This major London thoroughfare (and ward of the City of London) owes its name to one of the eight former gates of the City of London – that’s right, Bishopsgate.

Located at what’s now the junction with Wormwood Street (and marked by a mitre which appears on a building there), the gate was the departure point for Ermine Street which ran from London to Lincoln and York.

The gate and hence the road – which runs northward from the intersection of Gracechurch Street and Cornhill to where it becomes Norton Folgate Street (which links into Shoreditch High Street) – is believed to have been named for the 7th century Bishop Erkenwald (Earconwald). It was he who apparently first ordered its reconstruction on the site of a former Roman gate.

By Tudor times, the street had become known for the mansions of rich merchants – among those who had their homes here were Sir Thomas Gresham, Sir John Crosby and Sir Paul Pindar (Crosby Hall was later re-erected in Chelsea and the facade of Sir Paul Pindar’s house, is in the V&A). The street also become known for its many great coaching inns, all of which were eventually demolished.

Bishopsgate was the first street in London to have gas lighting when it was introduced about 1810 and, about 1932, became the first in Europe to have automated traffic lights (at the junction with Cornhill).

The City of London ward straddles the site of the old London wall and gate and is accordingly divided into “within” and “without” sections.

While there are a number of churches associated with the street – St Ethelburga Bishopsgate, St Helen’s Bishopsgate and St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate, these days it is largely lined by office buildings including the former NatWest Tower. Other notable buildings include that of the Bishopsgate Institute and the busy Liverpool Street Station is also accessible from Bishopsgate.

The name Bishopsgate is also synonymous with an IRA truck bombing which took place in the street on 24th April, 1993, in which one man was killed and 44 injured.

PICTURE: Top – Looking southward along Bishopsgate in 2014. (stevekeiretsu; licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0); Right – The Bishop’s mitre marking the location of the former gate (Eluveitie/ licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0).

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Originally built as a dining hall for King Edward IV in the 1470s, the Great Hall is a survivor of the medieval royal palace that once stood on the site and later become incorporated into the Art Deco home created by Stephen and Virginia Courtauld in the 1930s.

The hall, which is comparable in size to that of Hampton Court Palace, was designed by Thomas Jordan, chief mason to the king, and Edmund Graveley, his chief carpenter.

It is 101 foot long and 36 foot wide and has a magnificent oak roof described as a ‘false’ hammerbeam construction (the ‘false’ because the posts are morticed into the ends of the hammerbeams rather than resting on them).

The hall would have once had a raised dais at one end while the other end joined to the rest of the would have featured a screen behind which doors led to a buttery, pantry and kitchen. A hearth was located near the dais end of the hall.

The windows, which are set high in the walls, would have been of stained glass (the stained glass there now was added in 1936 and is the work of George Kruger Gray) and the walls below them would have been decorated with tapestries.

Eltham was a favourite residence of King Edward IV and one of the most lavish feasts ever held there was at Christmas, 1482, when some 2,000 people were fed (it was the king’s last visit to the palace before his death the following April). The hall would have also been familiar to King Henry VIII who spent much of his childhood here but later in his life rarely came to Eltham.

King Charles I was the last king to visit the palace and in 1651 it was sold off by Parliament to Colonel Nathaniel Rich who, as well as demolishing many buildings, stripped the lead off the hall’s roof. The property was later used as a farm and the hall became a barn.

In the early 19th century a campaign was launched to save the hall from demolition which saw the roof propped up and during the latter half of the 1800s it was used as an indoor tennis court.

Further repairs were made in the 1890s and again between 1911 and 1914 when the roof was dismantled and reassembled under the direction of the Office of Works.

The Courtaulds, who had their spectacular adjoining property built in the 1930s, apparently intended to use the hall as a music room and carried out a number of repairs – including to the roof – and additions including a minstrel’s gallery (there is no evidence of such a feature in the original).

After World War II, the Ministry of Works assumed responsibility for the Great Hall (and other palace remains) – opening the hall to the public for three days a week – before in 1984 English Heritage took over management of the Great Hall (and later the entire site).

PICTURE: David Adams

WHERE: The Great Hall, Eltham Palace, Court Yard, Eltham, Greenwich (nearest train station is Mottingham); WHEN: 10am to 6pm Sunday to Friday; COST (without Gift Aid): £15 adults/£9 children/£13.50 concessions/£39 family (English Heritage members free); WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/eltham-palace-and-gardens/.

 

A free dance and science festival celebrating Antarctica opens at the Science Museum in South Kensington on Tuesday. Antarctica Live features daily dance performances – including a newly devised performance by award-winning choreographer Corey Baker, workshops and hands-on experiences with real survival equipment to shed light on how the frozen continent is responding to increasing human activity and how its fate can affect us all. Visitors will also be able to see a scale model of the recently launched polar research vessel, the RRS Sir David Attenborough. A special “lates” event on 29th August in the museum’s IMAX Theatre will premiere the documentary film Dancing on Icebergs, which charts the two year making of the short film, Antarctica: The First Dance, featuring Madeleine Graham, star of the Royal New Zealand Ballet (pictured). The screening will be followed by a live Q&A with Corey Baker. Antarctica Live runs until 30th August. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/antarctica-live. PICTURE: Madeleine Graham in Antarctica The First Dance © Jacob Bryant.

On Now: Leaving Today – the Freuds in Exile 1938. This exhibition at the Freud Museum London in Hampstead focuses on the flight and exile of Sigmund Freud, his wife Marta and daughter Anna as, following Hitler’s annexation of Austria, they left Vienna on 4th June, 1938, heading to a new life in London. It features original documents, letters and objects, many of which have never been on public display before. Highlights included the documents Freud and his family required to exit Austria and enter Britain, Freud’s personal correspondence with figures like Albert Einstein and HG Wells, and the first public display of Marie-Louise von Motesiczky’s painting The Psychoanalyst. The exhibition also features a series of works created by young people attending the Baobab Centre for Young Survivors in Exile in collaboration with Barnaby Barford. Runs until 30th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.freud.org.uk.

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Jousting returns to Hampton Court Palace this weekend with visitors invited to join King Henry VIII and his court as they watch this sporting spectacle. Along with the thrills and spills of the tourney, visitors can also partake of the delights of Tudor food and music and a specially commissioned play featuring chief minister Thomas Cromwell as he prepares a royal banquet to celebrate the king’s marriage to Anne of Cleves. The event kicks off with a royal procession in which knights will greet the king with a display of heraldic pageantry before they head to the jousting arena at the East Front Gardens. Admission charge applies. Runs on 14th and 15th July. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk. PICTURE: A previous jousting event at Hampton Court Palace (David Adams).

Venture into the hidden world of shadows in a major new exhibition opening at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington on Friday. Afraid of the dark? takes visitors deep into underground caves, to the depths of the oceans and into the pitch blackness of night as it recreates habitats usually hidden from view and presents hundreds of incredible creatures, some brand new to science, which have adapted to a life without sunlight. The sensory display allows visitors to touch some of Britain’s nocturnal animals, hear the sounds of the deep sea, smell the distinctive aromas of a bat cave and see through the eyes of a cave boa using infrared technology. Runs until 6th January. Admission charge applies (children aged up to 16 are free). For more, see www.nhm.ac.uk.

Bauhaus designers and teachers Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and László Moholy-Nagy have been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at the Belsize Park home where they lived and worked in the 1930s. Gropius (1883-1969) founded the art school known as Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar in 1919 with Breuer (1902-1981), who initially joined as a student before becoming director of furniture workshops in 1924, and Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) who joined the staff in 1923 and edited the house magazine and 14 books. All three went on to have successful careers in the field of design and architecture and live in flats in the Grade I-listed Isokon Building, completed in 1934 and originally known as the Lawn Road Flats, in Belsize Park. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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Built by poet Alexander Pope (and something of an obsession during his later life) is the grotto and tunnel that he had constructed at his property on the banks of the Thames at Twickenham.

Pope came to live in what was then the fashionable retreat of Twickenham in 1719 and employed architect James Gibbs to create a small Palladian style villa there, living in it until his death in 1744. He also obtained a licence to tunnel beneath the road known as Cross Deep and leased about five acres of unenclosed land on the other side which he developed as his garden – a project he lavished great attention upon.

His first grotto was established in the cellars which stood at ground level facing the river and then extended along the tunnel from the rear of the cellars, leading to a misapprehension, promoted by no other than Dr Samuel Johnson, that the grotto lay under the road. Pope, who had apparently been delighted to find a spring in his grotto complex, opened his gardens to the public in 1736.

Inspired by what he found when visiting Hotwell Spa at the base of Avon Gorge in 1739, he decided to redesign the grotto as a museum of mineralogy and mining and while much material – including a stalagmite from Wookey Hole in Somerset and hexagonal basalt joints from the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland (the latter a gift, apparently, from Sir Hans Sloane) – was put into the walls, the grotto was never completed.

The grotto and tunnel is now all that remains of the villa Pope built which was demolished in 1808. What survives of it is located within the grounds of Radnor House School.

The grotto is generally open only briefly during the year including during the Twickenham Festival. An effort continues to have the grotto restored and public access increased. For more details on the restoration project and when the grotto can be visited, see www.popesgrotto.org.uk.

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

 

The Tower of London’s dry moat will be transformed into a 15th century medieval court gathered to welcome a new Queen, Margaret of Anjou, for the May bank holiday this long weekend. The world of 1445 is being reimagined in a series of festivities – under the banner of Go Medieval at the Tower – which will include sword-fighting knights, hands-on experiences for kids such as the chance to fire a real crossbow, the “scents, sights and sounds” of a medieval encampment, and the chance to witness trades such as armoury and coin-striking. As well as, of course, opportunities to meet King Henry VI and his 15-year-old queen, Margaret who, upon her coronation, was honoured with a lavish pageant from Westminster Abbey to the Tower in which she received extravagant gifts including a lion. Runs from 10am to 5pm from Saturday to Monday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces.

Working Londoners from the past 500 years are the subject of an open air exhibition opening in Guildhall Yard on Saturday. Londoners: Portraits of a Working City, 1447 to 1980 features a range of photographs, prints and drawings – many displayed for the first time – from the London Metropolitan Archives. The exhibition – which includes images of Jack Black of Battersea, Queen Victoria’s rat-catcher, and Charles Rouse, believed to be the last nightwatchman in 19th century London as well as pictures of Savoy Hotel page boys, a brick dust seller, a farrier in 1980s Deptford and a 15th century Lord Mayor – complements The Londoners exhibition currently running at the LMA in Clerkenwell which features 50 portraits not included in the Guildhall display. The free outdoor exhibition can be seen into 23rd May – for more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/thelondoners. The Clerkenwell display can be seen until 5th July – for more, follow this link.

The life of the butler will be up for examination at Apsley House, home of the Duke of Wellington, this long weekend in an event which will also see the duke’s Prussian Dinner Service laid out in all its glory. Butlers and Banquets will feature talks about the history of the service – commissioned by King Frederick William III of Prussia and presented as a gift to the 1st Duke of Wellington after his victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 – with younger visitors also having the chance to meet the butler of the house and find out what running a grand home like Apsley House was like as well as learning skills such as how to lay a table. Runs between 11am and 4pm from Saturday to Monday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/apsley.

A new exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution opens at the British Library in King’s Cross on Friday. Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths tells how the revolution unfolded during the reign of the last tsar, exploring the growth of the revolutionary movements with a special focus on key figures such as Tsar Nicholas II and revolutionary leaders such as Vladimir Lenin. Among the items on display is a letter Lenin wrote in April, 1902, applying to become a reader at the British Museum Library which he signed with his pseudonym, Jacob Richter, to evade the tsarist police. Other items on display include a souvenir album of the Tsar’s coronation and wallpaper hand-painted by women factory workers propaganda along with posters, letters, photographs, banners, weapons, uniform items, recordings and films. Runs until 29th August. Admission charge applies. For more, follow this link.

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canonbury_squareOK, I know the plaque on the front says this was the actual home of author George Orwell – who moved here in 1944 with his family. But the property was also apparently partly the inspiration for Victory Mansions, the home of  Winston Smith, the protagonist of his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair) moved to the property at 27b Canonbury Square with his wife Eileen and their young adopted son Richard in 1944 after their flat in Mortimer Crescent, Kilburn, was hit by a V-1 flying bomb.

But Eileen sadly died unexpectedly during surgery only a few months later in early 1945 while Orwell was off working as a war correspondent.

Despite this, Orwell retained the property until 1947 – the same year his allegorical story Animal Farm was published – but had left the property when Nineteen Eighty Four, which he had largely written while on the Scottish island of Jura in 1947 and 1948, was published in June, 1949 – only a few months before he died in January, 1950.

His was apparently the basement flat – rather unlike Smith’s home which Orwell wrote was located “seven flights up” in a rather large block. The architectural differences aside, however, Orwell’s flat apparently served as something of a model for Smith’s “bleak tenement in a down-at-heel area” which was, like the rest of the flats Victory Mansions, was “falling to pieces” and filled with the smell of boiled cabbage.

A plaque erected by the London Borough of Islington has long adorned the building although last year Orwell’s son Richard attended the unveiling of a new plaque which amended the dates Orwell lived here, changing  it from 1945 to 1944-47.

Of course, London is replete with other locations mentioned in Orwell’s book – Trafalgar Square becomes Victory Square (Big Brother stands atop the column in place of Admiral Lord Nelson), the Ministry of Truth where Smith works is modelled on the University of London’s Senate House in Bloomsbury, and the cells in the Ministry of Love are apparently based on those at Bethnel Green Police Station where Orwell has been incarcerated (although only for a few hours) after being arrest for drunk and disorderly behaviour in 1931.

Orwell, meanwhile, is commemorated with numerous plaques located around London, including an English Heritage Blue Plaque at a property in Lawford Road, Kentish Town.

Canonbury Square – Orwell’s former residence is in the foreground (with the old plaque). PICTURE: 14wesley/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

the-queens-houseThe Queen’s House in Greenwich has reopened this week following more than a year long restoration to mark its 400th anniversary. The property was designed by Inigo Jones for King James I’s wife, Queen Anne of Denmark (supposedly it was a gift from the king, given as an apology for swearing in front of her after she accidentally killed one of his dogs while hunting), and, commissioned in 1616 (but not finished until 1636, well after Queen Anne’s death), is regarded as Britain’s first fully classical building. The newly reopened premises houses more than 450 works of art from the National Maritime Museum’s collection and a new gold leaf artwork – inspired by the newly restored Tulip Stairs – on the ceiling of the Great Hall created by Turner Prize-winning artist Richard Wright. Other attractions include Gentileschi’s painting Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife, which has returned to the house, where it is on display in the King’s Presence Chamber, for the first time since 1650, and the iconic Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, which is now on permanent display. Entry to the property is free. The property’s reopening is being accompanied by a series of talks. For more, see  www.rmg.co.uk/queens-house.

The first major exhibition to explore the work Italian artist Caravaggio has opened at The National Gallery on Trafalgar Square this week. Beyond Caravaggio features 49 paintings traces the life of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), from his early years in Rome producing highly original works depicting youths, musicians, cardsharps and fortune-tellers through to his sensational first public commission in 1600 and the many commissioned works which followed, his two trips to the Kingdom of Naples (both times while fleeing the law, the first after committing murder), and how his works inspired – and were reflected in the works of – other painters. Works on show include Caravaggio’s Boy Bitten by a Lizard (1594-95) and The Supper at Emmaus (1601), as well as the recently discovered The Taking of Christ (1602) and Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness (1603-04) along with a host of works from other painters. The exhibition is a collaboration with the National Gallery of Ireland and the Royal Scottish Academy and will head to these institutions after it finishes its run at The National Gallery on 15th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.

egyptian-hallA free exhibition exploring the popular Victorian entertainments which have shaped today’s theatrical traditions opens at the British Library in King’s Cross tomorrow. Victorian Entertainments: There Will Be Fun focuses on five performers who were instrumental entertainers during the 19th century – from mesmerist Annie De Montfort and ‘Royal Conjurer’ Evasion to Dan Leno – the “funniest man on earth”, circus owner ‘Lord’ George Sanger and magician John Nevil Maskelyne of the Egyptian Hall. The display features decorative posters, handbills, musical scores, advertisements and tickets and  includes items drawn from the 6,000 pieces of printed ephemera contained in the library’s Evasion collection as well as original sound recordings, artefacts on loan from The Magic Circle Museum and memorabilia from the Egyptian Hall in London. Five original performance pieces have been commissioned for the exhibition and every Saturday until 17th December, a company of actors and performers will present archive material from the exhibition in a contemporary performance. There’s also an extensive events programme accompanying the exhibition. Runs until 12th March. For more, see www.bl.uk/events/victorian-entertainments-there-will-be-fun. PICTURE: Modern Witchery Maskelyne at the Egyptian Hall; © British Library Board

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With the recent change at 10 Downing Street – David Cameron out/Theresa May in – we thought it a good time to look back at when the man considered Britain’s first PM moved in.

10_Downing_StreetSir Robert Walpole, commonly considered Britain’s first Prime Minister although he was never formally known by that title, was actually First Lord of the Treasury when in early 1730s King George II presented him with the terrace house at 10 Downing Street, off Whitehall, and the large mansion behind it (in fact the title of ‘First Lord of the Treasury’ can still be seen inscribed on the brass letter-box on the property’s front door).

Sir Robert accepted the king’s gift, but only on condition that it be made available to all future First Lords of the Treasury  And he didn’t move in until 22nd September, 1735, having had architect William Kent join the terrace house with the mansion behind it before doing so.

Kent had joined the houses on two levels with the main entrance facing onto Downing Street instead of Horse Guards. The Walpoles would live at the back of the new house where Kent had created a series of grand rooms – suitable for receiving honoured guests – and had built an unusual three sided staircase which remains a star sight of the building today.

Walpole used the ground floor of the new property for business and set-up his study in what is now the Cabinet Room. Lady Walpole used the upstairs room now known as the White Drawing Room as her sitting room and what is now called the Terracotta Room (although the name of this room changes with the colour scheme) as the dining room.

Among those who attended 10 Downing Street during the Walpole’s residency were luminaries such as Queen Caroline (wife of King George II) as well as prominent politicians, writers and military figures.

The Walpoles left in 1742 and it was more than 20 years later before another First Lord of the Treasury moved in.

For more on 10 Downing Street (including its earlier history), check out our previous entries here and here.

PICTURE: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC/ Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

Freud-Museum

The fact the properties can have many residents with the passing of the years means that there’s a select number of properties in London (18 to be exact) which bear more than one English Heritage blue plaque – among them 4 Carlton Gardens in St James’s (home to 19th century PM Lord Palmerston and where General Charles De Gaulle set up the headquarter of the free French forces in 1940).

But among that group is an even more select group – properties which bear two blue plaques with both of those people commemorated coming from the same family.  The home at 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead (pictured above) falls into this group.

Now a museum, the home’s celebrated occupants have included psycho-analyst Sigmund Freud, who lived here briefly in the final years of his life (between 1938 and his death on 23rd September, 1939), and his daughter Anna Freud, the youngest of his six children and herself a pioneering psycho-analyst, who lived here from 1938 until her death in 1982.

Both occupants have their own blue plaques on the property: Sigmund’s original London County Council blue plaque was unveiled on the site by his daughter Anna – then still occupant in the home – in 1956, the 100th anniversary of his birth. It had deteriorated and was replaced in 2002, at the same time a plaque to Anna herself was unveiled.

When Freud had moved to London from Vienna in June, 1938 – following the annexation of Austria by the Third Reich, he had initially lived in Primrose Hill before settling in the property in Maresfield Gardens along with his family and a significant collection of furniture from his Vienna consulting rooms.

In 1986, four years after Anna’s death, property was reopened as the Freud Museum and the public can still go inside and see Freud’s study, including his famed consulting couch, just as it was when he lived there.

The Freuds aren’t, of course, the only family members commemorated by English Heritage Blue Plaques – others include suffragette mother and daughters Emmeline and Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst (the first two commemorated on a single plaque at 50 Clarendon Road in Notting Hill and the latter at 120 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea), and father and son Prime Ministers William Pitt the Elder and his son William Pitt the Younger (at 10 St James’s Square in St James’s and 120 Baker Street in Marylebone respectively).

WHERE: Freud Museum London, 20 Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead (nearest Tube stations are Finchley Road and Swiss Cottage);  WHEN: Noon to 5pm, Wednesday to Sunday; COST: £7 adults; £5 seniors; £4 concessions (including children 12-16); children under 12 free; WEBSITE: www.freud.org.uk.

PICTURE: Rup11/CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia.

Located on the south side of the Strand, the then-named Exeter House was built in the 1300s as the London palace of the Bishops of Exeter on land which had previously been occupied by the Knights Templar.

The-DevereuxIt was Bishop Walter Stapledon who had the palace constructed – as well as being Bishop of Exeter, he was Lord High Treasurer to the unpopular King Edward II, a role which eventually led to him being dragged from his horse in the City of London and murdered.

King Henry VIII gave the property to his Secretary of State, William, Lord Paget, and, in the late 16th century, it came into the hands of Robert Dudley, the 1st Earl of Leicester. He rebuilt it and renamed it Leicester House which it remained until, following his death in 1588, it was inherited by his stepson, Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex and a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, and renamed Essex House.

The house was rather large and in 1590 was reported as having as many as 42 bedrooms as well as a picture gallery, a banqueting suite and chapel.

Devereux ended up beheaded for treason on Tower Hill in 1601 but his son, also Robert Devereux, became a distinguished general for the Parliamentarians during the Civil War. He received a delegation from the House of Commons at the property to offer their congratulations after the Battle of Newbury in 1643 and was laid out in state there in 1646 (insatiable diarist Samuel Pepys, then a 13-year-old boy, was among those who saw the body).

After the Civil War, the family’s debts resulted into the property passing into the hands of other families. The main part of the house was eventually demolished in the 1670s and part of the property sold to developer Nicholas Barbon. He built Essex Street, which still stands in the area, was built on the site.

The remaining part of the house, meanwhile, was used to house the Cotton Library before, in 1777, it too was demolished.

The mansion’s chapel, meanwhile, became a dissenters meeting house, known as the Essex Street Chapel, which became the birthplace of Unitarianism in England. The denomination’s headquarters, named Essex Hall, still stands on the site.

The pub The Devereux (pictured above), named for Robert Devereux, is among the buildings which now stand on the site (for more on the pub, see our earlier post here).

There’s quite a few whose London residence (or otherwise) is commemorated by more than one blue plaque. So, breaking away from our usual ‘one plaque’ format, here were listing five of those who have made the grade…

William-Wilberforce-blue-plaque1. William Wilberforce (1759-1833). The late 18th century and early 19th century politician and anti-slavery campaigner tops our list with three English Heritage blue plaques. The first is at 111 Brookwood Road in Battersea – the site of Brookwood House where Wilberforce resided during his anti-slavery campaign. The second is on Holy Trinity Church on Clapham Common, the church where Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect with whom he is associated worshipped. And the third is on a property at 44 Cadogan Place in Chelsea where Wilberforce died.

2. Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). Like Wilberforce, the 18th century lexicographer Dr Johnson has three English Heritage blue plaques to his name. The first, on his famous Gough Square property in the City of London we’ve already mentioned (see our earlier post here), while the second is on a property at 8 Russell Street, Covent Garden, then occupied by bookseller Thomas Davies, which was where Dr Johnson famously first met James Boswell in 1763. The third time Dr Johnson’s name appears, more unusually, is on a plaque commemorating Essex Street – Dr Johnson is among a number of names listed on it for his role in establishing an “evening club” at the pub, the Essex Head, in the street in 1783.

3. Samuel Pepys (1633-1703): The 17th century diarist seems to pop-up everywhere in central London so it’s not surprising there are two plaques in the English Heritage blue plaques scheme dedicated to him (although both are located in the same street – one he apparently liked very much). The plaques are located at number 12 and number 14 Buckingham Street in Covent Garden and both mark the site of a Pepys residence.

4. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941): The writer, publisher and literary critic’s name appears on two properties – at 29 Fitzroy Square in Fitzrovia where Woolf lived between 1907-1911 and on Hogarth House at 34 Paradise Road in Richmond where she and Leonard Woolf lived between 1915-1924 (and also where they founded the Hogarth Press in 1917).

5. William Morris (1834-1896): The poet and artist has two English Heritage blue plaques to his credit – the first on 17 Red Lion Square in Holborn where Morris lived in a flat from 1856-1859 with Sir Edward C Burne-Jones, and the second on Red House in Bexleyheath where he and his wife Jane Burden lived from 1860-1865.

PICTURE: Spudgun67/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0 (image cropped)

Much has been made about the dearth of women featured on blue plaques in this 150th year of the scheme – according to English Heritage, only 13 per cent of the 900 odd blue plaques in London commemorate a woman.

