You may have noticed that last week we kicked off a new Wednesday series on 10 (more) London garden squares, only having kicked off a new series on 10 sites from Victoria and Albert’s London the week before. To clarify, we are currently running the Victoria and Albert series, the garden squares entry snuck in by accident (but we’ll be returning to the garden squares down the track)! Apologies for any confusion...


Queen Victoria, the first British monarch to use Buckingham Palace as an official residence, moved her household into the palace just three weeks after ascending to the throne on 20th June, 1837.

The palace, which had been empty for seven years following the death of her uncle King George IV, had been undergoing a grand repurposing under architect John Nash, transforming it from a house into a palace.

Originally built in 1703 as a London residence for John Sheffield, the 3rd Earl of Mulgrave, in 1761 the property had been purchased by King George III as a family home for his wife Queen Charlotte (14 of the couple’s 15 children were born here).

Remodelling of the property began the following year and had been continued by King George IV following his accession to the throne in 1820. As a result of the ongoing work, George IV never lived in the palace nor did his successor, King William IV, who preferred Clarence House.

The building works still weren’t finished when Victoria moved in. Her ministers had advised her to remain at Kensington Palace, her childhood home, until the works were finished but Victoria wasn’t having any of that – the move would help her escape the overbearing care of her mother Victoria, Duchess of Kent, the ambitious Sir John Conroy, and the so-called (and stifling) ‘Kensington System’ of rules under which she’d been brought up.

When Victoria married Albert (see the previous entry) on 10th February, 1840, the newly weds made the palace their London home. It was here that, over the next 17 years, Victoria would give birth to eight of their nine children (starting with Victoria ‘Vicky’, in 1840), and where the couple would work, controversially at side-by-side desks.

The couple’s growing family was soon stretching the palace accommodations and following a request from Queen Victoria, in 1846 some £20,000 was granted by Parliament on 13th August to complete and extend the grand property with an additional £50,000 for the works raised from the sale of the Royal Pavilion to the Brighton Corporation.

Under the direction of architect Edward Blore and builder Thomas Cubitt, the East Wing was added at the front of the palace, enclosing what had previously been a horseshoe-shaped courtyard and creating the famous central balcony where the Royal Family now gather on special occasions. Queen Victoria made the first public appearance on the balcony in 1851 during the Great Exhibition (pictured above are members of the Royal Family at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton).

A new ballroom – designed by Nash’s student James Pennethorne – was added to the State Rooms shortly after. This was inaugurated in May, 1856, with a ball held there the following month to mark the end of the Crimean War.

The ball was one of several held at the palace during those years along with official royal ceremonies and other entertainments including musical performances by the likes of Felix Mendelssohn and Johann Strauss II.

A new exhibition, Queen Victoria’s Palace, opens at Buckingham Palace next month. 

WHERE: State Rooms, Buckingham Palace (nearest Tube stations are Victoria, Green Park and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: 20th July to 29th September (opening at 9am, closing times vary – see website for details); COST: £25 an adult/£14 a child (under 17s/under fives free)/£22.80 concession/£64 family; WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/buckinghampalace.

PICTURES: Top – Diliff (licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0); Lower – David Adams.

Advertisements


No more than the name of a Tube terminus (the north-east end of the Piccadilly Line) to many Londoners, Cockfosters has an interesting origin story.

The area in north London, which lies partly in the London Borough of Enfield and partly in the London Borough of Barnet, owes its name to its location on the edge of what was the royal forest of Enfield Chase.

In the 15th century, the forest was protected by foresters housed in three lodges – one of which was located where the West Lodge Park hotel, built in 1838, now stands.

(An interesting side note is that after the foresters stopped using the original lodge, it became, at one stage, the home of King Charles II’s Secretary of State, Henry Coventry. Diarist John Evelyn is among those who visited him.)

The ‘fosters’ part of the name is apparently derived from an Elizabethan-era variant of the word forester while ‘cock’ is a old word for leader or chief. Cockfosters, then, literally means the home of the chief or head forester.

The modernist Tube station, designed by Charles Holden and opened in 1933, is a key landmark as is the stately, Grade II-listed property Trent Park which is located on a remnant of Enfield Chase.

Other notable buildings include Christ Church Cockfosters, founded in 1839, and The Cock Inn, which opened in Chalk Lane in 1798.

PICTURED: Top – Trent Park House (© Christine Matthews/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0; below – Cockfosters Tube Station (Steve Cadman/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the births of both Queen Victoria (24th May) and Prince Albert (26th August) and, in celebration, we’re running a special series on London locations that played a key role in their joint lives.

First up is the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace where the royal couple were married on 10th February, 1840. It was the first marriage of a reigning queen since Queen Mary I in 1554.

The chapel, which hosted the christening of Prince George in 2013 and Prince Louis in 2018, was built in about 1540 and substantially altered since, including under the eye of Sir Robert Smirke in 1837.  It was built on a north-south axis rather than the more usual east-west (a sizeable window on its northern wall can be seen to the right of the palace’s main gatehouse – see picture).

The chapel, which features a richly decorate ceiling said to have been painted by Holbein, has been used regularly by the Chapel Royal – a department of Royal Household – since 1702.

At the wedding, the Queen wore a white satin gown with a deep flounce of handmade Honiton lace, designed by William Dyce, which featured a long veil and an 18 foot long train (she had 12 train bearers). Her jewellery included a sapphire broach given to her by Albert and she wore a headress of orange blossoms. Victoria’s dress is said by some to have popularised the idea of the white wedding dress among the English (although there is apparently some debate over this).

Among those in attendance was Victoria’s mother, the Dowager Duchess of Kent and Strathearn, Albert’s father and brother, the Duke and Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha respectively, and various other royals including Queen Adelaide, the widow of King William IV, as well as the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne (who, in fact, carried the Sword of State). Given the fact Victoria’s father was dead, it was her uncle, the Duke of Sussex, who walked her up the aisle.

It was a big affair in the city – people lined the roads between Buckingham and St James’s palaces and some reportedly even climbed trees for a better view. Victoria wrote in her diary that she’d never seen such crowds “and they cheered most enthusiastically”.

The wedding breakfast, which featured a 300lb cake which was nine foot in circumference, was held at Buckingham Palace after which the newly weds headed off to Windsor for a two day honeymoon.

Famously, before the wedding, the Archbishop of Canterbury had apparently asked Victoria whether, given she was Queen, she wanted to remove the word “obey” from her wedding vows. Victoria had refused.

There are limited opportunities for the public to attend services in the Chapel Royal at certain times of the year.

PICTURE: Johan Bilien (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Queen’s birthday was marked on Saturday with the annual Trooping the Colour in central London. More than 400 soldiers, close to 300 horses and 400 musicians took part in the event, believed to have first been performed during the reign of King Charles II. As well as Queen Elizabeth II, other members of the Royal Family in attendance included Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex (see image below). ALL PICTURES: US Department of Defence photo by US Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A Pineiro (Via Flickr account of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/licensed under CC BY 2.0).

 

 

 

 

 

Located in the heart of the City of London (actually, according to a myth, it’s the exact centre of the Roman-era city), Williamson’s Tavern dates from the mid-18th century.

The tavern, located in Groveland Court, just off Bow Lane, owes its name to Robert Williamson who bought residence which once stood on the site – and happened to be the home of the Lord Mayor of London – in  the mid-1700s.

It was Williamson who turned the premises, which had been built soon after the Great Fire of 1666, into a hotel and tavern (the Lord Mayor, meanwhile, moved into the George Dance-designed Mansion House in 1752).

Said to be popular among merchants and seafarers, the hotel, meanwhile, remained in the family until 1914 when James Williamson died and the property was auctioned.  The hotel eventually disappeared but the tavern – now housed in a building dating from the early 1930s – lives on.

There is a remnant of its glorious past nearby – King William III and Queen Mary II, who were said to have dined at the previous Lord Mayor’s residence, presented the Lord Mayor with a gift in the form of now Grade II-listed wrought-iron gates with their monogram and they still stand at one end of Groveland Court.

The tavern, meanwhile, claims to have “probably…the oldest excise license in the City of London”. It also features a stone plaque in the floor which, so the story goes, marks the exact centre of London (although its apparently covered by carpet) and there are some Roman-era bricks or tiles incorporated into a fireplace which were discovered during the 1930s rebuild.

It’s also said to have a resident ghost – Martha (also the name of one of the pub’s dining rooms). According to the pub’s website, police dogs won’t go near the place as a result while longer serving members of staff say they have all seen a painting of her in various parts of the pub (of course, no such painting exists).

The tavern is now part of the Nicholson’s chain. For more, see www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/london/williamsonstaverngrovelandcourtlondon.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

 


Queen Victoria’s childhood and later life are being re-examined in two new displays which open this week at Kensington Palace to mark the 200th anniversary of her birth. Victoria: A Royal Childhood features objects related to her early years – such as a scrapbook of mementos created by her German governess, Baroness Lehzen (on public display for the first time) – shown along a newly presented route through the rooms she once occupied in the palace. Visitors will experience how her childhood was governed by the strict rules of the ‘Kensington System’ and see how she escaped isolation and family feuding into a fantasy world of story writing, doll making and drawing inspired by her love of opera and ballet. Her education, family life, closest friendships and bitter struggles are explored with interactive displays helping visitors bring to life the rooms in which she lived. Meanwhile, the palace is also hosting another new exhibition – Victoria: Woman and Crown – which looks at the private woman behind the public monarch and examines her later life, including her response to the death of Prince Albert, her role in shaping royal dynasties and politics across Europe and her complex love affair with India. Among objects on show here are rare survivals from the Queen’s private wardrobe including a simple cotton petticoat dated to around the time of her marriage, and a fashionable pair of silver boots, both of which were recently acquired by Historic Royal Palaces with support from Art Fund. Entry to the two exhibitions is included in the standard admission charge. The palace gardens, meanwhile, are being planted with a special floral display in celebration of the anniversary centred on plant species connected to the Victorian period  including heliotrope, canna, pelargonium and begonia. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/Victoria2019. PICTURES: Top  – The Birth Room in ‘Victoria: A Royal Childhood’; Right – Queen Victoria’s Highland dress in the ‘Victoria: Woman and Crown’ exhibition (Both images © Historic Royal Palaces/Richard Lea-Hair)

A newly identified sketch of the Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci goes on public view for the first time at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, from tomorrow. Marking 500 years since the artist’s death, Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing also features the only other surviving portrait of Leonardo made during his lifetime as well as 200 of his drawings in which is a comprehensive survey of his life. The newly identified sketch was discovered by Martin Clayton, head of prints and drawings at the Royal Collection Trust, while he was undertaking research for the exhibition and has been identified as a study of Leonardo made by an assistant shortly before da Vinci’s death in 1519. The other contemporary image of Leonardo, by his pupil Francesco Melzi, was produced at about the same time. Other highlights of the exhibition include Leonardo’s Studies of hands for the Adoration of the Magi (c1481) – also on public display for the first time, studies for The Last Supper and many of the artist’s ground-breaking anatomical studies, such as The Fetus in the Womb (c1511). The drawings in the Royal Collection have been together since Leonardo’s death and are believed to have been acquired in the reign of King Charles II. Runs until 13th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rct.uk/leonardo500/london.

The use of sound in the art of William Hogarth is being explored in a new exhibition opening in The Foundling Museum on Friday. Hogarth & the Art of Noise focuses on the work The March of the Guards to Finchley and unpacks the social, cultural and political context in which it was created including the Jacobite uprising, the plight of chimney boys and the origins of God Save the King. It uses sound, wall-based interpretation, engravings and a specially commissioned immersive soundscape by musician and producer Martin Ware to reveal how Hogarth orchestrated the natural and man-made sounds of London. Complementing the exhibition is a display of works from contemporary British artist Nicola Bealing which takes as its starting point subjects and narratives found in 18th century broadside ballads. Runs until 1st September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

Send items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

One of the star sites in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, the tomb of Horatio, Lord Nelson, is certainly grand.

Located in what is known as the Nelson Chamber, it centres on a polished back sarcophagus which sits on a stone plinth surrounded by columns with a mosaic floor featuring nautical motifs underneath.

But what makes this tomb unusual is that the sarcophagus actually predates the cathedral itself – and it wasn’t originally made for Nelson.

The sarcophagus was initially commissioned by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of King Henry VIII, and made by Florentine sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano in about 1524. But when Wolsey fell out of favour – and eventually died in disgrace – the then unfinished sarcophagus was seized by King Henry VIII.

King Henry intended to use it for himself and commissioned Benedetto to rework it but it wasn’t complete when he died and while his children – King Edward VI, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I – had intended to complete it after his death, none did so.

It was Queen Elizabeth I who moved the unfinished work out of Westminster to Windsor but during the Commonwealth various pieces designed to accompany the completed tomb were dispersed.

They included four large bronze angels that Benedetto had completed in 1529 which were intended to stand on the tomb’s four corners – for many years these were used as decorative features on gate pillars at Harrowden Hall in Northampshire but were finally recovered by the V&A in 2015 after a national appeal and can now be seen there.

The sarcophagus itself remained at Windsor until King George III presented it to the Admiralty in tribute to Lord Nelson.

Suitably fitted out, his remains were enclosed within when he was buried in St Paul’s crypt on 9th January, 1806.

Nelson’s body, which had been preserved in a keg of brandy on its journey aboard the HMS Victory back from the Battle of Trafalgar where he was killed in 1805, is actually held inside a wooden coffin which sits inside the sarcophagus. This coffin was made from the mainmast of the French ship L’Orient which was presented to Nelson following victory at the Battle of the Nile.

Meanwhile, the sarcophagus itself, which would have been topped with Wolsey’s cardinal’s hat had it fulfilled its original intention, is now topped with a coronet – a symbol of Nelson’s title of viscount.

A monument to Nelson, the work of John Flaxman, can also be seen inside the cathedral.

WHERE: Nelson Chamber, The Crypt, St Paul’s Cathedral (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s, Mansion House and Blackfriars); WHEN: 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Saturday; COST: £20 adults/£17.50 concessions/£8.50 children (online and group discounts; family tickets available); WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk.

PICTURE: Above – Michael Broad  (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Below – reverendlukewarm (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

Born to humble origins in London, Inigo Jones rose to become the first notable architect in England and, thanks to his travels, is credited with introducing the classical architecture of Rome and the Italian Renaissance to the nation.

Jones came into the world on 15th July, 1573, as the son of a Welsh clothworker, also named Inigo Jones (the origins of the name are apparently obscure), in Smithfield, London. He was baptised in St Bartholomew-the-Less but little else is known of his early years (although he was probably apprenticed to a joiner).

At about the age of 30, Jones is believed to have travelled in Italy – he certainly spent enough time there to be fluid in Italian – and he is also said to have spent some time in Denmark, apparently doing some work there for King Christian IV.

Returning to London, he secured the patronage of King Christian’s sister Queen Anne, the wife of King James I, and became famous as a designer of costumes and stage settings for royal masques (in fact, he is credited with introducing movable scenery to England).

Between 1605 and 1640, he staged more than 500 performances – his first was The Masque of Blackness performed on twelfth night in 1605 – including many collaborations with playwright Ben Jonson with whom he had an, at times, acrimonious relationship.

His architectural work in England – heavily influenced by the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (his copy of Palladio’s Quattro libri dell’architettura is dated 1601) as well as the Roman architect Vitruvius – dates from about 1608 with his first known building design that of the New Exchange in the Strand, built for Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury.

In 1611 Jones was appointed surveyor of works to Henry Frederick, the Prince of Wales, but, following the prince’s death on 6th November, 1612, he was, in 1615, appointed Surveyor of the King’s Works (having first accompanied Thomas Howard, the 2nd Earl of Arundel, on what would be his second visit to Italy).

Jones’ big break came in 1615 when he was made Surveyor-General of the King’s Works, a post he would hold for 27 years. He was subsequently was responsible for the design and building of the Queen’s House in Greenwich for Queen Anne (started in 1616 and eventually completed in 1635), the Banqueting House in Whitehall (built between 1619 and 1622, it’s arguably his finest work), the Queen’s Chapel in St James’s Palace (1623 to 1627) and, in 1630, Covent Garden square for the Earl of Bedford including the church of St Paul’s, Covent Garden.

Other projects included the repair and remodelling of parts of Old St Paul’s Cathedral prior to its destruction in 1666 and a complete redesign of the Palace of Whitehall (which never went ahead). He’s also credited with assisting other architects on numerous other jobs.

Jones’ career – both as an architect and as a producer of masques – stopped rather abruptly with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642 and the subsequent seizing of the king’s properties. Forced to leave London, he was eventually captured by Parliamentarians following a siege at Basing House in Hampshire in October, 1645.

His property was initially confiscated and he was heavily fined but he was later pardoned and his property returned.

Never married, Jones ended up living in Somerset House in London and died on 21st June, 1652. He was buried with his parents at St Benet Paul’s Wharf. A rather elaborate monument to his memory erected inside the church was damaged in the Great Fire of 1666 and later destroyed.

Jones’ legacy can still be seen at various sites around London where his works survive and also in the works of those he influenced, including Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, designer and builder of Chiswick House, and architect and landscape designer William Kent.

PICTURE: Bust of Inigo Jones by John Michael Rysbrack, (1725) (image by Stephencdickson/licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Many people are aware of the memorial to 17th century playwright and poet Ben Jonson that sits among the who’s who of the literary world commemorated in Westminster Abbey’s famous Poet’s Corner. But fewer people visit the poet’s actual grave, located a short distance away in the northern aisle of the nave.

And while visitors to the northern aisle of the nave may think its a small stone set into the wall above the floor itself, with the inscription ‘O rare Ben Johnson’ (note the ‘h’ used here in his name), which marks the grave’s location, we’re not quite there yet.

The stone, which was indeed the original stone covering Jonson’s grave, was actually moved from the floor to this position when the entire nave floor was being relaid in the 19th century. For the actual location of Jonson’s grave you have to head back to the aisle’s floor and there, just to the east of a brass commemorating John Hunter, you’ll find a small, grey lozenge-shaped stone which marks the actual grave site (and bears the same inscription with the same spelling).

The inscription can also be found on his Poet’s Corner memorial. It was apparently put on Jonson’s grave stone when one Jack Young passed by the grave as it was being covered and gave a mason 18 pence to carve it (Young is said to have been knighted later on).

All that’s very well but what really sets Ben Jonson’s grave apart from the other more than 3,500 graves buried in the abbey is that Jonson is the only person known to have been interred below the abbey floor standing upright.

The poet died in a somewhat impoverished state and it’s that which is said to explain the unusual arrangement. One version of the tale has the poet begging for just 18 square inches of ground for his burial from King Charles I; another has him telling the Abbey’s Dean that he was too poor to be buried with his fellow poets and that a space two foot square would serve him (the Dean apparently granted him his wish which meant Jonson’s coffin lowered into the ground end on end).

The fact he was buried upright in his coffin was apparently confirmed in 1849 when a clerk saw skeletal remains of a standing person in the spot Jonson was buried while doing another burial nearby.

The monument in Poet’s Corner, meanwhile, was erected in the early 1720s by the Earl of Oxford. It features a medallion portrait of him with actor’s masks and a broken golden lamp symbolising death on top. It was designed by James Gibbs and attributed to the sculptor JM Rysbrack.

WHERE: North Aisle, Westminster Abbey (nearest Tube stations are Westminster and St James’s Park); WHEN: Times vary – see the website for details; COST: £23 adults/£20 concession/£10 children (discounts for buying online; family rates available); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org

PICTURES: Top – The original grave marker now set in the wall; Below – The tile marking the actual grave site (Google Maps – images have been treated to improve resolution).

This month (we’ve just managed to sneak it in) marks the 330th anniversary of the coronation of joint sovereigns, King William III and Queen Mary II – the first and only time such a coronation has ever happened in England.

The two were crowned in a joint – and glittering – ceremony at Westminster Abbey on 11th April, 1689, following what was known as the “Glorious Revolution” in which they assumed the monarchy after Mary’s father, King James, II fled to the continent following William’s invasion in late 1688.

At the coronation, King William took the abbey’s famous Coronation Chair while a second seat was brought in for the Queen.

William also used the coronation regalia which had been created for King Charles II in 1661 but Mary, a monarch in her own right, needed a new set. Given the time constraints (the ceremony was to take place as soon as possible given the uncertain political climate), she ended up using the repurposed regalia created for her step-mother, second wife and consort of King James II, Mary of Modena, as well as some newly created pieces.

Controversially, the ceremony was presided over by the Bishop of London, Henry Compton, after William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury – his title meant he would usually undertake such a task, refused to be involved thanks to his support of the now deposed King James II.

Earlier that day, the King and Queen had travelled separately from Whitehall to Westminster – him by barge and she by chair – and after being taken into Westminster Hall, processed, surrounded by dignitaries and to the sound of trumpets, to Westminster Abbey where the ceremony took place.

After the coronation, the newly crowned Sovereigns returned to Westminster Hall where a lavish banquet was held.

PICTURE: William III and Mary II  in part of an image by Dutch printmaker Romeyn de Hooghe (c1690) (via Wikipedia)

This well-to-do district of west London owes its name to the family of Hugh Grosvenor, the 7th Duke of Westminster and owner of the Grosvenor Estate, the land upon which Belgravia is located.

The country estate of the duke’s family – the Grosvenors – is known as Eaton Hall and it lies just to the south of Chester. Various names related to the estate appear on the London map. Among them is Belgravia.

Belgravia take its name from the tiny village of Belgrave which lies within the estate’s boundary (the word Belgrave, incidentally, comes from the Old French for “beautiful wood”).

The London residential area now known as Belgravia, meanwhile, was formerly known as Five Fields and used for grazing. The Westbourne River meandered through it, crossed by “Bloody Bridge”, so-called because it was a known haunt of robbers.

It later became the site of market gardens and houses began to appear in the area following King George III’s move to what was then Buckingham House but development of the area didn’t begin in earnest until the 1820s when Robert Grosvenor, later the first Marquess of Westminster (pictured here in a statue in Belgrave Square), began developing the estate with the aid of builder Thomas Cubitt.

Designed with Belgrave Square at its centre, the new development immediately became associated with the more affluent end of society, a connection which continues to this day.

As well as Belgrave Square, the district, which straddles both the City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, includes Eaton, Chester and Lowndes Squares (the first two names associated with the duke’s country estate; the third named after William Lowndes, a politician and Secretary to the Treasury under King William III and Queen Anne.

Palatial terraced houses aside, landmarks include the Grade II-listed St Peter’s Church, located at the east end of Eaton Square, which was first built in the 1820s and rebuilt in the 1830s. The area is also home to numerous embassies and consulates including those of Norway, Spain, Malaysia and Egypt, and, in keeping with the international feel, also boasts several statues of notable foreigners including Simon Bolivar and Christopher Columbus.

Famous residents have included former Prime Ministers Stanley Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain and Margaret Thatcher (the first two lived in Eaton Square; Thatcher in Chester Square), Louis Mountbatten, who lived in Wilton Crescent, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who lived in Upper Belgrave Street, as did Lord Lucan who mysteriously disappeared in 1974 after his children’s nanny was found murdered.

PICTURES: Top – Terraced homes in Grosvenor Crescent, which runs off Belgrave Square (Google Maps); Right – Statue of Lord Robert Grosvenor, first Marquess of Westminster (David Adams).

At Eternity's GateThe first exhibition to examine the work of Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh through his relationship with Britain has opened at Tate Britain this week. Van Gogh and Britain includes more than 40 works by the artist including L’Arlésienne (1890), Starry Night on the Rhone (1888), and Sunflowers (1888). The exhibition will also feature later works by Van Gogh including two he painted while in the Saint-Paul asylum – At Eternity’s Gate (1890 – pictured) and Prisoners Exercising (1890). The exhibition shows how Van Gogh, who lived in London between 1873 and 1876 working as a trainee art dealer, responded to works by artists like John Constable and John Everett Millais and his love of British writers like William Shakespeare, Christina Rossetti and, particularly, Charles Dickens (L’Arlésienne features one of Dickens’ favourite books in the foreground). The show runs until 11th August and is being accompanied by a series of talks and other events. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.ukPICTURE: Vincent van Gogh (1853 –1890), ‘Sorrowing old man (‘At Eternity’s Gate’)’ (1890), Collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

On Now – Elizabethan Treasures: Miniatures by Hilliard and Oliver. This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery – which is focused on the work of Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619) and Isaac Oliver (c1565-1617) – is the first major display of Tudor and Jacobean portrait miniatures to be held in the UK for more than 35 years and includes new discoveries as well as portraits on public display for the first time. A large section of the exhibition is devoted to portraits of Queen Elizabeth I as well as King James I, his wife Anne of Denmark and his three children – Henry, Elizabeth and Charles (later King Charles II). There are also miniatures of famous figures like Sir Walter Ralegh, Sir Francis Drake and a little known portrait of Shakespeare’s patron, the Earl of Southampton. Other highlights include a previously unknown portrait by Hilliard of King Henri III of France. Runs until 19th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

A major exhibition exploring the role of money in Jewish life has opened at the Jewish Museum London in Camden Town. Jews, Money, Myth looks at the “ideas, myths and stereotypes” that link money and Jews over two millennia. It features art works such as Rembrandt’s Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver as well as new commissions by Jeremy Deller and Doug Fishbone along with film, literature and cultural emphemera ranging from board games and cartoons to costumes and figurines. There are a series of related events. For more, see www.jewishmuseum.org.uk.

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

The Painted Hall in Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College reopens on Saturday following a two-year, £8.5 million restoration project. The hall, known as the UK’s “Sistine Chapel”, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren as a ceremonial dining room for what was then the Royal Hospital for Seamen. Completed in 1705, its 4,000 square metre interior features a decorative scheme painted by Sir James Thornhill, the first British artist to be knighted, which took 19 years to complete. The paintings celebrate English naval power as well as the then newly installed Protestant monarchy with joint monarchs King William III and Queen Mary II as well as Queen Anne and King George I all represented in the artworks along with hundreds of other mythological, allegorical, historical and contemporary figures. The restoration project has also seen the King William Undercroft, located underneath the hall, converted into a new cafe, shop and interpretation gallery. Two cellar rooms from King Henry VIII’s palace – which once stood on the site – were discovered during the restoration works and are also now on public display. Other new touches include the return of a series of carved oak benches to the hall (having been introduced when it was used as an art gallery in the 19th century they were removed 100 years ago), two ‘treasure chests’ containing objects related to the ceiling artworks which can be handled, and new tour options – not just of the hall and undercroft but of the entire Old Royal Naval College site. There’s a host of special activities over the opening weekend, including a parade and official opening ceremony from 9.30am, the chance to meet historical characters, music, food stalls, kids activities and more. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ornc.org. PICTURED: The Old Royal Naval College, home of the Painted Hall.

The V&A has announced it is extending its sell-out Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition due to unprecedented demand. The exhibition at the South Kensington museum, which had originally been scheduled to close on 14th July, will now run until 1st September with new tickets made available on 15th of each month (there’s also a limited number of tickets available to purchase daily at 10am from the V&A’s Grand Entrance on a first-come, first-served basis; V&A members, of course, attend free-of-charge with no need to book). The exhibition, which initially sold out of its five month run with 19 days of opening, is the most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in the UK on the House of Dior and the museum’s biggest fashion exhibition since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2015. For more, see vam.ac.uk.

On Now: Merchant Navy Treasures: An Introduction to the Newall Dunn Collection. This display at the City of London’s Guildhall Library delves into the Newall Dunn Collection, one of the world’s most comprehensive photographic and reference collections on merchant shipping, and showcases the achievements of shipping historian Peter Newall and artist and writer Laurence Dunn. Alongside images, press releases and newspaper cuttings, on show are company brochures, menus and other items from the ocean liners and cargo vessels of three famous lines from the golden age of shipping: the Cunard, Orient and Union-Castle. Admission is free. Runs until 24th May. For more, follow this link.

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

His name was once given to a prominent London fortification, Baynard’s Castle, and now lives on in a City of London ward – Castle Baynard. But who was Ralph Baynard?

A Norman nobleman, Baynard was among those who accompanied William the Conqueror when he invaded England in 1066.

He was rewarded with a barony centred on Little Dunmow in Essex; the parish church was founded by his wife, Lady Juga, in 1104, and their son Geoffrey founded an Augustinian priory dedicated to St Mary there in 1106.

Ralph Baynard was also granted permission to build Baynard’s Castle in the City of London – it sat where the Fleet River entered the Thames. He is said to have died in the reign of William Rufus, aka William II, who ruled from 1087 to 1100.

Baynard’s Castle in London was eventually razed by King John in 1213.

Baynard’s name, meanwhile, may also live on in the district of Bayswater.

A plan of the Deptford Pumping Station signed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette is going on display at the City of London Heritage Gallery on Saturday to mark 200 years since the Victorian engineer’s birth. Other items in the new display include the Shakespeare Deed – only one of six documents to bear the signature of William Shakespeare, and one of the City of London’s earliest charters – granted by King Richard I in 1197. Admission to the gallery, located in the Guildhall Art Gallery, is free. Runs until 16th May. For more, follow this link.

The first major retrospective of French painter Pierre Bonnard in 20 years has kicked off at the Tate Modern on South Bank. The CC Land Exhibition, Pierre Bonnard: The Colour of Memory, features about 100 of his most celebrated works from public and private collections spanning the period from 1912 to his death in 1947. Bonnard, like his friend Henri Matisse, had a profound impact on modern painting and went on to influence the likes of Mark Rothko and Patrick Heron. Works on show include Dining Room in the Country (1913), The Lane at Vernonnet (1912-14), Coffee (1915), Summer (1917), Piazza del Popolo, Rome (1922), Nude in an interior (c1935), and Studio with Mimosa (1939-46). Runs to 6th May; admission charge applies. For more, see http://www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947), Coffee (Le Café), 1915,  Oil paint on canvas (via Tate Modern)

The work of pioneering video artist Bill Viola has been brought together with drawings buy Michelangelo in a new exhibition opening at the Royal Academy on Saturday. Bill Viola/Michelangelo features 12 major video installations by Viola, an honorary Royal Academician, which span the period 1977 to 2013 as well as 15 works by Michelangelo including 14 highly finished drawings as well as the Academy’s Taddei Tondo. It proposes a “dialogue” between the two artists with Viola, who first encountered Michelangelo’s works in the 1970s in Florence, considered an heir to the long tradition of spiritual and affective art which uses emotion to connect viewers with the subject depicted. Runs until 31st March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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

This sprawling London hotel in Portland Place – just past the top end of Regent Street – has spent much of its life as a hotel but was also once part of the BBC.

Built in 1863-65 to the plans of John Giles and James Murray, the £300,000 Langham Hotel – claimed as Europe’s first “grand hotel” – was deliberately designed to be on a scale and with a level of magnificence the city had not yet seen.

Spread over 10 floors – including those below ground – and designed in the style of an Italian palace, it boasted 600 rooms including numerous suites and featured mod-cons including the city’s first hydraulic lifts (electric lighting and air-conditioning would follow).

Features included its celebrated Palm Court, said to be the birthplace of the traditional afternoon tea.

It opened in a rather spectacular celebration on 10th June, 1865, with more than 2,000 guests including the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).

It soon gained a reputation among the rich and influential. Along with exiled members of European royal families including the Emperor Napoleon III of France and exiled Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, those who stayed here included the likes of American writer Mark Twain, Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, explorer Henry Morton Stanley and romantic novelist Ouida.

Charles Dickens believed there was no better place for dinner parties and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, another guest, used it as a setting in his Sherlock Holmes novels.

Its proximity to All Soul’s in Langham Place – the scene of many a fashionable wedding – saw it host many wedding receptions and the servants at Langham were led in prayers each morning by a clergyman from the church.

It was also popular with international musicians and artists thanks to the location of Queen’s Hall nearby.

The Langham declined in popularity during the two World Wars as the social centre of London moved west. Having served as a first aid and military post during World War II, it was badly damaged during the Blitz with much destruction caused when its massive water tank ruptured.

After the war, the BBC bought the hotel and used it for offices, studios and the BBC Club.

The BBC sold the building in the mid-Eighties and in 1991 after a £100 million renovation, it reopened as the Langham Hilton Hotel with Diana, Princess of Wales, a regular visitor.

It was sold again in 1995 and extended and refurbished. It again underwent a five year, £80 million, refurbishment in the mid 2000s, reopening in 2009.

The five star Langham – now the flagship of a group of hotels, celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2015 with the opening of the Regent Wing as well as The Sterling Suite, a luxurious six bedroom suite, and a new Langham Club Lounge.

Now a Grade II-listed building, it contains some 380 suites and rooms as well as The Grand Ballroom, the aforementioned Palm Court, restaurants including Roux at The Landau and Artesian, a British tavern, The Wigmore, and a spa.

It has appeared in numerous films, including the 1995 James Bond film, GoldenEye, in which it doubled for a hotel in St Petersburg. It also features a City of Westminster Green Plaque commemorating a meeting there between Oscar Wilde, Conan Doyle and Joseph Marshall Stoddart who commissioned the two writers to write stories for his magazine.

For more, see www.langhamhotels.com/en/the-langham/london.

PICTURE: Top – Sheep”R”Us (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – David Adams

Correction – this is actually number four in our special series, not three!

This west London square was laid out in the early years of the reign of King George I and therein lies the clue to its name.

King George I, formerly Elector of Hanover in what is now Germany, was the first king of the British House of Hanover, and had been invited to take the Crown after the last of the Stuarts – Queen Anne – died in 1714 without leaving behind any surviving children (despite the fact that she’d had 14 pregnancies and given birth to five live children, all of whom died before her).

And so it was only logical – if not a bit sycophantic – that developer Richard Lumley, the 1st Earl of Scarborough – a keen supporter of the Hanoverian succession, named Hanover Square after the new king’s royal house. Thanks to the new king sharing his name with England’s patron saint, the nearby church was also named St George’s, Hanover Square (located just to the south – pictured below) as was the street that leads to it – St George Street.

Early residents in this Mayfair square included military figures like the generals Earl Cadogan and Sir Charles Wills. The square, which features a central park, was also home to the renowned concert venue, the Hanover Square Rooms (later the Queen’s Concert Rooms) until 1900 when they were demolished (JC Bach, Haydn, Paganini and Liszt all performed here as did Mark Twain who spoke on ‘Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands’ in 1873).

The square has been pretty comprehensively reconstructed since those days and is now home almost exclusively to offices including that of the UK offices of Vogue.

Monuments in the square include a statue of former PM, William Pitt the Younger.

PICTURES: Top – Google Maps/Below – Regency History (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

 

Located in Chancery Lane, this “House for Converts” – for Jews who converted to Christianity – was founded in 1232 by King Henry III.

The buildings, which included a chapel as well as living quarters, provided a communal home for residents – needed because when they converted, they forfeited all their possessions to the king.

Chaplains were employed to teach the new converts and a warden appointed to manage their day-to-day living.

The Royal Treasury bore the expenses of the institution which included paying its residents a small income (although the annual grant from treasury apparently wasn’t always forthcoming leaving the residents destitute) and it was supplemented with a poll tax called the “chevage” levied on all Jews over the age of 12.

In 1290, King Edward I expelled the Jews from England. Residence here was officially the only way Jewish people could remain and some 80 residents apparently did so.

It’s said that apart from these original 80 residents (the last of whom – said to be a woman called Claricia of Exeter – died in 1356), only some 50 further converts were admitted between 1331 and 1608.

By the early 17th century, records of the buildings’ use as a house for Jewish converts had come to an end. The main residential building was destroyed in 1717 to make room for a new house for the Master of the Rolls – the chapel was at this stage being used as a storehouse for the rolls of Chancery.

Subsequently known as the ‘Rolls Chapel’, it was eventually largely demolished to make way for an extension to the Public Records Office which had been built on the site in 1851.

But some monuments from it are preserved in part of the former PRO known as the ‘Weston Room’ (pictured below).

In the late 1990s, the PRO moved out to Kew where it formed part of the National Archives. The building was acquired by King’s College London in 2000 and is now the Maughan Library.

PICTURES: Top – The Maughan Library (FormerBBC; licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0); Below – The Weston Room in what is now the Maughan Library (Cmglee; licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)


The first purpose-built luxury hotel built in Britain (and often referred to as London’s “most famous” hotel), The Savoy opened its doors on 6th August, 1889.

Located on the river side of the Strand on the site of what had been the medieval Savoy Palace (its most famous resident was John of Gaunt), the hotel was built by theatre impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte using profits made from his staging of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, some of which were performed in the neighbouring Savoy Theatre.

The now Grade II-listed building, which apparently had no overall architect in its initial design process, exuded opulence and its interiors included the latest in modern amenities such as electric lighting and lifts, en suite bathrooms in most of the guest rooms and constant cold and hot running water.

César Ritz, who would later rise to fame as the owner of The Ritz Hotel in Paris and then London (see our recent post), was hired as the manager and Auguste Escoffier as the chef. Together they oversaw the introduction of a new, unprecedented level of hotel service which would set the standard for future enterprises. This included keeping a comprehensive index of guest’s tastes and preferences and saw Escoffier revolutionise the restaurant industry in the country with the creation of various “stations” in the kitchen (his pots and pans are apparently still at the hotel).

The hotel was expanded in 1903-04 under the eye of architect Thomas Edward Collcutt (the designer of Wigmore Hall) with new east and west wings and the main entrance was moved from the river side of the building to Savoy Court running off The Strand. The Front Hall is a survivor of this period while the Lancaster Ballroom dates from 1910.

The hotel underwent further remodelling in the 1920s – it was during this period that the famous stainless steel sign over the Savoy Court entrance, designed by art deco architect Howard Robertson (later Sir Howard), was created (Savoy Court incidentally is the only street in the UK where traffic must keep to the right – more on that another time). The sign is topped with a gilt statue of Peter of Savoy, the uncle to King Henry III’s wife, Eleanor of Provence (pictured below). It was Peter who first built the Savoy Palace on the land where the hotel now stands. The sign, meanwhile, was created for the 1904 extension but placed here during the 1920s works.

Further modifications – including the introduction of air conditioning – followed in later decades. The hotel now boasts some 267 rooms and suites (the latter include the Royal Suite which spans the entire riverside of the fifth floor), many of which feature panoramic views of the River Thames.

Famous guests over the years have included royalty such as King Edward VII (when Prince of Wales) as well as more recent royals, French actress Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin, Sir Henry Irving and Sir Laurence Olivier. It’s also hosted a who’s who of Hollywood – everyone from Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland to Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne – and US President Harry S Truman.

Others associated with the hotel include opera singer Dame Nellie Melba – the dessert known as a Peach Melba was created here in her honour, and artist Claude Monet, who painted Waterloo Bridge from a position on one of the balconies.

Among other significant events to take place within its walls was a 1905 “Gondola Party” hosted by American millionaire George A Kessler which saw the central courtyard flooded as part of a recreation of Venice with guests dining on an enormous gondola and entertainment featuring singer Enrico Caruso.

In 1953, to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the hotel hosted a ball attended by 1,400 of the rich and famous with special touches including 16 Yeoman Warders from the Tower of London who lined the entrance staircase.

Films shot here include Kipps (1921), based on a HG Wells novel (Wells was in attendance during the filming), The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981) and Notting Hill (1999).

The Savoy remained in the Carte family until it was bought by an American private equity house in 1998 and eventually sold, in the mid-2000s, to become part of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts of Canada.

Closed in late 2007 for a complete renovation (the cost of which has been put at £220 million), it reopened in October, 2010. Among restaurants and bars now in the premises are the Thames Foyer restaurant – hosted in a glass atrium, it’s where afternoon tea is taken, the American Bar – described as the oldest cocktail bar in Britain, the Beaufort Bar, and the restaurant Kaspar’s.

The latter is named after the hotel’s oldest “employee” – Kaspar the Cat. Carved in 1927 by Basil Ionides, the cat was created to act as a 14th guest in the private dining rooms when 13 guests were present, a figure which was considered unlucky and which, tradition held, meant the first person to leave the table would one the first to die.

Its origins go back to 1898 when a wealthy South African by the name of Woolf Joel apparently scoffed at the idea of 13 being an unlucky number at the table and volunteered to leave it first. He was shot dead back in South Africa just a few week’s later. In the wake of his death, management at the hotel decreed that any table of 13 would be joined by a staff member.

But this was only a short-term solution – not only there was there the privacy of diners to consider, the fact staff would be a person down when this was required was a problem. So when Ionides redecorated the private dining room ‘Pinafore’ in the 1920s, he created the cat, complete with napkin, to fulfil the role of the 14th diner. And so he has ever since. Kaspar, the subject of a children’s book written by Michael Morpugo in 2008, can these days be found in Kaspar’s or, when not working, in the Front Hall.

For more, see www.thesavoylondon.com

This Piccadilly institution was constructed from 1904 to 1906 and takes its name from Swiss hotelier César Ritz.

It was constructed on the site of a former coaching inn for the Blackpool Building and Vendor Company – it was the first steel-framed building in London – and designed by Mewés and Davis, the architects of the Paris Ritz. And even though Ritz himself was apparently actually retired at the time, it was built according to his specifications.

The exterior facade features Norwegian granite and Portland stone and boasts an arcade on Piccadilly which deliberately evokes the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. The interior, the work of Waring and Gillow, is designed in the style of Louis XVI and was designed to be opulent with all rooms featuring a working fireplace.

Public spaces include the Palm Court – famous for its traditional afternoon teas –  and a Michelin-starred restaurant with floor to ceiling windows overlooking Green Park. Other features include the Rivoli Bar, designed in 2001 by Tessa Kennedy to resemble the bar in the Orient Express, and the basement Ritz Club, a private casino.

The now Grade II*-listed hotel was officially opened by Ritz himself on 24th May, 1906, and was soon adopted by the rich and famous – the patronage of the Prince of Wales (future King Edward VIII) after the death of King Edward VII was one key reason for its success.

Actor Charlie Chaplin, who apparently had to have 40 police hold back the crowd to enter the hotel, is also a name famously associated with it as is that of Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova who performed here.

The Aga Khan and Paul Getty both had suites, and playwright Noel Coward and Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, regularly dined here while Tallulah Bankhead famously sipped champagne from a slipper in the bar. The Marie Antoinette Suite was also famously the location of a conference between Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower and Charles de Gaulle during World War II.

The hotel also featured in 1999 film Notting Hill, starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, and in the more recent TV drama Downton Abbey.

The five star hotel underwent a major 10 year refurbishment after it was acquired by the Barclay brothers in 1995. The complex these days includes the adjoining 18th century property William Kent House (designed, of course, by William Kent).

In 2001, the hotel was awarded the first Royal Warrant for Banqueting and Catering Services. Other boasts these days include being the only UK hotel to have a certified tea sommelier (among teas served is the hotel’s own Ritz Royal Blend).

For more, see www.theritzlondon.com.