bullying of defendants – served as a prosecutor or judge in many of the trials and those implicated by what turned out to be the fabricated evidence of Titus Oates (Jeffreys later secured the conviction of Oates for perjury resulting in his flogging and imprisonment).
Having successfully fought against the Exclusion Bill aimed at preventing James from inheriting the throne, in 1681 King Charles II created him a baronet. In 1683 he was made Lord Chief Justice and a member of the Privy Council. Among cases he presided over was that of Algernon Sidney, implicated in the Rye House Plot to assassinate the king and his brother (he had earlier led the prosecution against Lord William Russell over the same plot). Both were executed.
It was following the accession of King James II in February, 1685, that Jeffreys earned the evil reputation that was to ensure his infamy. Following the failed attempt by James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth and illegitimate son of the late King Charles II, to overthrow King James II, Jeffreys was sent to conduct the trials of the captured rebels in West Country towns including Taunton, Wells and Dorchester – the ‘Bloody Assizes’.
Of the almost 1,400 people found guilty of treason in the trials, it’s estimated that between 150 and 200 people were executed and hundreds more sent into slavery in the colonies. Jeffreys’, meanwhile, was busy profiting financially by extorting money from the accused.
By now known for his corruption and brutality, that same year he was elevated to the peerage as Baron Jeffreys of Wem and named Lord Chancellor as well as president of the ecclesiastical commission charged with implementing James’ unpopular pro-Catholic religious policies.
His fall was to come only a couple of years later during Glorious Revolution which saw King James II overthrown by his niece, Mary, and her husband William of Orange (who become the joint monarchs Queen Mary II and King William III).
Offered the throne by a coalition of influential figures who feared the creation of a Catholic dynasty following the birth of King James II’s son, James Francis Edward Stuart, William and Mary arrived in England with a large invasion force. King James II’s rule collapsed and he eventually fled the country.
Remaining in London after the king had fled, Lord Jeffreys only attempted to flee as William’s forced approached the city. He made it as far as Wapping where, despite being disguised as a sailor, he was recognised in a pub, now The Town of Ramsgate (pictured above).
Placed in custody in the Tower of London, he died there of kidney problems on 18th April, 1689, and was buried in the Chapel Royal of Saint Peter ad Vincula (before, in 1692, his body was moved to the Church of St Mary Aldermanbury). All traces of his tomb were destroyed when the church was bombed during the Blitz (for more on the church, see our earlier post here).
August 12, 2015
The church of St Mary Aldermanbury (the name may relate to its proximity close to Guildhall, or the ‘Alderman’s Bury’ or ‘Alderman’s Hall’), mentioned as far back as the late 12th century, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London but was among those rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren only to be destroyed again during the Blitz in 1940.
There they were reconstructed in the grounds of Westminster College – site of Winston Churchill’s famous “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946 – and the church restored as a memorial to the former British PM. The National Churchill Museum is located beneath.
There’s plaque mentioning this in the gardens (and featuring an image of what the church looked like after its reconstruction in Fulton) which still contains the church’s footings (these date from the 15th century when the church was apparently partially rebuilt) and give an indication of what the church’s footprint would have been along with headstones (among those whose remains were buried here was the notorious Judge Jeffreys).
Other features include a memorial to Henry Condell and John Heminge, both involved in the publication of William Shakespeare’s first folio (you can read more about it in our earlier post here).
The garden was laid out after the church was removed. It is a designated Site of Local Importance for Nature Conservation and attracts wildlife including birds such as blackbirds, woodpigeons, house sparrows and blue tits. Plantings were added in 2011 to maximise the attraction to bird as well as bees and butterflies. On the corner outside the garden is a fountain.
WHERE: St Mary Aldermanbury Garden, Aldermanbury, City of London (nearest Tube stations are St Pauls and Monument); WHEN: 8am to 7pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/St-Mary-Aldermanbury.aspx.
August 5, 2015
Located amid the remains of the medieval church of St Dunstan in the East, the garden was created in the late 1960s after the church was finally – and irrevocably, apparently – destroyed in the Blitz of World War II.
The church’s origins went back to around 1100 and it was subsequently extended with a new south aisle in the late 14th century and repaired in the early 17th century before being severely damaged in the Great Fire of 1666.
Patched up, with a new steeple and tower added to the building between 1695-1701 by Sir Christopher Wren, the building stood until the early 19th century when much of the church – with the exception of Wren’s additions – had to be rebuilt (for more on the history of the church, see our earlier Lost London post here).
The ‘new’ building was, however, badly damaged during bombing in 1941 and it was decided not to rebuild the church in the aftermath of the war.
The City of London opened a garden, sympathetic with the remains of the Grade I-listed building, on the site in 1971 (although Wren’s tower remains). They won a landscape award only a few years later.
Features in these atmospheric gardens – which seem to capture the essence of the Romantic idea of what ruins should look like – include a fountain which sits in the middle of the nave. In 2010 it was one of five public gardens in the City where award-winning ‘insect hotels’ were installed.
Maintenance works were carried out in 2015 and new plantings put in (the picture, above, was taken before this).
WHERE: St Dunstan in the East, between Idol Lane and St Dunstan’s Hill, City of London (nearest Tube stations are Monument and Tower Hill); WHEN: 8am to 7pm or dusk (whichever is earlier); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/St-Dunstan-in-the-East.aspx
The history of this City of London garden can be immediately spotted in the garden’s name.
It’s named for Richard (Dick) Whittington, a four time medieval mayor of London whose name (and cat) has been immortalised in stories and rhymes which continue to be retold in Christmas pantomimes every year (you can read more about the real Dick Whittington in our earlier post here).
The reason for the garden’s name is in its proximity to the church of St Michael Paternoster Royal – it stands on the other side of College Street – which he poured money into rebuilding during his lifetime and where he was buried (you can read more about the building here). You can also see a Blue Plaque on the former site of Whittington’s house further up College Hill.
The garden (pictured above looking across to the church) stands on what was the river bank during the Roman era at the bottom of College Hill. It was previously the site of buildings connected with the fur trade but these suffered bomb damage during World War II and were subsequently demolished.
The City of London Corporation acquired the site in 1955 and laid out the gardens in 1960 and the small fountain now found there dates from later that decade.
The gardens, which contain some substantial trees and lawn areas as well as hedges and flower beds, were refurbished in 2005. Features include two granite plinths upon which sit two horsemen (pictured). Sculpted by Italian sculptor Duilio Cambellotti, they were presented to the City of London by the Italian President during a state visit in 2005.
WHERE: Whittington Garden, between College Street and Upper Thames Street, City of London (nearest Tube station is Cannon Street); WHEN: Anytime; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/Whittington-Garden.aspx.
Welcome to the first in our new Wednesday series, looking at some of central London’s small historic gardens which, while not secret in the strictest sense of the word, may tend to get overlooked. Each of the gardens we’re looking at is accessible to the public and has a link to the city’s history as well as providing a peaceful oasis out of the hustle and bustle…
First up, it’s the Goldsmiths’ Garden, located on the site of the former medieval church of St John Zachary at the corner of Gresham and Noble Streets in the City.
The church, which dates back to at least the late 12th century, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and not rebuilt (its parish was united with that of St Anne and St Agnes) although its ruins apparently remained until the 19th century. The church’s layout can be seen in the sunken area of the current garden.
The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths had acquired land in the area in medieval times and built their first hall here in 1339 on the site of the current hall (which lies across the road from the garden and dates from the early 19th century).
The first garden was constructed on the site of the former church in 1941 by fire watchers after the area suffered in the Blitz and it apparently won a Gardener’s Company award for “Best Garden on a Blitzed Site” in 1950.
The garden has since been altered and refurbished several times since, including in around 1960 by landscape architect Sir Peter Shepheard and in the 1990s by landscape architect Anne Jennings.
Features today include the iron entrance archway (top) which was commissioned by the Blacksmiths Company during the 1990s renovation. It features the leopard’s head hallmark of the Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office, used to verify the purity of silver since the early 14th century.
As well as the central fountain installed in the 1990s (and donated by the Constructors’ Company), the garden also features a two metre high, 2.5 tonne Portland stone monument called the Three Printers (pictured right).
The work of Wilfred Dudeney, it was commissioned by the Westminster Press Group in the late 1950s for their new headquarters in New Street Square, off Fleet Street, and depicts a newsboy, editor and printer. It was placed in a demolition yard in Watford when the group moved headquarters before taking its current position in 2009.
