November 21, 2016
The moniker came from the square’s landlord, the Duke of Grafton, who owned a country seat called Euston Hall near Thetford in Suffolk, and apparently derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Efe’s Tun’ meaning the ‘farmstead of a man called Efe’.
The now much altered square (the gardens of which are pictured) was originally developed in the 1820s; in the 1850s the New Road – which had been developed by the second Duke of Grafton, Charles Fitzroy, in the 1730s to take farm traffic off Oxford Street and Holborn – was renamed Euston Road.
It only makes sense then that when the mainline station on that road was developed in the 1830s (it opened in 1837, exactly a month after Queen Victoria became the monarch), it too was named Euston (as was the now long-gone Euston Arch – see our earlier post here).
Euston Underground Station opened in 1907 while Euston Square Underground station, which originally opened as Gower Street in 1863, was renamed Euston Square in 1909.
Interestingly the area around Euston Road also features numerous references to Grafton in honour of the duke – Grafton Street, Grafton Place and Grafton Way among them – while other streets also have links to the names of the dukes’ family – Warren Street (which also lends its name to a Tube station), for example, is named for Anne Warren, the wife of the second duke’s grandson.
PICTURE: Kevin Gordon/CC BY-SA 2.0
This Week in London – Saxons camp out in Hyde Park on the way to battle; “ordinary punks” at Museum of London; and, Bridget Riley meets Seurat…
October 6, 2016
• A temporary ‘Saxon’ camp will appear in Hyde Park this Saturday as Battle of Hastings’ re-enactors pause on their journey south to meet the forces of William, the Duke of Normandy, in an event marking the battle’s 950th anniversary. English Heritage is recreating the hurried march south of the Saxon King Harald and his followers following the Battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire to Battle Abbey where they will join in an annual re-enactment of the world famous Battle of Hastings on 15th and 16th October. Having already visiting British landmarks like Lincoln’s Roman arch, Peterborough Cathedral, and Waltham Abbey, they will be found at a free “pop-up living history encampment” near Apsley House in Hyde Park between 11am and 3pm on Saturday. People are invited to visit the encampment and meet the re-enactors, learn how the armies lived and ate while on the march, discover which weapons they used and play some Norman games as well as see the Battle of Hastings recreated using vegetables. Later on Saturday, the re-enactors will head across London to the Jewel Tower in Westminster and then on, Sunday, on to Eltham Palace in the city’s south-east, before setting off for Battle to the south. For more – including a day-by-day calendar of the march – head to www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/1066-and-the-norman-conquest/the-1066-march/. PICTURE: An earlier re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings/David Adams.
• A free exhibition celebrating all things punk has opened at the Museum of London to mark the end of a year long festival commemorating 40 years of the movement’s influence. Punks, which tells the stories of “ordinary punks” living in London in the late 1970s, features artefacts like handmade mixtape sleeves, DIY fanzines and the radical clothes sold on the King’s Road. The exhibition, which runs until 15th January, is accompanied by what is promised to be a “no holds barred” debate centred on the punk phenomena in November. For more information, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk and for more about other events related to the 40th anniversary of punk, see www.punk.london.
• On Now – Bridget Riley: Learning from Seurat. This exhibition at The Courtauld Gallery explores Riley’s breakthrough encounter with Georges Seurat’s 1887 work Bridge at Courbevoie. For the first time, it brings together a copy Riley made of the painting in 1959 with the original work as well as presenting a small group of Riley’s seminal works to show how her understanding of Seurat’s art led her to create what are described as “some of the most radical and original abstract works of the past five decades”. Part of the gallery’s ongoing series of displays focusing on major contemporary artists, it runs until 17th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.courtauld.ac.uk/gallery.
Send all items for inclusion to email@example.com.
July 25, 2016
Recorded in the Domesday Book as Putelei and known in the Middle Ages as Puttenhuthe, it apparently goes back to a Saxon named Puttan who lived in the area and the Old English word ‘hyp’, which means ‘landing place’. Hence, “Puttan’s landing place” (or Puttan’s wharf).
Putney has something of a storied history – it was the birthplace of Tudor heavyweight Thomas Cromwell, Georgian-era author Edward Gibbon and it was here, in the still-standing parish church of St Mary the Virgin (pictured), that the Putney Debates were held in 1647 among members of the New Model Army.
The first bridge was apparently built here in the first half of the 18th century and the present stone bridge in the 1880s.
Today a sought-after riverside residential district, Putney boasts a sizeable high street, great riverside pubs and eateries and is particularly popular every April when The Boat Race is held between Oxford and Cambridge universities thanks to the starting point being just upstream of Putney Bridge.
The area also is home to the 400 acre Putney Heath (which adjoins Wimbledon Common), a popular site for duels in the 18th century, and also home to a stone and brick obelisk, erected in 1770 to mark the 110th anniversary of the Great Fire of London (more on that in an upcoming post).
May 27, 2016
It’s a Bank Holiday weekend and thoughts are turning to a day out, so we thought it a good time to take a look at the beautiful village of Lavenham in Suffolk, one of the finest “medieval villages” remaining in England.
While settlement of the village, which is about an hour and 45 minutes north-east of London by car, goes back to before Saxon times (indeed the village apparently takes its name from a Saxon thegn called Lafa) it was in the medieval period that it attained the charming character which is still so evident today.
The village was awarded its market charter in 1257 and it was from this period until about 1530 that its ‘golden years’ occurred, based on its prominent role in the wool trade (in particular the production of sought-after blue broad cloth – ‘Lavenham Blue’) and its location between London and the key ports like Kings Lynn.
It was during this period that its several guildhall were constructed and it was recorded as one of the richest parts of England with some of its most prominent families becoming extremely wealthy, like the De Vere family headed by the Earl of Oxford, and the Spring and Branch families who used their wealth to raise themselves to the nobility.
Lavenham’s decline began in the later 1500s and followed a sharp downturn in the wool trade amid greater competition from Europe. Its fortunes reached a low in the late 18th century before industrialisation in the 19th century revitalised the village somewhat (although nowhere close to the prominence and affluence it once boasted).
Today Lavenham is something of a tourist mecca, boasting an amazing collection of timber-framed buildings – more than 320 of which are listed – mostly dating from between 1450 and 1500.
Central among them is the Guildhall (pictured top), located on the market place, which dates from about 1530, and as well as hosting religious guild activities (its formal name was the Guild of Corpus Christi), has also served as a prison, workhouse, almshouse, and wool store and now houses a National Trust-run museum.
One of the most famous photographed buildings in the town is the Crooked House on High Street (pictured above right), so-called because of the dramatic lean its upper story is on.
There’s also the Little Hall, which, dating from the 14th century, was the wool hall of clothier William Causation and is now home to the Suffolk Preservation Society (open to the public over the warmer months). And among other notable homes is De Vere House, a grade I-listed property (now available to stay in) which still had elements dating back to the Middle Ages (and was the last home in the village to be owned by the Earls of Oxford).
The Church of St Peter and St Paul (pictured below) is also notable – described as “one of the finest parish churches in England”. The current version (there has apparently been a church here since Saxon times) was apparently funded by the 13th Earl of Oxford and wealthy cloth merchants including Thomas Spring III (whose coat of arms appears 32 times on the parapet) to celebrate their safe return from Battle of Bosworth Field where King Henry VII was victorious in 1485.
A couple of interesting notes to finish on. Among the residents in the late 18th century was the London-born Jane Taylor who lived in Shilling Street with her family. Jane and her sister Ann published a collection of poetry which included the poem, The Star, from which the lyrics for Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star are taken.
There’s also a John Constable connection – the landscape painter was a student at the Grammar School which opened in Barn Street in 1647.
And, as you might expect in such a well-preserved location, Lavenham has also appeared on the big screen, notably De Vere House as the birthplace of Harry Potter and his mentor Albus Dumbledore.
A charming village to pass a few hours walking around (and, relax in, there’s plenty of pubs and cafes to refresh yourself at afterwards).
October 28, 2015
We’ve touched on this story before but it’s worth a revisit as part of this series. London changed hands several times during the later half of the first millennium as the Anglo-Saxons fought Vikings for control of the city, meaning the city was the site of several battles during the period.
One of the most memorable (or so legend has it, there are some archaeologists who believe the incident never took place) was the battle in 1014 in which London Bridge – then a timber structure (today’s concrete bridge is pictured above) – was pulled down. A story attributed to the Viking skald or poet Ottarr the Black but not found in Anglo-Saxon sources, the event, if it did take place, did so against the backdrop of an ongoing conflict between the Danes and Anglo-Saxons.
Anglo-Saxon London had resisted several attempts at being taken by the Vikings – a fire was recorded in the city in 982, possibly caused by a Viking attack – and in 994, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that a fleet of 94 Danish and Norwegian ships were repelled with prejudice. Further attacks was driven back in 1009 and it wasn’t until 1013 that the city finally submitted to Danish rule after Sweyn Forkbeard had already claimed Oxford and Winchester.
But Sweyn, the father of the famous King Canute (Cnut), didn’t hold it long – he died on 3rd February the following year.
The deposed Anglo-Saxon King Æthelred II (also spent Ethelred, he was known as ‘the Unready’) – who had been forced to flee from London, which he used as his capital, to what is now Normandy thanks to Sweyn’s depredations – is said to have seized his chance and along with the forces of his ally, the Norwegian King Olaf II, he sailed up the Thames to London in a large flotilla.
The Danish had taken the city, occupying both the city proper and Southwark, and were determined to resist. According to the Viking account, they lined the timber bridge crossing the river and rained spears down on the would-be invaders. (The bridge, incidentally, had apparently been built following the attack in 993, ostensibly to block the river and prevent further incursions further upstream – there is certainly archaeological evidence that a bridge existed in about the year 1000).
Not to be beaten, Æthelred’s forces, using thatching stripped from the rooves of nearby houses to shield themselves, managed to get close enough to attach some cables to the bridge’s piers, pulling the bridge down and winning the battle, retaking the city.
There’s much speculation that the song London Bridge is Falling Down was inspired by the incident but it, like much of this story itself, remains just that – conjecture (although Ottarr’s skald does sound rather familiar).
The bridge was subsequently rebuilt and King Æthelred died only two years later, on 23rd April, 2016. The crown subsequently passed to his son Edmund Ironside but he too died after ruling for less than a year leaving Viking Canute to be crowned king.
September 26, 2015
This striking ruin perched on the shore of Herne Bay in Kent is all that remains of a 12th century church which once stood here, itself constructed on the ruins of a Saxon monastery and, earlier still, a Roman era fort.
The site once faced the now swallowed up Isle of Thanet across a narrow waterway to the east and it was this location which made it a prime spot for the Romans, in the early to middle years of the 3rd century AD, to build one of what became known as Saxon Shore forts, constructed to watch over waterways and resist raiders from across the sea. The square fort – known as Regulbium – featured walls supported by earthen ramparts containing a range of military buildings including a headquarters building at the centre. It’s main entrance was located in the north wall.
The fort ceased to be garrisoned by regular troops by the end of the 4th century and archaeologists have found little sign of any activity there at the start of the next century.
Following the arrival of St Augustine in 597 AD and the conversion of local Saxon kings to Christianity, Egbert, the King of Kent, gave land which included Reculver (Raculf) to one Bassa for the foundation of a church or minster (this has been dated to 669 AD). A monastery was subsequently founded on the site which remained there until the 10th century after which the church, which stood roughly at what was the middle of the Roman fort and which had been enlarged during the Saxon period, became a parish church of Reculver.
Remodelled in the 12th century (from which period the towers date), it was visited by Leland in 1540 who wrote of a stone cross which stood at the entrance to the choir and was carved with painted images of Christ and the 12 Apostles (fragments of the cross are now in the crypt at Canterbury Cathedral).
The encroaching sea, meanwhile, continued to move closer and closer to the northern side of the church, seriously so by the end of the 18th century when the vicar persuaded parishioners to demolish the church and build a new one at nearby Hillsborough. Thankfully, while much of the stone from the church was used in the new building, the twin west towers were left standing.
Their value as a landmark was recognised in 1809 when the ruin was bought by Trinity House as a navigation marker. They subsequently strengthened the towers’ foundations to ensure they weren’t undermined any further. Further strengthening measures took place in later years. About half of the Roman fort remains. The site is now managed by English Heritage.
Reculver is a site richly evocative of England’s past with a history going back more than 1,700 years. The remains may only be fragments of what once stood there but they nonetheless tell a myriad of stories.
WHERE: At Reculver, three miles east of Herne Bay (nearest train station is Herne Bay (four miles); WHEN: Any reasonable time in daylight hours; COST:Free; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/reculver-towers-and-roman-fort/.
Bermondsey Abbey, which was more than 130-years-old by the time King John put his seal to the Magna Carta in 1215, has an unusual connection to the unpopular king – it is one of a number of buildings in London which has, at various times in history, been erroneously referred to as King John’s Palace.
This suggestion – that it was a palace which was later converted into an abbey – may have arisen from a site on the former abbey grounds being known at some point in its history as King John’s Court (that name was said to commemorate the fact that King John visited the abbey).
Putting how King John’s name came to be linked with the abbey aside, we’ll take a quick look at the history of the abbey which rose to become an important ecclesiastical institution in medieval times.
While there was a monastic institution in Bermondsey as far back as the early 8th century, the priory which was here during the reign of King John was founded in 1082, possibly on the site of the earlier institution, by a Londoner named as Aylwin Child(e), apparently a wealthy Saxon merchant who was granted the land by King William the Conqueror.
In 1089, the monastery – located about a mile back from the river between Southwark and Rotherhithe – became the Cluniac Priory of St Saviour, an order centred on the French abbey of Cluny, and was endowed by King William II (William Rufus) with the manor of Bermondsey.
It was “naturalised” – that is, became English – by the first English prior, Richard Dunton, in 1380, who paid a substantial fine for the process. It was elevated to the status of an abbey by Pope Boniface IX in 1399.
It had some important royal connections – King John’s father, King Henry II and his wife Queen Eleanor celebrated Christmas here in 1154 (their second child, the ill-fated Henry, the young King, was born here a couple of months later), and Queen Catherine (of Valois), wife of King Henry V, died here in 1437. It was also at Bermondsey Abbey that Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of King Edward IV and mother of the two “Princes in the Tower”, died in 1492 following her retirement from court.
