This Week in London – Three of London’s oldest charters on show and other coronation celebrations; Sir Christopher Wren’s life explored; and, a Pre-Raphaelite model and artist honoured…

• Three of the City of London’s oldest charters go on display at the City of London Heritage Gallery on Saturday as part of a series of events commemorating the coronation of King Charles III. On display will be the William Charter, which, drawn up in 1067 following the coronation of King William the Conqueror, was the earliest known royal document in Europe to guarantee the collective rights of all people in a town and not just a select few. Also to be seen is the Shrievalty Charter, which, issued by King John in 1199, confirms the rights of Londoners to elect their own sheriffs, and the Mayoralty Charter, which, also issued by King John – this time in 1215, confirmed that the Mayor of London could also chosen by Londoners with the proviso that they were publicly presented. Visitors can also see the beautifully illustrated Cartae Antiquae which records charters and statutes covering laws enacted from the reign of Edward III (1327 onwards) to the accession of Henry VII in 1485 and was used as an essential reference tool by City officials, as well as prints of the 19th century coronations of Queen Victoria, King William IV and King George IV. Admission is free but booking is recommended. Runs until 5th October. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/events/heritage-gallery-exhibition.

St Paul’s Cathedral PICTURE: Vinay Datla/Unsplash

• Other events marking the coronation kick off in the City of London in the coming week. Among the extensive list of activities is a pop-up well-being garden in Seething Lane where you can pose for pictures with a floral crown installation, a guided walking tour of the City entitled ‘1000 Years of Royalty – the Best, the Worst and the Very Horribilus’, and a “Cockney knees-up” with Pearly King and Pearly Prince at Leadenhall Market. For more details and the full list of events, head to www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/events/coronation.

• A new exhibition commemorating the expansive career of Sir Christopher Wren opens today in St Paul’s Cathedral – the extraordinary building designed by Wren to replace the medieval cathedral destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 Part of a series of events marking the 300th anniversary of the death of Sir Christopher in 1723, Sir Christopher Wren: The Quest for Knowledge explores not only his early life and career as an architect but also his lesser-known contributions to the fields of mathematics, astronomy and physiology. The display, located in the north aisle of the crypt, features drawings, photographs and objects from the cathedral’s collections. Entry to the exhibition is included in general admission. For more, see www.stpauls.co.uk/whats-on/exhibition-christopher-wren-quest-for-knowledge.

• The Pre-Raphaelite model and artist, Marie Spartali Stillman, has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at what was her family home in Battersea. It was while living at The Shrubbery – a 1770s Grade II-listed property now located on Lavender Gardens – that Stillman first modelled for Pre-Raphaelite artists. Tutored by Ford Madox Brown, she went on to become one of a small number of professional women artists in the late 19th century, creating more than 150 works over a period spanning 50 years. Stillman is the first female Pre-Raphaelite artist and one of only very few female artists to receive a Blue Plaque. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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Moments in London’s history – Five (more) unusual facts about royal coronations past…

Following last week’s unusual facts, here’s five more…

The coronation of King William I (aka William the Conqueror) was marred by riots. The new King had chosen to be crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1066, in a display of power (kings had in the past been crowned in Winchester). But when shouts of support for the new king were mistakenly thought to be an assassination attempt, Norman soldiers outside the abbey began setting fire to nearby houses, causing the abbey to fill with smoke and the congregation to flee while outside people rioted. William nonetheless ensured the service was completed.

Henry, the eldest son of King Henry II, had a coronation service at Westminster Abbey while his father was still monarch – the only instance of this occurring. While crowning the heir during the lifetime of the monarch was a more common practice in France, it was not so in England. But in an effort to settle the succession, King Henry II had Henry crowned on 14th June, 1170. Sadly Henry, known as Henry the Young King, did not live to succeed his father but died at just the age of 28 in 1183 after contracting dysentery while campaigning with his younger brother Richard (later King Richard I) against their father. King Henry II died on 6th July, 1189, and was succeeded by Richard.

There has only been one coronation in the abbey in which two monarchs were crowned at the same time. After King James II was deposed, William of Orange and his wife Mary were jointly invited to rule in what was known as the Glorious Revolution. They were crowned together at Westminster Abbey on 11th April, 1689. King William III sat in the Coronation Chair while another chair was specifically made for Queen Mary II, and, while the king was crowned using the traditional regalia, a special set of regalia was made for Mary.

Only two of King Henry VIII’s six wives had coronations. Catherine of Aragon was crowned alongside the King on 24th June, 1509 (she sat on a lower chair). Anne Boleyn, meanwhile, was crowned on 1st June, 1533. Interestingly, she was crowned with St Edward’s Crown which had up until then only been used to crown the monarch. Jane Seymour died before she could be crowned (there had been plague in London at the time she married Henry), while his marriage with Anne of Cleves was annulled before she could be crowned and Catherine Howard was executed before any coronation took place. By the time the king married Catherine Parr, he was ageing and ill and a coronation was unlikely to be high on his agenda.

King Henry VI is the youngest monarch to have been crowned at Westminster Abbey. He was aged just eight-years-old when he was crowned on 6th November, 1429, having become king at the age of just eight-months-old when his father, King Henry V, died on 31st August, 1422 (other children to have been crowned in the abbey include King Edward VI, who was just nine at his coronation). King Charles III – whose coronation will take place on 6th May – will be the oldest monarch to have been crowned at the abbey.

Correction: We’ve corrected the position of the two Catherines after the names were accidentally transposed.

This Week in London – Coronations at Westminster Abbey; tulips at Hampton Court; St Bartholomew at The National Gallery; and, Food Season at the British Library…

A new exhibition exploring the 1,000-year history of coronations at Westminster Abbey has opened in the abbey’s medieval chapter house. The exhibition, which has opened ahead of the coronation of King Charles III on 6th May, draws on historic illustrations and archive photography to explore the elements of the coronation service including the oath-taking, anointing, investing and crowning and takes a closer look any some of key artefacts present in the ceremony including the Coronation Chair. The exhibition, which is free with admission to the abbey and which runs until the end of September, is part of a season of events celebrating the coronation including themed late evenings, family activities and special afternoon teas at the Cellarium Café. Meanwhile, the abbey has also announced that visitors will be able to view the ‘Coronation Theatre’ – the special area which will be built for the historic occasion, from the Abbey’s North and South Transepts – following the coronation. Tickets for the special viewing – which will include the chance to see key elements from the coronation service including the Coronation Chair still in position on the Cosmati Pavement – can be purchased for timed slots between 8th and 13th May. For more on the abbey’s events surrounding the coronation, see www.westminster-abbey.org/events.

Tulips at Hampton Court Palace in 2021. PICTURE: Derek Winterburn (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

Hampton Court Palace bursts into colour from Friday with its annual Tulip Festival. More than 110,000 bulbs have been planted to creat dramatic displays in the formal gardens and cobbled courtyards, among them a selection of heirloom bulbs on display in the Lower Orangery Garden which presents visitors with the chance to see tulips as they would have looked during the time of King William III and Queen Mary II, soon after the flowers were first introduced to Britain. Thanks to a special relationship with Netherlands-based Hortus Bulborum, the bulbs on display include Sylvestris (1595) and Rubella Broken (1700) as well as the Orange King (1903) and Queen of the Night (1940). Other highlights of the festival include 3,000 wine-toned tulips, including the merlot variety, flowing down from the steps and parapet of the Wine Fountain, as well as a floral fantasy in the palace’s courtyards in which tulips such as Raspberry Ripple, Apricot Emperor and Purple Prince flow out of wheelbarrows, barrels and a horse cart, and a free-style tulip planting in the Kitchen Garden inspired by Van Gogh’s 1883 painting, Bulb Fields. Runs until 1st May. Admission charge applies. For more, see https://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/whats-on/tulip-festival/.

Bernardo Cavallino (1616 ‑ 1656?), Saint Bartholomew (about 1640-1645), oil on canvas H x W: 176 x 125.5 cm; The National Gallery, London. Bought with the support of the American Friends of the National Gallery, 2023
PICTURE: © The National Gallery, London

The recently acquired Bernardo Cavallino work, Saint Bartholomew has gone on show at The National Gallery. The painting, which dates from 1640-45 and which was last exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1993, is being displayed alongside other 17th century works by artists such as Caravaggio, Artemisia and Orazio Gentileschi, Guercino, Reni and Ribera in the Hans and Julia Rausing Room (Room 32). The National Gallery has one other work by Cavallino – Christ driving the Traders from the Temple – but his depiction of Saint Bartholomew is considered one of his most splendid works. Admission is free. For more, see nationalgallery.org.uk.

Featuring everything from a celebration of African Caribbean takeaways to a “deep-dive” into the issues surrounding food production and access, Food Season kicks off at the British Library Monday. Highlights include a discussion of the sandwich by food writers Nigella Lawson, Jonathan Nunn and Rebecca May Johnson, a day-long celebration of African Caribbean cuisine featuring chefs and broadcasters Jimi Famurewa, Fatmata Binta and Andi Oliver, and, an exploration of the big challenges in food, land use and food production featuring author Henry Dimbleby alongside Dr Tara Garnett, Nick Saltmarsh, Abby Allen and Dimitri Houtart. Runs until 7th June. Admission charges apply. For the full programme, see www.bl.uk/events/food-season.

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10 historic London homes that are now museums…10. Flamsteed House…

Flamsteed House from Greenwich Park. PICTURE: David Adams

Located at the heart of what is now known as the Old Royal Observatory in Greenwich is a residence, built for the first Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed and subsequently used by his successors to the post.

The property was built at the behest of King Charles II after he appointed Flamsteed to the post in March, 1675. Flamsteed, who initially worked out of the Queen’s House below, laid the foundation stone for the new property on 16th August that year.

Designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built under the supervision of Robert Hooke, the building was constructed on the foundations of the previous building on the site – known variously as Duke Humphrey’s Tower or Greenwich Castle) – and used bricks from spare stock at Tilbury Fort, and wood, iron and lead from a demolished gatehouse at the Tower of London.

Costing some £520, the three story property featured a large hall and parlour on the ground floor, a bedroom and study for the then-single Flamsteed, a basement kitchen and “astronomer rooms” while on the floor above was a single large, octagonal room, known initially as the “Great Room” and later as the “Octagon. Room”, featuring a series of tall windows through which Flamstead could conduct his observations of the heavens.

A telescope was mounted on the roof and two summerhouses, one of which contained Flamsteed’s camera obscura, were built on either side. Other buildings on the site during Flamsteed’s time included the adjoining Quadrant House and Sextant House (so-named for the equipment they housed).

The original property was extended several times and a series of additional buildings were also added to the site including what is now known as the Meridian Building (which incorporates not only Flamsteed’s Sextant House and Quadrant House but subsequent additions including apartments for an assistant, fireproof record rooms and domes to house equipment including the Telescope Dome.

Flamsteed House. PICTURE: givingnot@rocketmail.com (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

In 1946, the scientific work of the observatory was relocated to Herstmonceux in Sussex and the complex came under the management of the National Maritime Museum. In 1960, Flamsteed House was reopened as part of the museum; other buildings later followed suit.

The site was renovated in the early 1990s and reopened to the public as a museum in 1993.

These days Flamsteed House hosts displays about its construction as well as what life was like for those who lived there. Wren’s Octagon Room, which houses a collection of timepieces and astronomical instruments, remains a highlight.

Flamsteed House is now topped by a time-ball which was installed in 1919 (replacing an earlier one which was installed in 1833) and drops each day at 1pm.

WHERE: Flamsteed House, Royal Observatory Greenwich (nearest stations are Cutty Sark DLR and Greenwich and Maze Hill Stations); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily; COST: £16 adults/£10 under 25s/students/£8 children; WEBSITE: www.rmg.co.uk/royal-observatory/attractions/flamsteed-house.

This Week in London – The Van de Veldes at the Queen’s House; Young V&A to open in July; Roman pottery kiln to return to Highgate Wood; and, welcome to ‘Kyiv Road’…

‘Royal visit to the fleet in the Thames Estuary, 6 June 1672’ by Willem Van De Velde The Younger © National Maritime Museum, London

The work of 17th century marine painters Willem van de Velde the Elder and Willem van de Velde the Younger is the subject of a new exhibition at the Queen’s House in Greenwich – the location of a studio King Charles II granted to them. The Van de Veldes: Greenwich, Art and the Sea features the newly conserved painting, A Royal Visit to the Fleet, which they worked on in their studio at the Queen’s House in the 1670s and which, at almost four metres across, was the largest seascape Van de Velde the Younger had painted to date (pictured after conservation above). Also on show is the The Burning of the Royal James at the Battle of Solebay, 28 May 1672, otherwise known as The Solebay Tapestry and originally one of six, along with a selection of some of the more than 1,400 drawings from the National Maritime Museum’s collection. The exhibition, which is free to visit, runs until 14th January, 2024. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/van-de-velde.

• The Young V&A will open on 1st July following a three year transformation project, it was announced this week. Formerly known as the V&A Museum of Childhood, the Bethnal Green institution will display “remarkable and optimistic stories of children’s ingenuity” alongside 2,000 works from the V&A’s collection of art, design, and performance. Features will include an interactive Minecraft installation, murals by street artist Mark Malarko, tech solutions created for Raspberry Pi’s Coolest Projects, and, a display of portraits by photographer Rehan Jamil capturing young people expressing what creativity means to them and set alongside self-portraits by the likes of Chila Kumari Singh Burman, Quentin Blake, Kenneth Branagh, Dapo Adeola, and Linda McCartney. Also announced was the first exhibition at the new facility – Japan: Myths to Manga – which will open on 14th October. For more, see vam.ac.uk/young.

The most complete Roman pottery kiln ever found in Greater London is going on display in a visitor centre at Highgate Wood from September next year. The kiln, which was excavated from the wood in Haringey in the 1960s and 1970s, has been in storage beneath Bruce Castle Museum. But thanks to a £243,550 grant by The National Lottery Heritage Fund to charity Friends of Highgate Roman Kiln, it will be returned for public display. The kiln is said to be one of the best-preserved Roman pottery kilns found in the UK and is thought to be the last one built by Roman potters who worked in Highgate Wood between 50CE to 160CE to supply Londinium and south-east England with distinctive ‘Highgate Ware’ pottery. 

A small section of Bayswater Road has been renamed Kyiv Road to mark the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The new road name was installed last Friday on the road which runs from Palace Court to Ossington Street and is located not far from the Russian Embassy. Councillor Adam Hug, leader of Westminster City Council, said the request for the new name came from the Ukrainian community. “Westminster is home to Ukrainians displaced by the war, and our residents have opened their hearts and their doors to those fleeing Putin’s war machine,” he said in a statement. “As the centre of an international capital, it seemed to us entirely fitting that part of our City should carry a torch for the unbowed defenders of Ukraine. It’s a small stretch of road, but we want to show the people of Ukraine that their struggle has a visible place in our city.”

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Treasures of London – The ‘Line of Kings’…

PICTURE: HRP/Newsteam

A star sight at the Tower of London for some 350 years, the ‘Line of Kings’ dates back to the mid-17th century and was originally installed in the Royal Armouries at the Tower to promote the restored monarchy of King Charles II and the Stuart dynasty.

Often described as the “world’s longest running tourist attraction” (the first visitor was recorded in 1652), it features the historic armour of monarchs on wooden figures and accompanied by fully decked-out carved horses – the work of Grinling Gibbons and others among Britain’s best woodcarvers.

The line has been added to and redisplayed numerous times over its history, partly to accommodate successive monarchs (17 in all were included with King George II being the last).

Only those monarchs deemed worthy were included – this deemed “bad” kings like King Richard III were omitted while “good” kings like King William the Conqueror, King Edward III and King Henry V were included. Queens were not included – when Queen Mary II and King William III were created joint monarchs, only King William was included.

The display began to be mentioned in guidebooks from the 1750s onwards. In 1825, amid growing scholarship and criticism, the line underwent a major change.

It was dismantled and then redisplayed in a purpose-built gallery adjoining the south side of the White Tower. The new line-up included prominent noblemen as well as kings while the kings themselves were reshuffled with some, like King Edward III, dropped, and King James II added.

It was further enhanced in 1869 but the display closed in 1882. The equestrian figures then appeared on the upper floor of the White Tower.

The Line of Kings, which is now located on the entrance floor of the Tower, last underwent a significant revamp between 2011 and 2013.

Highlights include the earlier surviving armour of King Henry VIII – a silvered and engraved armour which was made in the years following his coronation in 1509 – as well as the gilded armours of King Charles I and King James II.

WHERE: White Tower, Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm daily; COST: £29.90 adults; £14.90 children under 15; £24 concession; family tickets from £52.20; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.  

Lost London – ‘Charles II trampling Cromwell’…

The statue at Newby Hall in North Yorkshire. PICTURE: Chris Heaton (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Originally installed at the Stocks Market in the City of London, this equestrian statue shows a figure atop a horse which is trampling over a prostrate figure lying on the ground.

The marble statue, which stands on a tall plinth, is believed to have been created in Italy by an unknown sculptor. It originally depicted Polish King John III Sobieski riding down a Turkish soldier. But it was bought to London by goldsmith and banker Sir Robert Vyner in the early 1670s.

A strong supporter of King Charles II, he had the sculpture’s head remodelled by Jasper Latham to depict the King (although the figure beneath was left largely untouched, meaning if it is supposed to represent Cromwell, he’s wearing a turban).

Sir Robert, who had been responsible for making the king’s new coronation regalia to replace items lost or destroyed during the Commonwealth, offered to have the statue installed at the Royal Exchange after it was rebuilt following the Great Fire of 1666. When that was rejected, he had the statue installed at the Stocks Market – originally named for being the only location of fixed stocks in the City – near Cornhill in 1675 (Sir Robert served as Lord Mayor around the same time).

The statue was removed in 1739 to make way for the Mansion House. But all was not lost – given back to Vyner’s grandnephew, also Robert Vyner, it reappeared some years later at the Vyner family estate at Gautby Hall. In 1883, it was relocated to Newby Hall in North Yorkshire (which had come into the family via an inheritance) and still remains there today, about 150 metres east of the hall. It received a Grade II listing in 1967.

10 (lesser known) statues of English monarchs in London…7. Three Stuart Kings and a Queen… 

King Charles I (left) and his son King Charles II on what is now the south side of the gateway. PICTURE: haluk ermis (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The equestrian statue of King Charles I at the top of Whitehall is one of London’s most well-known. But less well-known is the statue of the ill-fated King which can be found standing in a niche on the Temple Bar gateway, located at the entrance to Paternoster Square just outside of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Charles is not alone. Part of the gateway’s purpose was as a dynastic statement in support of the Stuarts so the grand portal also features statues of Charles’ father King James I, his mother Queen Anne of Denmark, and his son King Charles II. King James and Queen Anne can be found on the north side of the gateway (originally the east side) and the two Charles’ on the south side (originally the west side).

The design of the gateway, which originally stood at the intersection of Fleet Street and the Strand as a ceremonial entrance into the City of London, is believed to be the work of Sir Christopher Wren who was acting on the orders of King Charles II after the Great Fire of London.

Queen Anne of Denmark and King James I on the north side of the gateway. PICTURE: lizsmith (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The statues, which cost a third of the total £1,500 spent on the gateway, are said to have been sculpted by one John Bushnell. They are depicted in Roman attire rather than the dress they would have worn during the period.

They were removed when the gateway was dismantled in 1878 and stored in a yard of Farringdon Road and when the gateway was re-erected at Lady Meux’s Hertfordshire estate at Theobold’s Park, they were placed back in their original locations. And they also accompanied the gateway back to the city when it was positioned its current location in 2004.

This Week in London – Tulips at Hampton Court; new Falklands-related displays at the IWM; and, a new garden for The Regent’s Park…

Hoping you have a wonderful Easter break.

PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces

Hampton Court Palace’s Tulip Festival – the largest of its kind in the UK – is returning following its successful inaugural year in 2021. From Friday until 2nd May (depending on flowering periods), the palace’s 60 acres of formal gardens are expected to be filled with rare, historic and specialist tulip varieties inspired by Queen Mary II’s famous 17th century collection which was once housed at the palace. Some 120,000 tulip bulbs of 60 different varieties have been planted, including breath-taking floating tulip vases located in the palace’s famous fountains, and floral displays which will fill the cobbled courtyards of Base Court and Clock Court. Visitors will be able to find out all about the links between the flower and the palace’s history with a dedicated Tulip Festival Guide. Included with admission. For more, head here.

New exhibits marking the 40th anniversary of the Falklands Conflict have gone on show at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth. Among the new items on display are drawings by Linda Kitson, the first female artist commissioned by IWM to accompany troops into conflict, and images of the conflict – many of which have never been seen before – taken by photographer Paul RG Haley who covered it for Soldier Magazine. The museum is also exploring the story and legacy of the conflict through a digital programme of events including a series of short films and a new episode of the Conflict of Interest podcast featuring actor Katherine Parkinson. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.

The Regent’s Park will soon boast a new 1.5 acre garden at its centre in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee. The new garden, to be created on the site of a former plant nursery near the Inner Circle, will include design features that reflect the Queen’s “love of trees and nature”. The Royal Parks will be committing £1 million to the project and will seek external funding and public donations. Designs for the new park will be shared as they are developed. Meanwhile, The Royal Parks have also announced they will be creating a new wood in Richmond Park as part of the Queen’s Green Canopy Initiative. The new woodland, which will be located adjacent to Ham Cross, will be planted with 70 large trees, each one to mark a year of Her Majesty’s reign.

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10 historic stairways in London – 8. The King’s Staircase, Kensington Palace… 

PICTURE: Tuomo Lindfors (licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This staircase, a grand entrance to the King’s State Apartments at Kensington Palace, are famous for the paintings on the walls and ceiling which depict an 18th century court looking down on those who ascend.

The work of William Kent, the staircase paintings were complete in 1724 and replaced earlier wooden panelling.

The stairs were originally constructed as part of Sir Christopher Wren’s remodelling Nottingham House into Kensington Palace for King William III and Queen Mary II. Following a fire in 1691, they were rebuilt in marble.

There are 45 people in Kent’s painting and only about a dozen have been identified. As well as members of the Yeomen of the Guard, the images depict King George I’s Polish page Ulric, his Turkish servants Mahomet and Mustapha, Peter the ‘wild boy’, a child found in the woods in Germany, and Dr John Arbuthnot, a medical doctor and satirist who tried to teach Peter to speak.

Interestingly, Kent included a selfie on the ceiling – a depiction of himself, wearing a brown turban and carrying an artist’s palette, standing with his mistress by his side.

The trompe l’oeil (a technique which creates the optical illusion of 3D) work features architecture inspired by Rome where Kent had trained while there’s also a painted figure of Diana on the top landing which is based on an antique statue at Holkham Hall in Norfolk.

In 1734, Queen Caroline commissioned Kent to rework the stairs to the Queen’s State Apartments. His work there features a Roman-inspired scene again created as a trompe l’oeil. There is also a homage to Queen who is compared to Britannia. The staircase’s balustrade was another by Huguenot ironworker Jean Tijou.

WHERE: The Broad Walk, Kensington Gardens, Kensington (nearest tube stations are High Street Kensington or Queensway); WHEN: Daily 10am to 6pm (last admission 5pm); COST: £16 adult/£12.80 concession/£8 child (Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace.

Treasures of London – The Solebay Tapestry…

The Burning of the Royal James at the Battle of Solebay, 28 May 1672 © National Maritime Museum, London

A monumental tapestry – and the only surviving one of its era depicting an English naval scene, the Solebay Tapestry was actually one a series of six designed by father and son team, Willem Van de Velde the Elder and Younger.

Commissioned by King Charles II and his brother, James, Duke of York (later King James II), the tapestry known as The Burning of the Royal James at the Battle of Solebay, 28 May 1672 – commemorates the Battle of Solebay, a naval battle fought in Southwold Bay off the coast of Suffolk on 28th May, 1672. The first battle of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, it ended with both sides claiming victory and was the final naval battle in which James was engaged.

It depicts the dramatic climax of the battle and shows the Royal James engulfed in flames after it was set alight by Dutch fireships. Edward Montagu, the first Earl of Sandwich whose was aboard the Royal James, died in the attack.

Detail from the Solebay Tapestry, showing the burning of the ‘Royal James’, before conservation. © National Maritime Museum, London

William Van de Veldes the Elder, who was a contemporary of Rembrandt and, along with his son, is considered the founder of English maritime painting, was present at the battle and made a series of sketches from a boat at the scene (he was actually there for the Dutch, not the English).

Subsequently commissioned to reimagine the battle from the English point-of-view, it was the studios of the Van de Velds in the Queen’s House in Greenwich that a series of ‘cartoons’ – large-scale paper designs – were produced using the sketches.

These were then presented to weavers who, once thought to have been based in Mortlake but now believed to have been based in either at Clerkenwell or Hatton Garden, used them to create the tapestries.

The tapestry in the collection of Royal Museums Greenwich was displayed behind King George VI during his speech at the opening of the National Maritime Museum in 1937 but hasn’t been able to be displayed for the past 22 years due to its fragile condition.

In urgent need of repair, the first phase of a conservation project was completed last year. Royal Museums Greenwich has now launched an urgent crowdfunding campaign through ‘Art Happens with Art Fund’ to raise £15,000 for the completion of the project. This will mean the tapestry can be included in an exhibition at the Queen’s House next February marking 350 years since the Van de Veldes’ arrival in England.

The crowdfunding campaign runs until 17th March. To contribute, head to www.artfund.org/save-solebay.

Detail from the Solebay Tapestry of sailor washed out to sea, taken in March 2019 before conservation. © National Maritime Museum, London

10 historic stairways in London – 5. The King’s Staircase, Hampton Court Palace…

The King’s Staircase at Hampton Court Palace. PICTURE: Peter K Burian (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

This grand staircase was installed in Hampton Court Palace during the reign of King William III and Queen Mary II as a grand entrance to the King’s Apartments.

The staircase, which features shallow steps, was designed Sir Christopher Wren and features a wrought iron balustrade designed by French ironsmith Jean Tijou.

Another view of the staircase and accompanying art. PICTURE: David Adams

It was decorated in about 1700 by Italian painter Antonio Verrio to resemble a Roman courtyard which is open to the sky. The main image depicts ‘Victory of Alexander over the Caesars’ which features King William III as Alexander the Great and is painted as an allegory of William’s triumph over the Stuart King, James II, in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 (with the Stuarts represented by the 12 Caesars).

The stairs lead up to the Guard Chamber, an anteroom which had to be passed through to reach the Presence Chamber.

Treasures of London – Wren’s Great Model of St Paul’s Cathedral…

PICTURE: Andrea Vail (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

Housed now in the building it depicts, the Great Model of St Paul’s Cathedral was created by architect Sir Christopher Wren to show King Charles II what his proposed grand new English Baroque cathedral would look like (following the destruction of the medieval cathedral in the Great Fire of 1666).

Made of oak, plaster and lime wood, the model was made by William Cleere to Wren’s design in between September, 1673, and October, 1674, at a scale of 1:25. It measures 6.27 metres long, 3.68 metres wide and more than four metres tall, making it one of the largest in the UK.

The model, which cost about £600 to make – an extraordinary sum which could apparently buy a good London house, was designed to be “walked through” at eye level and, as well as being a useful way to show the King what the proposed building would look like, was also something of an insurance policy in case something happened to Wren.

It was based on drawings made by Wren and his assistant Edward Woodroofe on a large table in the cathedral’s convocation or chapter house (later demolished in the early 1690s) and was originally painted white to represent Portland stone with a blue-grey dome and gilded details.

There are some differences between the model and the finished cathedral – among them was a substantial extension of the quire, double-height portico on the west front, and, of course, the bell towers on the west front which were made in place of the cupola which was located halfway down the nave on the model.

Part of an earlier wooden model from 1671 also survives – it was apparently lost for many years and rediscovered in 1935.

The Great Model can be seen on tours of the Triforium.

WHERE: St Paul’s Cathedral (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s, Mansion House and Blackfriars); WHEN: 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Saturday; COST: £21 adults/£18.50 concessions/£9 children/£36 family (these are walk-up rates – online advanced and group rates are discounted); WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk (for tours, head to www.stpauls.co.uk/visits/visits/guided-tours)

10 historic stairways in London – 3. The Monument stairs…

PICTURE: thtstudios (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Running up the centre of the tallest free-standing stone column in the world, this 311 step stairway takes the visitor straight to the top of the Monument erected to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666.

The Monument

The Monument – actually a Doric column – was built close to Pudding Lane in the City – where the fire is believed to have started – between 1671 and 1677. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in collaboration with City Surveyor Sir Robert Hooke.

The cantilevered stairway – each step of which measures exactly six inches high – leads up to a viewing platform which provides panoramic views of the City. Above the platform stands is a large sculpture featuring a stone drum topped with a gilt copper urn from which flames emerge as a symbol of the fire (King Charles II apparently squashed the idea of an equestrian statue of himself lest people think he was responsible for the fire).

Interestingly, the circular space in the centre of the stairway was designed for use as a zenith telescope (a telescope which points straight up). There is a small hatch right at the top which can be opened up to reveal the sky beyond and a subterranean lab below (reached through a hatch in the floor of the ticket both) where it was envisaged the scientist could take measurements using a special eyepiece (two lenses would be set into the actual telescope). But it wasn’t successful (reasons for this could have been vibrations caused by passing traffic or the movement of the column in the wind).

Hooke also apparently attempted to use the staircase drop for some other experiences – including measuring differences in air pressure.

Among those who have climbed the stairs was writer James Boswell who visited the Monument and climbed the stairs in 1763. He suffered a panic attack halfway up but was able to complete the climb.

WHERE: The Monument, junction of Fish Street Hill and Monument Street (nearest Tube station is Monument); WHEN: Check website; COST: £5.40 adults/£2.70 children (aged five to 15)/£4.10 seniors (joint tickets with Tower Bridge available); WEBSITE: www.themonument.org.uk

10 historic stairways in London – 2. Queen Mary’s Steps, Whitehall…

PICTURE: Paul Farmer (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

This small stone stairway which now sits in the midst of a grassy expanse at the back of the Ministry of Defence was once part of the Palace of Whitehall.

Named for Queen Mary II, wife of King William III, for whom they were designed, the stairs were part of a terrace built in 1691 abutting the Thames in front of an old river wall constructed for King Henry VIII.

Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the stairs were one of a pair located at either end of the terrace which gave direct access to the river – and state barges – from the Royal Apartments.

Excavations in 1939 during construction of the MoD revealed the Tudor river wall, the terrace and the northern-most of the two flights of steps. The upper part of the steps have been repaired and the terrace and wall reconstructed.

The steps and palace fragments are now a Grade I listed monument.

Lost London – Arundel House…

Arundel House, from the south, by Wenceslas Hollar. Via Wikimedia Commons.

One of a string of massive residences built along the Strand during the Middle Ages, Arundel House was previously the London townhouse of the Bishops of Bath and Wells (it was then known as ‘Bath Inn’ and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was among those who resided here during this period).

Following the Dissolution, in 1539 King Henry VIII granted the property to William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton (it was then known as Hampton Place). After reverting to the Crown on his death on 1542, it was subsequently given to Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, a younger brother of Queen Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, and known as ‘Seymour Place’. Then Princess Elizabeth (late Queen Elizabeth I) stayed at the property during this period (in fact, it’s said her alleged affair with Thomas Seymour took place here).

Arundel House, from the south, by Wenceslas Hollar. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Seymour significantly remodelled the property, before in 1549, he was executed for treason. The house was subsequently sold to Henry Fitz Alan, 12th Earl of Arundel, for slightly more than £40. He was succeeded by his grandson, Philip Howard, but he was tried for treason and died in the Tower of London in 1595. In 1603, the house was granted to Charles, Earl of Nottingham, but his possession was short-lived.

Just four years later it was repurchased by the Howard family – in particular Philip’s son, Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel – who had been restored to the earldom.

Howard, who was also the 4th Earl of Surrey, housed his famous collection of sculptures, known as the ‘Arundel Marbles’, here (much of his collection, described as England’s first great art collection, is now in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum).

During this period, guests included Inigo Jones (who designed a number of updates to the property) and artist Wenceslas Hollar who resided in an apartment (in fact, it’s believed he drew his famous view of London, published in 1647, while on the roof).

Howard, known as the “Collector Earl”, died in Italy in 1646. Following his death, the property was used as a garrison and later, during the Commonwealth, used as a place to receive important guests

It was restored to Thomas’ grandson, Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk, following the Restoration. Following the Great Fire of London in 1666, for several years the property was used as the location for Royal Society meetings.

The house was demolished in the 1678. It’s commemorated today by the streets named Surrey, Howard, Norfolk and Arundel (and a late 19th century property on the corner of Arundel Street and Temple Place now bears its name).

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 5. Henry Purcell’s grave in Westminster Abbey…

Westminster Abbey. PICTURE: Clark Van Der Beken/Unsplash

Westminster Abbey is important for many reasons when it comes to London’s musical heritage but among them is the intrinsic connection the grand building has with Restoration-era composer and musician Henry Purcell.

Purcell, who was born in Westminster in 1659 and who died there in 1695, is famous for having composed music in a range of genres including the first English opera as well as being the organist of the Westminster Abbey (from 1679) and that of the Chapel Royal (from 1682).

Statue commemorating Henry Purcell. PICTURE: Eluveitie (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Fittingly, Purcell, who died at the age of just 36 leaving a widow and six children behind, was buried beside where the organ was then located in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey. The grave, which also contains the remains of his wife Frances, is inlaid with brass letters written in Latin.

It reads: “Here rests Henry Purcell, Organist of this Collegiate Church. Died 21 November aged 37, A.D. 1695. Immortals, welcome an illustrious guest, your gain, our loss – yet would not earth reclaim the many-sided master of his art, the brief delight and glory of his age: great Purcell lives! his spirit haunts these aisles, while yet the neighbouring organ breathes its strains, and answering choirs worship God in song. Frances, wife of Henry Purcell, is buried near her husband 14 February 1706.”

A memorial tablet to Purcell was erected on a nearby wall by Dame Annabella Howard, a former pupil of Purcell’s. The inscription in English and Latin “Here lyes Henry Purcell Esq., who left this life and is gone to that blessed place where only his harmony can be exceeded. Died 21 of November in the 37th year of his age, AD 1695”.

There is also an elaborate statue, The Flowering of the English Baroque, commemorating Purcell located just down the road from the Abbey in Christchurch Gardens, Broadway. Designed by sculptor Glynn Williams, it was unveiled by Princess Margaret on the tercentenary of the death of the composer – 22nd November 1995.

Treasures of London – The pelicans of St James’s Park…

Pelicans were first introduced to St James’s Park in 1664 when a pair of the rather large birds were presented as a gift from the Russian Ambassador to King Charles II. They’ve been there ever since.

Pelicans in St James’s Park in 2015. PICTURE: Philippa Willitts (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

More than 40 pelicans have apparently made their home at the park over the years. Past pelicans have included the solitary Daphne – nicknamed the ‘Lady of the Lake’, she lived alone at the park in the early 1970s as well as Astra and Khan, who came from Astrakhan in Russia and were presented by the Russian Ambassador in 1977. There’s also been a Louis, who came from Louisiana in 1982, and Vaclav and Rusalka, who were a gift from Prague Zoo in 1995.

There are currently six members of the ‘scoop’ or ‘squadron’ (just two of the collective nouns used for pelicans) in the park. They include Isla and Tiffany – gifted from Prague in 2013 – and Gargi (gifted in 1996 after he was found in a Southend garden) as well as newer arrivals, brothers Sun and Moon, and a female named Star, all of whom came from Prague Zoo in 2019. Five are Eastern Whites and one is a South American White.

The pelicans are fed fresh fish each day between 2:30pm and 3pm, next to Duck Island Cottage, and while they are free to go where they wish, they rarely go far from the almost 57 acre park. But they did make headlines for eating a pigeon in 2006.

Royal Parks are offering a walking tour of St James’s Park which ends with watching the daily feeding on 5th November. Head here for details.

Treasures of London – The Green Closet, Ham House…

The Green Closet, Ham House. PICTURE: Kotomi_ (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This small chamber off The Long Gallery at Ham House – which was designed as an up-close and personal gallery to display both cabinet pictures and miniatures – is a rare survivor from the reign of King Charles I.

It retains many of its original contents and features carved woodwork and painted ceilings installed by Franz Cleyn during a 1637-39 refurbishment of the chamber carried out on the orders of the home’s then owner, William Murray.

The room, which would have been used for private meetings, was hung with green silk damask in 1655 (the present hangings are copies) and architecturally the room has remained unchanged since 1672 when a door into the North Dining Room was opened.

Of the many pictures hanging in the chamber, 22 were here in 1683 and another 10 of those now hanging here were hanging elsewhere in the house at the time.

The more than 80 works on show include a miniature of Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard created around 1590, a couple of David Paton – one of King Charles II (dated 1668) and one depicting John Maitland, the Duke of Lauderdale (dated 1669), one of the owners of Ham House.

The larger works include Gerard Dou’s Bust of an Old Man (1635), a rare posthumous portrait of Edward Seymour, the 1st Duke of Somerset (18th century) and the convivial scene, Boors smoking and drinking, by Adriaen Brouwer which, regarded as an original work in 1683, was then one of the most highly valued works at the house.

WHERE: Ham House, Ham Street, Ham, Richmond (nearest Tube station is Richmond). WHEN: Selected dates – check the website; ADMISSION CHARGE: Yes (National Trust members free); WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house-and-garden.

This Week in London – Royal portraits in Greenwich; Sir Roger Bannister to be honoured; and, drawing on the Tate’s Turbine Hall floor…

King Henry VII by unknown Netherlandish artist, 1505 (oil on panel) © National Portrait Gallery, London

More than 150 of the finest portraits of royal families over five dynasties are on show at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, which is being run in conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery, features famous paintings, miniatures, sculpture, photographs, medals and stamps from the Tudor, Stuart, Georgian, Victorian and Windsor dynasties. Highlights include the earliest known portrait of Henry VII (also the oldest artwork in the exhibition) which was painted in 1505 by an unknown artist, Flemish artist Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger’s famous ‘Ditchley Portrait’ of Elizabeth I, portraits of Charles II and his mistresses, early 19th century domestic photographs of Queen Victoria and her family, and a selection of paintings and photographs of Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton and Annie Leibovitz. Runs until 31st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/TudorsWindsors.

Westminster Abbey has announced a new memorial to Sir Roger Bannister, the first man to run under a mile in four minutes. The abbey said the memorial ledger stone to Bannister, who later became a neurologist, will be placed in what is known as ‘Scientists’ Corner’ in the building’s nave, close to the graves of scientists Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin as well as the ashes of Stephen Hawking. “Throughout his life Sir Roger Bannister reached out for that which lay beyond,” said the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, in a statement. “As a sportsman, pushing himself towards a prize some considered beyond human reach, as a scientist ever eager for deeper understanding of neurology. We are delighted that his memory and his achievement will be set in stone in the Abbey. He ran the race set before us all.” Bannister is famous for having run a mile in three minutes, 59.4 second at Oxford on 6th May, 1954 – a record which stood for almost nine years.

Be among those transforming the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall into an “ever changing work of art”. Visitors are invited to join in covering the hall’s floor with their own jottings using coloured drawing materials as part of artist Ei Arakawa’s interactive installation, Mega Please Draw Freely. The installation, which can be contributed to until 29th August, kicks off UNIQLO Tate Play – a new free programme of playful art-inspired activities for families, being in partnership with UNIQLO, at the Tate Modern. The project, which has seen the Turbine Hall floor covered with a temporary surface allowing it to be drawn upon, is inspired by the Gutai group, radical Japanese artists who wanted to change the world through painting, performance and children’s play and, in particular, the group’s ‘Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition of 1956’ in which Yoshihara Jirō created the groundbreaking work Please Draw Freely, a large board on which people were free to draw and paint. Visitors can access Mega Please Draw Freely by booking a free collection display ticket online at www.tate.org.uk.

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