WHERE: Goldsmiths’ Garden, corner of Gresham and Noble Streets, City of London (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s, Bank and Barbican); WHEN: Anytime; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.thegoldsmiths.co.uk/goldsmiths’-hall/.
For more on London’s parks and gardens, check out Jill Billington’s London’s Parks and Gardens.
10 sites from London at the time of the Magna Carta – 10. Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem…
July 15, 2015
Founded in Clerkenwell in 1144, the Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem served as the order’s English headquarters.
The order, also known as the Knights Hospitaller, was founded in Jerusalem in 1080 to care for the sick and poor, and soon spread across Europe with the English ‘branch’ established on 10 acres just outside the City walls apparently by a knight, Jorden de Briset.
The original buildings – of which only the 12th century crypt (pictured above) survives complete with some splendid 16th century tomb effigies including that of the last prior, Sir William Weston – included a circular church, consecrated in 1185, and monastic structures including cloisters, a hospital, living quarters and a refectory or dining hall.
There are records of dignitaries staying at the priory as it grew in size and renown – among them was King John who in 1212, apparently stayed here for an entire month. There are also surviving accounts of Knights Hospitaller riding out in procession from the priory and through the City at the start of a journey to the Holy Land.
The priory and church were attacked during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, thanks to its connection with the hated Poll Tax (Prior Robert Hales was also the Lord High Treasurer and was beheaded during the revolt on Tower Hill).
The church was subsequently rebuilt as a rectangular-shaped building and then, in the early 16th century, enlarged when the site was significantly renovated. These renovations were still relatively new when the priory was dissolved in 1540 during the Dissolution of King Henry VIII.
The priory church, which survived the Great Fire of 1666, was later used as a parish church but was destroyed in an air raid in World War II. Subsequently rebuilt, it can be visited today along with the crypt below and the cloister garden, created in the 1950s as a memorial to St John’s Ambulance members from the London area (the original shape of the circular church is picked out in the paving here).
Perhaps the most famous building to survive is St John’s Gate which dates from the 16th century and was once the gatehouse entrance to the priory (added in the final renovations).
After the Dissolution it served various roles including as the office of the Master of Revels (where Shakespeare’s plays were licensed), the home of The Gentleman’s Magazine (Samuel Johnson was among contributors and worked on site), a coffee house (run by William Hogarth’s father) and a public house called the Old Jerusalem Tavern (yes, Charles Dickens was said to be a regular). It is now home to the recently renovated Museum of the Order of St John (you can see our earlier post on the museum here).
WHERE: Museum of the Order of St John, St John’s Gate (and nearby priory church), St John’s Lane, Clerkenwell (nearest Tube stations is Farringdon); WHEN: 10am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday (tours are held at 11am and 2.30pm on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday); COST: Free (a suggested £5 donation for guided tours); WEBSITE: www.museumstjohn.org.uk.
We’ll kick off a new Wednesday series next week…
This church in the shadow of 30 St Mary Axe (aka The Gherkin) is all that remains of a Benedictine nunnery that was founded here during the reign of King John in 1210.
Established by one “William, son of William the goldsmith” after he was granted the right by the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral, the priory was built to the north of a previously existing church with a new church for the nuns to use built right alongside the existing structure (thus accounting for the rarely seen side-by-side naves of the current building).
While the new church was built longer than the existing church, the latter was then lengthened to give them both the same length. A line of arches and a screen separated the nun’s choir and the parish church.
The church which stands today has been much altered over the centuries and what we now see there largely dates from the 14th and 15th centuries (although the bell turret which sits over the west front is an 18th century addition).
One of the priory’s claims to fame in medieval times was that it apparently was once home to a piece of the True Cross, presented by King Edward I in 1285.
The nunnery was dissolved in 1538 during the Great Dissolution of King Henry VIII and the buildings, excepting the church, sold off to the Leathersellers’ Company (all were eventually demolished by the 18th century). The screen separating the nun’s choir and the parish church, meanwhile, was removed, leaving the main body of the church as it can be seen today.
The now Grade I-listed church, which was William Shakespeare’s parish church when he lived in the area in the 1590s, survived both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz but was severely damaged by two IRA bombs in the early 1990s leading to some major – and controversial – works under the direction of architect Quinlan Terry.