The abbey, which grew to have an enormous income thanks to its acquisition of property in a range of counties, survived until the Dissolution when, in 1537, King Henry VIII closed its doors. It was later acquired by Sir Thomas Pope who demolished the abbey and built a mansion for himself on the site (and founded Trinity College in Oxford apparently using revenues from the property). We’ll deal more with its later history in an upcoming post.
The ruins of the abbey were extensively excavated in the past few decades and some of the remaining ruins of the abbey can still be seen buildings around Bermondsey Square and a blue plaque commemorating the abbey was unveiled in 2010. Bermondsey Street runs roughly along the line of the path which once led from the abbey gates to the Thames and the abbey had a dock there still commemorated as St Saviour’s Dock. The abbey’s name is commemorated in various streets around the area.
For more on the history of the Magna Carta, see David Starkey’s Magna Carta: The True Story Behind the Charter.
Both Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster (these days better known as the Houses of Parliament – pictured) pre-date 1215 but unlike today in 1215 the upon which they stood was known as Thorney Island.
Formed by two branches of the Tyburn River as they ran down to the River Thames, Thorney Island (a small, marshy island apparently named for the thorny plants which once grew there) filled the space between them and the Thames (and remained so until the Tyburn’s branches were covered over).
One branch entered the Thames in what is now Whitehall, just to the north of where Westminster Bridge; another apparently to the south of the abbey, along the route of what is now Great College Street. (Yet another branch apparently entered the river near Vauxhall Bridge).
The abbey’s origins go back to Saxon times when what was initially a small church – apparently named after St Peter – was built on the site. By 960AD it had become a Benedictine monastery and, lying west of what was then the Saxon city in Lundenwic, it become known as the “west minster” (St Paul’s, in the city, was known as “east minster”) and a royal church.
The origins of the Palace of Westminster don’t go back quite as far but it was the Dane King Canute, who ruled from 1016 to 1035, who was the first king to build a palace here. It apparently burnt down but was subsequently rebuilt by King Edward the Confessor as part of a grand new palace-abbey complex.
For it was King Edward, of course, who also built the first grand version of Westminster Abbey, a project he started soon after his accession in 1042. It was consecrated in 1065, a year before his death and he was buried there the following year (his bones still lie inside the shrine which was created during the reign of King Henry III when he was undertaking a major rebuild of the minster).
Old Palace Yard dates from Edward’s rebuild – it connected his palace with his new abbey – while New Palace Yard, which lies at the north end of Westminster Hall, was named ‘new’ when it was constructed with the hall by King William II (William Rufus) in the late 11th century.
Westminster gained an important boost in becoming the pre-eminent seat of government in the kingdom when King Henry II established a secondary treasury here (the main treasury had traditionally been in Winchester, the old capital in Saxon times) and established the law courts in Westminster Hall.
King John, meanwhile, followed his father in helping to establish London as the centre of government and moved the Exchequer here. He also followed the tradition, by then well-established, by being crowned in Westminster Abbey in 1199 and it was also in the abbey that he married his second wife, Isabella, daughter of Count of Angouleme, the following year.
March 2, 2015
We’re delving back a long way into London’s history here to the Anglo-Saxon period when London was known as Lundenwic. Credited as the first bishop of London in the Anglo-Saxon period, Mellitus is perhaps most famous for having founded the precursor to today’s St Paul’s Cathedral.
Tradition holds that Mellitus was a priest – perhaps an abbot – of noble birth who was among a group of missionaries, known as the Gregorian mission, sent from the monastery of St Andrew on the Coelian Hill in Rome to England by Pope Gregory the Great in response to a call from St Augustine – the first archbishop of Canterbury – for people to help convert the Saxons to Christianity.
The mission was dispatched to England in 601 AD (apparently Mellitus brought with him a number of books, including possibly the St Augustine Gospels now at Cambridge University) coming via Gaul where the mission paused to deliver letters to various Frankish kings.
The group reached England sometime prior to 604 AD for that year St Augustine, with the permission of Saxon King Æthelberht of Kent (aka Ethelbert), consecrated Mellitus Bishop of the East Saxons with London as his seat, making him the first post-Roman-era bishop of the city.
Records are scant about Mellitus’ time as bishop but he is believed to have constructed a simple wooden church dedicated to St Paul (the first ‘version’ of St Paul’s Cathedral) in 604 with King Æthelberht as his patron (the ruler of Lundenwic was King Sæberht but, while he was then a pagan and unlikely to welcome the building of a church, he apparently owed his allegiance to Æthelberht as his overlord (Sæberht was later baptised by Mellitus). It was apparently constructed in the ruins of a temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Diana as per the instructions Mellitus had carried from Rome to convert rather than destroy pagan temples.
Mellitus is known to have left the city in 610 to attend a council of bishops called in Italy by Pope Boniface IV. He returned with letters from the Pope for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Laurentius (or Laurence), and one for King Æthelberht.
There was a crisis following the death of both kings Æthelberht and Sæberht some time around 616-618. Sæberht’s three sons inherited and subsequently drove Mellitus out of the city into exile (Bede suggests it’s because he refused them a ‘taste’ of the sacramental bread but its also suggested he was exiled from his bishopric because the overlordship of the East Saxons passed from the now dead King Æthelberht of Kent to the pagan East Anglian King Raedwald and thus the brothers felt there was no need to allow a Christian bishopric in the city any longer).
Mellitus fled first to Canterbury but King Æthelberht’s successor Eadbald was also a pagan and so he continued to Gaul. He was eventually recalled – some suggest his exile was only a year – after Archbishop Laurentius converted Eadbald. Mellitus was not to return to Lundenwic, however, and the bishopric remained vacant for some years thereafter (it wasn’t until 654 that Cedd reclaimed the bishopric).
Mellitis, meanwhile, went on to greater things – he succeeded Laurentius as the third Archbishop of Canterbury following Laurentius’ death in 619. During his time as archbishop, legend has it that Canterbury was saved from fire due to his prayers which summoned a strong wind that kept the flames from the town.
He eventually died on 24th April, 624. He was buried at St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury (the ruins of the abbey remain in the city today).
Mellitus, who has a stone memorial at Canterbury Cathedral (pictured), was later elevated to sainthood within the Roman Catholic Church and there was a shrine to Mellitus in Old St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
November 3, 2014
Long home to the ‘country’ manor of the bishops of London (Fulham Palace, pictured above), the name Fulanham is recorded as early as the late 7th century.
While there’s been speculation in the past that the name Fulham (also recorded among other variations as Fullam) was a corruption of ‘fowl-ham’ – relating to the wild fowl that were to be found here – or of ‘foul-ham’, relating to the muddied waters, that’s now apparently generally deemed not to be the case.
Instead, its name most likely owes its origins to an Anglo-Saxon named Fulla and the Old English word ‘hamm’ – a term for a water meadow or piece of land enclosed in a bend in a river (in contrast to the more common ‘ham’ which refers to an estate or homestead) – and referred to the manor he owned here, its boundaries set by a bend in the Thames. (It should be noted there is evidence of earlier occupation of the site by the Romans and as far back as the Neolithic era).
In about 700, the manor of Fulham – which includes the area we now think of as Fulham as well as land stretching as far afield as Acton, Ealing and Finchley – was acquired by Bishop Waldhere of London from Bishop Tyrhtilus of Hereford. Since Tudor times, Fulham Palace was used as the country home of the bishops of London and in the 20th century became their principal residence. It was used as such until 1975 and now houses a museum and reception rooms.
As well as now being used for the area which once contained what became the village of Fulham itself, since 1979 the name has also been used in that of the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. Interestingly, Fulham Broadway tube station was known as Walham Green when it first opened in 1880 and was only given its current name in 1952.
The bishop’s palace (and the nearby riverside Bishop’s Park) aside, other landmarks in the area include the Grade I-listed All Saints Church, which is largely late Victorian and which hosts the grave of abolitionist Granville Sharp, and the nearby Powell Almhouses which date from 1869.
It’s also linked by Putney Bridge with Putney on the other side of the Thames; the current bridge is the work of Sir Joseph Bazalgette and was built in 1882 – it replaced an earlier wooden bridge built in 1729 and overlooks where the annual Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race begins (other bridges spanning the river from Fulham include the rather ugly Wandsworth Bridge).
Known during the 18th century as something of a mecca for gambling, prostitution and other debauched leisure activities, these days Fulham is known for its football club, Fulham FC headquartered at Craven Cottage stadium (named for a cottage owned by Baron Craven which once stood here), shopping and is a sought-after residential location.
This Week in London – Sutton Hoo rediscovered; The Sixties at Tower Bridge; and, the British Library celebrates spring…
March 27, 2014
• Celebrating 75 years since its discovery this year, the Anglo-Saxon treasure of Sutton Hoo has a new home from this week with the reopening of the renovated gallery housing early medieval artefacts at the British Museum. Excavated at a site in Suffolk in 1939, the Sutton Hoo ship burial is described as the richest intact burial to survive from Europe. It featured a 27 metre long ship and objects including an iconic helmet and is thought to be linked to the death of an Anglo-Saxon king in the early 600s. The treasure now forms the centrepiece of the gallery – Room 41 – which was last renovated in 1985. Other objects in the gallery – which covers Europe during the period from 300 to 1100 – include the Kells Crozier, the Lycurgus Cup, and the Fuller Brooch as well as new objects never shown before such as late Roman mosaics, a copper alloy necklace from the Baltic Sea region and a gilded mount found in a lump of material taken from a Viking woman’s grave. Admission to the gallery – the refurbishment of which was made possible through a donation from Sir Paul and Lady Jill Ruddock – is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• The Sixties are the focus of a new photographic exhibition at Tower Bridge which opens tomorrow. The Sixties features more than 60 iconic images of everyone from actors like Peter Sellers and Elizabeth Taylor to Prime Minister Harold Wilson, fashion icons like Twiggy (pictured), racing car driver Jackie Stewart and activists like the Aldermaston marchers. A rare photograph of comic pair Dudley Moore and Peter Cook – taken as a publicity still for the film The Wrong Box – is a highlight. The images can be seen on the bridge’s West Walkway – located 42 metres above the River Thames – and admission is included in the entry fee to Tower Bridge. Runs until 31st December. For more, see www.towerbridge.org.uk. PICTURE: © Getty Images
• The British Library’s annual celebration of fashion, film and design kicks off today. Now in its third year, the Spring Festival, which runs over the weekend, will give people the chance to see selected material from the newly acquired archive of screenwriter, novelist and playwright Hanif Kureishi (he will also be present, speaking with writer Rachel Holmes about his career). Other events celebrate fashion and film in the Jazz Age, the British newspaper archive and the resources the library has for film-makers. For full details, see www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/spring-festival-2014/events/index.html.
Send all items of interest for inclusion to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 10, 2014
This year we’re launching a new regular edition to Exploring London in which we take a brief look at a moment in the city’s long and colourful history.
First up, we travel back exactly 1,000 years to 1014. The story – recorded in Viking Skaldic poetry but apparently not in Anglo-Saxon sources – goes that during the ongoing conflict between the Danes and Anglo-Saxons, the Danish had taken the city, occupying both the city proper and Southwark. At that stage, there was a timber bridge crossing the Thames.
Desperate to regain the city (the Viking ruler Sweyn died on 3rd February that year – this may have been why the attack was launched), the Anglo-Saxon King Æthelred (known to history as ‘the Unready’) and his Norwegian Viking allies apparently under King Olaf II sailed up the Thames in a large flotilla.
Despite meeting fierce resistance from the Danish occupiers – they lined the bridge and attacked the invasion force with spears – the attackers, apparently using thatching stripped from the rooves of nearby houses to shield themselves, managed to get close enough to attach cables to the bridge’s piers and then pull the bridge down.
There’s much speculation that the song London Bridge is falling down was inspired by the incident but it, like much of this story itself, remains just that – conjecture (but it’s still a nice story!)
The bridge was subsequently rebuilt and King Æthelred died only two years later, on 23rd April, 2016. The crown passed to his son Edmund Ironside but he too died after ruling for less than a year before the Viking Canute was crowned king.
For more on the history of London Bridge, see our earlier posts Lost London – London Bridge and Lost London: Gates Special – The Stone Gate, London Bridge.
PICTURE: Not the original London Bridge
December 3, 2012
Though it’s these days associated with a Brutalist housing estate and performing arts centre based in the north of the City of London, the name Barbican has been associated with the area on which the estate stands for centuries.
The word barbican (from the Latin barbecana) refers to an outer fortification designed to protect the entrance to a city or castle. In this case it apparently referred to watchtower which may have had its origins in Roman or Saxon times (or maybe both). The City of London website suggests it was located “somewhere between the northern side of the Church of St Giles Cripplegate and the YMCA hostel on Fann Street”.
When-ever it was built, the watchtower was apparently demolished on the orders of King Henry III in 1267, possibly as a response to Londoners who had supported England’s barons when they had rebelled against him. One source suggests the tower was rebuilt during the reign of King Edward III but, if so, the date of its subsequent demolition remains unknown.
Later residents of the area – which become known as a place to trade new and used clothes – included John Milton and William Shakespeare.
The area known as Barbican was devastated by bombing raids in World War II. Discussions on the future of the site started in 1952 and for more than 10 years plans for redeveloping the area were debated until finally, in the early 1960s, work began on what is now the Barbican Estate including three tall residential towers (part of the residential estate is pictured above). Completed in the mid 1970s, the Brutalist design of the complex, which features buildings named after historical figures associated with the area, means it meets with strong reactions from those who encounter it whether love – or hate.
Construction of the arts centre – known as the Barbican Centre – the largest performing arts centre in Europe and home to the London Symphony Orchestra – was started in the early 1970s. The £156 million centre was eventually opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1982.
Other buildings within the Grade II listed complex include the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the City of London School for Girls and a YMCA.
February 10, 2012
Originally the northern gate of the Roman fort constructed in about 120 AD, Cripplegate was rebuilt several times during the medieval period before finally being demolished in 1760 as part of road widening measures.
The origins of the gate’s name are shrouded by the mists of time but it has been suggested that it was named for the beggars or cripples that once begged there or that it could come from an Anglo-Saxon word crepel which means a covered walkway.
The name may even be associated with an event which took place there in 1100 when, fearful of marauding Danes, Bishop Alwyn ordered the body of Edmund the Martyr, a sainted former Anglo-Saxon king, to be tranferred from its usual home in Bury St Edmunds to St Gregory’s Church near St Paul’s in London so that it could be kept safe. It was said that when the body passed through the gate, many of the cripples there were miraculously healed.
The gate (pictured here in an 18th century etching as it would have looked in 1663 in an image taken from a London Wall Walk plaque), which gave access in medieval times to what was then the village of Islington, was associated with the Brewer’s Company and was used for some time as a prison.
It was defensive works, known as a barbican, built on the northern side of the gate in the Middle Ages which are apparently responsible for the post World War II adoption of the name Barbican for that area of London which once stood outside the gate’s northern facade (the gates stood at what is now the intersection of Wood Street and St Alphage Garden).
The gate’s name now adorns the street known as Cripplegate as well as the name of the church St Giles Cripplegate, which originally stood outside the city walls. It is also the name of one of the 25 wards of the City of London. The original site of the gate is marked with a blue plaque.
February 1, 2012
One of a few London churches to have escaped the Great Fire of 1666 (the flames are said to have come within 100 metres before the wind changed direction), St Olave Hart Street is named after the patron saint of Norway, St Olaf – a figure more known for his ability as a warrior than as a saint.
King Olaf II was King of Norway in the early 11th century and an ally of the Saxon King, Ethelred the Unready. The Norwegian king won the thanks of the English after he fought alongside Ethelred against the Danes in 1014 in what some refer to as the Battle of London Bridge.
According to some, the church was built on the site of where the battle was fought – many also believe the battle was also the inspiration for the nursery rhyme, London Bridge Is Falling Down, for it was during that battle that Olaf, who was helping Ethelred retake London, is credited with using his longships to pull down London Bridge in a effort to thwart the Danish occupiers.
The church, meanwhile, was rebuilt a couple of times in the Middle Ages, when it was said to have been known as St Olave-towards-the-Tower. The church which now stands on the site was built in 1450 with the distinctive red brick on the tower added in the early 18th century.
Having survived the Great Fire in 1666, the church was not so fortunate during the Blitz when it was struck by German bombs. It was subsequently restored with King Haakon VII of Norway attending the re-opening in the mid-1950s (there is a stone laid in front of the sanctuary which he brought from Trondheim Cathedral).
Other features inside include a recently returned 17th century bust of a prominent physician Dr Peter Turner – part of a monument which went missing after World War II, it resurfaced at an auction in 2010.
The church’s most famous parishioner was the 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys who lived and worked in the nearby Naval Office (for more on Pepys see our earlier entry here). The door through which he would have entered the church is marked with a 19th century memorial.
Pepys and his wife Elizabeth are both buried in the church (the memorial Pepys commissioned for her is still there) as is his brother John. Samuel Pepys’ life is commemorated at a service held close to the day he died – 26th May – each year.
Others associated with the church include Sir William Penn, an admiral and father of the William Penn who founded Pennsylvania in what is now the United States, and Charles Dickens, who gave it the name “Ghastly Grim” thanks to the skulls above its Seething Lane entrance.
St Olave’s is also the chapel of the The Clothworker’s Company, The Worshipful Company of Environmental Cleaners and Trinity House, a charitable organisation dedicated to the safety, welfare and training of mariners established by Royal Charter from King Henry VIII in 1514.
WHERE: Corner of Hart Street and Seething Lane in the City (nearest Tube stations are Tower Hill and Monument). WHEN: See website for details; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.sanctuaryinthecity.net/St-Olaves.html
December 16, 2011
Its name now more well known as one of the City of London’s 25 wards, Aldersgate was a gate opening to the city’s north, located close to where the Museum of London now stands, and was one of the city’s four original gates.
The gate’s origins go back to late Roman times – it was apparently created to strengthen the city’s northern defences against Saxon incursions – and was built with two roadways passing through the wall protected by semi-circular towers. (The name apparently has nothing to do with the age of the gate as many believe but may be a corruption of a Saxon name Ealdred or come from a type of tree which grew nearby.)
An important link to places like the fair at Smithfield, St Bartholomew’s Priory and the Charterhouse in the Middle Ages, it was used as a prison and even as late as 1660, diarist Samuel Pepys writes of seeing the limbs of executed traitors displayed upon it. It was also had residential quarters above it – these were said to have been occupied at times by the City Crier and in the mid-1500s were used by printer and stationer John Day (he is said to have printed an early copy of the Bible, dedicated to King Edward VI, there in 1549).
In 1603, it was through Aldersgate that King James I entered London (his arms were later placed over the gate), and just 14 years later, in 1617, the entire gate was rebuilt. Repaired in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666 (it’s final form was said to feature, as well as the arms of King James I, statues of the Biblical figures Jeremiah and Samuel), it was finally demolished in 1761 to improve the flow of traffic.
PICTURE: Site of where Aldersgate once stood. To the right of the picture is the Church of St Botolph-without-Aldersgate.
December 2, 2011
We’re launching a new ‘Lost London’ special looking at some of the now disappeared gates of London. First up is Ludgate which once stood on the western side of the city.
The gate is believed to have been constructed in Roman times and is known to have been rebuilt a several times – once in 1215 and another time after it was destroyed in the Great Fire – before being demolished in 1760 to allow for the road to be widened.
The origins of the name – which is today commemorated in street names like Ludgate Hill and Ludgate Circus – are sketchy but may have been named after the mythical pre-Roman King Lud, who was, so the legend goes, buried underneath this portal (this myth was popularised by the 12th century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth). Others have suggested ‘lud’ is a corruption of ‘flud’ or ‘flood’ and the gate was so named because it prevented the city being flooded by the River Fleet. Another possibility is that ‘lud’ is simply an old English word for a postern gate, a small secondary gate.
Whatever the origins of its name, it has been suggested it was through Ludgate that William the Conqueror passed when first entering the city. In 1377 it became a prison for petty criminals like debtors and trespassers – serious criminals were sent to Newgate – and this lasted until its final destruction.
There is a blue plaque on the wall of the church of St Martin-within-Ludgate in Ludgate Hill marking where Ludgate once stood (pictured above). It is believed that some badly corroded statues standing under a porch at the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West on Fleet Street are of Lud and his sons and were taken down from the gate before its demolition. William Kerwin’s statue of Queen Elizabeth I which dates from 1586 sits in a niche on the front of the church is also believed to have been removed from Ludgate.
November 2, 2011
The oldest of the royal parks, the 74 hectare (183 acre) Greenwich Park has been associated with royalty since at least the 15th century.
The area covered by the park had been occupied by the Romans (there are some remains of a building, possibly a temple, near Maze Hill Gate) and later the Danes, who raised protective earthworks here in the 11th century. After the Norman Conquest, it became a manor.
Its enclosure only happened in 1433 after the land came into the possession of Humphrey of Lancaster, Duke of Gloucester and brother of King Henry V. At the time regent to the young King Henry VI, Duke Humphrey also built a tower on the heights above the park – where the Royal Observatory now stands.
Following the duke’s death in 1447, the land was seized by Margaret of Anjou – wife of King Henry VI – and subsequently became known as the Manor of Placentia. King Henry VII later rebuilt the manor house, creating what was known as Greenwich Palace or the Palace of Placentia.
Not surprisingly, it was King Henry VIII, who, having been born at Greenwich Palace, introduced deer to the park. Indeed the park was to have strong associations with others in his family – the king married Catherine of Aragorn and Anne of Cleeves at Greenwich Palace, and his daughters, later Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I, were born there while his son, King Edward VI, died there in 1553 at the age of only 15. (There’s a tree in the park known as Queen Elizabeth’s Oak, which is said to be where she played as a child).
In 1613, King James I gave the palace and accompanying park – which he had enclosed with a high wall – to his wife, Queen Anne of Denmark, apparently as an apology after swearing at her in public when she accidentally shot one of his favorite dogs. Queen Anne subsequently commissioned Inigo Jones to design what is now known as the Queen’s House – for more on that, see our earlier post.
Following the Restoration, King Charles II ordered the palace rebuilt and while this work remained unfinished, the king did succeed in having the park remodelled – it is believed that Andre Le Notre, gardener to King Louis XIV of France, had a role in this.
The works included cutting a series of terraces into the slope – these were known as the Great Steps and lined with hawthorn hedges – as well as creating a formal avenue of chestnut trees (now known as Blackheath Avenue), and some woodlands. Work is currently taking place on restoring an orchard which dates from 1666 at the park.
King Charles II also commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to build the Royal Observatory that still stands on the hill overlooking the park – it stands on the site once occupied by the Duke Humphrey Tower (the Royal Observatory is home of the Prime Meridian – see our earlier post on the Royal Observatory for more).
King James II was the last monarch to use the palace and park – his daughter Queen Mary II donated the palace for use as a hospital for veteran sailors and the park was opened to the pensioners in the early 1700s. The hospital later become the Royal Naval College and the National Maritime Museum later moved onto the site (for more on this, see our earlier post).
As an aside, Royal Parks say the truncated shape of some of the trees in the park is apparently due to the fact that when anti-aircraft guns were positioned in the flower garden during World War II, the trees had to be trimmed to ensure a clear field of fire.
Facilities in the park today include a tea house, a children’s playground, sporting facilities such as tennis courts and, of course, the Wilderness Deer Park where you can see wildlife at large. Statues include that of Greenwich resident General James Wolfe, an instrumental figure in establishing British rule in Canada – it sits on the crest of the hill opposite the Royal Observatory looking down towards the Thames.
The park, which is part of the Greenwich World Heritage Site, is slated as a venue for next year’s Olympics – it will host equestrian events and the shooting and running events of the pentathlon.
WHERE: Greenwich Park (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark – other nearby stations include Greenwich, Maze Hill and Blackheath); WHEN: 6am to at least 6pm (closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx