This Week in London – Christmas Tree lighting goes virtual; Ottobah Cugoano’s Blue Plaque; and, see ‘Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage’ online…

The Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square in 2017. PICTURE: Raphaël Chekroun (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

The traditional Trafalgar Square tree lighting ceremony has gone virtual for the first time this year due to coronavirus restrictions. The online event, which will be held at 6pm on 3rd December via YouTube and Facebook, will include messages from the Lord Mayor of Westminster and the Mayor of Oslo as well as information on the history behind the gift of the tree, footage of its journey from the forests of Norway to London, and performances from the Salvation Army, the Poetry Society and the St Martin-in-the-Fields Choir. While the tree felling ceremony in Norway is usually attended by the Lord Mayor of Westminster, this year COVID restrictions meant he was represented by the British Ambassador to Norway, Richard Wood, who was joined by the Mayor of Oslo, Marianne Borgen, and school children from Maridalen school in Oslo, to witness the tree begin its journey to London. A Norwegian spruce has been given by the people of Oslo to the people of the UK in thanks for their support during World War II in the lead-up to every Christmas since 1947. Once the tree arrives in London, it is decorated with Christmas lights in a traditional Norwegian manner.  For more on the tree, see westminster.gov.uk/trafalgar-square-christmas-tree.

Eighteenth century anti-slavery campaigner Ottobah Cugoano – a former slave himself – has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque is located at Schomberg House at 80–82 Pall Mall, the property where he was employed as a servant by artists Richard and Maria Cosway. It was while living here in the 1780’s that Cugoano wrote the book, Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, Humbly Submitted to the Inhabitants of Great-Britain, one of the first black-authored anti-slavery books to be published in Britain. The house was actually mentioned in the frontispiece of the 1787 edition of Thoughts and Sentiments as one of the places where copies of the book might be obtained. It is, says English Heritage, “evidence of the Cosways’ support for their servant’s endeavours as an author and a campaigner”. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

Somerset House is offering virtual tours of its exhibition Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage. The exhibition is the first major retrospective of the work of Alaoui, a celebrated French-Moroccan photographer, video artist and activist who died in a terrorist attack at the age of 33 while working on a photography project promoting women’s rights in Burkina Faso in 2016. ​  ​Guided by award-winning broadcaster and cultural commentator Ekow Eshun, the tour of the exhibition takes in three of the artist’s defining series – No Pasara, which documents the lives of North African migrants trying to reach Europe; Natreen (We Wait), which follows families trying to flee the Syrian conflict, and Les Marocains, which, inspired by Robert Frank’s The Americans, meets the many individuals who make up the multifaceted fabric of contemporary Morocco.  The exhibition also includes an unfinished video project L’Ile du Diable ​(Devil’s Island) which Alaoui was working at the time of her death, featuring dispossessed migrant workers at the old Renault factory in Paris.  The free tour can be accessed at www.somersethouse.org.uk/blog/virtual-tour-leila-alaoui-rite-passage.

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LondonLife – Buckingham Palace’s Picture Gallery empties out…

Old Masters have been removed from the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace for the first time in almost 45 years to allow for essential maintenance works. The works, which include paintings by Titian, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Dyck and Canaletto, will be featured in a landmark new exhibition – Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace – which, featuring some 65 artworks in total, opens in the palace’s Queen’s Gallery on 4th December. They have been removed from the Picture Gallery – one of the palace’s State Room where Old Master paintings have hung since the reign of King George IV in the 1820s – over a period of four weeks to allow for building improvements which will include the replacement of electrics and pipework – some of which has not been updated since the 1940s – as well as the gallery’s roof. The refurbishment is part of a £370 million, 10 year refit programme being carried out at the palace due for completion in 2027.

Where’s London’s oldest…(still-in-use) bridge?

There’s several candidates for the title (and, of course, it depends on what exactly we mean). So here we go… 

First up is the Clattern Bridge, which crosses the River Hogsmill (a small river which runs into the Thames), in Kingston upon Thames in the city’s south-west.

The earliest known reference to this three-arched bridge dates back to 1293 and the medieval name, ‘Clateryngbrugge’, is thought to refer to the sound horses’ hooves made as they clattered across.

While the bridge (pictured above and right), which had replaced an earlier wooden Saxon bridge, was altered in the 18th and 19th centuries, its Historic England Grade I listing notes that it remains a “good example of a medieval multi-span bridge which survives well” and includes some “impressive medieval masonry”.

Second is another Grade I-listed bridge that doesn’t even cross a river but rather a moat at Eltham Palace in the city’s south-east.

The stone north bridge, now the main entrance to the palace, is described by English Heritage as “London’s oldest working bridge” – although it’s not as old as the Clattern Bridge.

It was constructed in 1390 on the orders of King Richard II, replacing an earlier wooden bridge (it was apparently Geoffrey Chaucer – yes, that Geoffrey Chaucer – who supervised the building works as part of his job as Clerk of the Works to Eltham Palace).

The bridge features four arches, pointed cutwaters with chamfered tops on the outside and a red brick parapet on top.

Thirdly, is the Richmond Bridge which, although not in the same (medieval) league as the previous two, is the oldest bridge crossing the Thames.

The now Grade I-listed structure was built between 1774 and 1777 as a replacement for a ferry crossing and while it was slightly altered in 1939-40, it remains substantially original.

PICTURE: Top – Clattern Bridge (Maureen Barlin/licensed under  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – Julian Walker (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Middle – The bridge at Eltham Palace (John K Thorne/Public domain); Bottom – Richmond Bridge (Marc Barrot/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A Moment in London’s History – The “Petticoat Duel”…

The “Petticoat Duel” was so-called because this late 18th century duel apparently took place between two women – Lady Almeria Braddock and Mrs Elphinstone.

An engraving of “The Petticoat Duellists” for Carlton House Magazine.

The story goes that the duel, which reportedly took place in 1792, came about after, during a social visit to Lady Braddock’s home, Mrs Elphinstone suggested the aforementioned lady was much older than her 30-odd years. It was clearly a sensitive subject and Lady Braddock demanded satisfaction via a duel.

The two women met in Hyde Park and initially exchanged pistol shots, the only casualty being Lady Braddock’s hat. Swords were then drawn and the women crossed blades until Mrs Elphinstone received a minor wound to her arm.

Following her wounding, Mrs Elphinstone wisely decided to apologise to Lady Braddock for doubting her age (she apparently wrote a lengthy apology later on) and the women put down their weapons. Crisis averted.

Despite the many times the story of the “Petticoat Duel” has been repeated, however, there’s some considerable doubt over whether it actually took place.

The key source appears to be an article in a 1792 edition of Carlton House Magazine and it has been suggested that “Lady Almeria Braddock” may be an invented character perhaps based partly on Georgian actress George Anne Bellamy.

So we apologise for any who have felt misled, for this “moment” may actually be no more than a creative writer’s story. But, whether true or not, it does make for an interesting tale.

London Pub Signs – The Hoop and Grapes, Farringdon…

This historic pub in Farringdon bears a common enough name (and it’s not to be confused with the Hoop and Grapes located in Aldgate which we’ll look at in an upcoming post).

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

The hoop in the name refers to the metal bands binding together barrels staves and the grapes are obviously a reference to wine. But the ‘hoop’ could be a corruption of hops with the sign possibly once featuring a garland of hops and a bunch of grapes.

The pub, the current sign of which depicts grapes wrapped around a hoop (pictured below), is located in a four storey building first constructed for a vintner in about 1720 as a terraced house and converted to a pub more than a century later in the early 1830s.

Located on ground which one formed part of the St Bride’s Burial Ground, the brick vaults underneath are said to pre-date the rest of the building, having been built as warehouse vaults in the 17th century.

Its location on 80 Farringdon Street means it stood near the Fleet River (now covered) and close by to the former Fleet Prison (largely used as a debtor’s prison before its demolition in 1864).

As a result, it has been claimed that it was one of a number of pubs which hosted so-called ‘Fleet Marriages’, secret ceremonies performed by dodgy clergymen – for a fee – and without an official marriage license. But, as has been pointed out to us, the timing of the passing of the Marriage Act in 1753 outlawing such activities – and this only becoming a pub, according to its Historic England listing, much later – does make this seem unlikely (we’d welcome any further information on this claim).

The location also meant it was popular with printers who worked in nearby Fleet Street (in fact, it was apparently given a special licence to serve such customers at night or in the early morning).

The pub was scheduled for demolition in the early 1990s but saved with a Grade II-listing in 1991.

A rare survivor from an earlier time among the street’s more modern buildings, it is now part of the Shepherd Neame chain and it’s during renovations held after this purchase that burials were uncovered (the remains were moved into the British Museum). This has apparently led to rumours that the pub is haunted.

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

Sorry for the confusion – We’ve corrected references to grapes in the second paragraph (and amended our comments on the current sign). And we’ve also clarified comments that the pub was used for Fleet Marriages given the timing discrepancy.

Lost London – The Cocoa Tree Chocolate House…

This delightfully named establishment – one of the most well-known chocolate houses in London – was apparently opened on the back of the opening of myriad coffee houses in London. 

With a sign depicting the cocoa tree, this premises occupied several different locations in Pall Mall including number 46, occupied by an annexe of the Army and Navy Club, and number 89, the site where the Royal Automobile Club now stands.

It is said to have been first mentioned in 1698 – chocolate was first brought to England in the 1650s and the first “chocolate houses” opened soon after.

It was popular among Tories in the early 1700s serving as something as a defacto headquarters and later, apparently, a hotbed for those with Jacobite sympathies. Around the middle of the 18th century, it was converted into a private club and become notorious for the gambling conducted therein.

Among those said to have dined there during this later period was 18th century historian Edward Gibbon.

The Cocoa Tree later relocated to 64 St James’s Street, where it stood between 1799 and 1835. The property apparently finally closed in 1932.

PICTURE: Maddi Bazzocco/Unsplash

 

Where’s London’s oldest…street with house numbers?

OK, so we’re not absolutely certain which street is the oldest in London to have introduced a number system. But one contender – according to The Postal Museum at least – is Prescot Street in Whitechapel.

That comes from a mention, in 1708, when topographer Edward Hatton made a special note of the street’s use of numbers instead of signs in his New View of London, in a rather clear indication that the use of numbers was still at that stage rather unusual.

The following century saw the numbering of properties become more common. Some suggest that the banning of hanging signboards (under an 1762 Act of Parliament) and the subsequent requirement that names to be fixed to all thoroughfares (under the Postage Act of 1765) both played a significant role in encouraging the use of house numbers.

Interestingly, not all numbering schemes are the same. The first schemes introduced in London involved numbering houses consecutively along one side of the street – this can still be seen in streets like Pall Mall and Downing Street, where Number 10 – official residence of the Prime Minister, is located next to number 11 – official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The system used in more modern times, typically, involves numbering one side of the road with odd numbers (usually the left with the lowest number closest to the city or town centre) and the other with even.

But it’s fair to say that the numbering of houses was, initially at least, rather haphazard and it wasn’t until the passing of the Metropolitan Management Act that the numbering of properties become more standardised with the then new Board of Works given the power to regulate street numbers.

PICTURED: Number 23 Prescot Street, said to be the street’s single 18th century survivor.

This Week in London – Windrush oral histories; Berkeley Square gets a new sculpture; and, Sir Robert Geffrye statue under review…

Hitherto unheard oral histories documenting the lived experience of the Windrush generation and the generations that followed have been released by the Museum of London. The oral histories, which were recorded in 2018 as part of the Conversation Booth project in City Hall, are part of the museum’s new online collection of Windrush-related content. Drawn from the collections of both the Museum of London and Museum of London Docklands, it includes objects, photos, videos and articles. To explore the collection, head to www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands/windrush-stories.

A hybrid sculpture depicting the body of a woman with the head of a hare has gone on show in Berkeley Square. The work of Sophie Ryder, Crawling was hand-made in 1999 from wet plaster, old machine parts and scavenged toys then cast in bronze. The work is part of City of Westminster’s City of Sculpture programme which brings sculpture to iconic outdoor locations.

The Museum of the Home is asking people for their opinion on the future of the statue of Sir Robert Geffrye which stands out the front of the almshouses housing the museum in Shoreditch. The almshouses were built by Geffrye, who was involved with the slave trade having made made his fortune with the East India Company and the Royal African Company, in 1714. The consultation is being held in partnership with Hackney Council which is conducting a wider review of landmarks and the naming of public spaces in the borough. The consultation remains open until the 2nd July. To have your say, head to www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/geffrye-statue.

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Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 72 and 71…

The next two entries in our countdown…

72. 10 sites of significance in Jane Austen’s London – Redux…

71. What’s in a name?…St Mary Axe

10 (lesser known) National Trust properties in London…8. Carlyle’s House…

This Chelsea home, at 24  Cheyne Row, was that of Victorian philosopher, historian and writer Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane.

The couple moved to the red and brown brick Queen Anne terraced house, then known as number 5 Cheyne Row, from Scotland in 1834 – it was at the time a rather unfashionable location.

They continued to rent the property until their deaths – Janes in 1866 and Thomas, the “Chelsea Sage” in 1881 – and during their time in the home, it became a hub for writers and thinkers with Charles Dickens, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, George Eliot, and William Makepeace Thackeray all among those who visited.

The property was where Carlyle wrote his most famous book, The French Revolution, A History, which almost never made it into print – he lent the only copy to John Stuart Mill and while in his possession, one of his servants accidentally threw it on the fire meaning Carlyle had to start writing the entire book again from scratch.

The four level property’s interiors are typical of those of a 19th century townhouse and include a parlour (captured as it was in 1857 in a painting by Robert Tait which hangs on the wall), drawing room, basement kitchen (where Carlyle smoked with Tennyson) and a specially designed “sound proof” attic study (it isn’t).

Inside can be found Carlyle’s original manuscripts and possessions as well as part of his original library (his hat still hangs on a peg in the entrance hall). Outside there’s a small walled garden which featured flowers and vegetables as well as plants to remind Jane of Scotland.

The Grade II*-listed property, which dates from 1708, was first opened to the public in 1895. It was taken over the by the National Trust in 1936.

For more, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carlyles-house/

PICTURE: Peter Reed (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Lost London – Jenny’s Whim…

This Pimlico establishment consisted of a tavern and attached tea garden which were famous for their interactive wonders.

These included mechanical devices which, when triggered, would cause harlequins or monsters to pop-up in order to give patrons a thrill.

There were also floating models on an adjacent reservoir designed to give the impression of mermaids or great fish rising up out of the water. Other attractions in the garden included its many arbors, a grotto, bowling green and the chance to take part in skittles or duck hunting.

The red brick property, which was located at the end of Ebury Bridge (apparently also referred to as “Jenny’s Whim Bridge”), is said to have been named for an early proprietor or, among other alternative stories, after a famous pyrotechnician from the era of King George I.

While the gardens were popular with the middle classes during the 1700s, this popularity had waned by the turn of the 19th century and by 1804 only the tavern remained. It was demolished in 1865 to make way for an extension of Victoria Station.

PICTURE: Guy Bianco IV/Unsplash

10 (lesser known) National Trust properties in London…7. Fenton House and Garden…


Like other National Trust properties, Fenton House is now closed – please do not travel there. But we run this article in the hope you’ll be able to visit in the future…

This Hampstead property dates from the 17th century but its current name comes instead from Philip Fenton, a merchant who bought it in 1793, some 100 years after it was constructed.

The two storey brown brick property, which had previously been known as Ostend House (perhaps a reference to its unknown first owner’s Flemish links), was considerably altered by Fenton, a merchant from Yorkshire who had based himself in Riga. But despite that – and subsequent alterations, many original features remain.

The Grade I-listed property was acquired by Katherine, Lady Binning, in 1936. In 1952 she bequeathed it to the National Trust complete with her rather large collections of porcelain, needlework, furniture and artworks.

The Trust also moved in a large collection of early musical instruments. Assembled by Major George Benton Fletcher, these had been given them to the Trust in 1937 and include a harpsichord dating from 1612 which was probably used by Handel.

Located on an acre, the house features a notable walled garden featuring formal topiary and lawn, a sunken rose garden, a 300-year-old apple and pear orchard and kitchen garden.

Fenton House is now closed – but for more information on when it might reopen, keep an eye on www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fenton-house.

PICTURE: Top – A view of Fenton House (It’s No Game/licensed under CC BY 2.0); Below – Inside the property (Kotomi_/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

10 (lesser known) National Trust properties in London…5. Sutton House…

We decided to continue with our Wednesday series. While the properties are all currently closed, we hope you’ll still enjoy exploring them with us online until the day they reopen…

Hackney property Sutton House –  originally known simply as ‘the bryk place’ – was built by Ralph Sadleir (or Sadler), a courtier  who started out in the service of Thomas Cromwell but rose to become Principal Secretary of State to King Henry VIII. Sadleir, who had married a cousin of Cromwell, had the property constructed in 1535 as his family home.

Sadleir – who makes an appearance in Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels and who, as well as being of service to King Henry VIII, also served King Edward VI, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I – sold the property just 15 years later. The red brick house – now said to be the oldest surviving domestic building in Hackney – subsequently passed through numerous hands with its owners apparently including merchants, a sea captain and French Huguenot refugees. In 1751, it was divided into two residences – Ivy House and Milford House.

The property housed a boy’s school in the early 1800s – novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton was among those who attended – and later became a girl’s school. The rector of Hackney bought the premises in 1891 and used it as a base for the St John at Hackney Church Institute, a social and recreational centre for young men.  His modifications included turning part of the cellars into a chapel.

Mistakenly named after the founder of the Charterhouse School, Thomas Sutton (he actually lived in a now demolished adjacent property), Sutton House was bought by the National Trust in the 1930s using the proceeds of a bequest made in memory of two men killed in World War I.

Among its various roles, the building served as a centre for fire wardens during World War II and, from the 1960s, serving as the offices of a trade union. After the union left in the 1980s, the house fell into disrepair and in 1982 squatters moved in and it was renamed ‘the Blue House’. Several murals from this period – when rock concerts were held in the barn – are preserved into the house.

The squatters were evicted and in the late Eighties, a society was formed with the aim of saving the house. Following renovations, the house opened to the public in 1994. These days the Grade II*-listed home is used as a museum and art gallery. There’s also a shop and cafe.

While the facade of the house underwent some changes during the Georgian era, the property’s interior remains essentially Tudor. Highlights include the kitchen, oak panelled chambers, carved fireplaces and, of course, the cellars.

The National Trust reclaimed some adjacent land to create an award winning garden known as the Breaker’s Yard. The name comes from the fact the land was once occupied by a car breaker’s yard.

There’s said to be a couple of ghosts who reside in the house including wailing dogs and a mysterious ‘blue lady’.

The property, which stands in Homerton High Street, is temporarily closed but for more information, check the website at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sutton-house-and-breakers-yard.

ALL PICTURES: Kotomi_ (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

10 (lesser known) National Trust properties in London…4. The Strand Lane ‘Roman’ Baths…

Please note: Exploring London is aware that sites across London have closed temporarily as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. But we’re continuing our coverage as usual – in the hope you can visit at a later time…

Located at 5 Strand Lane in the West End, these brick-lined baths were long-reputed to be of Roman origin. But they are actually believed to be the remains of a cistern built in 1612 to supply water to fountain in the gardens of Old Somerset House.

The fountain had been built by French engineer, Salomon de Caus, after he was commissioned to do so as part of King James I’s efforts to refurbish Somerset House for Queen Anne of Denmark.

Following the demolition of the fountain, the cistern was neglected until the 1770s when the cistern was used a public cold plunge bath attached to a property at 33 Surrey Street. A second bath, called the ‘Essex Bath’ was added (it’s now under the nearby KCL Norfolk Building).

The idea that they were Roman is believed to have originated in the 1820s when the bath was so described as an advertising gimmick (Charles Dickens’ helped popularise the idea in his book David Copperfield – it is believed Dickens himself may have bathed here).

The 1.3 metre deep bath passed through a couple of different hands in the ensuing decades including Oxford Street draper Henry Glave and Rev William Pennington Bickford, the Rector of St Clement Danes, who, believing in the bath’s Roman origins, hoped to turn them into a tourist attraction.

But his plans came to nothing due to a lack of funds and following his death, in 1944, the National Trust agreed to take on ownership while London County Council agreed to see to its maintenance. They reopened the baths, following repairs, in 1951.

These days, while owned by the Trust, the baths are managed by Westminster Council.

WHERE: 5 Strand Lane (nearest Tube station is Temple); WHEN: While National Trust properties are temporarily closed, viewings are usually arranged through Westminster Council and Somerset House Old Palaces tour; COST: Free; WEBSITE:  www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/strand-lane-roman-baths.

PICTURE: Michael Trapp (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Famous Londoners – Jonas Hanway…

Jonas Hanway is famous for being the first man in London to dare carry an umbrella publicly, but there was much more to the life of this merchant, traveller and philanthropist.

Hanway was born in mid-1712, in Portsmouth on England’s south coast, and he was still just a child when his father Thomas, whose job involved ensuring the supply of food to the Royal Navy, died in 1714.

Hanway’s family may have subsequently settled in Hampshire but in 1728 Jonas himself was in London. There, it is speculated that he stayed with his uncle Major John Hanway (after whom Hanway Street, which runs off Tottenham Court Road, is named) in Oxford Street briefly before he was packed off as an apprentice to the English ‘factory’ in Lisbon, Portugal.

Hanway is said to have spent more than a decade in Lisbon learning the job of a merchant before returning to London in 1741. He joined the Russia Company as a junior partner in 1743 and subsequently headed off to St Petersburg where he planned and then launched an expedition to Persia via Moscow and Astrakan with hopes of selling English broadcloth in exchange for Russian silk and evaluating the trade potential of the region.

But his caravan robbed by Khyars, allies of the Turkomens, before he even reached Persia and he was forced to flee in disguise along the southern shore of the Caspian Sea until he was rescued by fellow merchants.

Returning to St Petersburg, Hanway spent the next five years working there before returning to England, via Germany and the Netherlands.

Back in London, he continued working with the Russia Company (as well as penning an account of his adventures in Russia and Persia in 1753 – it was the most popular of several books he wrote).

He also started venturing into philanthropy, becoming a governor of the Foundling Hospital and founding The Marine Society – an organisation to ensure the ongoing supply of sailors for the Royal Navy – in 1756. In 1762 he was appointed a commissioner for victualling the Royal Navy, a post he held for a couple of decades.

Hanway was also an instrumental figure in the founding of Whitechapel’s Magdalen Hospital for women who had become pregnant outside of marriage which opened in 1758. Other causes among the wide variety he was vocal on included helping ensure poor children were better looked after through the keeping of better records, advocating for better working conditions for child chimney sweep apprentices, and calling for an end to tea drinking (a cause which saw him cross swords with none other than Samuel Johnson).

Hanway died on 5th September, 1786, and was buried in the crypt of St Mary’s Church in Hanwell. A monument to him, sculpted by John Francis Moore, was erected in Westminster Abbey in 1786 in commemoration of his philanthropy.

As for that umbrella carrying? While women had apparently been carrying them in public since 1705, Hanway become the first man to do so in the early 1750s following a trip to Paris. Despite the public opprobrium he attracted – particularly from the hackney coachmen, whose business his habit threatened if widely adopted – it was Hanway who, evidently, had the last laugh.

PICTURE: A portrait of Jonas Hanway by James Northcote (1785) © National Portrait Gallery (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Lost London – The Sardinian Embassy Chapel…

A Roman Catholic located in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the Sardinian Embassy Chapel went through several incarnations prior to its destruction in the early 20th century.

A Franciscan chapel was founded on the site in the mid-17th century – it was sacked during the Glorious Revolution – but by the early 18th century the chapel which stood here served the Embassy of the Kingdom of Sicily.

Because embassy chapels – of which this was apparently the oldest in London – were viewed as the sovereign territory of the state they belonged to, Catholic worship was permitted there (despite being illegal elsewhere in England) and English Catholics were among those who attended services (among those said to have done so was James Boswell).

Those English subjects who attended were on occasion harassed for doing so and the chapel itself was attacked several times over its existence including in the Gordon Riots of 1780 which left it significantly damaged (but following government compensation, it was restored and reopened in 1781).

In 1798, the Sardinian Ambassador closed the chapel but thanks to a generous Catholic purchaser, it – and the embassy itself – passed into the hands of Bishop John Douglass, vicar-apostolic of the London district.

Repaired, the chapel was reopened in 1799 (although it was no longer part of the Sardinian Embassy, it continued to be under the patronage of the King of Sardinia until the 1850s). In the mid-1850s, the name of the chapel was changed to the Church of St Anselm and St Cecilia.

The chapel building was demolished in 1909 due to the creation of the Kingsway. A new site for the church was created a little further north on Kingsway where it remains today.

Inside the church are some of the fittings from the Sardinian Embassy Chapel including a marble font, an organ dating from 1857, the coat-of-arms of the House of Savoy, a large painting of the ‘Deposition’ (Christ’s descent from the cross), and the Lady Altar. The plate from the Sardinian Embassy Chapel is now in the V&A.

PICTURE: Sardinia Street, on the corner with Kingsway. The name of the street commemorates the site of the Sardinian Embassy and chapel.

10 (lesser known) monuments featuring animals in London – 10. Jacob the horse…


The statue of ‘Jacob’, a working dray horse, represents the horses who once worked at John Courage’s Anchor Brewhouse in Bermondsey near Tower Bridge.

The Courage horses – responsible for delivering beer from the brewery to pubs in London – were stabled beside the establishment, near where the monument now stands in Queen Elizabeth Street. Though the brewery buildings remain (and are now apartments), the stables do not.

Jacob, the statue, was installed by Jacobs Island Company and Farlane Properties in 1987 at the centre of the residential development known as ‘The Circle’ to commemorate the history of the site. The monument, which was delivered to the site by helicopter, is the work of artist Shirley Pace.

Jacob’s name apparently comes from Jacob’s Island which was formerly located in the area.

The area where the brewery stood was formerly part of the parish of Horsleydown – a moniker that is said by some to have derived from “horse-lie-down”, a description of working horses resting nearby on the south bank of the Thames before crossing London Bridge into the City of London.

PICTURES: Top – Nico Hogg (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0); Right – Marc Pether-Longman (licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

10 (lesser known) monuments featuring animals in London – 9. Old Tom…

Famously associated with Leadenhall Market, Old Tom was a gander who for several decades was a popular figure at the City of London marketplace.

Said to have been born in the late 1790s, he was brought to London among a massive contingent of birds from the Continent the aim of being fattened up for the market block.

The story goes that when the time came for the chop, however, Tom did a dash and apparently held off his pursuers for several days, avoiding becoming one of the 34,000 hapless geese which were apparently slaughtered in a two day period. His doggedness in defying the blade led to sympathy among the workers at the market who decided to let him be.

Feed on tidbits from local inns, Tom took up residence and became something of a favourite among those who worked there. He apparently lived to the the ripe old age of 37 or 38-years-old and when he died in 1835, such was the love for him, that Tom lay in state at the market to allow people to pay their respects before his burial at the market. His obituary was published in The Times, referring to him as the “chief of geese, the poulterer’s pride”.

Old Tom is mentioned on a plaque at the entrance to Leadenhall Market (pictured) which tells something of his story and there’s also a bar within Leadenhall Market itself which serves as a memorial – Old Tom’s Bar.

Some also believe that the two identical statues of a small boy grappling with a goose (pictured below) which sit atop the former Midland Bank headquarters building, located at 27 Poultry (and now hotel called The Ned) – just a few hundred paces from the market, also commemorate the gander.

The website of The Ned, however, suggests the statues, designed by Sir William Reid Dick for the architect Edwin Lutyens was actually inspired by Boethus’ famous sculpture of a boy playing with a goose which can be found in the Vatican.

Maybe it’s both?

PICTURES: Google Maps

This Week in London – 500 years of pregnancy portraits; Picasso and Paper; and, The Cato Street Conspiracy explored…

Representations of the pregnant female body across 500 years of portraiture are the subject of a major new exhibition opening at the Foundling Museum on Friday. Portraying Pregnancy: From Holbein to Social Media features paintings, prints, photographs, objects and clothing from the 15th century to the present day as it explores the different ways in which pregnancy was – or wasn’t – represented as well as how shifting social attitudes have impacted on depictions of pregnant women. Highlights include Holbein’s portrait of Thomas More’s daughter Cicely Heron, the maternity dress that Princess Charlotte wore for an 1817 portrait painted by George Dawe shortly before her death and William Hogarth’s The March of the Guards to Finchley (1750), which features a heavily pregnant woman. There’s also a previously unseen work by Jenny Saville, Electra (2012-2019), Marc Quinn’s Alison Lapper (8 Months) (2000) and Lucien Freud’s Girl with Roses (1947-8) which depicts his first wife Kitty. Runs until 26th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

The most comprehensive exhibition ever held focused on Pablo Picasso’s imaginative and original uses of paper opens at the Royal Academy of Arts this Saturday. Held in the Main Galleries, Picasso and Paper features more than 300 works from across the span of the artist’s career as it explores the “universe of art” he invented involving paper. Highlights include Women at Their Toilette (winter 1937-38) –  an extraordinary collage of cut and pasted papers measuring 4.5 metres in length (being exhibited in the UK for the first time in more than 50 years), outstanding Cubist papiers-collés such as Violin (1912), and studies for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1908) such as Bust of Woman or Sailor as well as drawings like Self-portrait (1918) and Seated Woman (Dora) (1938). His masterpiece of the Blue Period, La Vie (1903) will also be in the display as well as his Cubist bronze Head of a Woman (Fernande) (1909) and monumental sculpture Man with a Sheep (1943), and the 1955 film Le Mystère Picasso, which records Picasso drawing with felt-tip pens on blank newsprint. Runs until 13th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Key 486, Pablo Picasso drawing in Antibes, summer 1946. Black-and-white photograph, Photo © Michel Sima / Bridgeman Images © Succession Picasso/DACS 2019

On Now – The Cato Street Conspiracy: A Terrorist Plot in Georgian London. This exhibition at the City of London’s Guildhall Library draws on contemporary accounts and pictures to tell the story of the conspiracy and its participants. The conspiracy, which was uncovered in early 1820, involved a plot to kill the British Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers. Thirteen of the conspirators were arrested and five executed while five others were transported to Australia. A policeman was killed in the operation to arrest those responsible. This free exhibition runs until 30th April. For more follow this link.

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

Lost London – Button’s Coffee House…

This Covent Garden establishment was founded by Daniel Button, a former servant in the household of the Countess of Warwick, in about 1712.

Button was apparently set up in the Russell Street business, located close to the Covent Garden Market, by newspaper writer and publisher Joseph Addison (who would marry the countess, Charlotte, in 1716) who, setting the example by giving the new premises his personal patronage, ensured it attracted a clientele of “wits” and intellectuals.

These had apparently previously frequented Will’s Coffee House which was located across the street from it but after the death of John Dryden, who was at the centre of this cloud, in 1700, the reputation of Will’s dropped. Enter Button’s.

The coffee house was particularly famous for a white marble letterbox in the shape of a lion’s head, said to have been designed by William Hogarth, which was nailed to the wall.

The concept had been imported from Venice where stone letterboxes, often carved into the shape of grotesque heads, were used by the governing body known as the Council of Ten to gather intelligence (and which informers would use to accuse fellow citizens of misdeeds).

People were encouraged to throw letters, limericks and other witty ephemera into the lion’s mouth, the best of which were then selected and published in Addison’s Guardian newspaper each week (Addison was also, famously, co-founder of The Spectator).

Daniel Button died in 1730 and the coffee house closed in 1751 after which the lion’s head was taken to the Shakespeare Tavern before going on to grace several establishments before the Duke of Bedford apparently took it to his country house at Woburn.

PICTURE: A carved lion’s head, with a tablet on which is engraved “Servantur Magnus ifticerbicibus ungues non nisi Delectâ Parcitur !!! e Fera”; originally displayed at Button’s coffee house. c1850 Watercolour, possibly by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd © The Trustees of the British Museum (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)