Inside the church today is a somewhat spectacular collection of pre-Great Fire monuments including the 1579 tomb of Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange, the 1636 tomb of judge, MP and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Julius Caesar Adelmare, and the 1476 tomb of merchant, diplomat, City of London alderman and MP, Sir John Crosby.
It was also once the site of the grave of 17th century scientist Sir Robert Hooke but these were apparently removed from the church crypt in the 19th century when repairs to the floor of the nave were being made and placed in an unmarked common grave. Their location apparently remains unknown.
WHERE: St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Great St Helens (nearest Tube stations are Aldgate, Bank and Liverpool Street); WHEN: 9.30am to 12.30pm weekdays daily (also usually open Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons but visitors are advised to telephone first); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.st-helens.org.uk.
This Week in London – Duke of Wellington on show; wartime City bank recreated in Warwickshire; and early photographs at the Tate…
April 30, 2015
• The Duke of Wellington’s political and military career as well as his personal life is being explored in an exhibition running at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square until August. Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions features 59 portraits and other works including a rarely seen portrait of the Iron Duke painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence and commissioned by Sarah, Countess of Jersey, a year after Wellington had become Prime Minister. The portrait (pictured) remains unfinished – the state it was in when Lawrence died in 1830 – and, held in a private collection, hasn’t been shown in public for any significant period until now. The exhibition also includes a John Hoppner portrait of the duke as a young soldier, a daguerreotype taken by Antoine Claudet on Wellington’s 75th birthday in 1844 and drawings by Lawrence of Wellington’s wife, Kitty. The exhibition – which is part of the commemorations marking 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo, runs until 7th June. Admission is free. For more see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1829), © On loan to National Portrait Gallery by kind permission of Mr. & Mrs. Timothy Clode.
• Upton House is Warwickshire has turned the clock back to 1939 with a display dedicated to the time when the Bearstead family moved their City-based bank, M Samuel & Co, to their historic family mansion to escape the Blitz in London. Twenty-two bank staff took over the house, sleeping in shared dormitories and taking meals of rook pie in the home’s Long Gallery while secretaries typed surrounded by works of art. The National Trust has returned 12 rooms to their wartime look based on research conducted by 80 of the volunteers at the house. They’re filled with thousands of objects, from ration-book toothpaste to wartime toilet rolls, to recreate a wartime experience at the home. Outside an Anderson Shelter stands in the garden where heritage vegetables are being grown in an allotment. Visitors will also find out how 40 of the most precious works in the home were sent to a special storage facility in a Welsh slate mine to protect them. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/upton-house/
• On Now – Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840-1860. This exhibition at Tate Britain in Millbank is the first major exhibition in Britain dedicated to salt prints, the earliest form of paper photography, and features 90 images including some of the best and rarest early photographs. The salt print technique was invented in Britain in the 1840s and 1850s and spread across the world, hence as well as portraits, still lifes and scenes from ‘modern life’, the images on show include from William Fox Talbot’s images of a Paris street to Nelson’s Column under construction, Linnaeus Tripe’s views of Puthu Mundapam in India and Auguste Salzmann’s studies of statues in Greece. Runs in the Linbury Galleries until 7th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.
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We finish our series on Winston Churchill, we take a look at a couple of the more odd memorials to him in London.
First up, it’s the remains of the church of St Mary Aldermanbury in the City. Among the scores of churches destroyed in the Great Fire of London, it was rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren but was again gutted by fire during the Blitz of 1940, leaving only the walls standing. In 1966, the town of Fulton, Missouri, in the US had the remains of the building transported to their town where they were reconstructed in the grounds of Westminster College. It was there that he had made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946 and the citizens had the church restored as a memorial to him (beneath the reconstructed church now lies National Churchill Museum). The scant remains of the church in London (pictured above), meanwhile, is now a green oasis in the midst of the city. There’s a memorial plaque at the site which were added by the US college. (The grounds, incidentally are also home to a monument to John Heminge and Henry Condell, two actors and friends of Shakespeare – you can read more on that in an earlier post here).
The second odd Churchill memorial we’re looking at is a clock face located on the facade of Bracken House – a building which sits opposite St Paul’s in the City. The astronomical clock, the work of Philip Bentham, features shows the time, date and astronomical symbol as well as a sunburst at its centre – look closely and you’ll see a familiar face at the centre. The building, which dates from the 1950s, is apparently named after Brendan Bracken, onetime chairman of the Financial Times which was published in the building until the 1980s. The Churchill connection comes in thanks to the fact that Bracken was a close personal friend of Churchill and served as his Minister of Information from 1941 to 1945.
And that brings to an end our series on Churchill. Next week we kick off a new Wednesday series.
Sir Winston Churchill lived a number of residences in London but, of course, the most famous in its own right is the traditional home of British PMs, 10 Downing Street.
Located in a short street just off Whitehall (now closed to the public), the property has been home to Prime Ministers since Sir Robert Walpole, officially First Lord of the Treasury but effectively the first PM, took up residence in 1735.
Churchill moved in following his election to the office of Prime Minister in 1940 and he and his wife Clementine took up residence in a second floor flat. It was in this property where, cigar in hand, he is famously known to have dictated speeches and letters to his secretary while propped up in bed.
The building suffered some bomb damage during the Blitz – on 14th October, 1940, a bomb fell on nearby Treasury Green and damaged the home’s kitchen and state rooms. Three civil servants doing Home Guard duty were killed but the kitchen staff were saved thanks to Churchill who, dining in the Garden Rooms when the bombing raid began, ordered them to leave their duties and get into a bomb shelter.
The Garden Rooms – which included a bedroom, meeting area and the small dining room – were subsequently reinforced with steel and heavy metal shutters although these apparently would have made little difference had there been a direct hit.
Cabinet moved out of Number 10 into the underground bunker complex now referred to as the Churchill War Rooms (see last week’s post) in October, 1939, and, after several near misses, the Churchills – Sir Winston apparently very begrudgingly – moved into the Number 10 Annex above the war rooms in 1940 (although Churchill continued to visit Number 1o for working and dining).
Much of the furniture and valuables were removed from Number 10 and only the Garden Rooms, Cabinet Room and Private Secretaries’ office remained in use (along with a reinforced bomb shelter built underneath – King George VI is known to have sheltered here when he was dining with Churchill when a raid began).
At the end of the war the Churchills quickly moved back into Number 10 and it was from the Cabinet Room that he made his Victory in Europe (VE) Day broadcast on 8th May, 1945.
He vacated the premises after his election defeat later in 1945 but returned when re-elected PM in 1951 and left after he resigned in 1955 having held a dinner party attended by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip the night before.
A couple of interesting facts about Churchill’s time at number 10: Churchill had many pets who usually had free rein in the house – even at 10 Downing Street his poodle Rufus was known to have wandered into a meeting in the Cabinet Room (before he was ejected) – while in 1958, Georgina Landemare, the cook during his time at number 10, famously published a book, Recipes from No. 10, which featured an introduction by Churchill’s wife, Clementine.
There are apparently two portraits of Churchill among those of other PMs which grace the wall of the Grand Staircase.
For more on the history of 10 Downing Street, see www.gov.uk/government/history/10-downing-street
Now a museum, the Churchill War Rooms is actually the underground bunker system beneath Whitehall from where Churchill directed operations during the Blitz of World War II.
The subterranean complex includes a series of historic rooms where Churchill and his cabinet met which remain in the same state they were in when the lights were switched off at the end of the war in 1945. There’s also a substantial cutting-edge museum dedicated to exploring Churchill’s life which boasts an interactive “lifeline” containing more than 1,100 images and a similar number of documents as well as animations and films.
With the coming conflict on the horizon, the complex was constructed from 1938 to 1939 as an emergency government centre in the basement of the now Grade II* listed government building then known as the New Public Offices (and now home to HM Treasury). It became operational on 27th August, 1939, shortly before the outbreak of the war.
Key rooms include the Map Room (pictured, top, it was manned around the clock by military officers producing intelligence reports) and the War Cabinet Room where more than 100 meetings of Cabinet were held (including just one gathering of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s cabinet in October, 1939).
Other facilities included a private office/bedroom for Churchill (this came with BBC broadcasting equipment which Churchill used four times and, although it had a bed, Churchill apparently rarely used it), the Transatlantic Telephone Room (pictured above, it was disguised as a toilet) from where Churchill could speak directly to the US President. There are also staff dormitories, bedrooms for officers and government ministers, and rooms for typists and telephone switchboard operators.
In October, 1940, a massive layer of concrete – up to five feet thick and known simply as ‘The Slab’ – was added to protect the rooms. Other protective devices included a torpedo net slung across the courtyard overhead to catch falling bombs and an air filtration system to prevent poisonous gases entering.
