February 27, 2017
This Fitzrovia pub, famous for its literary connections (more about those in a moment), takes its name from a popular 18th century military hero.
John Manners, the Marquis of Granby, played a key role for Britain during the Seven Years War – between Britain and her allies and France and hers – and, thanks to his popularity among the soldiers who served under his command, had numerous pubs named for him (he apparently also had a hand in setting up many old soldiers as publicans).
In his most famous battlefield exploit, while leading a series of cavalry charges at the Battle of Warburg in 1760 (in actions which saved the day), he apparently lost his hat and wig and was forced to salute his commander, Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, without them.
All of which explains why the pub sign doesn’t show him wearing a hat and why soldiers from his former regiment, the Blues and Royals, have the unique privilege in being able to salute while not wearing headwear. The fact Manners was bald also apparently led to the coining of the phrase, “going at it bald-headed” – a reference to his fearlessness.
The pub, located at 2 Rathbone Street (on the corner with Percy Street – the address was formerly known as 38 Percy Street), is famous for its literary clientele during the years between the two World Wars – among those who drank here were writers Dylan Thomas and TS Eliot. They apparently shared the space with some low-level gangland figures.
This Week in London – Diana’s fashion-sense explored; America after the crash; and, British landscapes…
February 23, 2017
• The fashions of Diana, Princess of Wales, go on show at Kensington Palace tomorrow in a new exhibition, 20 years after her death. Diana: Her Fashion Story traces the evolution of her sense of style from the demure outfits of her first public appearances to the “glamour, elegance and confidence” of her later life and explores how she used her image to engage and inspire people as well as champion the causes she cared out. The display features everything from glamorous 1980s evening gowns to her “working wardrobe” of the 1990s and original fashion sketches created for her by her favourite designers. Highlights include a pale pink Emanuel blouse worn for Lord Snowdon’s 1981 engagement portrait, a ink blue velvet gown designed by Victor Edelstein and famously worn during a visit to the White House when the princess danced with John Travolta, and a blue tartan Emanuel suit worn for an official visit to Venice in the 1980s. The latter goes on public display for the first time, having recently been acquired at auction by Historic Royal Palaces. Complementing the exhibition, gardeners have created a temporary ‘White Garden’ in the palace’s Sunken Garden with flowers and foliage inspired by the princess’s life, style and image. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/. PICTURE: Courtesy Historic Royal Palaces.
• Works chronicling life in the United States of America during the decade after the Wall Street crash of 1929 go on show at the Royal Academy of Arts on Saturday. America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s features 45 works by some of the foremost artists of the era which have been sourced from collections across the US. They include Grant Wood’s American Gothic (1930) – the first time it’s being exhibited outside of the US, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Cow’s Skull with Calico Roses (1931), Edward Hopper’s Gas (1940) and works by Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston, Alice Nee and Thomas Hart Benton. Organised by the Art Institute of Chicago, in collaboration with the Royal Academy and Etablissement public du musée d’Orsay et du musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, the exhibition in The Sackler Wing of Galleries can be seen until 4th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.
• Landscape drawings created over the century spanning 1850 to 1950 are the subject of a new free exhibition which opens at the British Museum today. Places of the Mind: British watercolour landscapes 1850-1950 features more than 125 works from the museum’s department of prints and drawings, over half of which have never been published or exhibited before. Artists represented include George Price Boyce, Alfred William Hunt, John Ruskin, James McNeill Whistler, Philip Wilson Steer. Graham Sutherland and Henry Moore. The display can be seen in Room 90 until 27th August. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
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February 9, 2017
• A Tudor-era bowling ball, Roman iron horse shoes and late 19th century ginger jars are among hundreds of historic objects unearthed during the Crossrail construction project to go on show at the Museum of London Docklands tomorrow. Tunnel: the archaeology of Crossrail presents highlights from among the more than 10,000 objects which have been discovered during the project, the largest infrastructure project currently underway in Europe, since it kicked off in 2009. The finds, which span 8,000 years of human history, also include prehistoric flints found at North Woolwich, medieval animal bone skates and human remains found in the former 17th century Bedlam cemetery. The objects, which can be seen until 3rd September, are displayed in accordance to where along the new Elizabeth line they were found. Entry is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• This year is centenary of the Russian Revolution and to mark the occasion, the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly is hosting a landmark exhibition on Russian art which takes in the period between 1917 – the year of the October Revolution – and 1932 when Josef Stalin began his violent suppression of the avant-garde. Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 features the works of the likes of avant-garde artists Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, and Kazimir Malevich and social realists like Isaac Brodsky and Alexander Deineka. More than 200 works are on show including loans from the State Russian Museum of St Petersburg and the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, many of which have never been seen in the UK before. Highlights include Chagall’s Promenade (1917-18), Kandinsky’s Blue Crest (1917) and Malevich’s Peasants (c. 1930). Alongside the paintings, the display features photography, sculpture, film, posters and porcelain. Admission charge applies. Runs until 17th April. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Boris Mikailovich Kustodiev, ‘Bolshevik’ (1920) © State Tretyakov Gallery.
• More than 100 robots are on display at the Science Museum in South Kensington as part of a new exhibition spanning 500 years of robotic history. Robots, which explores how robots have been shaped by religious belief, the industrial revolution, 20th century popular culture and dreams of the future, features everything from a 16th century mechanical monk to a 2.4 metre tall robot named Cygan dating from the 1950s, and one of the first walking bipedal robots. Visitors will be able to interact with 12 working robots and go behind the scenes to see recent developments in robotic research as well as speculate on what robots of the future might be like. Admission charge applies. Runs until 3rd September. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/robots.
• A major exhibition celebrating the work of early 20th century UK modern artist Vanessa Bell – a central figure in the so-called ‘Bloomsbury Group’ – has opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London’s south this week. About 100 oil paintings as well as ceramics, fabrics, works on paper, photographs and related archival material are featured in the exhibition with the works arranged thematically so as to reveal Bell’s “fluid movement” between the fine and applied arts and focusing particular attention on her most distinctive period of experimentation from 1910 onwards. Vanessa Bell, which runs until 4th June, is presented alongside a photography display which brings together Bell’s photographic work with that of American musician, writer and artist Patti Smith. Legacy: Photographs by Vanessa Bell and Patti Smith features 17 photographs by Smith – who has long found inspiration in the work and lives of the Bloomsbury Group – and a selection of Bell’s photo albums. Both can be seen until 4th June. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.
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The rather grim Adolf Verloc, the smut purveyor-come-spy and main protagonist of Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent (recently made into a BBC series starring Toby Jones), lives in a residence attached to a small shop in Soho.
The residence, where he lived with his wife Winnie, her mother and young, mentally affected brother Stevie, and shop, where he sold scandalous publications, photographs and other bric-a-brac, was located at 32 Brett Street in Soho.
Except there is no Brett Street in Soho.
While it has been suggested Conrad may have taken the name Brett Street from Brett Road in Hackney – near where Conrad had lodgings at one stage, it’s also been put forward that Conrad based the streetscape on Irving Street (previously apparently known as Green Street) which runs between Leicester Square and Charing Cross Road (pictured above).
The street itself was named after actor Sir Henry Irving, whose statue stands at the junction with Charing Cross Road (pictured, it’s located at the rear of The National Gallery), and is these days filled with eateries and cheap theatre ticket box offices aimed at tourists.
Conrad’s book, which was set in 1886 but published in 1907, was loosely based around a bombing which took place in Greenwich in 1894.
February 6, 2017
The Queen today reaches 65 years on the throne – an unprecedented ‘Sapphire Jubilee’ for a British monarch. While there will be gun salutes in Green Park and at the Tower of London, the Queen herself will reportedly spend the day indoors at Sandringham thinking about her late father, King George VI, who died on this day in 1952.
This notable Marylebone Street contains the home of Henry Higgins, the professor of phonetics who attempts to help Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle pass for a duchess as part of a bet in George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion.
Written in 1912, the play which gives Professor Higgins’ address as 27A Wimpole Street was in 1964 adapted into the film, My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison.
The choice of Wimpole Street as the address of Professor Higgins – both for his home and “laboratory” – was apparently not co-incidental. Articles in The Telegraph and Daily Mail last year talk about the fact that 27a lies not far from a grand Georgian (Grade II-listed) townhouse (then on the market for £15 million) in Upper Wimpole Street which was formerly the home of a Professor Horace Hayman Wilson, a professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University in the early 19th century.
The articles say that while the “real-life academic ‘model'” for Higgins was Henry Sweet – an early 20th century Oxford professor of phonetics who is named in the preface to the play, the basis for Professor Higgins’ rather grand lifestyle was that of Professor Wilson.
They also suggest that the connection between Professor Higgins and Professor Wilson makes sense considering one of the mysteries of Pygmalion – how a humble phonetics professor could afford consulting rooms on a street known for wealthy private medical practices.
The answer lies in the Professor Wilson’s history – his father, a doctor, bought a house in the street in 1806 and subsequently bought a neighbouring property for his son who initially pursued a medical career before moving into academia where he specialised in languages. Splitting his time between Wimpole Street, Oxford and Calcutta in India, Professor Wilson’s lifestyle, straddling high society and academia, formed a prototype for that of Professor Higgins. Or so the story goes.
PICTURE: Looking down Wimpole Street; number 27 is second on the left. PICTURE: Google Maps.
This Week in London – Roman finds from Walbrook revealed; Pablo Picasso prints; and, Highgate Cemetery’s virtual directory…
January 26, 2017
• Roman tools and other artefacts from the era including a stamp for metal ingots and pottery are among objects found in London’s ‘lost’ Walbrook Valley which have gone on display at the Museum of London. Working the Walbrook features objects excavated during the past 170 years of digs around the watercourse which once cut the city in half, running from Finsbury Circus to Cannon Street. Created as part of a PhD project being supervised by the Museum of London and the University of Reading, the objects on show include an iron stamp dating from the Roman period inscribed with the letters MPBR (understood to be an abbreviation for ‘Metal Provinciae Britanniae’ – “the mines of the province of Britannia”) which is believed to have been used by officials to stamp metal ingots passing through London on their way to the Continent. Other items include Roman farming and gardening tools, and a pot decorated with a smith’s hammer, anvil and tongs which was found at the bottom of a well in Southwark and which may have been linked to worship of the god Vulcan. The free display is on show until March. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk. PICTURE: Gardening tools from Roman London. A pruning hook, bailing fork and shears © Museum of London
• A series of prints by Pablo Picasso spanning the period from the late 1940s to the late 1950s form the heart of a new exhibition at the British Museum in Bloomsbury. The prints, which include 16 lithograph prints and three aquatint prints, were recently acquired by the museum in what represents the final part of the museum’s effort to more fully represent the artist’s work as a printmaker. Six of the lithographs were inspired by the beauty of Picasso’s lover Francoise Gilot while others feature Bacchanalian scenes and portraits of German-born dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. On display from Friday in Gallery 90A, they can be seen in the free exhibition until 3rd March. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• The details of some 160,000 people buried at Highgate Cemetery in north London have been made available online. Deceased Online has announced that all records for the period from May, 1839, to August, 2010 – a total of 159,863 people, are now available, including digital scans of original registers, details of who is buried in each grave and location maps for most graves. Notable people buried at Highgate include author Douglas Adams, philosopher Karl Marx and chemist and physicist Michael Faraday. For more, see www.deceasedonline.com
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January 11, 2017
The upmarket department store chain John Lewis traces its origins back to 1864 when the man himself opened a drapers at 132 Oxford Street (later renumbered, it’s the site of the current store).
Originally from Somerset and brought up by an aunt after he was orphaned at a young age, Lewis served as an apprentice to a linen draper in Wells as a teenager before he moved to London to work as salesman for an Oxford Street draper, eventually becoming a silk buyer. He apparently turned down offer of partnership in that business, deciding instead to put out his own shingle.
Lewis slowly expanded his business into neighbouring properties and diversified into a growing range of goods – everything from clothing to furniture to kitchen china. By 1895 he had rebuilt his original shop, which now had fronts on Oxford and Holles Streets, into a multi storey department store with retail showrooms as well as a warehouse and a restaurant for customers.
More than 40 years after he opened his first shop in London, in 1905 Lewis acquired Peter Jones in Sloane Square. His sons, John Spedan Lewis and Oswald, became partners in the business in 1907. Oswald was later bought out but John, particularly while convalescing following a riding accident, began to think about how he could improve staff wages and working conditions.
However, his new ideas led to conflict with his father (known to be a tough employer) and so, in 1914, Spedan Lewis took over total control of the Peter Jones business in exchange for no longer taking any part in the Oxford Street store. Instead, turning his attention to the Sloane Square business, he introduced a profit-sharing scheme for employees as well as a representative staff council and other initiatives including the introduction of the weekly in-house magazine, The Gazette.
In 1924, Spedan Lewis was reconciled with his father and so it was that following his father’s death in 1928, he became sole owner of both businesses, bringing them together into a single entity. The famous motto – “Never Knowingly Undersold” – has apparently been in use in the Peter Jones store since it was introduced by Spedan Lewis in 1925.
In 1929, he created the John Lewis Partnership Ltd and while he continued to have practical control of the business, his reforms meant profits were distributed among employees. Twenty-one years later, in 1950, he signed settlement which saw the partnership become the property of the employees.
In 1933, the partnership purchased its first store outside London in Nottingham and it is now regarded as the largest department store retailer in the UK with 46 John Lewis shops including 32 department stores. It also owns the Waitrose supermarket chain.
The flagship Oxford Street store was almost completely destroyed during World War II. The present premises, which features a roof garden, opened in 1961. It features a famous (now Grade II*-listed) artwork – Barbara Hepworth’s Winged Figure – on the Holles Street facade near the corner with Oxford Street.
In 2008 this store was awarded a Royal Warrant from Queen Elizabeth II as “suppliers of haberdashery and household goods”.
This is the final in our current Wednesday series. We’ll be starting a new series shortly.
January 9, 2017
The hospital, which was named at St Katharine – whom tradition holds was martyred in the 4th century by the Roman Emperor Maxentius – was founded by Matilda, the wife of King Stephen, in 1147, for the maintenance of 13 poor people.
It was supported by various English queens over the ensuing centuries, including Eleanor, beloved wife of King Edward I, who granted it a new charter in 1273, and Queen Philippa, wife of King Edward III, who drew up new regulations for the running of the hospital in 1351.
Having survived an attempt to have the hospital abolished by Puritans in the 17th century and an attempt to burn it down during the late 18th century Gordon Riots, in the early 19th century demand for new docks brought about the old hospital’s final demolition.
In 1825, the hospital relocated to Regent’s Park. Now known as the Royal Foundation of St Katharine, it is currently located in Limehouse, having moved there in 1948 (we’ll take a more in depth look at the history of St Katharine’s Hospital in an upcoming post).
The docks, meanwhile, was opened in 1828 following the removal of more than 1,200 homes and a brewery as well as the old hospital – works carried out despite a public outcry and, apparently, no compensation. Designed by Thomas Telford (of the Iron Bridge fame – this was apparently his only London project), the docks occupy a 23 acre site and featured a central basin opening to two docks lined with brick warehouses.
The docks were closed in 1968 and in the years since, the warehouses have been converted into shops, eateries, offices and residences while the waters are now used as a marina for luxury yachts.
This Week in London – Skating on Ice; Christmas trees worth seeing; and, Westminster Abbey’s new galleries…
December 22, 2016
• London’s obsession with ice-skating is the subject of an exhibition which opened at the Museum of London earlier this month. Skating on Ice looks at the history of the popular pastime, from the 12th century – when locals are described strapping animals bones to their feet to skate on ice at Moorfields – across the centuries (and the developments that went with them) to today. Among the artefacts on show is an 1839 oil painting by J Baber depicting skaters on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, sketches from the London Illustrated News showing a rescue operation to recover the 40 of some 40 skaters who plunged beneath the ice in Regent’s Park on 15th January, 1867, a navy blue gabardine skirt suit from Fortnum & Mason dating from the 1930s and a series of skates, ranging from some made of animal bones through to a pair of Victorian racing skates known as Fen Runners and a pair of ice skates used from the late 1930s by Londoner Christina Greenberry at Streatham Ice Arena. Runs until 8th February. Entry is free. See www.museumoflondon.org.uk for more. (Pictured – ice-skating in the Tower of London moat).
• Christmas is looming and so, if you haven’t been out and about already, here’s five Christmas trees worth seeing over the coming few days (excluding the obvious one in Trafalgar Square):
- Covent Garden. Always a glittering treat (this year complete with virtual prizes!).
- St Pancras International. A rather odd design this year, this 100 foot tall tree is inspired by the Cirque du Soleil show Amaluna and lights up every time a donation is made to Oxfam.
- Granary Square, Kings Cross. Looking like a Christmas tree frozen inside an ice-cube, this seven metre high installation – Fighting fire with ice cream – by British artist Alex Chinneck features some 1,200 lights.
- Tate Britain, Millbank. An upside down tree, designed by Iranian artist Shirazeh Houshiary.
- Connaught Hotel, Mount Street, Mayfair. Designed by British sculptor Antony Gormley, this 57 foot tall tree features a trunk transformed into a pillar of light.
• Prince Charles last week unveiled the foundation stone for a tower that will take visitors to Westminster Abbey into the institution’s new museum and galleries. The tower is being built outside Poet’s Corner – between the 13th century Chapter House and 16th-century Henry VII’s Lady Chapel – and will be the principal entrance to the medieval triforium, which has never before been opened to the public and which house the proposed The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries. The tower and galleries, costing almost £23 million, will be the most significant addition to the abbey since Nicholas Hawksmoor’s west towers were completed in 1745. The galleries, which will be located 70 feet above the abbey’s floor, are due to open in summer 2018, and will display treasures from the abbey’s history as well as offering magnificent views of Parliament Square and the Palace of Westminster. To help meet the cost of the new galleries, the abbey has launched a #makehistory campaign asking for public donations to the project. For more, see www.westminster-abbey-galleries.org/Content/Filler.
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December 21, 2016
This Regent Street establishment – the oldest and largest toy store in the world – dates back to 1760 when Cornishman William Hamley came to London and founded his toy store – then called ‘Noah’s Ark’ – on High Holborn.
Selling everything from wooden hoops to tin soldiers and rag dolls, the business aimed to capture the trade of affluent Bloomsbury families and proved rather successful, attracting a clientele in the early 19th century which included not only wealthy families but royalty.
Such was its success that in 1881, Hamley’s descendants opened a new branch of the shop at 200 Regent Street. The Holborn store, meanwhile, burned down in 1901 and was subsequently relocated to a larger premises at numbers 86-87 in the same street.
Faced with the Depression in the 1920s, the shop closed briefly in 1931 but was soon reopened by Walter Lines, chairman of Tri-ang Toys, and in 1938 was given a Royal Warrant by Queen Mary, consort of King George V.
The premises at 188-196 Regent Street was bombed five times during the Blitz but the shop (and its tin hat-wearing staff survived). In 1955, having presented a Grand Doll’s Salon and sizeable model railway at the 1951 Festival of Britain, the shop was given a second Royal Warrant – this time by Queen Elizabeth II, who has been given Hamleys toys as a child – as a ‘toys and sports merchant’.
The business, which has passed through several owners since the early 2000s, is now owned by Chinese-based footwear retailer C.banner. The flagship store is spread over seven floors and tens of thousands of toys on sale, located in various departments.
As well as the Regent Street premises (it moved into the current premises at number 188-196 Regent Street in 1981), Hamlets has some 89 branches located in 23 countries, from India to South Africa. A City of Westminster Green Plaque was placed on the store in February 2010, in honour of the business’s 250th anniversary.
The toy store holds an annual Christmas parade in Regent Street which this year featured a cast of 400 and attracted an estimated 750,000 spectators.
PICTURED: Hamleys during its 250th birthday celebrations.
This Week in London – New armoury display at the Tower; Margaret Thatcher’s clothes on show; and James Ensor at the RA…
December 15, 2016
• A new “family friendly” permanent exhibition, Armoury in Action, opens today on the top floor of the White Tower at the Tower of London. The display, presented by Royal Armouries and Historic Royal Palaces, brings to life 1,000 years of history in a hands-on experience in which visitors can explore the weapons, skills and people from the Norman through to the Victorian eras. Featured are a master mason who explains the building of the White Tower – constructed on the orders of William the Conqueror, a medieval longbowman who explains the different types of arrows, a Civil War artillery captain who guides visitors through the process of firing a cannon, and a Victorian superintendent of firearms from the Ordnance Office who invites visitors to design their own musket. There’s also the chance to have a go at drawing back a medieval longbow, to dress King Henry VIII in his armour, to fire a half-sized Civil War cannon and sharpen sword skills against cabbages in an immersive interactive installation. The exhibition can be seen as part of a visit to the Tower. Meanwhile the Tower of London ice rink has opened once more in the fortress’ moat while, between 27th and 31st December, King Richard III and Queen Anne Neville are roaming the tower with their court as well as jesters and minstrels. Admission charges apply (ice-skating is separate to tower entry). For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/ or www.toweroflondonicerink.co.uk. PICTURE: HRP.
• Three iconic outfits worn by former PM Margaret Thatcher have gone on show in the fashion galleries at the V&A in South Kensington. The outfits, which were worn by Baroness Thatcher at significant moments in her public and private life, are among six outfits donated to the museum earlier this year by her children. The outfits include a distinctive blue wool Aquascutum suit she wore to the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool in 1987 and again to place her vote in the general election that year, a custom-designed brocade suit and taffeta opera cape with sweeping train designed by Marianne Abrahams for Aquascutum which she wore when delivering the keynote speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet at London’s Guildhall in 1988, and a wool crepe suit in striking fuchsia-pink by Starzewski that she wore to the Women of Achievement reception at Buckingham Palace on 11th March, 2004. There’s also a black slub silk hat with feathers and velvet-flecked tulle designed by Deida Acero, London, that she wore to the funeral of her husband, Sir Denis Thatcher, in 2003. The display is free to visit. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.
• On Now: Intrigue: James Ensor by Luc Tuymans. The first major exhibition of Belgian artist James Ensor’s work in the UK in 20 years, the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts Sackler Wing of Galleries off Piccadilly features some 70 paintings, drawings and prints by the modernist artist, who lived between 1860 and 1949, and is curated by contemporary Belgian artist Luc Tuymans. The display features three of his most important works – The Intrigue (1890), The Skate (1892) and Self-Portrait with Flowered Hat (1883). Runs until 29th January. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.
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December 14, 2016
Debenhams’ origins go back to 1778 when a draper’s store started trading at 44 Wigmore Street in London’s West End. Soon run by Thomas Clark and his partner Mr Flint, the shop sold fabrics, bonnets, gloves and parasols.
The Debenhams name entered the story in 1813 when William Debenham, still young but having already learnt something of the trade at a hosiery in Nottingham, invested in the firm, now known as Clark & Debenham.
Success followed (apparently they expanded into a store across the road, calling one Clark & Debenham and the other Debenham & Clark) and in 1818, the firm opened its first store outside London – an exact replica of the Wigmore Street store in fashionable Cheltenham. This was followed by stores in other locations across England. (The original Debenhams store, which was rebuilt as a department store in the Edwardian era, is now largely occupied by offices).
The firm prospered in the coming years thanks to the demand for mourning attire in the Victorian age and in 1851 underwent another name change when Clement Freebody, brother of Debenham’s wife Caroline, invested in the firm, becoming Debenham, Son & Freebody and later just Debenham & Freebody (when William Debenham retired, it was his son William, Jr, who entered into partnership with Freebody) . At this time a wholesale business was established selling cloth and other items to dressmakers and other large retailers.
The company continued to expand and offices opened in various countries around the world – from Australia and South Africa to Canada and China. It’s said that in 1899, the store even had its own fire brigade and constabulary and around the start of the 20th century it became one of the first businesses to get a telephone.
In 1905, Debenhams Ltd was incorporated and in 1919 the business merged with Marshall and Snellgrove. Knightsbridge retailer Harvey Nichols was acquired in 1920 and seven years later the Debenham family’s involvement ended as the company went public.
Famous faces associated with the store in the early part of the 20th century included King Edward VII, for whom the business supplied coronation robes.
By 1950, Debenhams had become the largest department store group in the UK, owning 84 companies and 110 stores. Between 1985 and 1998, it was part of the Burton Group and it was during this period that it launched the Designers at Debenhams initiative as well as, in 1997, opening the first international franchise store in Bahrain. Debenhams listed on the London Stock Exchange following its demerger with the Burton Group and remain so until 2003 – when it was acquired by Baroness Retail Ltd – before returning to the London Stock Exchange in 2006.
It acquired nine stores from Roches in Ireland in 2007 and in 2009 acquired Danish department store chain Magasin du Nord.
As well as its flagship store in Oxford Street (refurbished for Debenhams 200th birthday in 2013), these days Debenhams owns and operates more than 18o stores in the UK, Ireland and Denmark (these include Browns of Chester which, following its acquisition in 1976, was allowed to keep its name). There are also some 60 franchise stores in more than 25 other countries.
For more, see www.debenhams.com.
