August 25, 2015
A short-lived addition to Old St Paul’s Cathedral before it burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, the classical-style portico was designed by Inigo Jones as part of makeover King James I ordered him to give the cathedral in the first half of the 17th century.
St Paul’s, which was completed in the early 14th century in the Early English Gothic style (see our post here for more on its earlier history), had fallen into a state of disrepair by the 1620s, thanks in part to a fire caused by lightning which had brought the spire – 489 feet (149 metres) high when built – crashing down through the nave roof in 1561.
The spire wasn’t rebuilt and repair works undertaken to the cathedral roof were apparently shoddy, meaning that by the early 1600s, things were in a parlous state.
Jones started work in the 1620s, cleaning and repairing the massive structure and adding a layer of limestone masonry over the exterior to give the building a more classical look inspired by the temples of ancient Rome he had seen in that city and in Naples and the work of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio.
This was complemented by the grand portico he added to the west front in the 1630s (and which was paid for by King James’ son, King Charles I). Featuring 10 columns across its breadth and four deep (these, it has been suggested, stood about 45 feet tall), it was topped by a frieze of lions’ heads and foliage with plans for a series of statues which some say were to be saints and others kings to be placed along the top (in the end only statues of King Charles I and King James I were ever placed there). The facade also featured turrets at either side.
Work on the repairs came to a halt in 1642 thanks to the Civil War, during which Parliamentarian forces famously used the cathedral’s great nave for stables.
Following the Restoration in 1660, with Jones now dead (he died in 1652), Sir Christopher Wren was invited by King Charles II to restore the grand old building but Sir Christopher proposed it be demolished instead, a decision which lead to an outcry among London’s citizens.
Wren then changed his plans to instead restore the existing build but replace the spire with a dome. His scaffolding was in place around the cathedral when the Great Fire broke out in 1666 and badly damaged the building (although the portico apparently remained standing until 1687-88 when Sir Christopher had it demolished to make way for his new western front).
Interestingly, it is said Wren used blocks from the portico to create the foundations for the building which now stands on the site.
PICTURE: Wenceslaus Hollar’s rendering of Inigo Jones’ West Portico/Wikipedia
For more on the history of St Paul’s Cathedral see Ann Saunders’ St Paul’s Cathedral: 1,400 Years at the Heart of London.
Still on designs for royal palaces and today we’re looking at two designs for the same palace. Both Inigo Jones (1573-1652) and Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) drew up designs for the remodelling and expansion of Whitehall Palace.
First up was the neo-classical architect Jones who drew up plans for a vast complex of buildings (pictured left) which would replace the Tudor palace King Henry VIII had created when he transformed the grand house formerly known as York Place into a residence suitable for a king (York Place had previously been a residence of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and prior to that, the London residence of the Archbishops of York).
Jones’ complex – which apparently featured seven internal courts – covered much of what is now known as Whitehall as well as neighbouring St James’s Park with a magnificent River Thames frontage.
The first part of Jones’ grand scheme – the Banqueting House (see our earlier post here) – opened in 1622. It still survives today – pictured above – and gives a taste of the grandeur of his overall scheme.
Yet, despite the eagerness of King James I for the project, it failed to materialise. English Heritage chief executive Simon Thurley told the BBC in 2012 that the hall represented only five per cent of what Jones had planned.
King James I died in 1625 and his son King Charles I was apparently keen to continue the project – so much so that Jones submitted new plans in 1638 – but he didn’t find the funds the project needed (and, of course, as we know, then became consumed by the events of the Civil War before being beheaded outside the Banqueting House in 1649).
Following the Restoration, in the 1660s King Charles II apparently had Sir Christopher Wren quietly draw up plans to redevelop the palace but these weren’t follow through on although during the reign of King James II he did work on several projects at the palace including a new range of royal riverside apartments, terrace (remains of which can still be seen) and a chapel.
In 1698, much of the bloated Whitehall Palace – then the largest palace in Europe with more than 1,500 rooms – burnt down although the Banqueting House, though damaged, survived basically intact (in fact there’s an interesting anecdote, its veracity questionable, which has it that on hearing of the fire Wren rushed to the site and had an adjacent building blown up to create a firebreak and ensure the Banqueting House was saved).
The then king, King William III, approached Wren and he again submitted plans for its rebuilding (prior to the fire, he had already worked on several aspects of the palace including a new range of royal apartments and a chapel for King James II).
But Wren’s plans – images show a grand domed building – were largely never realised (although he did convert the Banqueting House into a chapel) and the destroyed palace never rebuilt (no doubt in large part due to the fact that King William III preferred a more rural and less damp location – such as that of Kensington Palace – thanks to his asthma).
For more on the history of the Palace of Whitehall, see Simon Thurley’s Whitehall Palace: The Official Illustrated History.
July 21, 2014
While for many Tower Green inside the Tower of London is synonymous with beheadings, only seven people, including Anne Boleyn, were ever actually executed there. Far more people were executed outside the Tower’s walls at nearby Tower Hill, just to the north.
Some of the names of those executed here are recorded on a memorial at the site – everyone from Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was beheaded here by an angry mob in 1381, through to Sir Thomas More in 1535 (gracious King Henry VIII commuted his sentence from being hung, drawn and quartered to mere beheading), and Simon Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat, a Jacobite arrested after the Battle of Culloden and the last man to be executed here when his head was lopped off in 1747.
While, as you can see above, many of those executed at Tower Hill were beheaded (and most were of the nobility), there were some executions there which did involve the guilty party being hung, drawn and quartered – a punishment reserved for those being convicted of high treason and also enforced at other sites in London including at Tyburn and Smithfield. Among them was William Collingbourne in 1484 for supporting the cause of Henry Tudor against that of King Richard III.
A plaque on the external wall of the nearby pub quotes a passage from the famous diarist Samuel Pepys after he witnessed an execution in Charing Cross on 13th October, 1660: “I went to see Major General Harrison. Hung drawn and quartered. He was looking as cheerful as any man could in that condition”.
Thomas Harrison fought with Parliament during the Civil War and was among those who signed the death warrant of King Charles I. Found guilty of regicide after the Restoration, he was hung, drawn and quartered (though as Pepys tells us, not here).
The pub, located at 26-27 Great Tower Street, is part of the Fuller’s chain. For more, see www.hung-drawn-and-quartered.co.uk.
The theatre was only about 14-years-old when on 29th June, 1613 – the 400th anniversary of which passed last year – a “special effects” cannon was fired during a performance of King Henry VIII (also known as All is True) – specifically as the king made his entrance on the stage. While cannons had apparently been used for years with no ill effect – that was not to be the case this time.
It is said sparks from the cannon landed on either directly on the theatre’s thatched roofing or a roof beam near the thatch and caught fire – there are also suggestions the fire was in fact caused when one of the stoppers used to block up the cannon came into contact with the thatch.
Theatre patrons apparently initially thought the smoke was simply from the cannon blast but can’t have been confused for long – the fire was said to have moved very quickly; in fact one contemporary letter writer – author, diplomat and politician Sir Henry Wotton – says the entire theatre was burnt to the ground in less than an hour.
The audience – the theatre is thought to have housed some 1,000 people seated and a further 2,000 standing – is thought to have escaped unharmed. There are no reports, at least, of any deaths as a result of the fire.
The theatre was quickly rebuilt – apparently more opulently – and reopened the following year. Traces of the burnt theatre was found during an excavation of the Globe site in 1989.
For more on The Globe, see our earlier post here.
PICTURE: Ashley Nummerdor/www.freeimages.com
June 6, 2014
Located on the site of the former Blackfriars Monastery which has closed during the Dissolution (see our earlier post here), the origins of the Blackfriars Playhouse or Theatre go back to the mid-1570s when children connected with the Queen’s Chapel Choir performed plays in part of the former monastery.
While those plays were performed in order to practice for those performed before Queen Elizabeth I, the organisers did also apparently use the theatre for paying audiences. This first theatre ceased operation in 1584.
In 1596, part of the priory and an adjoining building were bought by James Burbage in 1596 who created a playhouse within them. It was used by the Children of the Chapel, a group of choristers and other boys, until 1608 when the King’s Men took over – with Burbage’s son Richard and Shakespeare among those who had a share in the theatre – and used it as their winter playhouse.
The theatre – where Shakespeare himself is believed to have performed – was apparently the first commercial premises of its type to used artificial lighting and, usually for the time, featured music between acts.
The wife of King Charles I, Queen Henrietta Maria, is known to have attended the theatre later in its life in 1634 and again a couple of years later.
The theatre closed with the commencement of the English Civil War and the theatre was demolished in 1655.
The candle-lit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which opened in January at the Globe Theatre on Bankside, was designed based on drawings of indoor theatres of the era (there’s also a recreation of the Blackfriars Playhouse in the US which is home to the acting troupe of the American Shakespeare Center).
While nothing remains of the playhouse today, it lives on in the name Playhouse Yard.
Located close to the Bankside theatres where William Shakespeare’s plays would have been performed, Southwark Cathedral – known then as St Saviour’s Church – has plenty of connections to the Elizabethan theatre world.
Not only was the Bard’s youngest brother, the actor Edmund, buried here in 1607 (the grave is unmarked but there’s a commemorative stone in the floor of the choir), the playwrights John Fletcher and Philip Massinger and theatre owner Phillip Henslowe were also buried here. And like them, another theatre owner (and Henslowe’s son-in-law), Edward Alleyne, also held positions at the church.
The cathedral has several memorials to Shakespeare. These include a memorial window in the south aisle – unveiled in April 1954 on the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, it depicts characters from some of his works and was designed by Christopher Webb to replace an earlier window which had been destroyed during World War II. Below it is an alabaster reclining figure of the playwright set against a relief of Southwark as it appeared during the 17th century. Carved by Henry McCarthy, it was unveiled in 1912.
The history of the church is believed to go back to at least Saxon times. Between 1106 and 1538, it served as the church of the Augustinian Southwark Priory and was dedicated to St Mary Overie. Following the Dissolution in the mid 16th century was re-dedicated as the parish church of St Saviour’s. It only became a cathedral in 1905 with the creation of the Diocese of Southwark. While some scant parts of the building date back to the 12th century (the church was rebuilt after a fire in the 13th century), much of it has been altered.
For more on Elizabethan England, check out Ian Mortimer’s recent book The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England.
February 24, 2014
This name lends itself both to a 55 acre park and the abutting area in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in inner west London.
Both take their name from Holland House, a Jacobean mansion which started life as Cope Castle – the home of Sir Walter Cope, Chancellor of the Exchequer for King James I – but changed its name to Holland House when it was the property of Henry Rich, Cope’s son-in-law and the 1st Earl of Holland (Rich ended up being executed for his support of the Royalists in the Civil War). For more on the house – the remains of which can still be seen in the park – see our earlier post here.
The surrounding area became known as the abode of artists in the late 19th century – including Frederic Leighton, whose magnificently decorated house (now known as the Leighton House Museum) you can visit at 12 Holland Park Road, so much so that they became known as the Holland Park Circle.
Today the area is one of London’s most exclusive residential districts and contains a number of embassies. The streets include the Grade II*-listed Royal Crescent, designed in 1839 by Robert Cantwell in imitation of the more famous Royal Crescent in Bath.
Notable buildings include the 18th century Aubrey House (formerly known as Notting Hill House), located in the Campden Hill area (one of the most expensive parts of London for residential real estate), which was named by Aubrey de Vere who held the manor of Kensington at the time of the Domesday Book, and stands on the site of a former spa called Kensington Wells. At the end of the 1990s, it was reportedly thought to be London’s most expensive home.
PICTURE: Part of the restored Holland House, now a youth hostel.
February 19, 2014
Designed by Richard Boyle, the third Earl of Burlington (1694-1753), the two storey, domed villa was inspired by what Lord Burlington had seen of ancient and sixteenth century architecture during his tours of Italy – in particular the work of Andrea Palladio – as well as the work of Palladio admirer, famed English architect Inigo Jones (his statue along with that of Palladio can be seen outside),
It was constructed in the 1720s, most likely between 1727 and 1729, on a site which had been purchased by the first Earl of Burlington (his grandfather) in 1682 and which was already occupied by a Jacobean-era house (this property, which the third Earl significantly renovated, was eventually pulled down in 1788). The interiors were designed by William Kent in collaboration with Burlington and feature luxurious rooms with velvet-covered walls such as the magnificently restored Blue Velvet Room.
The exact purpose of the property remains something of a mystery – it’s been suggested it was built to as a pavilion for private contemplation, grand entertainments and to house the Earl’s art collection and the fact it had no kitchen is supportive of such a conclusion. But there is evidence it was also used as a functioning house – the fact Lady Burlington died in her bedchamber in the premises in 1758 and the link which was eventually built by Lord Burlington between it and the older property on the estate are suggestive of this.
Whatever its purpose, the architectural and artistic masterpiece was complemented by formal gardens which Lord Burlington, again, along with the aid of Kent, extensively altered to create a highly planned but naturalistic-looking landscape. Known as the “birthplace of the English Landscape Movement”, the gardens have influenced everyone from ‘Capability’ Brown to the design of New York City’s Central Park.
Following Lord Burlington’s death in 1753, the house passed into the hands of his grandson, the fifth Duke of Devonshire (his wife was the rather infamous Duchess Georgiana). He extended the house into a large mansion, adding new wings (these weren’t removed until the 1950s) and improved the gardens, adding the stone bridge (pictured) that still stands over the lake.
Upon the fifth Duke’s death in 1811, the house passed into the hands of the sixth Duke, known as the ‘Bachelor Duke’. He made considerable use of the property and guests included Tsar Alexander I of Russia, King Fredrick William III of Prussia, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and Tsar Nicholas I (again, of Russia). The Bachelor Duke also extended the grounds and brought a range of exotic animals into them, including an elephant, kangaroos and emus.
Upon his death in 1858, he left the property to his sister and after her death only four years later, it was subsequently let to some rather high-brow tenants including the Prince of Wales who received the Shah of Persia there in 1873,
The estate was eventually sold by the ninth Duke to the Middlesex County Council and after the war, gifted to the Minister of Works. In 1984, care for the house was transferred to English Heritage. The gardens are now owned by the London Borough of Hounslow.
Along with the Chiswick House and Gardens Trust, English Heritage recently completed a £12 million restoration of the gardens which, this year will host the fourth annual Camellia Festival next month. But this stunning property is well worth a visit any time of the year.
WHERE: Chiswick House, Burlington Lane, Chiswick (nearest Tube station is Turnham Green/nearest train station is Chiswick); WHEN: 10am to 4pm Saturday and Sunday (until 31st March); COST: £5.90 adults/£3.50 children (5-15 years)/£5.30 concession/£15.30 family; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/chiswick-house/ or www.chgt.org.uk.
November 25, 2013
Often noted as the second greatest English dramatist of his generation (after that Shakespeare guy), the playwright Ben Jonson stands tall in his own right as one of the leading literary figures of the late 16th and early 17th century.
Born in 1572, Jonson was educated at Westminster School in London and possibly went on to Cambridge before he started work as a bricklayer with his stepfather and later served as a soldier, fighting with English troops in The Netherlands.
It was on his return to London that he ventured into acting – among his early roles was Hieronimo in Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedie – and by 1597 he was employed as a playwright.
While one of his early play-writing efforts (The Isle of Dogs, co-written with Thomas Nashe) led to a term of imprisonment in Marshalsea Prison in 1597 (he was also briefly imprison about this time for killing another actor in a duel, escaping a death sentence by pleading “benefit of the clergy”), the following year – 1598 – the production of his play Every Man In His Humour established his reputation as a dramatist. Shakespeare, whom some suggest was a key rival of Jonson’s during his career – is said to have been among the actors who performed in it.
Further plays followed including Every Man Out Of His Humour (1599), his only tragedy Sejanus (1603), the popular Volpone (1606) and The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614) and it was during these years, particularly following the accession of King James I in 1603, that he became an important figure at the royal court).
His political views continued to cause trouble at times – he was again imprisoned in the early 1600s for his writings and was questioned over the Gunpowder Plot after apparently attending an event attended by most of those later found to be co-conspirators – but his move into writing masques for the royal court – saw his star continue to rise.
All up he wrote more than 20 masques for King James and Queen Anne of Denmark including Oberon, The Faery Prince which featured the young Prince Henry, eldest son of King James, in the title role. Many of these masques saw him working with architect Inigo Jones, who designed extravagant sets for the masques, but their relationship was tense at times.
In 1616 – his reputation well established – Jonson was given a sizeable yearly pension (some have concluded that as a result he was informally the country’s first Poet Laureate) and published his first collection of works the following year. Noted for his wit, he was also known to have presided over a gathering of his friends and admirers at The Mermaid Tavern and later at the Devil’s Tavern at 2 Fleet Street (Shakespeare was among those he verbally jousted with).
Jonson spent more than a year in his ancestral home of Scotland around 1618 but on his return to London, while still famous, he no longer saw the same level of success as he had earlier – particularly following the death of King James and accession of his son, King Charles I, in 1625.
Jonson married Anne Lewis – there is a record of such a couple marrying at St Magnus-the-Martyr church near London Bridge in 1594 – but their relationship certainly wasn’t always smooth sailing for they spent at least five years of their marriage living separately. It’s believed he had several children, two of whom died while yet young.
Jonson, meanwhile, continued to write up until his death on 6th August, 1637, and is buried in Westminster Abbey (he’s the only person buried upright in the abbey – apparently due to his poverty at the time of his death).
For an indepth look at the life of Ben Jonson, check out Ian Donaldson’s Ben Jonson: A Life.
In the final of our series looking at London memorial, we head out to Shadwell in the city’s east where on the bank of the Thames, we find a memorial tablet dedicated to a group of 16th century navigators who set sail from near this point.
Located in Edward VII Memorial Park, the tablet can be found – rather oddly – on the landward side of the Wapping cupola, built to disguise a ventilation shaft and spiral staircase for the Rotherhithe road tunnel which opened in 1908 (the road is the A101). The cupola has a twin on the other side of the river in Rotherhithe.
Erected in 1922, the memorial specifically names arctic explorers Sir Hugh Willoughby, Stephen Borough, William Borough, and Sir Martin Frobisher but then goes on to state that it is also dedicated to the “other navigators who, in the latter half of the sixteenth century, set sail from this reach of the River Thames near Ratcliff Cross to explore the Northern Seas.”
Sir Hugh and his crew died while on an expedition in 1553 after becoming separated from the other ships on the expedition (Stephen Borough, master of one of the other ships, survived that expedition) while Sir Martin Frobisher made several unsuccessful attempts to find the North West passage in the late 1500s.
Ratcliffe Cross was a point on the northern bank of the river located just to the east of the park at the top of Ratcliffe Stairs and was an important navigation point for Thames watermen.
Around London – Tudor and Stuart fashion; Wellington Arch treasures; Hunterian celebrates 200 years; Regent Street and the world; and, Kaffe Fassett at the FTM…
May 9, 2013
• A landmark exhibition looking at fashion in the Tudor and Stuart eras opens at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, tomorrow. In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion features everything from a diamond ring given by King Charles I to his then 19-year-old wife Henrietta Maria, an ornate set of armour which belonged to 13-year-old Henry, Prince of Wales (the older brother of King Charles I – he died of typhoid fever at the age of 19), and a diamond-encrusted box in which Queen Mary II kept black fabric patches worn to conceal blemishes or highlight the creaminess of skin. A 58.5 carat pearl, named ‘La Peregrina’ (‘The Wanderer’) and given to Queen Mary I as an engagement gift from Philip II of Spain (and later presented to Elizabeth Taylor by Richard Burton on Valentine’s Day, 1969), is also among the objects on show along with a pendant featuring a miniature of Queen Elizabeth I. The exhibition also features more than 60 portraits from the Royal Collection showing the fashions of the time, including a portrait by Sir Peter Lely of court beauty Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond, who famously refused to become King Charles II’s mistress. Admission charge applies. Runs until 6th October. For more, see www.royalcollection.co.uk. PICTURE: Sir Anthony van Dyck, Queen Henrietta Maria, 1609-69. Royal Collection Trust/© 2013, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
• A medieval crozier and bejewelled ring discovered in Cumbria in 2010 are on public display for the first time in a new exhibition at Wellington Arch. The artefacts, which were discovered at Furness Abbey, are featured in an English Heritage exhibition, A Monumental Act: How Britain Saved Its Heritage, which explores how the Ancient Monuments Act of 1913 helped protect Britain’s historical fabric. Other objects in display include some of the historic artefacts found in the 20 years following the act – a Roman bronze weight from Richborough Roman Fort in Kent and a 13th century sculpture of Christ found at Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire. Admission charge applies. The exhibition runs until 7th July. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/wellington-arch/.
• The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons is celebrating its bicentenary this year and to mark the occasion, they’re holding a free exhibition focusing on the museum’s collections of human anatomy and pathology; natural history and artworks. The display will consider how the objects in the collection have informed the medical world and fallen under the gaze of visitors who have included surgeons as well as monarchs. The exhibition in the Qvist Gallery at the museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields opens on Tuesday, 14th May, and runs until 9th November. For more, see www.rcseng.ac.uk/museums/hunterian.
• The world comes to Regent Street this Sunday with the ‘InsureandGo The World on Regent Street’ festival. Representatives from countries including Argentina, Egypt, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey and China as well as the UK will showcasing the best of each country’s culture, music and dance, art, food and fashion. Activities will include tango lessons from Argentina, professional henna drawing from Egypt, a steel band from Trinidad and Tobago, and a Chinese drumming performance and lion dancing. The street will be closed for the day. For more, see www.regentstreetonline.com.
• On Now: Kaffe Fassett – A Life in Colour. This exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey Street celebrates the work of American-born artist Kaffe Fassett and features more than 100 works including nine foot wide knitted shawls, coats and throws, patchwork quilts and a ‘feeling wall’ where visitors can touch the textiles on display. Admission charge applies. Runs until 29th June. For more, see www.ftmlondon.org.
Originally named King’s Square in honour of King Charles II, Soho Square was laid out on what had been known as Soho Fields as a residential square with a garden at its centre in the late 1670s – part of the general demand for homes that came about after the Great Fire of London in 1666.
A fashionable place to live when built, among the early mansions was Monmouth House, a grand mansion originally built for James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth (and illegitimate son of King Charles II who lost his head after leading a rebellion against King James II) and later used by the French ambassador before it was demolished in the 1770s. Two of the square’s original homes are located at numbers 10 and 15.
A number of trees and shrubs were recorded as being planted here including cherry, peach and almond trees as well as lilacs, jessamine and honeysuckle – it’s suggested these may have been chosen by botanist Sir Joseph Banks who lived at number 32 from 1777 until his death in 1820.
The square, which was opened to the public in 1954, is today at the heart of the West-End district of Soho, once synonymous with late night entertainment including the sex industry but also home to a growing number of film and media-related organisations (for a look at the derivation of the name Soho, see our earlier post).
Indeed, a number of media companies are based in the square itself – British Movietone, which was produced the Movietone news, was located here at number 22 for years while current inhabitants include Twentieth Century Fox (located in a building at number 31-32 where the botanically minded Linnean Society once met).
Other buildings of note in the square include the French Protestant Church, built in 1891-93 and located at numbers eight and nine and St Patrick’s Church, located at on the corner of Soho Square and Sutton Row. While a chapel was first consecrated here in 1792, the current building dates from the 1890s (reopened in 2011 after a £3.5 million restoration) and has catacombs which spread a considerable distance under the square. In a nod to less savoury aspects of the square’s past, the White House Brothel was also located here – at number 21 – in the late 18th century (the building is now known as Manor House).
The oldest statue in the square is that of Caius Gabriel Cibber’s King Charles II which dates from 1681 (pictured right) – a reminder of the square’s past name. Originally part of a larger monument containing a fountain, it was removed in 1875 to make way for the distinctive half-timbered Tudor-style hut (pictured above) used by gardeners which, having been rebuilt in the 1930s, currently sits at the square’s centre and only returned to the gardens in 1938. There’s also a bench in the square which commemorates the late singer Kirsty MacColl, writer of the song Soho Square.