Abandoned after the war, the premises hosted some limited tours but, despite growing demand to see inside, it wasn’t until the early 1980s when PM Margaret Thatcher pushed for the rooms to be opened to the public that the Imperial War Museum eventually took over the site. The museum opened on 4th April, 1984, in a ceremony attended by the PM as well as members of Churchill’s family and former staff.
Then known as the Cabinet War Rooms, they were extended in 2003 to include rooms used by Churchill, his wife and associates, and, in 2005, following the development of the Churchill Museum, it was rebranded the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms. In 2010, the name was shortened to the Churchill War Rooms. The entrance to the premises was redesigned in 2012.
Among the objects in the museum are one of Churchill’s famous “siren suits”, an Enigma machine and the flag from his funeral.
WHERE: Churchill War Rooms, Clive Steps, King Charles Street (nearest Tube stations are Westminster and St James’s Park); WHEN: 9.30am to 6pm daily; COST: £18 adults (with donation)/£9 children aged 5-15 (with donation)/£14.40 concessions (with donation) (family tickets available); WEBSITE: www.iwm.org.uk/visits/churchill-war-rooms/
PICTURES: Churchill War Rooms/Imperial War Rooms
Of course, no look at London sites associated with Sir Winston Churchill would be complete without a mention of the Palace of Westminster, better known as the Houses of Parliament.
Churchill made his maiden speech in the House of Commons on 18th February, 1901, having won the seat of Oldham for the Conservative Party the year before (he switched to the Liberal Party in 1904 and eventually rejoined the Conservatives in 1924).
Over his long career in politics (he was an MP for 62 years), he served in a variety of roles including the President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary, First Lord of the Admiralty, Minister of Munitions, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and twice, Prime Minster.
Some of the most famous speeches Churchill gave in the House of Commons were during World War II – they include the ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’ speech given on 13th May, 1940 – the first after he had been made Neville Chamberlain’s replacement as PM, the ‘we shall fight them on the beaches’ speech given on 4th June, 1940, and the ‘this was their finest hour’ speech of 18th June, 1940, in which he gave the ‘Battle of Britain’ its name and, as the name suggests, first recorded the phrase “their finest hour” (the speech ended with it).
Churchill’s last speech to Parliament was given on 1st March, 1955, in which he spoke about the British development of a hydrogen bomb.
There’s several places within the Houses of Parliament which now bear Churchill’s name. Among them are the Churchill Room (named as such in 1991 when ownership of the room passed from the Lords to the Commons, it features two of his paintings and a bronze bust of the PM).
They also include the Churchill Arch – this leads from the Members’ Lobby into the Commons Chamber and is flanked by a 1969 statue of Churchill ( and one of fellow former PM, David Lloyd George (one foot on each of the statues has been burnished thanks to the practice of MPs to touch them as they enter the Commons Chamber).
It took on its current name after it was rebuilt following damage from bombs during World War II – at Churchill’s suggestion damaged stone was reused in its construction as a memorial to the “ordeal” Westminster had endured during the war. The statue of Churchill, incidentally, was the focus of recent commemorations on the 50th anniversary of his death.
Churchill’s stamp can also be seen on the Commons Chamber itself – it was he who recommended that when the chamber was rebuilt after World War II that it retain its rectangular shape rather than be redesigned in a semi-circle.
Churchill’s body lay in state in Westminster Hall prior to his funeral service in January, 1965 (for more on that, see our previous post here.
For more on Churchill’s Parliamentary career, check out the UK Parliament’s Living History page here: www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/private-lives/yourcountry/collections/churchillexhibition/.
January 27, 2015
This Victorian-era marble statue of the Virgin and Child has gone back on show in St Paul’s Cathedral more than 70 years after it taken down following bombing during World War II. Part of an ornate high altar and reredos installed at the cathedral’s east end in 1888, the statue – the work of Thomas Garner – was put into storage after that part of the cathedral took a direct hit during the Blitz of 1940 and what remained of the altar was dismantled (the statue and a crucifix were the only parts retained by the cathedral). It can now be seen in the Chapel of St Erkenwald and St Ethelburga (also known as the Middlesex Chapel) in the north transept. For more, see www.stpauls.co.uk. PICTURE: The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral.