This Week in London – Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots; Ellen and William Craft honoured; and, Kehinde Wiley’s ‘Portrait of Melissa Thompson’…

Ink and pencil drawing of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots at Fotheringhay Castle, 8th February, 1587 © British Library (Additional MS 48027, f. 650r)

• The complex relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the British Library in King’s Cross tomorrow. Highlights of Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, the first major exhibition to consider both women together, include Queen Elizabeth I’s 1545 handwritten translation of her stepmother Katherine Parr’s Prayers and Meditations – a gift for her father King Henry VIII, a sonnet by Mary, Queen of Scots, which was handwritten the night before she was executed in 1587 (possibly the last thing she ever wrote), the ‘Penicuik Jewels’ which she is thought to have given away on the day of her death and Robert Beale’s eye-witness drawing depicting her entering the hall, disrobing, and placing her head on the block (pictured right). Other items on show include King Henry VIII’s Great Bible (dating from 1540, it was later inherited by Elizabeth I), Elizabeth I’s mother-of-pearl locket ring (c1575) containing miniature portraits of herself and her mother Anne Boleyn, and the warrant confining Mary, Queen of Scots, in Lochleven Castle in 1567. The exhibition is accompanied by a programme of events. Runs until 20th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk/events/elizabeth-and-mary.

Nineteenth century African-American abolitionists Ellen and William Craft have been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at their former Hammersmith home. The Crafts escaped from enslavement in Georgia in the US in December, 1848, and fled to Britain, settling in a mid-Victorian house at 26 Cambridge Grove where they raised a family and campaigned for an end to slavery. The Crafts returned to the US following the end of the American Civil War and the emancipation of enslaved people and settled in Boston with three of their children. In 1873, they established the Woodville Cooperative Farm School in Bryan County, Georgia, for the children of those who had been emancipated. Ellen died in Georgia in 1891 and William in Charleston in 1900.

Melissa Thompson standing beside Kehinde Wiley’s Portrait of Melissa Thompson, 2020, now on display at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum

American artist Kehinde Wiley’s monumental Portrait of Melissa Thompson has gone on display in the V&A’s British Galleries, alongside William Morris’s Wild Tulip designs that inspired it. The massive oil painting, which was created as part of Wiley’s series The Yellow Wallpaper and was first exhibited at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow in 2020, was acquired earlier this year and is being displayed as part of a series of initiatives marking the 125th anniversary of William Morris’s death this October. The painting will be displayed in the William Morris Room (room 125) until 2024, after which it will move to its permanent home at V&A East Museum in 2025. Admission is free. For more, head to vam.ac.uk.

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Famous Londoners – Charles Cruft…

His surname now synonymous with the famous annual dog show, Charles Cruft is credited as taking the concept of dog shows to a whole new level.

Charles Cruft (picture from From Dog shows and doggy people (1902) by Charles Henry Lane).

Cruft was born, thought to have been in Bloomsbury, on 28th June, 1852, and attended Ardingly College in Sussex, before initially following on in his father’s footsteps and working in the family jewellery business (while taking evening classes briefly at Birkbeck College).

But it was his next move, taking on the role of office boy in the Holborn shop of “dog cake” manufacturer James Spratt that brought him into the world of canines.

Cruft quickly moved into sales and then management at the firm and it was while on a trip to Europe that he was given the opportunity to run the dog show at the third World’s Fair in 1878 (he married Charlotte Hutchinson, with whom he had four children, the same year). Further offers to run shows followed and in 1886, he was approached to run a dog show for terriers in London by the Duchess of Newcastle.

The show – billed as the “the first great show of all kinds of terriers” – opened at the Royal Aquarium in Westminster on 10th March that year and further annual shows, expanding into other breeds, followed. In 1891, his name was added to the event with the “Cruft’s Greatest Dog Show” held at the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington with 2,437 entries and 36 breeds.

So popular had the shows become that Queen Victoria and Russian Tsar were among the exhibitors (Cruft did also try his hand at cat shows in 1894 and 1895 but it was a short-lived venture).

By 1914, Cruft’s show had become the largest in the world and in 1936, when it celebrated its ‘Golden Jubilee’ (or 50th anniversary), there were more than 10,000 dogs entered.

