It was 75 years ago this month – 8th May, 1945 – that Londoners poured out onto the city’s streets in celebration of the end of World War II.

Some celebrations had already started in London on 7th May as news of the unconditional surrender of all German troops to the Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower in the French city of Reims on 7th May became known.

But Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared 8th May a national holiday and, in response, vast crowds turned out on the streets to celebrate with bunting, flags and fireworks. Church bells were rung and services of thanksgiving held including at St Paul’s Cathedral where 10 consecutive services, each attended by thousands, took place.

British girls, of the Picture Division of the London Office of War Information dance in the street with American soldiers during the “VE Day” celebration in London. This scene took place outside the building of the US Army Pictorial Division has its offices. PICTURE: © IWM EA 65796

At 3pm, Churchill made a national radio broadcast from 10 Downing Street. He told listeners that while “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing”, they should “not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead” a reference to the ongoing war with Japan (the radio broadcast, incidentally, is being re-run on the BBC on 8th May this year to mark the anniversary).

Churchill then proceeded to Parliament where he formally reported the end of the war in Europe to Parliament before leading a procession of members to St Margaret’s Church for a service of thanksgiving. He later appeared on the balcony of the Ministry of Health building in Whitehall to address the teeming crowds below, telling them “This is your victory” to which they roared back that it was his.

Churchill waves to crowds in Whitehall on the day he broadcast to the nation that the war with Germany had been won, 8 May 1945. PICTURE: Horton W G (Major) (Photographer),
War Office official photographer/© IWM H 41849

Meanwhile, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, initially accompanied by their two daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace several times to wave to the cheering crowds. The King and Queen, who were at one point joined by Churchill, were still waving when their daughters secretly – and now rather famously – left the palace and joined the crowds outside in what Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, described as “one of the most memorable moments” of her life. The King also gave a radio address from the palace during which he paid tribute to all those who had died in the conflict.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret joined by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, London on VE Day. PICTURE: © IWM MH 21835

While celebrations took place across London, hotspots included Whitehall, outside Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square and Piccadilly Circus, where by midnight there were an estimated 50,000 people singing and dancing. Licensing hours were extended in pubs and dance halls staying open to midnight.

A mass of civilians and servicemen crowding around Piccadilly Circus, London. PICTURE: Poznak Murray, United States Army Signal Corps official photographerIWM EA 65879

One of the most iconic images of the day was a photograph of two sailors standing in one of the fountains at Trafalgar Square with two women, revealed, thanks to research by the Imperial War Museum to be Cynthia Covello and Joyce Digney who had travelled to join the celebrations from Surrey.

Two British sailors and their girlfriends wading in the fountains in Trafalgar Square on VE Day. PICTURE: Massecar T G, United States Army Signal Corps photographer/© IWM EA 65799

With thanks to the Imperial War Museum, London.

 


This east London district was recorded as far back as the 13th century when it was a rural area. The name comes from the obvious – it was located on the old London to Colchester Road about a mile east of Aldgate.

Its location so close to London – and the fact it was common land – meant Mile End was favoured as a recreational space by Londoners eager to escape the confines of the city.

It was here in 1381 that Jack Straw camped with the men from Essex during the Peasant’s Revolt and it was here that, even as Was Tyler and his men murdered Simon of Sudbury in the Tower of London, King Richard II famously met with the leaders of the revolt.

The area, which became known as Mile End Old Town (an unconnected area to the west was known as Mile End New Town), was gradually developed from the 16th century and attracted working class housing and, thanks to its affordability, a relatively high number of immigrants. The Mile End Tube station opened in 1902.

The area suffered in the Blitz during World War II and the first V-1 flying bomb to hit the city landed next to the Grove Road railway bridge on 13th June, 1944, killing eight civilians and injuring 30.

Famous figures connected to Mile End include explorer Captain James Cook, who lived in a now demolished house on Mile End Road between 1764-76.

Landmarks include the Trinity Almshouses (built in 1695, they’re the last survivors of several almshouses built in the area) and the Frederick Arthur Walters-designed Guardian Angels Roman Catholic Church which was built 1903 by Henry Fitzalan-Howard, 15th Duke of Norfolk, as a memorial to his youngest sister, Lady Margaret Howard.

The People’s Palace – a five acre entertainment and educational facility which included a library, swimming pool, gym and winter garden – was completed in 1892 on Mile End Road. Destroyed by fire in 1931, it was rebuilt but finally closed in 1954.

The two halves of the 79 acre linear Mile End Park, which bisected by Mile End Road, is joined by The Green Bridge over the road.

PICTURES: Top – Mile End Road featuring The Guardian Angels Catholic Church on the right and Mile End Park on the left (Matt Brown /licensed under CC BY 2.0); Below – Mile End Tube Station (Chris Jones/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)


More than 60 of these shelters were built at major cab stands around London between 1875 and 1914 in order to allow cabmen to seek refreshment without leaving their vehicle.

The narrow, rectangular, green huts were constructed by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund – which was established in 1875 by a philanthropically-minded group including the newspaper publisher Sir George Armstrong and the  Earl of Shaftesbury (the group also had the support of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII).

The story goes that it was Sir George who pushed the idea forward after a servant he sent to find a cab in some inclement weather took a long time in returning thanks to the fact the cabbies were all off seeking a hot meal in nearby pubs.

The shelters, which police specified were not allowed to be larger than a horse and cart given their position on a public highway, were initially very simple in design but become more ornamental as time went on (architect Maximilian Clarke, who designed a shelter for Northumberland Avenue which was built in 1882, was a key proponent of this more ornate style).

Most were staffed by attendants who sold food and drink to the cabbies (there were also kitchen facilities for them to cook their own as well as tables to sit at and a variety of reading materials). Drinking and gambling, as well as swearing, were apparently strictly forbidden.

The first of these shelters, which reportedly cost around £200 each, was erected in Acacia Road, St John’s Wood, but that shelter is long gone. Just 13 of the huts now survive and all are Grade II-listed. They have various nicknames assigned to them by London’s cabbies – one on Kensington Road, for example, is apparently known as ‘The All Nations’ thanks to its proximity to the site of the Great Exhibition of 1850, while another at Temple Place is simply known as ‘The Temple’.

As to which is the oldest?

Well, that’s proved a bit of a vexed question. According to listings on the Historic England website, the oldest we could find dated from 1897. They included one located in Hanover Square, another in Russell Square (this having been relocated from its previous position in Leicester Square), and a third in Thurloe Place in South Kensington, opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum.

But there were three for which we could find no details of the date on which they were built. They include one on the Chelsea Embankment near the Albert Bridge, another in St George’s Square in Pimlico, and the final one in Wellington Place in St John’s Wood near Lord’s cricket ground.

Update: According to our cabbie correspondent – see comments below – the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund have said the oldest shelter is that in Kensington Park Road, which they dated to 1877. Historic England have this one listed as dating 1909 – perhaps a rebuild?

Correction: The shelter known as ‘The All Nations’ is in Kensington Road, not Kensington Park Road as originally reported.

PICTURES: Top – The Russell Square shelter (David Nicholls, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0); Below – the Cabmen’s Shelter in Thurloe Place opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington (Amanda Slater, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Dating from 1700, this celestial globe was made by Thomas Tuttell, hydrographer and mathematical Instrument maker to King William III in the year 1700.

The globe, a unique survivor of its age, is identical to a celestial globe made by Joseph Moxon in 1653, except for one additional constellation in the northern hemisphere named the ‘Cor Caroli’ (Heart of Charles), a reference to King Charles I (the constellation was named by Sir Charles Scarborough to commemorate the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and it was first published on a star map in 1673).

It is one of 10 historic globes which have been made available for close-up inspection, including using an augmented reality tool which allows you to spin and zoom in at will, on the British Library’s website.

The 10 are the first tranche of globes to go online in a project involving British Library staff and digitisation company Cyreal that will eventually involve 30 globes.

Others among the first 10 include what is possibly the earliest miniature ‘pocket’ globe – dating from 1679, it was made by Joseph Moxon, two globes made by Willem Janszoon Blaeu – a terrestrial globe and a small table star globe – which date from 1606, and Johann Doppelmayr’s terrestrial and star globes from 1728.

There’s also Richard Cushee’s 1730 terrestrial globe with its unusually late inclusion of the island of California, Charles Price’s 1715 globe containing unusual annotations, and Gabriel Wright and William Bardin’s 1783 globes.

The globes, which are part of the library’s map collection, can be found at www.bl.uk/maps/articles/european-globes-of-the-17th-and-18th-centuries.

PICTURES: © British Library (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

We decided to continue with our Wednesday series. While the properties are all currently closed, we hope you’ll still enjoy exploring them with us online until the day they reopen…

Hackney property Sutton House –  originally known simply as ‘the bryk place’ – was built by Ralph Sadleir (or Sadler), a courtier  who started out in the service of Thomas Cromwell but rose to become Principal Secretary of State to King Henry VIII. Sadleir, who had married a cousin of Cromwell, had the property constructed in 1535 as his family home.

Sadleir – who makes an appearance in Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels and who, as well as being of service to King Henry VIII, also served King Edward VI, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I – sold the property just 15 years later. The red brick house – now said to be the oldest surviving domestic building in Hackney – subsequently passed through numerous hands with its owners apparently including merchants, a sea captain and French Huguenot refugees. In 1751, it was divided into two residences – Ivy House and Milford House.

The property housed a boy’s school in the early 1800s – novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton was among those who attended – and later became a girl’s school. The rector of Hackney bought the premises in 1891 and used it as a base for the St John at Hackney Church Institute, a social and recreational centre for young men.  His modifications included turning part of the cellars into a chapel.

Mistakenly named after the founder of the Charterhouse School, Thomas Sutton (he actually lived in a now demolished adjacent property), Sutton House was bought by the National Trust in the 1930s using the proceeds of a bequest made in memory of two men killed in World War I.

Among its various roles, the building served as a centre for fire wardens during World War II and, from the 1960s, serving as the offices of a trade union. After the union left in the 1980s, the house fell into disrepair and in 1982 squatters moved in and it was renamed ‘the Blue House’. Several murals from this period – when rock concerts were held in the barn – are preserved into the house.

The squatters were evicted and in the late Eighties, a society was formed with the aim of saving the house. Following renovations, the house opened to the public in 1994. These days the Grade II*-listed home is used as a museum and art gallery. There’s also a shop and cafe.

While the facade of the house underwent some changes during the Georgian era, the property’s interior remains essentially Tudor. Highlights include the kitchen, oak panelled chambers, carved fireplaces and, of course, the cellars.

The National Trust reclaimed some adjacent land to create an award winning garden known as the Breaker’s Yard. The name comes from the fact the land was once occupied by a car breaker’s yard.

There’s said to be a couple of ghosts who reside in the house including wailing dogs and a mysterious ‘blue lady’.

The property, which stands in Homerton High Street, is temporarily closed but for more information, check the website at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sutton-house-and-breakers-yard.

ALL PICTURES: Kotomi_ (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Please note: Exploring London is aware that sites across London have closed temporarily as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. But we’re continuing our coverage as usual – in the hope you can visit at a later time…

Located at 5 Strand Lane in the West End, these brick-lined baths were long-reputed to be of Roman origin. But they are actually believed to be the remains of a cistern built in 1612 to supply water to fountain in the gardens of Old Somerset House.

The fountain had been built by French engineer, Salomon de Caus, after he was commissioned to do so as part of King James I’s efforts to refurbish Somerset House for Queen Anne of Denmark.

Following the demolition of the fountain, the cistern was neglected until the 1770s when the cistern was used a public cold plunge bath attached to a property at 33 Surrey Street. A second bath, called the ‘Essex Bath’ was added (it’s now under the nearby KCL Norfolk Building).

The idea that they were Roman is believed to have originated in the 1820s when the bath was so described as an advertising gimmick (Charles Dickens’ helped popularise the idea in his book David Copperfield – it is believed Dickens himself may have bathed here).

The 1.3 metre deep bath passed through a couple of different hands in the ensuing decades including Oxford Street draper Henry Glave and Rev William Pennington Bickford, the Rector of St Clement Danes, who, believing in the bath’s Roman origins, hoped to turn them into a tourist attraction.

But his plans came to nothing due to a lack of funds and following his death, in 1944, the National Trust agreed to take on ownership while London County Council agreed to see to its maintenance. They reopened the baths, following repairs, in 1951.

These days, while owned by the Trust, the baths are managed by Westminster Council.

WHERE: 5 Strand Lane (nearest Tube station is Temple); WHEN: While National Trust properties are temporarily closed, viewings are usually arranged through Westminster Council and Somerset House Old Palaces tour; COST: Free; WEBSITE:  www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/strand-lane-roman-baths.

PICTURE: Michael Trapp (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

There’s been about 40 successful escapes from the Tower of London over the centuries but the first recorded one was of Ranulf Flambard. 

Flambard, the bishop of Durham, was the chief minister of King Willam Rufus (William II) (and, among other things, oversaw the construction of the inner wall around the White Tower at the Tower of London, the first stone bridge in London and Westminster Hall).

When William died in 1100, William’s younger brother Henry became king. William’s rule had been increasingly harsh and characterised by corruption and when Henry assumed the throne, Flambard was made a scapegoat for the previous administration’s failings. He was arrested on 15th August, 1100, and imprisoned on charges of embezzlement in the White Tower.

Flambard managed to escape on 3rd February, 1101. The story goes that he had lulled his guards into getting drunk by bringing in a barrel of wine for them to drink and then climbed out of a window and down a rope, which he’d had smuggled into the tower in the wine. It’s also said that the man charged with his care, William de Mandeville, allowed the escape.

Flambard subsequently escaped England to Normandy where he incited Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy (and elder brother of Henry), to attempt an invasion of England.

The invasion was unsuccessful but the warring brothers reconciled and Flambard was restored to royal favour. He regained his bishopric, although he never again served as chief minister.

PICTURE: Amy-Leigh Barnard/Unsplash

A forgotten door built for festivities surrounding the coronation of King Charles II in 1661 has been rediscovered in the Houses of Parliament. 

The door, hidden behind panelling in cloister formerly used as offices by the Parliamentary Labour Party, was originally constructed to allow guests at the coronation to make their way to his celebratory banquet in Westminster Hall.

It was subsequently used by the likes of Robert Walpole, often referred to as the first Prime Minister as well as architect-led rivals Charles James Fox and William Pitt the Younger, and diarist Samuel Pepys.

The door and passageway behind it survived the fire which destroyed much of the Palace of Westminster in 1834 but it was thought the passage had been filled in during restoration works after the Palace of Westminster was bombed in World War II.

Liz Hallam Smith, an historical consultant from the University of York who is working with the team undertaking the renovations, said they were trawling through “10,000 uncatalogued documents relating to the palace at the Historic England Archives in Swindon, when we found plans for the doorway in the cloister behind Westminster Hall”.

“As we looked at the paneling closely, we realised there was a tiny brass key-hole that no-one had really noticed before, believing it might just be an electricity cupboard,” she said. “Once a key was made for it, the paneling opened up like a door into this secret entrance.”

In the small room behind the door, the team discovered the original hinges for two wooden doors some three-and-a-half meters high that would have opened into Westminster Hall. They also found graffiti, scribbled in pencil by bricklayers who worked on the restoration of the palace in 1851 following the 1834 fire.

One section reads “This room was enclosed by Tom Porter who was very fond of Ould Ale” and another, “These masons were employed refacing these groines…[ie repairing the cloister] August 11th 1851 Real Democrats”, the latter a reference suggesting the men were part of the working class male suffrage Chartist movement.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the House of Commons Speaker, described the find as “part of our parliamentary history”: “To think that this walkway has been used by so many important people over the centuries is incredible.”

PICTURE: Sir Lindsay Hoyle and the door (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

 

With origins dating back to a cheese stall established by Stephen Cullum in Aldwych in 1742, Paxton & Whitfield are generally said to be the oldest cheesemongers still operating in London (and one of the oldest in the UK).

Cullum’s business was successful enough that in the 1770s he opened a shop in Swallow Street. By 1790 his son Sam had taken over the business and took two new partners – Harry Paxton and Charles Whitfield.

In 1835 – with Swallow Street demolished to make way for the construction of Regent Street – Sam moved the business to new premises at 18 Jermyn Street (Sam died the following year).

In 1850, the business received the Royal Warrant of Queen Victoria and just three years later finally settled on the name Paxton and Whitfield which the company still bears to this day.

In 1896, the business moved to its current premises at 93 Jermyn Street and a flurry of Royal Warrants followed – that of King Edward VII in 1901, King George V in 1910, King George VI in 1936, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother in 1972, Prince Charles in 1998 and Queen Elizabeth II in 2002.

The firm, meanwhile, has since passed through several hands but continued on at the same premises (albeit becoming, during the period between the two World Wars, an ordinary grocery shop due to the lack of supply of eggs, butter and cheese).

Business picked up after World War II and the company opened shops in Stratford-upon-Avon and Bath. In 2009 formed a partnership with Parisian cheese mongers, Androuet, and in 2014 it opened a new shop in Cale Street, Chelsea.

For more, see www.paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk.

PICTURE: Herry Lawford (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

 

 

 

We published part I of this two-part article last week. Part II follows…

Marshal had made his name as a knight and, was still in the retinue of Henry, the Young King, heir of Kind Henry II, when he again rebelled against his father (and brother, the future King Richard I).

This was despite a brief rift with the Young King following an accusation that Marshal had slept with Henry’s wife Marguerite (the truth of which remains something of a mystery). Despite their falling out, William and Henry had repaired their relationship to at some degree when, still in rebellion against his father, on 7th June, 1183, the Young King died of dysentery at just the age of 28.

In a dying wish, Henry had asked William to fulfil his vow to go on crusade to the Holy Land. This Marshal duly did, undertaking a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and spending two years in the Middle East before returning to England at around the end of 1185.

On his return, he entered the household of King Henry II and was on campaign with him in France in 1189 when the King died at the age of 56.

Marshal’s allegiance was now with his son and heir, King Richard I, the “Lionheart”. He subsequently confirmed his father’s permission for Marshal to marry his ward, the wealthy heiress the 16-year-old Isabel of Clare which Marshal, now 42, quickly did, returning to London to claim his bride who was then living at the Tower of London. It’s believed they may have married on the steps of St Paul’s.

Somewhat controversially, when Richard I set off on the Third Crusade, Marshal remained behind in England, appointed as co-justiciar to govern in the king’s absence. Thanks to his marriage, Marshal was now a major landholder with his base at Striguil Castle (now Chepstow) in the Welsh Marches and he assembled a household befitting of his status. In 1190 his wife Isabel gave birth to a son, ‘Young’ William.

Marshal managed to successfully navigate the dangerous politics of the time as, in the absence of King Richard, his younger brother John manoeuvred to gain power and, following news that Richard had been captured on the way home from the Holy Land and was now imprisoned in Austria, went so far as to open ally himself with the French King Philip Augustus.

Richard was finally released for the exorbitant ransom of 150,000 silver marks and when he arrived back in England, Marshal returned to his side, joining the King as he dealt with the fallout, both in England and France, from John’s treachery (John, meanwhile, was back in his brother’s camp, having begged his forgiveness).

His kingdom largely restored, Richard died in April 1199 after being struck with a crossbow bolt while campaigning in Limousin. Following his death, Marshal supported John’s claim to the throne over his ill-fated nephew Arthur and at John’s coronation he was rewarded by being named, thanks again to his marriage, the Earl of Pembroke – the title of earl being the highest among the English aristocracy.

Pembroke  in southern Wales now became his base but following John’s coronation Marshal spent considerable time fighting for the King on the Continent in an ultimately unsuccessful campaign that ended with the English largely driven from France. When Marshal then tried to keep his lands in Normandy by swearing an oath to King Philip, not surprisingly he fell from John’s favour.

Marshal then turned his attention to his own lands in Wales and in Ireland which he visited several times to assert his claim by marriage to the lordship of Leinster. But he again crossed John when he visited in early 1207 without the King’s permission and when John summoned Marshal back to England to answer for his impudence, his lands in Leinster were attacked by the King’s men. John’s efforts to seize Marshal’s Irish domains, however, failed and the King was eventually forced to back down, leaving Marshal to strengthen his position in Ireland.

John and Marshal’s relationship deteriorated even further in 1210 after Marshal was summoned to Dublin to answer for his role in supporting William Briouze, a one-time favourite of the King who had dramatically fallen out him (and who eventually died in exile in 1211 while his wife and eldest son were starved to death in Windsor Castle on John’s orders).

Despite the fact Briouze’s had apparently been on his lands in Ireland for 20 days after they’d fled England to escape the wrathful King, Marshal managed to come out relatively unscathed by the affair – but he was forced to relinquish a castle and place some of his most trusted knights and eldest sons in the King’s custody.

By 1212, however, Marshal was back in royal favour – his sons were freed the following year – and in 1213 he led his forces in support of King John who was facing revolt in England and a possible invasion from France (Marshal subsequently remained in England to guard against attack from the Welsh while the King was in France).

In 1215, Marshal was involved in the creation of the Magna Carta – his name was the first the English lords to appear on the document – and some have even suggested he was one of its principal architects (although this may be overstating his role).

He remained loyal to John in the subsequent strife but he was in Gloucester when King John died in 1216.

Marshal subsequently supported the claim of King John’s son, King Henry III, to the throne and, named as a ‘guardian of the realm’ (a role which was essentially that of a regent), he played an instrumental part in taking back the kingdom for Henry, including successfully leading the royalist forces against a French and rebel force on 20th May, 1217, at Lincoln – a battle which brought about a quick resolution to the ongoing war.

Marshal spent the next couple of years working to restore the King’s rule but in early 1219, at the age of 72, fell ill and retreated to his manor house at Caversham.

He died around noon on 14th May. His body was taken to London via Reading and after a vigil and Mass at Westminster Abbey, he was interred in the Temple Church.

Marshal’s place of burial was due to an agreement he had made with the Templars back in the 1180s in which he agreed to enter their order before his death in exchange for the gift of a manor. The master of the Templars in England, Aimery of St Maur, had apparently travelled to Caversham before his death to perform the rite.

Marshal’s wife Isabel died the following year and sadly, while he had five sons, the Marshals gradually faded from history, the lack of male heirs in the family eventually leading to the break-up of the family lands.

A towering figure of his age – seen by many as the epitome of what a knight should be, Marshal’s story – despite a minor mention as Pembroke in Shakespeare’s King John – has largely been forgotten. But his influence on the world in which he lived – and hence the shaping of our world today – was significant.

With thanks to Thomas Asbridge’s The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones

PICTURES: Top – An effigy believed to be that of William Marshal in the Temple Church, London (Michael Wal –  licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0). Lower – The Temple Church in London in which William Marshall was buried. PICTURE: David Adams

We’ve decided to tell William Marshal’s fascinating story over two weeks – tune in next Monday for part II, the latter part of Marshal’s life, when the connections of Marshal to London are more fully spelt out …

A knight who served five English kings and rose to become a significant force in late 12th and early 13th century England, William Marshal was one of the towering figures of his time and seen by many as a paragon of what a knight could be.

Marshal – who died 800 years ago last May, was born in about 1147, the second son from the second marriage of a minor noble, John Marshal, during the 15 year conflict between King Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Matilda.

Marshal had ascended to become Marshal to the King in the court of King Henry I but during the subsequent conflict which erupted after the king’s death in 1135 had, like many, attempted to exploit the situation for his own benefit (he is said to have initially supported Stephen but was, however, among the Empress’ forces during a battle at Wherwall in 1141, during which he lost an eye and suffered significant injuries after the lead roof of a church melted onto him).

Late in King Stephen’s reign, he personally attracted the ire of the King upon himself by building a new fortified outpost, Newbury Castle, to the west of London, leading the king to marshal his forces against him. Marshal apparently begged for a truce ahead of the surrender of the castle and it was here that William enters the story, offered up as a hostage for his father.

But John Marshal decided, having handed over the boy, that he would not surrender and abandoned William to his fate. Stephen, angered at the deception, ordered the boy William to the gallows but, in what was a seminal moment in William’s childhood, the king relented and Marshal was spared – the story goes that it was William’s innocence which stayed the King’s hand.

King Stephen eventually won the day – although John Marshal escaped, leaving his son with the King. William was to remain a captive for more than a year – only after peace was agreed between King Stephen and Empress Matilda in 1153 was he to return to his family.

Little else is known of Marshal’s early childhood but in around 1160, at the age of about 13, he went to live in the household of William of Tancarville in Normandy – a distant relative – to acquire skill at arms in order to become a knight. He was knighted at the age of about 20 by Tancarville and was soon involved in fighting to protect Normandy’s borders but shortly after that, found his time under Tancarville’s patronage at an end (although the exact reasons why he was let go are unclear).

Rather than returning to his family in England, the penniless Marshal instead spent the next year or so travelling Europe on the tournament circuit to try and make some money and indeed had some success before he did eventually return to England and enter the house of his uncle, Earl Patrick of Salisbury. When Patrick and his men were called up to campaign with King Henry II in south-western France in early 1168, William was among his men.

In April, William was with the Earl serving as a guard for King Henry II’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, when they were attacked. The Queen hastened to safety while Patrick and his men held back the attackers but during the fighting, the earl was killed while Marshal, despite his skill, was eventually run through the thigh was lance and taken prisoner.

Recovering from his wound, Queen Eleanor eventually paid a ransom for his release and he was subsequently offered a place in her retinue in what was to his first post in a long life of royal service. After just a couple of years in the Queen’s service, her husband, King Henry II, appointed William as tutor-in-arms to his son and heir, Henry “the Young King” who had already been crowned at Westminster Abbey despite his father still holding the reigns of power.

When Henry rebelled against his father in 1173, William remained among his men, and, after an uneasy peace between the Young King and King Henry II was restored, William was with the young Henry when he spent three years on the tournament circuit from 1176 to about 1179. The Young King and his men saw considerable success in tournaments before William branched out on his own, his skill with weaponry bringing him both fame and wealth in his own right to the degree that by the early 1180s, he was regarded as one of Europe’s greatest knights.

With thanks to Thomas Asbridge’s The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones

An effigy believed to be that of William Marshal in the Temple Church, London. PICTURE: Michael Wal  (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

King George III’s massive collection of military maps, views and prints forms a key part of the Royal Collection and to mark the 200th anniversary of the King’s death, more than 3,000 of which have been published online.

The publication of the selection from the more than 55,000 items in the collection marks the culmination of 10 years of research by Dr Yolande Hodson who has catalogued the contents of the collection which dates from the 16th to the 18th centuries and provides a contemporary account of theatres of war in Britain, Europe and America.

The collection includes everything from so-called “presentation maps” of sieges, battles and marches to rough sketches drawn in the field, depictions of uniforms and fortification plans.

Highlights include two-metre-wide maps of the American War of Independence (1775–83) which designed to hang on purpose-made mahogany stands in Buckingham House – among them is a map of the final British defeat at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, the only known copy to survive outside the US.

There’s also a memorandum written by Scottish military engineer William Roy to the king in 1766 in which Roy proposes a national survey of Britain based on his map and survey experience during the Seven Years War (1756–63) – it’s regarded as the founding document of the Ordnance Survey.

And there’s a rare engraving of the Siege of Malta (1565) showing how the Fort of St Elmo was overrun Turkish forces, resulting in the death of 1,300 Christian knights, captains and soldiers (pictured).

The collection can be found at militarymaps.rct.uk.

PICTURE: Matteo Perez d’Aleccio, A view of the Turkish assault on the Fort of St Elmo, Malta, on 23 June 1565. From the collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo. (Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020)

 

Britain’s Baroque culture – spanning the period from the Restoration of King Charles II to the death of Queen Anne in 1714 – is the subject of a new exhibition which opened this week at Tate Britain. British Baroque: Power and Illusion – the first major exhibition on the subject – shows how magnificence was used to express status and influence and features works by painters including Sir Peter Lely, Sir Godfrey Kneller, and Sir James Thornhill as well as designs, prints and wooden models of the works of architects like Sir Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor and Sir John Vanbrugh. The importance of portraiture, the visual differences in Protestant and Catholic worship and the illusions contained in painted baroque interiors are all explored in the display along with how the subject of war was dealt with through heroic equestrian portraiture, panoramic battle scenes and accompanying propaganda. The exhibition, which is being accompanied by a programme of events, runs until 19th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: Godfrey Kneller, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, c1706, National Portrait Gallery, London.

The 25th Kew Orchid Festival kicks off at Kew Gardens on Saturday in a celebration of the wildlife and culture of Indonesia. Located in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, the festival will take visitors on an immersive journey evoking the sights, smells and sounds of Indonesia though a series of orchid displays which include a life-sized animals such as orang-utans, a tiger and a rhinoceros, an archway made of hundreds of carnivorous pitcher plants and an erupting volcano. A programme of evening events featuring gamelan music and traditional dancers as well as cooking demonstrations by renowned author and chef Petty Elliott is also planned – these must be booked online in advance. Admission charge applies. Runs until 8th March. For more, see www.kew.org.

On Now: Hidden London: The Exhibition. This display at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden takes visitors on an immersive journey to some of the secret places in the Tube network. Featuring rare archive photos, objects, vintage posters, secret diagrams and decorative tiles from disused stations, it uncovers stories such as how Churchill took shelter in the Railway Executive Committee’s bomb-proof headquarters deep underground at Down Street station at the height of the Blitz during World War II and how almost 2,000 members of staff, mostly women, worked in the Plessey aircraft underground factory located in two 2.5 mile-long tunnels on the eastern section of the Central line. The exhibition is being accompanied by a series of events including late openings and tours. Runs until next January. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/hidden-london#.

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Sadly, we don’t know the name of this pachyderm – if it had one – but we do know that a couple of elephants lived in the Tower of London during the Middle Ages.

The first elephant to arrive was presented to King Henry III as a gift by King Louis IX of France.

The animal was apparently shipped across the Channel in 1255 and brought to the Tower of London by boat. A special 40 foot long wooden elephant house was built to accommodate it at the Tower.

It’s no surprise that such an exotic species attracted widespread interest. The medieval chronicler Matthew Paris was so intrigued he travelled from his monastery in St Albans to see it, noting that it was “the only elephant ever seen in England” (although it’s said that the Roman Emperor Claudius, when he arrived in Britain, came with elephants).

The elephant didn’t survive long – it died just two years after arriving in England and was buried in the Tower’s bailey. Its bones were apparently later dug up; it’s speculated this was so they could be made into receptacles for holy relics.

The elephant depicted could also represent one sent to King James I by the Spanish King in 1623 along with instructions that the poor creature should only drink wine between the months of September and April.

Made with galvanised wire, the sculpture of the elephant’s head – located in the courtyard between the Lantern and Salt Towers – is one of 13 representing some of the animal inhabitants of the Tower over the centuries. On display until 2021, ‘Royal Beasts’ is the work of artist Kendra Haste.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £24.70 adults; £11.70 children 5 to 15; £19.30 concessions (family tickets available; discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.

The most grand of the entrances to the now demolished Whitehall Palace, this monumental gateway – located in what is now Whitehall, at the south end of and on the other side of the road to the Banqueting House – was built in 1531-32 on the orders of King Henry VIII.

The name apparently comes from the tradition that the three story gate was designed by Hans Holbein but there is apparently some doubt that was the case.

The gate had rooms on the first and second floor with small flanking turrets to either side. It boasted a Royal Coat of Arms over the archway under the gate along with other royal emblems including the Tudor rose. There were also several busts set into roundels on the black and white chequerboard facade, possibly by Giovanni da Maiano.

King Henry VIII apparently used the chambers as a study and library (and later, it’s said, to store the wheelchairs he required late in life). Most famously, the upper room is also believed to have been the location where he secretly married Anne Boleyn on 25th January, 1533.

The upper floor was used as the Paper Office between 1672 until 1756 while the lower floor was used as lodgings with residents including the Ludovic Stewart, 2nd Duke of Lennox and Barbara Villiers, Lady Castlemaine, famed as one of the mistresses of King Charles II.

Remarkably, the building, along with the Banqueting House, survived the fire of January 1698 which destroyed most of the palace. Proposals were subsequently put forward to demolish the gate to allow better flow of traffic but these were fended off until August, 1759, when it was destroyed along with an adjacent house.

PICTURE: Whitehall Showing Holbein’s Gate and Banqueting Hall by Thomas Sandby, c1760 (now at the Yale Center for British Art)

This Farringdon pub is named after a previous tavern which stood in what had been the grounds of Sir John Oldcastle’s nearby mansion and dated back at least to the mid 17th century. 

Sir John, thought to have been the model for the Shakespearean character Sir John Falstaff, was a leader of the Lollards in the late 14th and early 15th centuries.

A trusted friend of Henry, Prince of Wales (later King Henry V), he accompanied the Prince on a military expedition to France 1411 but on returning to England was accused of heresy for his Lollard beliefs and eventually prosecuted.

Imprisoned in the Tower of London, Oldcastle escaped and launched a rebellion against the King but after the rebellion was put down was forced to live in hiding until he was eventually, in 1417, captured and subsequently executed in London.

Housed in a modern building, the pub at 29-35 Farringdon Road, which has a wealth of historical information about the area adorning its walls, is part of the Wetherspoons chain. For more, see www.jdwetherspoon.com/pubs/all-pubs/england/london/the-sir-john-oldcastle-farringdon.

Part of the inner defensive wall built around the White Tower during the reign of King Edward I, the Tower of London’s Beauchamp Tower was used to house prisoners at various times in its history (in fact, it’s name comes from one of them – Thomas Beauchamp, the Earl of Warwick, who was imprisoned here by King Richard II at the end of the 14th century). 

Carved into the walls of the tower’s chambers are a series of inscriptions, known as ‘graffito’ (known to you and I as graffiti), which were carved by some of the prisoners, mostly between the years 1532 and 1672.

The include an elaborate family memorial carved for John Dudley, eldest son of the Duke of Northumberland. He and his three brothers (including a young Robert Dudley, later the Earl of Leicester) were imprisoned by Queen Mary I for their father’s attempt to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne.

Interestingly there’s a simple inscription which just says ‘Jane’ nearby, one of a couple in the tower, although its not generally believed she carved this.

The name ‘Arundell’ is another of the inscriptions – it refers to Philip Howard, the Earl of Arundel, who was imprisoned here by Queen Elizabeth I for 10 years. Along with his name are the words “The more affliction we endure for Christ in this world, the more glory we shall get with Christ in the world to come”.

The name Thomas can be seen carved above a bell bearing the letter ‘A’. It’s believed to refer to Thomas Abel, chaplain to Katherine of Aragon, the ill-fated first wife of King Henry VIII. The king has Abel imprisoned here after he declared the King’s divorce of the Katherine unlawful.

The Beauchamp Tower isn’t the only location of graffiti in the Tower of London – in the Salt Tower, for example, can be found the image of a wounded foot, a Catholic symbol representing the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £24.70 adults; £11.70 children 5 to 15; £19.30 concessions (family tickets available; discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.

PICTURES:  Above – some of the graffiti seen on the Beauchamp Tower walls (David Adams); Middle – An ‘A’ carved on a bell with the word ‘Thomas’, said to refer to Thomas Abel, chaplain to Queen Katherine of Aragon (dvdbramhall – licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0); Below – The name Arundel (Pjposullivan1 – licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/imaged cropped)


Lying just to the south of Greenwich Park, this famous common apparently derives its name from the colour of the soil (although some suggest it was the colour of the bracken or even the “bleakness” of the location).

On the route from Canterbury and Dover to London, the sometimes windswept locale has seen its share of historical events over the centuries. As well as hosting remains dating to both the Saxon and Roman eras, Blackheath was where the Danes set up camp in 1011-13 (it was during this time that they murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury, Alfege, probably on the site where St Alfege’s Church in Greenwich now stands).

It’s also where Wat Tyler assembled his peasant army during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, where Jack Cade and his followers camped in 1450 during the Kentish Rebellion, and where King Henry VII defeated Michael Joseph and his Cornish rebels in 1497.

As well as uprisings, the heath has also seen its share of more joyous events. King Henry IV apparently met Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos here in 1400 before taking him back to Eltham Palace, King Henry V was welcomed by the Lord Mayor of London and aldermen here after his momentous victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, and King Charles II was welcomed here on his return to London during the Restoration. Less happily, in 1540 King Henry VIII met Anne of Cleves here for the first time.

During the 18th century, both John Wesley and George Whitefield preached to crowds on Blackheath. Meanwhile, legend has it that King James I founded England’s first golf club here in 1600s (the club joined with the Eltham Golf Club in the 1920s).

The heath, which also had a notorious reputation for highwaymen prior to residential development of the area in the late 18th century, has also been the site of fairs since at least the late 17th century.

But it wasn’t until the early 1800s that the “village” of Blackheath really formed, attracting the moderately well-to-do. The area received a significant boost as a residential locale close to London when the railway opened in 1849.

Significant buildings include All Saints’ Church which dates from 1857 and the entertainment venue known as the Blackheath Halls, built in 1895. The Georgian mansion known as the Ranger’s House – which parks on to Greenwich Park – is just to the north.

Notable residents have included early 20th century mathematician and astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington, 19th century philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill, seaside cartoonist Donald McGill and polar explorer Sir James Clark Ross. American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne lived at 4 Pond Road in 1856.

Correction: Wesley and Whitefield  preached in the 18th century, not the 19th as originally stated. Apologies for any confusion!

PICTURES: Top – Aerial view of Blackheath (foshie; licensed under CC BY 2.0; image cropped); Below – Looking towards All Saints (Herry Lawford; licensed under CC BY 2.0)

It’s our first ‘This Week in London’ for 2020 so instead of our usual programming, we thought we’d briefly look at five key exhibitions that you won’t want to miss this year…

1. Thomas Becket at the British Museum. Marking the 850th anniversary of the murder of the medieval Archbishop of Canterbury on 29th December, 1170, the museum will host the first ever major exhibition on the life, death and legacy of the archbishop as part of a year-long programme of events which also includes performances, pageants, talks, film screenings and religious services. The exhibition will run from 15th October to 14th February, 2021. PICTURE: Alabaster sculpture, c 1450–1550, England. Here, Becket is shown kneeling at an altar, his eyes closed and his hands clasped in prayer, all the while four knights draw their swords behind him. To Becket’s right is the monk Edward Grim, whose arm was injured by one of the knight’s swords. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

2. Elizabeth and Mary at the British Library. This exhibition draws on original historic documents to  take a fresh look at what’s described as the “extraordinary and fascinating story of two powerful queens, both with a right to the English throne: Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots”. Letters and other 16th century documents will show how their struggle for supremacy in the isles played out. Runs from 23rd October to 21st February, 2021.

3. Tudors to Windsors at the National Maritime Museum. This major exhibition promises to give visitors “the opportunity to come face-to-face with the kings, queens and their heirs who have shaped British history and were so central to Greenwich”.  Including more than 150 works covering five royal dynasties, it will consider the development of royal portraiture over a period spanning 500 years and how they were impacted by the personalities of individual monarchs as well as wider historical changes. Will be held from April.

4. Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King at Hampton Court Palace. Marking the 500th anniversary of the Field of Cloth of Gold – King Henry VIII’s landmark meeting with his great rival, the French King François I, the exhibition will feature a treasure trove of precious objects from the English and French courts as well as a never-before-seen tapestry, manufactured in the 1520s, which depicts a bout of wrestling at the meeting presided over by François and which also shows a black trumpeter among the many musicians depicted. Opens on 10th April. The palace will also play host this year to Henry VIII vs François I: The Rematch, a nine day festival of jousting, wrestling and foot combat complete with feasting, drinking and courtly entertainment. Runs from 23rd to 31st May.

5. Faces of a Queen: The Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I at the Queen’s House in Greenwich. This display brings together, for the first time, the three surviving versions of the iconic ‘Armada Portrait’ of Elizabeth I. The portrait commemorates the Spanish Armada’s failed attempt to invade England and the display will include the Royal Museums Greenwich’s own version of the painting along with that from the National Portrait Gallery and that which normally hangs in Woburn Abbey. Runs from 13th February to 31st August.

We’ll feature more details in stories throughout the coming year. But, of course, this is just a sample of what’s coming up this year – keep an eye on Exploring London for more…

Did you know that 2020 marks 10 years since Exploring London first began…well…exploring London?

We’ll be celebrating our anniversary across the year in a number of ways including counting down our 100 most read stories ever…

So let’s kick off the countdown with numbers 100 and 99…

100. LondonLife – A new crown for King Henry VIII…

99. 10 sites of significance in Jane Austen’s London…1. 10 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden…

PICTURE: Adi Goldstein/Unsplash