Fanny-Burney-plaqueAmong them are ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn, suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, socialite Nancy Astor, and, in recent times, cookery writer Elizabeth David.

The oldest surviving blue plaque commemorating a woman, however, is that commemorating what is today a less well-known name, that of Fanny Burney.

Burney (1752-1840), who was known as Madame D’Arblay after she married, was a widely applauded novelist who was also noted for her diaries which record her involvement in the literary circles around Samuel Johnson and the Bluestocking Group.

The blue plaque commemorating her residence at 11 Bolton Street in Mayfair was erected in 1885 by the Society of Arts (which means that like others erected by the society, later the Royal Society of Arts, it’s brown not blue).

Burney, whose most profitable work, Camilla, was published in 1796 after she had spent five years as Second Keeper of the Robs to Queen Charlotte, lived in the house following the death of her husband, the Frenchman Alexandre D’Arblay.

She spent 10 years here – from 1818 until 1828 – and had apparently thought it would be her last residence but she went on to move into three further properties after this one.

PICTURE: Simon Harriyott/CC BY 2.0

Samuel-Johnson-plaqueThere is only one official blue plaque in the square miles of the City of London – that which marks the property of lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson in Gough Square (he always did like to stand out from the crowd) – and, like many of the plaques in the scheme, it’s not even blue.

Samuel-Johnson-plaque2The plaque was among the 35 erected in the first 35 years of the scheme – this one in 1876 – and was done so by the Society of Arts which then ran the scheme (later the Royal Society of Arts). In common with most of the first 35 plaques, it is brown in colour.

In 1879, just three years after this plaque was erected, the Society of Arts came to an agreement with the Corporation of the City of London that the corporation – the governing body of the square mile – would commemorate sites of historic significance within its boundaries and the agreement has stood ever since.

The hundreds of “blue plaques” since erected by the City of London Corporation are rectangular in nature and commemorate everything from structures like the long-gone historic gate of Aldgate (88 Aldgate High Street) to homes of the notable such as martyred Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas á Becket (86 Cheapside).

There’s a searchable database of all the City of London plaques which can be found here.

And, of course, Dr Johnson’s house, which he lived in from 1748-59 which compiling his famous A Dictionary of the English Language (the first comprehensive English language dictionary), is now a museum – for details of that, see our earlier post here.

This year marks 300 years since the birth of Lancelot “Capability” Brown, the most famed landscape designer of the Georgian age and a man who has been described as the “father of landscape architecture”.

Capability-BrownBrown is understood to have been born in 1716 in the village of Kirkharle in Northumberland, the fifth of six children of a land agent and a chambermaid (he was baptised in on 30th August so it is believed his birth happened sometime earlier that same year).

He attended the village school before he worked as apprentice or assistant to the head gardener in Sir William Loraine’s kitchen garden at Kirkharle Hall.

Having left home in 1741 he joined the gardening staff of Lord Cobham, as one of the gardeners at his property in Stowe, Buckinghamshire.

There he worked with William Kent, another famed landscape architect of the Georgian age and one of the founders of the new English style of gardens, until, at the age of 26, he was appointed head gardener.

He remained in Stowe until 1750 and while there, in 1744, married Bridget Wayet (with whom he went on to have nine children). During his time there, he also created the Grecian Valley and also took on freelance work from Lord Cobham’s noble friends, a fact which allowed him to produce a body of work that would start to make his reputation.

Having struck out on his own from Stowe, he settled with his family in Hammersmith, London, in the early 1750s, already widely known and considered by some the finest gardener in the kingdom.

The work continued to flow in and it’s believed that, over the span of his career, Brown was responsible for designing or contributing to the design of as many as 250 gardens at locations across the UK, – many of which can still be seen today. As well as Stowe, these included gardens at Blenheim Palace, Appuldurcombe House on the Isle of Wight, Warwick Castle, Harewood House and Petworth House in West Sussex.

Following on from the work of Kent, Brown was known for his naturalistic undulating landscapes, in particular their immense scale, flowing waterways and a feature known as a ‘ha-ha’, a ditch which blended seamlessly into the landscape but which was aimed at keeping animals away from the main house of the estate.

His style, which contrasted sharply with the more formalised, geometric gardens epitomised in the French style of gardening, did not, however, meet with universal praise. Criticisms levelled against him including that he had often erased the works of gardeners of previous generations to complete gardens which were, in the end, described by some as looking no different to “common fields”.

It’s worth noting that Brown also dabbled in architecture itself – his first country house project was the remodelling of Croome Court in Worcestershire and he went on to design and contribute to the design of several houses including Burghley House Northamptonshire as well as outbuildings including stable blocks.

The nickname ‘Capability’ apparently came from his habit of informing his client that their estates had great “capability” for improvement. It’s wasn’t apparently a name he used himself.

So established became his reputation that in 1764 Brown was appointed King George III’s Master Gardener at Hampton Court Palace (as well as Richmond and St James’ Palaces), taking up residence with his family at Wilderness House. He also worked on the gardens at Kew Palace.

Brown died on 6th February, 1783, in Hertford Street in London at the door of his daughter Bridget’s house (she had married architect Henry Holland with whom he Brown had, at times, collaborated). He was buried in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul, the parish church of a small estate Brown owned at Fenstanton Manor in Cambridgeshire.

Brown impact on garden design in England is now undisputed although it wasn’t always the case – his contribution was largely dismissed in the 18th century and it was only in the later 20th century that he had become firmly established as a giant figure in the gardening world.

A celebrated portrait of Brown (pictured above) – painted by Nathaniel Dance in about 1773 – is in the collection of National Portrait Gallery.

For more on events surrounding the 300th anniversary of Brown’s birth, see www.capabilitybrown.org.

PICTURE: Capability Brown by Nathaniel Dance, circa 1773. © National Portrait Gallery, London

 

It’s the quintessential London film – the story of a bookshop owner, William Thacker (played by Hugh Grant), whose life takes a romantic turn when a famous American actress Anna Scott (played by Julia Roberts) comes into his shop. And, as the name suggests, it’s set in the west London district known as Notting Hill. 

Notting-Hill-posterThe centrepiece of the 1999 film, which was directed by Richard Curtis, is the Portobello Road Market (pictured above, see more on the history of the market here) but the film also depicts other aspects of the area.

These include the Coronet Cinema, and, of course, the now famous blue door in Westbourne Park Road which represents the entry to Thacker’s flat (it was apparently actually Curtis’ home).

There’s plenty of other London sites in Notting Hill as well – The Ritz hotel in Piccadilly where Anna Scott stays, the Savoy Hotel where a press conference is held and the historic Hampstead Heath home featured (or rather not) in last week’s film Belle, Kenwood House – this time as a film set in a movie Anna is making.

Notting Hill, meanwhile, has long been a popular site for films – everything from The Italian Job (the Michael Caine version) through to another recent Richard Curtis film About Time (2013) has been filmed here.

Kenwood-HouseThis is the case of a movie stand-in. While Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath in north London (pictured above) was the real life home of late 18th century figure Dido Elizabeth Belle, the subject of the 2014 Amma Asante-directed film Belle – the movie wasn’t actually shot there.

Thanks to the fact that parts of Kenwood House – in particular the famed Robert Adam interiors – were undergoing restoration at the time, the scenes representing the home’s interiors were instead shot at three other London properties – Chiswick House, Syon Park and Osterley Park, all located in London’s west (West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire, meanwhile, was used for the exterior).

While some other scenes were also filmed in London – Bedford Square represented Bloomsbury Square where the London home of Lord Mansfield was located, for example, other locations were also used to represent London – scenes depicting Kentish Town, Vauxhall Gardens and the bank of the River Thames were all actually shot on the Isle of Man, for example.

When the real life Belle – the illegitimate mixed race daughter of an English naval captain who was raised by her great-uncle William Murray, Lord Mansfield (she was played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the film; Lord Mansfield by Tom Wilkinson)  – is believed to have lived at Kenwood, it was the weekend retreat of Lord Mansfield, then Lord Chief Justice of England (for more on her life, see our previous post here).

Interestingly, the property was also once home to a 1779 painting (previously attributed to Johann Zoffany but now said to be “unsigned”) which depicts Belle and which was apparently the inspiration for the movie. While a copy of the painting still hands at Kenwood, the original now lives at Scone Palace in Scotland.

For more on Belle’s story, see Paula Byrne’s Belle: The True Story of Dido Belle.

Queen-Alexandra-MemorialErected to the memory of Queen Alexandra, the consort of King Edward VII, the memorial – an ornate bronze screen – is located on the exterior of the garden wall of Marlborough House – the Queen’s former home – in Marlborough Road, opposite St James’ Palace.

Queen-Alexandra-Memorial-smallThe now Grade I-listed bronze memorial, which is the work of Alfred Gilbert and was erected in 1932, is sometimes described as London’s only Art Nouveau statue.

It depicts a central figure, described as “Love Enthroned”, supporting a young girl (perhaps a symbol of the Queen’s support for the next generation), and attended by two crowned bowing figures which it’s believed represent faith and hope. An inscription – “Faith, hope, love – The guiding virtues of Queen Alexandra” – sits below.

The memorial was unveiled on 8th June, 1932, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang, in attendance. Queen Alexandra’s Memorial Ode, composed by Sir Edward Elgar, was first performed at the ceremony.

The memorial was the last public artwork to be completed by Gilbert, noted for having also created what is arguably London’s most famous statue – that of Eros in Piccadilly (see our earlier post here), who was knighted by King George V after the unveiling.

The Queen lived at the property during her widowhood until her death in 1925.

Apologies – we neglected to put in the link! Now corrected.

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The V&A has reopened its ‘Europe 1600-1815’ galleries to the public this week following a major £12.5 million refurbishment. The seven transformed galleries, located close to the South Kensington museum’s grand entrance, tell the story of how France succeeded Italy as the “undisputed leader” of fashionable art and design in Europe in the late 17th century and how Europeans systematically “explored, exploited and collected” resources from Africa, Asia and the Americas. Featuring more than 1,100 objects, the galleries – redesigned in conjunction with architectural practice ZMMA – include four V&A2large rooms introducing the story of Europe across the period and three smaller rooms focusing on specific activities – ‘collecting in the Cabinet’, ‘enlightened thought in the Salon’, and ‘entertainment and glamour in the Masquerade’. Objects on display include a highly ornate Rococo writing cabinet made from Augustus III (on show for the first time since it has undergone a conservation work), a newly conserved 18th century bed from the Parisian workshop of George Jacob – furniture maker to Napoleon, a 17th century Venetian table by Lucio de Lucci and Pierre-Denis Martin’s oil painting, The Visit of Louis XIV to the Chateau de V&A3Juvisy (both on show for the first time) as well as several large recently cleaned tapestries including the 1860s Gobelins tapestry, The infant Moses tramples on Pharoah’s crown. The display also includes three recreated period rooms – a 17th century French bedchamber, Madame de Sérilly’s cabinet and a mirrored room from 18th century Italy – while in the Salon can be found a contemporary installation, The Globe. A curved architectural sculpture, it is the creation of Havana-based artist collective Los Carpinteros and forms a “room within a room” within the ‘Salon’. It will be used for events and discussions. Entry to the galleries is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/europegalleries. PICTURES: David Grandorge/©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

On Now: A Victorian Obsession: The Pérez Simón collection. This exhibition at the Leighton House Museum – former home of artist Frederic, Lord Leighton – features more than 50 works by leading Victorian artists, some of which are rarely exhibited. The paintings, which include six works by Leighton himself as well as works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, John Everett Millais and John William Waterhouse, all form part of the collection of Mexican Juan Antonio Pérez Simón who has the largest private collection of Victorian art outside the UK. The highlight of the exhibition, however, is Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s The Roses of Heliogabalus, being shown in London for the first time since 1913. Admission charge applies. The exhibition at the property on the edge of Holland Park runs until 6th April. For more, see www.leightonhouse.co.uk.

On Now: Handel’s Performers. This display of portraits and documents in The Foundling Museum’s Handel Gallery is a showcase of celebrities and singers who brought the work of composer George Frideric Handel’s work to the public in the 18th century. Among those depicted are Anastasia Robinson and Senesino, among the highest paid singers of their time, Anna Maria Strada, a leading soprano, Gustavus Waltz, a bass singer who sang at the benefit performance of Handel’s Messiah at the Foundling Hospital in 1754, and John Hebden, who played in the orchestra during benefit performances of the Messiah in 1754 and 1758. Runs at the Bloomsbury museum until 1st May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Syon-Park

Yes, we’re a bit out of order here given we looked at the subsequent Battle of Turnham Green last week, but today we’re taking a look at the Civil War fight known as the Battle of Brentford.

As recounted last week, having taken Banbury and Oxford in the aftermath of the Battle of Edgehill, the Royalist army marched along the Thames Valley toward London where a Parliamentarian army under the Earl of Essex waited.

Battle-of-BrentfordHaving arrived at Reading to the west of London, King Charles I, apparently unconvinced peace talks were heading in the right direction, ordered Prince Rupert to take Brentford in order to put pressure on the Parliamentarians in London.

On 12th November, 1642, up to 4,600 Royalists under the command of the prince engaged with two Parliamentarian infantry regiments at Brentford, one of the key approaches the City of London. The Parliamentarians were under the command of Denzil Hollis (who wasn’t present) and Lord Brooke – various estimates put their number at between 1,300 and 2,000 men.

Prince Rupert’s men – consisting of cavalry and dragoons – attacked at dawn under the cover of a mist. An initial venture to take a Parliamentarian outpost at the house of Royalist Sir Richard Wynne was repulsed by cannon fire but Sir Rupert ordered a Welsh foot regiment to join the fight and the outpost was quickly taken.

The Cavaliers then pushed forward across the bridge over the River Brent (which divided the town) and eventually drove the Parliamentarians from the town and into the surrounding fields (part of the battle was apparently fought on the grounds of Syon House – pictured at top).

Fighting continued into the late afternoon before the arrival of a Parliamentarian infantry brigade under the command of John Hampden allowed the Roundheads to withdraw.

About 170 are believed to have died in the battle (including a number who drowned fleeing the fighting). Followed by the sack of the town, the battle was a success for the Royalists who apparently captured some 15 guns and about 400 prisoners. The captured apparently included Leveller John Lilburne, a captain in Brooke’s regiment.

The Royalists and Parliamentarians met again only a few days later – this time at Turnham Green (for more on that, see last week’s post).

Incidentally, this wasn’t the first battle to be fought at Brentford. Some time over the summer of 1016, English led by Edmund Ironside clashed with the Danes under the soon-to-be-English king Canute. Edmund was victorious on the day, one of a series of battles he fought with Canute.

Meanwhile, more than 1000 years earlier, it was apparently at Brentford that the British under the King Cassivellaunus fought with Julius Caesar’s men in 54 BC on their approach to St Albans (Verulamium).

A pillar stands High Street in Brentford commemorating all three battles while there is an explanatory plaque about the battle in the grounds of Syon Park.

For more the Battles of Brentford and Turnham Green, see www.battlefieldstrust.com/brentfordandturnhamgreen.