Cruft, who had married his second wife Emma Isabel Hartshorn in 1894 following Charlotte’s death (they had no children together), died of a heart attack on 10th September, 1938. He was buried 11 days later in the western area of Highgate Cemetery (the tomb is now Grade II-listed). Tributes flowed in and apparently included comparisons to American showman PT Barnum.

Emma took over the running of the show following his death and since 1948, the show has been run by the Kennel Club. 

There’s a plaque on the home where he died in Highbury Grove in Highbury (other London residences included 325 Holloway Road).

Where’s London’s oldest…flyover?

PICTURE: Teseum (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The oldest flyover in central London was actually built well before the first automobile.

Spanning the Fleet River valley, it was built between 1863 and 1869 and, spanning Farringdon Street below (which follows the line of the Fleet (now beneath the ground), it linked the City of London with Holborn (or more specifically Holborn with Newgate Street).

Statue of commerce on the flyover. PICTURE: steve_w (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The flyover was designed by City of London surveyor William Heywood. It was part of a number of improvements designed to create better access to the City from the West End.

A number of old buildings and indeed some entire streets had to be demolished before construction could begin and thousands of bodies buried in St Andrew Holborn’s northern churchyard had to be relocated.

Made of cast iron, the flyover is about 1400 feet (425 metres) long and 80 foot (24 metres) wide and features three spans – the largest in the middle – supported on granite pillars.

Pavilions containing stairs allowing pedestrians to move between levels were built at either end on both sides of the roadway (the two northern buildings are both replacements – the previous versions were demolished after being damaged during the Blitz and have been replaced in more recent years).

The decorations include a series of four bronze statues featuring Agriculture and Commerce on the south side (the work of Henry Bursill) and Fine Arts and Science on the north side (the work of firm Farmer & Brindley).

There are also statues of winged lions and globe lamps (the current lamps are replicas with the originals thought to have been destroyed during the Blitz) as well as well as the City of London’s coat-of-arms and dragons.

The buildings containing the stairs, meanwhile, each feature a statue of a famous medieval Londoner on the facade – merchant Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579), engineer Sir Hugh Myddelton (1560-1631), and Mayors Sir William Walworth (d.1385) and Henry Fitz Ailwin (1135-1212).

The viaduct was opened by Queen Victoria on 6th November, 1869. It was listed as Grade II in 1972.

LondonLife – Lost ‘garden snug’ recreated at Red House…

The new garden snug with the Red House in the background. PICTURE: © National Trust/Chris Davies

A lost ‘garden snug’ has been recreated at 19th century designer William Morris’ Arts & Crafts home, Red House, in Bexleyheath. Inspired by the original notes of architect Philip Webb, the design draws on an ordnance survey map from when Morris and his family were residents at the house between 1860-1865 which shows outdoor spaces separated into different ‘rooms’. Photos of the garden from the 1890s were also used to guide the project. The 100 square metre garden is enclosed with traditional hazel and hawthorn and the planting inside its bounds references some iconic Morris & Co designs like ‘Trellis’, ‘Daisy’ and ‘Fruit’. At the centre is a Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula) and the garden also features traditional cottage plants like Shasta daisies, columbines, honeysuckle, irises, peonies, jasmine and mock orange. Around the central tree are specially commissioned wooden seats from Scottish craftsman Angus Ross with distinctive two-metre high arches designed to echo the house’s medieval-inspired architecture. For more, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/red-house.

The Red House and lawn seen from the south east. PICTURE: © National Trust/Andrew Butler.

Lost London – The Maharajah’s Fountain…

Former site of The Maharajah’s Fountain, looking into Hyde Park from Bayswater Road (you can see the plaque to the left of the path). PICTURE: Google Maps.

Once located in Hyde Park, this drinking fountain was a gift from Maharajah Meerza Vijiaram Gajapati Raj Manea Sooltan Bahadoor of Vijianagram (a small princely state once located in what is now the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh).

Installed in 1867 by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association, the towering structure in the neo-Gothic style was apparently designed by the architect Robert Keirle (also the designer of the Readymoney Fountain in The Regent’s Park).

It was installed close to the park’s north-east corner (between North Carriage Drive and Bayswater Road, not far west of Marble Arch).

The fountain was eventually removed in 1964 (apparently due to the prohibitive cost of repairing it). A plaque these days marks its location.

10 London memorials to foreign leaders…3. Simón Bolívar…

PICTURE: Rept0n1x (licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0/image cropped)
PICTURE: Another Believer (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

One of a cluster of statues depicting foreign leaders around Belgravia Square (thanks to the presence of so many foreign embassies in the area), this work depicting Simón Bolívar, a towering figure in the early 19th century liberation of South America from colonial powers, was erected in 1974.

The bronze, by Hugo Daini, shows Bolívar standing as though about to make a speech

The inscription describes Bolívar as the liberator of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama and the founder of Bolivia and also mentions the details of his birth – Caracas, Venezuela, 24th July, 1783 – and death – Santa Maria, Colombia, 17th December, 1830.

It is accompanied by a quote on the side of the pedestal, featuring words attributed to Bolívar: “I am convinced that England alone is capable of protecting the world’s precious rights as she is great, glorious and wise”.

The statue was erected by the aforementioned nations (the coats-of-arms of which are on the plinth) and unveiled in by James Callaghan, then Foreign Secretary (and later PM).

A Moment in London’s History – The opening of Royal Albert Hall…

Crowds gathered at the Opening of Royal Albert Hall, on 29th March, 1871, as seems in the Illustrated London News, on the 8th April, 1871.

Next week sees the Royal Albert Hall’s 150th anniversary concert taking place, one of a number of events to mark the anniversary of the hall’s opening.

This spectacular building in South Kensington was officially opened on 29th March, 1871, as The Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences (the opening was actually brought forward from 1st May – 20th anniversary of the opening of the Great Exhibition – at the request of Queen Victoria).

The Queen had laid the foundation stone in 1867 and the work on the building, the creation of which was partly funded by profits from the Great Exhibition of 1851, was complete by the end of 1870 (at least its structure – much of the interior decoration was apparently added later).

An image of the interior of the hall during the opening ceremony on 29th March. 1871. The illustration originally appeared in The Graphic. PICTURE: Via Wikipedia.

Queen Victoria and members of the Royal Family left Buckingham Palace in a line of state carriages for the event at noon escorted by the Royal Horse Guards Blue. Large crowds lined the route of her passage and a guard of honour composed of the Grenadiers stood opposite the entrance.

On arriving, the Queen was met by the Edward, the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), members of the building committee and some of those who has served as commissioners of the Great Exhibition of 1851.

The Queen processed to a dais inside the building’ auditorium where some 8,000 dignitaries and invited guests waited in the audience. But she was apparently too overcome by memories of her late husband – Prince Albert, after whom the building as named – to give a speech. So it was the Prince who did so, although the Queen did reportedly add her own comments, saying according to an account in The Guardian: “I cannot but express my great admiration for this beautiful building, and my earnest wishes for its complete success.”

A battery of artillery performed a salute in nearby Hyde Park after which the Queen and Royal Family took their seats in the Royal Box to watch the musical program that followed. The Queen then returned to Buckingham Palace.

Interestingly, the first concert at the hall, held to test acoustics, actually took place month earlier on 25th February for an audience of some 7,000 people made up of those who had worked on the building and their families as well as officials and various invited members of the public.

Famous Londoners – Sir Rowland Hill…

Famous for his reform of the postal system, Sir Rowland Hill was a national celebrity during the Victorian era.

Born in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, on 3rd December, 1795, Rowland was the son of schoolmaster Thomas Wright Hill. Educated in his father’s school, Hill Top, in a Birmingham suburb, it was determined he would follow in his father’s footsteps at an early age and by the age of 12 had become a student teacher and in 1819 helped his family establish new model school, Hazelwood, in Edgbaston near Birmingham. In 1827, he was also involved with his family in establishing another new school, Bruce Castle School, in Tottenham, Middlesex.

Statue of Sir Rowland Hill in London. PICTURE: Julian Osley (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/image cropped)

That same year, Hill married Caroline Pearson, who originally came from Wolverhampton, and together they had four children – three daughters Eleanor, Clara and Louisa and a son Pearson.

In the following years, Hill became involved in campaigns to colonise South Australia and in 1835 he joined the South Australian Colonisation Commission as Secretary, a role which he held until 1839 (interestingly and perhaps not surprisingly given his interest, Hill’s sister Caroline would later emigrate to South Australia with her family).

Hill was in his early 40s when he became interested in reforming the postal system – what to be his life’s great work. In 1837, he published his influential pamphlet, Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability, in which he argued for consistency in the system including pre-payment of standardised charges for sending mail.

Hill believed that if letters were cheap to send, more people – including the poorer classes – would send more and thus the profitability of the system would increase (a thought which proved true). It’s said, although whether it’s true or not is uncertain, that Hill became interested in reforming the postal system after he noticed a young woman who too poor to claim a letter sent to her by her fiancé (at the time it was usually the recipients who paid for the letter’s mailing).

Only three years later,  Parliament passed the Penny Postage Act which saw the world’s first official postage stamps – the penny black and the two-penny black – issued. Hill and his family had by then moved to Orme Square in Bayswater (there’s now an English Heritage Blue Plaque on the property).

After the new government of Sir Robert Peel took office in 1841, Hill was dismissed and, joining the London and Brighton Railway as a director in 1843, relocated to Brighton.

But Hill was able to resume his postal reform efforts in 1846 after another change of government saw him appointed Secretary to the Postmaster-General. In 1854, he was appointed Secretary to the Post Office, a job he held until his retirement in 1864 due to ill health.

Hill was knighted in 1860. He spent the last 30 years of his life at  Bartram House, Hampstead, and it was there he died 27th August, 1879 (a plaque now marks the house). He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

There are several public statues commemorating Hill include a bronze which, created in 1881, stands in King Edward Street in London (pictured).

LondonLife – Hampstead Heath Act turns 150…

PICTURE: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

This month marks 150 years since the passing of the Hampstead Heath Act, which confirmed the heath as a public open space, and, to celebrate, the City of London Corporation, the Heath & Hampstead Society and other partners have launched a year of commemorations. Upcoming planned highlights include an outdoor exhibition showcasing the heath’s history and the significance of the 1871 Act which will be launched on the heath (on the main path leading onto the heath from the Hampstead Heath Overground Station) on 23rd June, a community fun day (27th June), an outdoor cinema screening (8th September), a summer music event (tentatively scheduled for 5th September) and historic walks as well as an Historic Postcard Project featuring an interactive online map with historic images of the heath. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath.

10 London hills – 9. Highgate Hill…

Highgate Hill seen from Hampstead Health (with the spire of St Michael’s visible). PICTURE: Adrian Scottow (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/image cropped)

This hill in the city’s north rises 136 metres (446 feet) above sea level and is said to take its name from a tollgate the Bishop of London once erected on the summit.

The hill, which stands to the northeast of the expansive Hampstead Heath and south of Highgate Wood, is topped by Highgate Village, long a fashionable residential district which features some significant 18th century buildings. It boasts views of central London.

Landmarks include the famous Highgate Cemetery – resting place to everyone from Karl Max to George Eliot and Douglas Adams – and the Highgate School, established on 1565 to educate the poor and now a rather exclusive – and expensive – establishment (the school, incidentally, was built on the site of an earlier hermitage). TS Eliot was a former master there and students included Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman.

Other buildings of note include The Flask pub, St Michael’s Church (dating from 1831) and St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church (dating from 1888).

Famous residents have included Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (he was originally buried in a crypt below the school’s chapel but his remains were relocated to St Michael’s Church in 1961) while 16th and early 17th century philosopher and statesman Sir Francis Bacon died in what was then called Arundel House (now The Old Hall) in 1626. Classical scholar and poet AE Housman’s former house at 17 North Road is marked with an English Heritage Blue Plaque.

Highgate Hill is also famous for being where, so the story goes, Dick Whittington, who was accompanied by his cat, heard the Bow bells and felt called back to London (there’s a monument to Whittington and his cat close to the bottom of Highgate Hill Road).

LondonLife – The Bow Street Police Museum opens its doors…

The Bow Street Magistrates’ Court in 2006, the year of its closure. PICTURE: Edward (public domain)

The Bow Street Police Museum, located on the site of the 1881 Bow Street Magistrates’ Court and Police Station, has opened its doors in Covent Garden. The museum tells the story of the early Bow Street Runners, the first official law enforcement service in the city, and the Metropolitan Police officers who came after. Visitors can explore the former cells and hear the stories of those who once worked in the building. The connections between Bow Street and the constabulary dates back to 1740 when Thomas de Veil opened a Magistrates’ Court in his family home at number four Bow Street in the 18th century and continued until the closure of the Bow Street Magistrates’ Court in 2006. Among the famous faces who passed through Bow Street’s police station and court over that time were Oscar Wilde, Suffragettes Sylvia Pankhurst, Christabel Pankhurst and Mrs Drummond, and the Kray twins. For more, head to https://bowstreetpolicemuseum.org.uk.

This Week in London – Nero at the British Museum; Stephen Hawking’s office to be recreated at the Science Museum; and, Blue Plaque for Indian engineer Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia…

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is head-of-nero-bm.jpg
Head from a bronze statue of the emperor Nero. Found in England, AD 54– 61. PICTURE: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

A bronze head of the Roman Emperor Nero found in the River Alde in Suffolk – long wrongly identified as being that of the Emperor Claudius – and the Fenwick Hoard – which includes Roman coins, military armlets and jewellery – are among the star sights at a new exhibition on Nero at the British Museum. Nero: the man behind the myth is the first major exhibition in the UK which takes Rome’s fifth emperor as its subject. The display features more than 200 objects charting Nero’s rise to power and his actions during a period of profound social change and range from graffiti and sculptures to manuscripts and slave chains. Other highlights include gladiatorial weapons from Pompeii, a warped iron window grating burnt during the Great Fire of Rome of 64 AD, and frescoes and wall decorations which give some insight into the opulent palace he built after the fire. The exhibition, which opens today, runs until 24th October in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/nero/events.aspx.

The office of late theoretical physicist Professor Stephen Hawking will be recreated at the Science Museum, it was announced this week. The contents of the office, which Hawking, the author of the best-selling A Brief History of Time, occupied at Cambridge’s department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics from 2002 until shortly before his death in 2018, includes reference books, blackboards, medals, a coffee maker and Star Trek mementoes as well as six of his wheelchairs and the innovative equipment he used to communicate. The museum, which reportedly initially plans to put the objects on display in 2022 and later recreate the office itself, has acquired the contents through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, which allows families to offset tax (his archive will go to the Cambridge University Library under the same scheme).

Nineteenth century civil engineer Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia – the first Indian Fellow of the Royal Society – has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former Richmond home. The plaque, which can be found on 55 Sheen Road – the villa Cursetjee and his British family moved to upon his retirement in 1868, was installed to mark the 180th anniversary of his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society. Cursetjee is considered the first modern engineer of India and was the first Indian at the East India Company to be placed in charge of Europeans. He was at the forefront of introducing technological innovations to Mumbai including gaslight, photography, electro-plating and the sewing machine. Cursetjee first visited London in 1839 and travelled regularly been Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and London until his retirement. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.

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Famous Londoners – Thomas Crapper…

One of the most famous plumbers in the world, Thomas Crapper was the founder of London-based sanitary equipment company, Thomas Crapper & Co, and a man whose name has become synonymous with toilets (although he was not, contrary to popular belief, the inventor of the flushing toilet).

A portrait of Thomas Crapper. PICTURE: Via Wikipedia.

Crapper was born in the town of Thorne in Yorkshire in 1836, the son of Charles Crapper, a sailor (his exact birthday is unknown but he was baptised on 28th September, so it’s thought to have been around that time).

In 1853, he was apprenticed to his brother George, a master plumber based in Chelsea, and, having subsequently gained his own credentials, established himself as a sanitary engineer in Marlborough Road in 1861 (he had married his cousin, Maria Green, the previous year).

Sometime in the late 1860s, in a move some saw as scandalous, his company became the first to open public showrooms displaying sanitary-related products. He was also a strong advocate for the installation of flushing toilets in private homes.

While not the inventor of the modern flushing toilet (that is often credited to Sir John Harington, godson of Queen Elizabeth I, in 1595, although there are even earlier examples), he was responsible for a number of advances in the field including making design improvements to the floating ballcock, a tank-filling mechanism, and the U-bend, an improvement on the S-bend.

Crapper’s company did have some high profile clients – in the 1880s it supplied the plumbing at Sandringham House in Norfolk for then Prince Albert (later King Edward VII). This resulted in Crapper’s first Royal Warrant and the company would go on to receive others from both Albert, when king, and King George V.

Crapper’s branded manhole covers, meanwhile, can still be seen in various parts of London, including around Westminster Abbey where he laid drains. His name can also be found on what are said to be London’s oldest public toilets.

Thomas Crapper & Company logo. PICTURE: Oxyman (licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0).

Crapper retired in 1904 (his wife had died two years earlier) and the firm passed to his nephew George (son of his plumber brother George) and his business partner Robert Marr Wharam (the firm, Thomas Crapper & Company, continues to this day – now based in Huddersfield, it still sells a range of vintage bathroom products).

Having spent some time commuting from Brighton, Thomas lived the last six years of his life at 12 Thornsett Road, Anerley, in south-east London (the house now bears a plaque). He died on 27th January, 1910, of colon cancer and was buried at Elmer’s End Cemetery nearby.

While it is often claimed that it’s thanks to Thomas Crapper and his toilets that the word ‘crap’ came to mean excrement, the word is actually of Middle English origin and was already recorded as being associated with human waste when Crapper was just a young boy.

But there is apparently more truth to the claim that toilets became known as ‘crappers’ thanks to Thomas Crapper’s firm. It was apparently American servicemen who, when stationed overseas during World War I, encountered Crapper’s seemingly ubiquitous branding on toilets in England and France and, as a result, started referring to toilets as such.

London Explained – The Tube…

Commonly used as a nickname to describe the London Underground, the “Tube” is an obvious reference to shape of the tunnels themselves.

Construction of the Tube at Mile End (c1946). PICTURE: The National Archives UK (London Transport Museum © Transport for London)

The word is believed to have been first popularised around 1890. Underground lines had previously been constructed using the ‘cut and cover’ method – that is, digging out the trench for the Underground line, lining the tunnel with iron and them covering it.

Thanks to its depth (due to the fact it had to pass under the Thames), City and South London Railway’s line from King William Street (a now disused station) to Stockwell was the first to be created by boring a tunnel through the earth and then lining it to create a tube. The line, a forerunner of what is now the Northern Line, opened in December, 1890. It was the first true ‘tube’ of the Underground system.

The construction of the line was followed in 1900 by the opening of the Central London Railway’s line from Shepherd’s Bush to Bank (now part of the Central Line) which was given the nickname the “Twopenny Tube”.

The name stayed and was soon applied to the entire network of Underground lines (and interestingly, it wasn’t until 1908 that the word “Underground” first appeared in stations).

Lost London – Gunter’s Tea Shop…

Berkeley Square, one time home to Gunter’s Tea Shop, as it is in more modern times. PICTURE: Herry Lawford (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

This origins of this Mayfair establishment go back to 1757 when it was first opened by an Italian pastry cook, Domenico Negri, who sold all sorts of English, French and Italian wet and dry sweetmeats under the sign of the ‘Pot and Pineapple’.

The name Gunter became attached after Negri formed a partnership with James Gunter, whose family came from Wales, in 1777. By 1799 Gunter was running the place alone (henceforth Gunter’s Tea Shop). His son Robert took over the business on his father’s death in 1819, having previously spent time studying the confectionary trade in Paris.

Located on the east side of Berkeley Square at numbers seven and eight, Gunter’s had, by the early 19th century, become particularly famous for its ices and sorbets which were said to be made from a secret recipe. It become popular among the beau monde and Gunter operated something of a takeaway service for well-do-ladies so they could attend without a chaperone – waiters would dodge traffic to take ices out to their open-topped carriages parked by the square. All very respectable!

Gunter’s also became noted for their multi-tiered wedding cakes among Mayfair families – in 1889, they even made the cake for the marriage of Queen Victoria’s grand-daughter, Princess Louise.

Gunter’s moved to Curzon Street when the east side of Berkeley Square was demolished and rebuilt in the mid-1930s. It finally closed 20 years later although the business’s catering arm continued for another 20 years operating out of Bryanston Square.

Treasures of London – Charles Dickens’ writing desk and chair…

Charles Dickens’ desk and chair at the Charles Dickens Museum. PICTURE: Alyx Dellamonica (Licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Among the treasures to be found at Dickens’ former house (and now the Charles Dickens Museum) in Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, is the desk and accompanying chair where Dickens’ wrote several of his later novels including Great ExpectationsOur Mutual Friend and the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Dickens purchased the mahogany pedestal writing desk as well as the walnut and fruitwood smoker’s armchair in 1859. He used them in the study of his final home at Gad’s Hill Place in Kent (Dickens also had an identical chair in his London office which is now in the New York State Library).

After the author’s death in 1870, the desk and chair – which feature in Luke Fildes’ 1870 work The Empty Chair and the RW Buss’ 1875 work Dickens’ Dream  – were passed down through the Dickens family until they was auctioned in the 2000s with the funds raised used to benefit the Great Ormond Street Hospital.

While the desk and chair had previously been loaned to the museum for display, in 2015 the establishment was able to purchase the desk and chair and make it part of its permanent collection thanks to a £780,000 grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

While the museum is currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, we include these details for when it reopens.

WHERE: 48-49 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury (nearest Tube stations are Russell Square, Chancery Lane or Holborn). WHEN: Currently closedCOST: £9.50 adults/£7.50 concessions/£4.50 children (under six free); WEBSITE: www.dickensmuseum.com.

Where’s London’s oldest…(operational) fire station?

New Cross Fire Station in 2007. PICTURE: Danny Robinson (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The closure of two fire stations in 2014 – Clerkenwell (which opened in 1872) and Woolwich (which opened in 1887) – has left New Cross Fire Station in the city’s south as the oldest in London (and, according to the London Fire Brigade, the oldest in Europe as well.)

The station, which was designed in a rather grand “chateau-style” by the brigade’s chief architect Robert Pearsall, was opened at 266 Queen’s Road in New Cross in 1894. It was built to accommodate the divisional superintendent, a station foreman and 16 firefighters – eight married and eight unmarried – as well as two coachmen and stables for four horses.

The fire station initially housed a steam-powered and a manual firefighting appliance as well as a hose cart and van, a long ladder (which had its own shed in the yard) and four fire escapes.

The fire station underwent a major upgrade in 1912, improvements included the addition of more flats for married officers and self-contained houses for the superintendent and foreman as well as a sliding pole to give firefighters a quicker trip to the engine house. In 1958, a third appliance bay was added.

One of the most infamous incidents the firefighters from New Cross attended was in November, 1944, when a V2 bomb hit a Woolworths store in New Cross just after midday on a busy Saturday. Some 168 people were killed, 33 of whom were children, and a further 123 were injured in the attack.

The station is now Grade II-listed.

Lost London – The Carlton Hotel…

The Carlton Hotel (via Wikimedia Commons)

A luxury hotel built at the turn of the 20th century in the West End, the massive Carlton Hotel was part of an even larger redevelopment that included the (still standing) fourth version of Her Majesty’s Theatre (which provides a good idea of what the overall building looked like).

Located on the Crown estate on the corner of Pall Mall and Haymarket, the hotel was designed by CJ Phipps (who died before it was completed). Building started in 1896 and was completed by 1899.

Swiss hotelier César Ritz – who had been dismissed from his position as the manager of the Savoy Hotel in 1897 and subsequently successful opened his own establishment, the Hôtel Ritz, in Paris the following year – agreed to take a 72-year lease of the new hotel and a new company, The Carlton Hotel, Limited, was formed.

The building, which had interiors designed in the French Renaissance style, contained more than 300 guest rooms, all with telephones, including 72 suites which came with en suite bathrooms. There were also private dining and reception rooms for guests as well as reading and smoking rooms and a highly regarded Palm Court. And, of course, a restaurant in which Auguste Escoffier, who had left the Savoy under a cloud with Ritz, was employed as a head chef.

The Palm Court at The Carlton Hotel as featured in the Illustrated London News on 5th August, 1899.

The hotel, the upper floors of which contained private residences, was a hit and quickly threatened the status of the Savoy as the city’s most fashionable hotel. But in 1902, as the hotel was preparing to mark the coronation of King Edward VII, the king fell ill and the festivities were postponed indefinitely. Ritz suffered a nervous breakdown – apparently from the shock – and Escoffier was left in charge.

While its reputation was never again as high as it had been in the years immediately after opening, the Carlton Hotel remained profitable until World War II when it was heavily damaged during German bombing in 1940. Residential parts of the building were closed and in 1942 the remainder of the building was requisitioned by the British Government (with the exception of the American Bar and Grill Room which remained open).

The hotel never fully reopened, however, and, in 1949, the lease was sold to the New Zealand Government. The Carlton Hotel was demolished in 1957-58 and the New Zealand High Commission subsequently built on the site.

Among the hotel’s most famous clientele was Winston Churchill who was apparently dining in the restaurant with Lloyd George when World War I was declared.

Another famous association is commemorated by an English Heritage Blue Plaque which records the fact that Ho Chi Minh, founder of modern Vietnam, worked there as a cook in 1913 (when he was then known as Nguyen That Tanh).

There’s a story that Tanh, seeing how much food was being thrown away, asked Escoffier if he could give it to the poor, to which Escoffier told him to put aside his revolutionary ideas so he could teach him “the art of cooking, which will make you a great deal of money”. Tanh clearly choose another path.

10 London buildings that were relocated…10. Sir Paul Pindar’s house…

OK, so our last entry in this series isn’t a house, just a facade. But it is a significant and rare example of part of a pre-Great Fire timber-framed house in London which has been relocated.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is paul-pindars-house-.jpg
PICTURE: tx K.B. Thommpson
(licensed under CC BY 3.0)

The intricately detailed wooden facade, which can now be found in the V&A in South Kensington, was originally part of a three-and-half storey mansion which stood on the west side of Bishopsgate Without (that is, just outside the City of London’s walls).

It was built by Sir Paul Pindar, a wealthy merchant and diplomat who was knighted by King James I in 1620 (we’ll be featuring more of his story in an upcoming ‘Famous Londoners’ article).

He had purchased several properties in the street in 1597 and then incorporated these properties into a single mansion which also included a new section (of which the striking facade survives).

The house, which Shakespeare himself may well have walked past, was unusually large and sufficiently opulent that it served as the residence of Pietro Contarini, the Venetian ambassador, in 1617–18.

By 1660, it had been divided into smaller dwellings and, having survived the Great Fire of London, subsequently became a residence for the indigent. The front rooms on the ground floor, meanwhile, were turned into a tavern named the Sir Paul Pindar’s Head.

By the late 19th century, however, the nearby Liverpool Street Railway Station needed more room for expansion and, as a result, in 1890 the property was demolished to make space.

Part of the facade, however, was carefully dismantled (albeit some large sections, like the projecting carved window frames, were kept intact) and subsequently moved to the V&A where it was reassembled using carpenters’ marks on the wood.

The restored frontage (without the original glass and leading which was replaced in 1890) initially stood near the front of the museum but in the Noughties was delicately moved to where it now stands in the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries.

While the museum is currently closed as a result of coronavirus restrictions, we publish these details for when you can visit. Timed tickets can be booked for future dates here.

WHERE: Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Gloucester Road); WHEN: Special – see above; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.vam.ac.uk

Treasures of London – Chiswick House Conservatory…

While the lockdown means buildings are now closed, we continue with our regular series for visits at a later time…

This 300 foot long, now Grade I-listed, conservatory was constructed on the orders of the 6th Duke of Devonshire in the grounds of the neo-Palladian Chiswick House to the west of London and completed in 1813.

Then one of the largest of its kind in the world, the conservatory was designed by Samuel Ware (he also designed the Burlington Arcade in Piccadilly) and while its east and west ranges are of a conventional design, its centre features an unusual domed roof.

The conservatory, which was built on land which the duke had acquired by buying a neighbouring estate, is seen as a forerunner to Decimus Burton’s famous building at Kew Gardens as well as Joseph Paxton’s conservatory at Chatsworth and even the Crystal Palace itself.

In 1828, the Duke filled it with his exotic collection of camellias. The glasshouse now stands at the heart of Chiswick House’s annual Camellia Festival.

The collection of camellias is, of course, a treasure in its own right. It was first created by the 6th Duke and his gardener, William Lindsay, with plants acquired from Alfred Chandler’s nursery in Vauxhall.

The collection includes 33 different varieties, including some of the earliest introduced to the UK, and one of the rarest plants in the world – a deep pink camellia japonica known as ‘Middlemist’s Red’ which was originally brought to Britain from China in 1804 by Shepherds Bush nurseryman John Middlemist, and apparently presented by one of his descendants to Chiswick sometime after 1823.

For more, see www.chiswickhouseandgardens.org.uk.