April 19, 2013
Before Madame Tussaud arrived in London, there was Mrs Salmon and her famous waxworks, one of several such establishments in London.
First sited at the Sign of the Golden Ball in St Martin’s Le Grand – where it filled six rooms – in 1711, the display was relocated to the north side of Fleet Street where it remained until 1795 when it moved across the road to number 17 Fleet Street, now housing Prince Henry’s Room (pictured, room takes its name from Prince Henry, eldest son of the king, who died at the age of 18 and was apparently the inspiration for an inn which previously occupied the building called The Prince’s Arms).
The waxworks were apparently originally run by Mr Salmon – there are references to him being a “famous waxwork man” – but his wife, Mrs Salmon, continued it alone after his death in 1718 until her own death, variously said to have been in 1760 or as late as 1812. At some point after his death, Mrs Salmon is said to have remarried, to a Mr Steers.
While some accounts say the waxworks – which, according to the City of London website remained at the site until 1816 – were taken over by a Chancery Lane surgeon named Clarke after Mrs Salmon’s death (and by his wife after his death), it is also suggested that at some point they moved to Water Lane in east London where they were ruined by thieves.
Whatever its fate, it’s generally accepted that the famous waxworks were visited by the likes of James Boswell and artist William Hogarth. They were also mentioned by author Charles Dickens in David Copperfield.
For more of London’s past, see Philip Davies’ Lost London 1870-1945.
March 11, 2013
The honour of being London’s oldest winebar goes to Gordon’s Wine Bar at 47 Villiers Street in the West End (just up from Embankment Tube Station or down from Charing Cross Station, whichever you prefer).
The venerable establishment – still a favoured place to stop for a drink for many Londoners – opened its doors in the 1890s and still conveys a powerful sense of old world charm with the decor pretty much unchanged (there’s been no fancy makeover here) and the wine still served from wooden casks behind the bar.
The site on which the bar is located was once occupied by York House (home to, among others during its centuries of life, Robert Devereaux – 2nd Earl of Essex and favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Francis Bacon – Lord Chancellor during the reign of King James I) and then, later on, by a large house lived in by diarist Samuel Pepys in the late 1600s before, thanks to its position close to the river, a building was built upon it in the 1790s which served as a warehouse.
The usefulness of the warehouse came to an end when Victoria Embankment was built and the river pushed back and the building was subsequently used for accommodation. Writer Rudyard Kipling was among tenants who lived here (from 1889-1891 during which wrote The Light that Failed – in fact, the building was renamed after him, Kipling House, in 1950.
It was Angus Gordon, a “free vintner” meaning he didn’t have to apply for a licence thanks to the largesse of King Edward III in 1364, who established the premises in the vaults here in the 1890s (interestingly the current owners are also Gordons, but not related). Among the other uses of the building, of which Gordon’s only occupies a part, was apparently as a brothel in the 1920s.
For more on Gordon’s head to www.gordonswinebar.com.
March 8, 2013
Once part of the Palace of Whitehall, the Cockpit (also referred to as Cockpit-in-Court or the Royal Cockpit) was initially built as a pit in which to watch cockfighting as part of renovations carried out by King Henry VIII after he “acquired” Cardinal Wolsey’s former property of York Place and before transforming it into a royal palace.
It was one of a number of entertainment related buildings constructed by the king in the new palace precinct – others included a real tennis court, bowling alley and a tiltyard.
By Jacobean times, the use of the octagonal-shaped cockpit – located between today’s Downing Street and Horse Guards Parade – had changed into that of a private royal theatre and in 1629 Inigo Jones was given the task of redesigning it to accommodate King Charles I’s elaborate court masques (Jones had previously redesigned the Cockpit Theatre in Drury Lane).
Following the Restoration in 1660, the Cockpit again returned to its use as a theatre and King Charles II had new dressing rooms added and the decor given an overhaul (the ever-present diarist Samuel Pepys was among those who attended theatrical presentations during this period and Ben Jonson among those whose work was presented here).
The theatre building is believed to have been demolished around 1675 and the site subsequently used to house government officials including those of the Foreign Office (see our earlier post here) and Privy Council.
In the 1730s, William Kent designed the building (which although since expanded and modified) now stands on the site and is currently the home of the Cabinet Office.
While the Cockpit is long gone, its name lives on in ‘Cockpit Passage’ – a gallery inside the Cabinet Office from where one could once watch tennis being played.
Around London – Henry Stuart at the NPG; the Lord Mayor’s Show; prehistoric Japanese pots; and, photography at the National Gallery…
November 1, 2012
• The first ever exhibition focusing on Henry Stuart, older brother of King Charles I, has opened at the National Portrait Gallery. The Lost Prince: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart features more than 80 exhibits including paintings, miniatures, manuscripts, books and armour gathered from museums and personal collections around the UK and abroad – with some of the objects being displayed in public for the first time. Opened on 18th October – the 400th anniversary of the Prince’s death, among the paintings displayed in the exhibition are works by Holbein, Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver as well as Robert Peake as well as masque designs by Inigo Jones and poetry by Ben Jonson. Henry, Prince of Wales, was the eldest son of King James I and Queen Anne of Denmark, and died at the age of 18 of typhoid fever. As well as looking at his short life, the exhibition covers the extraordinary reaction to his premature death (and the end of hope that King Henry IX would sit next upon the throne). The exhibition runs until 13th January. An admission fee applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: Henry, Prince of Wales by Isaac Oliver, c. 1610-12; Copyright: The Royal Collection Photo: Supplied by Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2012
• The Lord Mayor’s Show – the largest unrehearsed procession in the world – will be held on 10th November. This year’s procession – celebrating the election of the 685th Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Roger Gifford – will feature more than 6,500 people winding their way through the City of London in a three-and-a-half mile-long display including 22 marching bands, 125 horses, 18 vintage cars, 21 carriages, an original American stagecoach, a Sherman tank, a steamroller and a Japanese Taiko drum band. While there will be no fireworks after this year’s parade, following the success of last year’s trial there will be an early morning flotilla with the Lord Mayor conveyed in the barge QRB Gloriana from Vauxhall up the Thames to HMS President, just below St Katharine Docks, from where he will make his way to the Mansion House to join the procession as it heads first to St Paul’s and then on to the Royal Courts of Justice before returning (via a different route). There are no grand stand seats left but plenty of places you can watch it for free (for a chance to win free Grandstand tickets, head to the Lord Mayor’s Show Facebook page and ‘like’ it). We’ll be talking about this more next week, but in the meantime, for maps and details of a new smart phone app, head to www.lordmayorsshow.org.
• Two prehistoric Japanese pots have gone on display at the British Museum. Loaned from the Nagaoka Municipal Science Museum, the pots date from the Middle Jomon period (3,500-2,500 BCE) and consist of a ‘flame’ and a ‘crown’ pot which were excavated in Nagaoka city. The pots form part of the Asahi Shimbun Displays in room 3 and will be there until 20th January. Meanwhile, continuing the Asian theme, an exhibition of more than 100 contemporary carved Chinese seals by artist Li Lanqing is on display in room 33 until 15th January. Admission to both is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• On Now: Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present. The National Gallery’s first major exhibition of photography, the display looks at the relationship between historical paintings and photography, both its early days in the mid-19th century and the work of contemporary photographers – in particular how photographers have used the traditions of fine art to “explore and justify” their own works. Almost 90 photographs are displayed alongside a select group of paintings for the show. Admission is free. Runs until 20th January in the Sainsbury Wing. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.
September 24, 2012
The oldest livery company building, that of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London, dates from just after the Great Fire of London in 1666.
Originally built in 1672 to the designs of surveyor Edward Jerman, it replaced an earlier building which had been destroyed in the fire. It has since been refurbished several times and while the external facade appears as it did in the late 1700s, the interior layout, with Great Room – complete with original Irish Oak panelling, Court Hall and Parlour, is as it was when first built after the Great Fire.
Previously members of the Grocer’s Company (and earlier still, the Guild of Pepperers), the Apothecaries Society was incorporated as a City livery company on 1st December, 1617, when it was granted a royal charter by King James I.
They purchased a building in 1632, known then as Cobham House (previously owned by Lady Anne Howard), on land formerly part of Blackfriars Priory (see our former post on the priory here) – it was this building which was destroyed in 1666.
Among treasures inside the current hall is a portrait of Gideon de Laune, Royal Apothecary to Queen Anne of Denmark, wife of King James I, and credited as founder of the Society which was was presented to the Society in 1641 and hangs in the Court Room. There’s also a 24-branch candelabrum in the Great Hall which was presented to the society by Sir Benjamin Rawling, Sheriff of London and Master of the Society in 1736.
Now one of the largest of the livery companies in the City and still active in regulating medical practitioners, it is 58th in order of precedence and is still active in its trade with the organisation’s constitution requiring 85 per cent of the Society’s membership belong to the medical profession. Past luminaries have included the Romantic poet, John Keats.
The society is also known for having established the Chelsea Physic Garden in 1673 – making it one of the oldest botanic gardens in the world – on land granted it by Sir Hans Sloane (see more on him in our earlier post here).
The hall is available for hire. For more information on the Society, see www.apothecaries.org. Visits to the hall are by prior arrangement only. Contact the Beadle via the above website to find out more.
April 2, 2012
A 17th century public executioner famed for his botched executions, Jack Ketch looms as an infamous figure in British history and a byword for brutality and executioners in general.
Ketch’s origins are unknown (he’s also known as John Catch) but he is believed to have received his appointment as a public hangman sometime in the early to mid 1660s – the first recorded mention of him in that role, in a pamphlet celebrating his handiwork, dates from 1678. Such was his self-importance that he apparently adopted the title Esquire and apparently asked for his letters to be addressed to Dr John Ketch.
Among those who died at his hand were those accused of involvement in the Popish Plot against the Crown – a Catholic conspiracy to assassinate King Charles II which was all apparently fabricated by Titus Oates. These included William Staley and Edward Coleman both of whom were hung, drawn and quartered in 1678 (Ketch was also charged with whipping Oates following his perjury conviction).
But Ketch’s most infamous executions, the only two beheadings he is known to have performed, became notorious because of the botched manner in which they were carried out.
It was reported that it took Ketch three blows to strike off the head of William, Lord Russell, when he was executed for treason on 21st July, 1683 (he had opposed the succession of James II and was accused of involvement in the Rye House Plot), although Ketch apparently denied suggestions he had turned up drunk and blamed Lord Russell for flinching.
The beheading of James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth (and illegitimate son of King Charles II), on 15th July, 1685 (pictured above in a print from the time), was apparently even worse – it took Ketch five blows to take off his head and he apparently finished the job with a knife after having almost given up halfway through. Monmouth had been captured following the Battle of Sedgemoor in July 1685 in which he led an army having declared himself king (more on that another time).
Ketch fell out of favor with the authorities later that year and was briefly gaoled in Bridewell prison. He was reinstated but his return to the job of public executioner was only short-lived for he died in 1686 and is believed to have been buried in St James’ in Clerkenwell on 29th November, 1686.
He was survived by his wife Katherine, who apparently stood by her man despite the public feeling against him, and is it generally assumed a girl Susanna who was baptised at the church in Clerkenwell in 1668 – some 18 years before his death – was his daughter.
Following his death, Ketch’s name was adopted by subsequent public hangmen – he even appeared as an ongoing character in Punch and Judy shows.
For more on Ketch, see Tim Wales’ article Jack Ketch in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (a subscription is required for access).
March 23, 2012
While we’ve looked at some of the history of the Banqueting House during last year’s special on King James I’s London, we thought we’d take a more in-depth look as part of our Treasures of London series…
The building replaced an earlier banqueting hall built on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I and another, shorter-lived hall, built by King James I, which was destroyed by fire in 1619.
Following its destruction, King James had Inigo Jones design a new hall to provide, as the previous hall had, a location for state occasions, plays and masques – something of a cross between an organised dance, an amateur theatrical performance and just a chance to dress up.
Jones, who partnered with Ben Jonson to produce masques, designed the hall – which has a length double the width – with these performances specifically in mind. The first one – Jones and Jonson’s Masque of Augurs – was performed on Twelfth Night, 1622, even before the building was completed (the last masque was performed here, incidentally, in 1635, after which, thanks they were moved to a purpose built structure nearby, ostensibly to save the newly installed paintings from being damaged by the smoke of torches – see below).
The incredible paintings on the ceilings, which celebrate the reign of King James I and will be the subject of their own Treasures of London article at a later date, were installed by March 1636. Produced by Flemish artist Sir Peter Paul Rubens, they had been commissioned by King Charles I, King James’ son, in commemoration of his father. Ironically, it was outside the building where the monarchy was so celebrated that King Charles I was beheaded in 1649 (this is marked in a ceremony held at the Banqueting House on 30th January each year).
Following the king’s execution, Whitehall Palace wasn’t used for several years until Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell took up residence there in 1654, using the Banqueting House as a hall if audience. It stood empty after Cromwell’s death in 1658 until the Restoration in 1660 when King Charles II again used it as a grand ceremonial hall for receiving foreign embassies and conducting court ceremonies (these including the ancient custom of what is known as ‘Touching for the King’s Evil’ to cure those afflicted with the disease of scrofula as well as the washing of the feet of the poor by the sovereign on Maundy Thursday.)
King James II was the last king to live at Whitehall Palace and during his reign, from 1685-88, it was used as a royal storehouse. But it was revived for formal use following his reign – it was here that King William III and Queen Mary II were officially offered the crown on 13th February, 1689.
During their reign, the court’s focus shifted to Kensington but the Banqueting House was used for Queen Mary to lay in state after her death in 1694.
Following the destruction of the remainder of Whitehall Palace in 1698 – the origins of this fire are apparently owed to a maid who had put some linen by a charcoal fire to dry – the Banqueting Hall was used briefly as a Chapel Royal and, following a renovation in the late 1700s, it was used for concerts and, from 1808, as a place of worship for the Horse Guards.
Further renovation works followed and in 1837, it was re-opened as a Chapel Royal and used as such until 1890 when this practice was formally discontinued. In 1893, Queen Victoria gave the Royal United Services Institute the use of the building as a museum – among the things displayed there were the skeleton of Napoleon’s horse, Marengo. In 1962, the exhibits were dispersed and the Banqueting House today is used for a range of royal, corporate and social events.
There is an undercroft underneath, designed as a place where King James I could enjoy drinking with his friends. It was later used for storage.
WHERE: Corner of Whitehall and Horse Guards Avenue (nearest Tube stations are Westminster and Embankment); WHEN: Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm; COST: £5 adults/£4 concessions/children under 16 free (Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/BanquetingHouse/.
PICTURE: Courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam.co.uk