PICTURE: Debenhams flagship Oxford Street store dressed up for Christmas.
December 9, 2016
A fixture of London’s Christmas festivities since 1947, the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree is given annually to the people of Britain by the city of Oslo as gift thanking them for their support of Norway during World War II.
The tree is harvested from forests near the Norwegian capital and the selection process for the giant, known by forestry workers as the “Queen of the Forest”, starts in May.
The tree is typically a Norway spruce aged somewhere between 50 and 60 years and stands at least 20 metres high. This year’s tree – the 70th – is said to be 116-years-old, stands 22 metres tall and weighs
In keeping with tradition, it was cut down on 16th November in a special ceremony attended by the Mayor of Oslo, Marianne Borgen, and the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Cr Steve Summers, along with various local school children so it can shipped to Britain ready in time for its unveiling at the start of December.
The tree is adorned with lights – in more recent years these are energy efficient light bulbs – in Norwegian style and these are turned on at a special ceremony on the first Thursday in December. The tree remains on display until just before the Twelfth Night of Christmas when it is taken down and recycled as mulch.
The tree now has its own Twitter account.
This Week in London – Marie Duval explored; Christmas in Trafalgar Square and at Dulwich; and, Australian Impressionists at The National Gallery…
December 8, 2016
• The life and work of 19th century London actress, cartoonist and illustrator Marie Duval is the subject of a new exhibition which opens at the Guildhall Library in the City tomorrow. Marie Duval: Laughter in the First Age of Leisure is the first one solely dedicated to Duval’s work (her real name was Isabelle Émilie de Tessier) as a 19th century pioneer of the art of comics. Her work first appeared in a range of cheap British ‘penny papers’ and comics of the 1860s to 1880s aimed at working class people. The exhibition has been produced by the University of Chester in partnership with the library and with the support of the British Library.
• Carol singing has kicked off in Trafalgar Square to mark the Christmas season. More than 40 groups are taking part in the sessions – free to watch – which take place between 4pm and 8pm on weekdays and from 2pm on weekends until 23rd December. The square is also home to a traditional Norwegian spruce Christmas Tree which has, as has been the case every year since 1947, been brought from forest near Oslo in thanks for Britain’s support of Norway during World War II. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/events.
• The Dulwich Picture Gallery’s Christmas festival – featuring the ‘Winterlights’ lights trail, artisan Christmas market, pop-up carollers and other entertainments – has opened at the south London gallery. This year’s festivities also include two contemporary baroque-inspired Christmas trees by 3D art specialists, Nagual Creations, and visitors also have the chance to create their own festive family photo using a specially commissioned giant gold frame in the grounds as well as listen to Christmas story-telling in the gallery’s Keeper’s Cottage. The Winterlights display runs from 6pm to 10pm until 18th December (excluding Mondays; admission charges apply) with the market, featuring 50 stalls, held over the next two weekends – 10th-11th December and 17th-18th December (entry is free). For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.
• The first UK exhibition to focus on Australian impressionist paintings has opened at The National Gallery. Australia’s Impressionists features 41 paintings including some never shown before in the UK and explores the impact of European Impressionism on Australian painting of the 1880s and 1890s with a particular focus on four artists: Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder and John Russell. The exhibition is organised into three sections: the first looking at the landmark 1889 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition held in Melbourne, the second looking at the role of Australian Impressionism in the forging of a national identity, and the third looking at the work and influence of John Russell. The exhibition can be seen in the Sunley Room until 26th March. Entry is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.
December 7, 2016
Another Knightsbridge institution, the origins of luxury fashion department store Harvey Nichols (known to many as ‘Harvey Nicks’) go back to the founding, by Benjamin Harvey, in 1831 of a small linen shop in a terraced house on the corner of Knightsbridge and Sloane Street.
Such was his initial success that the shop expanded quickly, just four years later taking over the neighbouring property (it was to expand further in following years).
When Harvey died in 1850, he left the business to his wife, also Anne, and she subsequently went into partnership with Nichols to form Harvey Nichols & Co.
Anne died in 1872 and Nichols in 1873 leaving Harvey’s son, Benjamin Charles Harvey, as sole remaining partner.
By 1874, Harvey Nichols occupied the entire block between Seville and Sloane Streets and, in 1889, the existing properties were all demolished to make way for a new purpose-built department store. Designed by architect CW Stephens (designer of Claridges), it was built between 1889 and 1894. In 1904, the address of the store was changed (while the location remained the same) to 109-125 Knightsbridge.
The store opened a range of new departments in 1919 – including haberdashery and hosiery, and was acquired by Debenhams in 1920.
The first restaurant – Harvey’s – opened on the fifth floor in 1975. It was famously a favourite of Princess Diana’s.
Harvey Nichols has since gone through several ownership changes – and following the latest when it was bought by Dickson Poon, of Dickson Concepts (International) Ltd, in 1991, the store was refurbished and a new restaurant, cafe, bar and food market opened on the fifth floor, complete with an express lift allowing it to stay open after the rest of the store had closed (the restaurant was refurbished in 2002).
Harvey Nichols now also has stores in Leeds, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol and Liverpool as well as Ireland, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong.
For more, see www.harveynichols.com.
November 30, 2016
Famed as a luxury shopping destination for the rich and famous, Harrods on Brompton Road in Knightsbridge takes its name from founder Charles Henry Harrod.
Harrod first established a drapery business in Southwark in 1824 and in 1832, founded Harrods & Co Grocers in Clerkenwell. Two years later he established another grocery, this time in Stepney, with a particular interest in tea.
In 1849, to capitalise on trade to the upcoming Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851, he took over a small shop on the site of the current store – initially with just two assistants and a messenger boy. In 1861 his son, the similarly-named Charles Digby Harrods, took over the business and by 1880, the store was employing more than 100 people offering customers everything from medicines and perfumes to clothing and food and already attracting the wealthy customers it would become known for.
Even the burning down of the store in late 1883, failed to dint its long-term success, and Harrod took the opportunity to build a capacious new building on the site. Designed by Charles Williams Stephens, the building, which wasn’t finished until 1905, featured Art Nouveau windows and was topped with a dome. One of its attractions opened on 16th November, 1898, when it became home to England’s first “moving staircase” (escalator). Nervous customers were apparently offered a brandy once they’d made the journey.
Harrods’ fame continued to grow and over the years a who’s who of London society has been associated with the store – everyone from writers like Oscar Wilde, and AA Milne, actors Ellen Terry, Charlie Chaplin and Laurence Olivier and luminaries such as the “father of psychoanalysis” Sigmund Freud and many members of the Royal family.
Under the motto of Omnia Omnibus Ubique (All Things for All People, Everywhere), the store became famous for selling whatever the customer wanted including, thanks to an exotic pets department which lasted up until the 1970s, a lemur called Mah-Jongg which was sold to Stephen and Virginia Courtauld in 1923 and lived with them at Eltham Palace and a lion called Christian to Australian expats John Rendall and Anthony “Ace” Bourke in 1969 (it was later set free in Kenya).
The ownership meanwhile has long since left the Harrods family – Charles Digby had sold his shares as far back as 1889 when the company was floated on the London Stock Exchange and renamed Harrods Stores Limited with Sir Alfred James Newton as chairman and Richard Burbridge as managing director. Burbridge was succeeded by his son in 1917 and he by his son in 1935.
In 1959, the company was bought by House of Fraser and in 1985, the store was sold to the Al-Fayed brothers (Mohamed Al-Fayed famously had two memorials created inside dedicated to Diana, Princess of Wales, and his son Dodi Fayed, both of whom died in a car crash in Paris in 1997. He also decided not to renew the company’s Royal warrants – it has had up to four). Current owners Qatar Holding, the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, bought the company in 2010.
The company has opened a number of other Harrods stores over the years – including its only ever foreign branch (long since independent) in Argentina in 1914 and, in 2000, a shop aboard the ship RMS Queen Elizabeth 2.
The Knightsbridge store, meanwhile, has been twice bombed by the IRA – in 1983 when six were killed and scores more injured after a car bomb exploded in an adjoining street and in 1993 when a bomb was placed in a litter bin, injuring four. In 1989, it controversially introduced a dress code, banning casual wear like flip-flops and Bermuda shorts.
Now the largest department store in Europe, the Brompton Road store has more than million square feet of selling floor over seven stories. It attracts some 15 million customers a year to its more than 300 different departments and other facilities including more than 25 restaurants and cafes, a concierge, bank, spa and personal shopping service.
November 28, 2016
We reintroduce an old favourite this month with our first ‘Where’s London’s oldest’ in a few years. And to kick it off, we’re looking at one of London’s oldest public clocks.
Hanging off the facade of the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West in Fleet Street is a clock which is believed to have been the first public clock to be erected in London which bears a minute hand.
The work of clockmaker Thomas Harris, the clock was first installed on the medieval church in 1671 – it has been suggested it was commissioned to celebrate the church’s survival during the Great Fire of London and was installed to replace an earlier clock which had been scorched in the fire. Its design was apparently inspired by a clock which had once been on Old St Paul’s Cathedral and was destroyed in the fire.
Like the clock it replaced, this clock sat in brackets and projected out into Fleet Street which meant it was able to be seen from a fair distance away (and being double-sided meant the black dials could be seen from both the east and the west). Like the Roman numerals that decorate it, the two hands, including the famous minute hand, are gold.
To the rear and above the clock dials are located the bells and striking mechanism. The bells are struck on the hours and the quarters by ‘automata’ – Herculean figures, perhaps representing Gog and Magog (although to most they were traditionally simply known as the ‘Giants of St Dunstan’s’), who do so using clubs and turn their heads.
Such was the attention these figures attracted that when the clock was first installed the area became notorious for pick-pockets who apparently went to work on unsuspecting passersby who had stopped to watch the giants at work.
This church was demolished in the early 1800s to allow the widening of Fleet Street and when it was rebuilt in 1830, the clock was absent. Having decided it couldn’t be accommodated in the new design, it had been auctioned off with the art collector, Francis Seymour-Conway, the 3rd Marquess of Hertford, the successful bidder.
He had it installed on his Decimus Burton-designed villa in Regent’s Park and there it remained until 1935 when Lord Rothermere, who had bought the villa in 1930, returned it to the church to mark the Silver Jubilee of King George V.
There are numerous literary references to the clock including in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Oliver Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield and a William Cowper poem.
November 25, 2016
The Design Museum’s new home in Kensington finally opened this week and it’s already been getting some rave reviews, hence why, despite its freshness, we thought we’d mention it in our Treasures of London feature.
The museum, which moved to its new premises after 25 years in Shad Thames, now occupies the former Commonwealth Institute building, which dates from 1962 and was designed by Robert Matthew. The building has recently undergone a £83 million makeover with the interiors designed by architect John Pawson.
The new museum has three times the space of the previous premises and features the only collection in the UK devoted exclusively to contemporary design and architecture. At the heart of the building is the Designer Maker User exhibition which, as the museum’s first free permanent display, occupies the top floor of the museum, and includes more than 1,000 items of 20th and 21st century design. At its entrance can be found a wall featuring more than 200 items from 25 countries nominated by the general public including a Bible, Coca-Cola can and a £5 banknote.
Inside, the Designer section focuses on the thought-processes of designers and features a full-sized production of a gerberette used in the Richard Rogers-designed Centre Pompidou in Paris as well as models and images of the works of the late architect Zaha Hadid, David Mellor’s traffic lights, Kinneir and Calvert’s British road signage system and a full scale prototype for a new London Tube train designed by PriestmanGoode as well as Moulton bicycles and London Underground maps.
The Maker section, meanwhile, traces the evolution of manufacturing from Thonet bentwood cafe chairs and Model T Ford cars to robotic arms and 3D printing and includes objects at different stages of production – from tennis balls to the London 2012 Olympic Torch.
And in the User section, visitors will be led to explore the interaction between the consumer and brands that have become household names – Braun, Sony, Apple and Olivetti – as well as the impact of design on politics, fashion and music. Displays in the latter part include Gucci tennis shoes, the fashions of Vivienne Westwood and Christian Louboutin and the pioneering magazine The Face.
As many as 500,000 people are expected to visit the museum in its first year. Along with permanent displays, also unveiled this week was the new exhibition, Fear and Love, featuring 11 new installations by world leading designers. They include The Pan-European Living Room by architecture practice OMA, Room Tone by fashion designer Hussein Chalayan, Pittsburgh-based designer Madeline Gannon’s “mechanical creature” Mimus, and a series of death masks called Vespers created using 3D printing technology Neri Oxman.
And running until 19th February is the Beazley Designs of the Year, a celebration of design that promotes or delivers change, enables access, extends design practice or captures the spirit of the year past. Categories include architecture, digital, fashion, graphics, product and transport.
WHERE: The Design Museum, 224-238 Kensington High Street, Kensington (nearest Tube stations are Kensington High Street. Earl’s Court and Holland Park); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily; COST: free (admission charges to special exhibitions); WEBSITE: http://designmuseum.org
PICTURES: Top – Gravity; Middle – Gareth Gardner; Bottom – Helene Binet. Courtesy The Design Museum.
This Week in London – London and the slave trade; a rare VC; and, Sir Elton John’s photo collection…
November 24, 2016
• London’s role in the slave trade during the 17th and 18th centuries is the subject of a new display opening at the Museum of London Docklands tomorrow. Called The Royal African, it tells the story of the Royal African Company, founded as a joint venture between the Duke of York (the future King James II) and leading London merchants in 1672 (the coat-of-arms of which is pictured), through looking in-depth at the life of William Sessarakoo. An African prince, Sessarakoo grew up in a Royal African Company fort at Annamaboe in modern Ghana but when his father sent him to London to be educated, he was tricked and instead sold into slavery in Barbados. He spent four years as a slave until he was freed by members of the Royal African Company who wanted to retain good relations with his father and subsequently brought him to London. The display is being housed in the museum’s London, Sugar & Slavery Gallery and can be seen until 4th June next year. Entry is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands. PICTURE: © Museum of London.
• A rare Victoria Cross found on the foreshore of the River Thames has gone on show at the Museum of London in the City. Mystery surrounds the medal which was given for actions at the Battle of Inkerman during the Crimean War. While a number of medals were awarded for actions in the battle, only two have a location recorded as unknown. The first is that awarded to Scottish Private John McDermond from the 47th (the Lancashire) Regiment for saving the life of Lt Col O’Grady Hall who had been injured and surrounded by the enemy which leading a charge against a Russian column while the second is that awarded to Irish Private John Byrne of the 68th (Durham) Light Infantry who rescued a wounded comrade under fire. On show alongside the medal is a record book which details the engraving on each VC issued between 18554 and 1927, the original medal design from the jewellers Hancocks and a modern copy of a VC. The medal, which was found and then reported by Tobias Neto, is on show until 15th December. For more, see http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london.
• Sir Elton John’s collection of modernist photography is the subject of an exhibition which opened at the Tate Modern in South Bank earlier this month. The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection features more than 150 works from more than 60 artists including Man Ray, André Kertész, Berenice Abbot, Alexandr Rodchenko and Edward Steichen. Among the subjects show in the images are Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau. The exhibition runs until 7th May. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern.
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