8 locations for royal burials in London…5. Henry VII’s Lady Chapel, Westminster Abbey…

Located just to the east of St Edward the Confessor’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey is the lavishly ornate Lady Chapel built on the orders of King Henry VII.

Described as the “last masterpiece of English medieval architecture”, the chapel is the resting place of King Henry VII and his wife Queen Elizabeth of York.

Effigies of King Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth of York. PICTURE: Ann Longmore-Etheridge/Public domain

The couple were the first to be buried in a vault under the floor rather than a tomb but still features an elaborate monument above the floor.

The monument was designed in the Renaissance style by Italian sculptor Pietro Torrigiano and features gilt bronze effigies of the King and Queen lying side-by-side above a black marble base decorated with six medallions representing the Virgin Mary and Henry’s patron saints (who included St Edward the Confessor). At either end of the base are coats of arms supported by cherubs.

A fine grille, designed by Thomas Ducheman, surrounds the monument – once gilded, it featured 30 statues in niches but only six – depicting saints – now remain. The lengthy Latin inscription written on the grille lauds King Henry as “a wise and watchful monarch, a courteous lover of virtue” among other superlatives. There are further inscriptions on the monument.

They’re not the only kings and queen’s buried in the chapel. King James I is buried in the vault under the King Henry VII’s tomb and his wife Queen Anne of Denmark is buried nearby.

Tomb of Elizabeth I. PICTURE: Wikimedia Commons (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Queen Elizabeth I is buried in the chapel’s north aisle with a monument above depicting her effigy. Her coffin was placed on top of her half-sister Queen Mary I whose body had been placed there after her death in 1558. The monument was installed on the orders of King James I who, while commissioning a depiction of Queen Elizabeth, didn’t order an effigy of Mary to be made. Instead, she is commemorated with an inscription translated as “Partners both in throne and grave, here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of the Resurrection.”

The religious differences of the two Queens – Elizabeth being a Protestant and Mary a Catholic – are meanwhile commemorated in an inscription on the floor which reads: “Remember before God all those who divided at the Reformation by different convictions laid down their lives for Christ and conscience sake.”

Buried in a vault beneath the south aisle of the chapel – with just simple inscriptions on stones above (no monuments were erected due to the lack of space apparently – are the remains of the Stuart monarchs King Charles II, Queen Anne (and her husband Prince George), Queen Mary II and King William III.

The rather flamboyant tomb of Mary, Queen of Scots, is also in this aisle. King James I had her remains brought to the abbey from Peterborough Cathedral in 1612 and laid to rest in a marble tomb featuring an elaborate canopy and a white marble effigy at the feet of which stands a crowned Scottish lion. The eldest son of King James I, Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, was also buried in the Queen’s vault (she was his grandmother), probably due to lack of space.

The young king Edward VI is buried beneath the floor in front of the altar and the last monarch to be buried in the abbey – King George II – lies in a vault under the central aisle along with his wife Queen Caroline and some of their children as well as other family members. On the King’s orders, the sides of the coffins of King George II and that of Queen Caroline were removed so their remains could mingle.

Several other royals – including Princess Mary of Orange, eldest daughter of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, and Prince Rupert of the Rhine – are also buried in the chapel.

HERE: Lady Chapel, Westminster Abbey (nearest Tube stations are Westminster and St James’s Park); WHEN: Times vary – see the website for details; COST: £27 adults/£24 concession/£12 children (discounts for buying online; family rates available); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org

LondonLife – Greenwich Park restoration…

Looking up to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park. PICTURE: mkos83/iStockphoto.

The Royal Parks announced recently Greenwich Park, here pictured showing the view up to the Royal Observatory, was to undergo a three year project to restore its 17th century landscape. The formal landscape of the park was commissioned by King Charles II and, designed by French landscape architect André Le Nôtre (who also designed the world-famous Versailles gardens), features tree-lined avenues which frame the view up the hill from the Queen’s House as well as “The Grand Ascent”, a series of giant, grass steps leading up the hill, and a terraced layout – known as a parterre. Massive numbers of visitors – some five million annually – have, however, seen the landscape features erode and slump while the trees – Turkey oaks planted in the 1970s to replace the elms wiped out by Dutch elm disease – are now in decline. The restoration work, which begins next month, will see the terraces restored and the declining tree avenues recreated with 92 new, more resilient trees. The work is scheduled to be completed by March, 2025. For more on Greenwich Park, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/greenwich-park.

Lost London – The Painted Chamber, Palace of Westminster…

Part of the medieval Palace of Westminster, the Painted Chamber took its name from a series of large paintings which decorated the walls.

A watercolour of the Painted Chamber in Westminster Palace by William Capon made in 1799.

The long and narrow chamber, which stood parallel to St Stephen’s Chapel, was constructed in the 13th century during the reign of King Henry III and was apparently initially intended as a private apartment for the king as well as a reception room.

It featured a state bed at one end positioned under a painting of King Edward the Confessor and also had a “squint” – a small opening at eye level – through which the monarch could view religious services in a chapel located next door.

The chamber was apparently originally known as the King’s Chamber but came to be known as the Painted Chamber when the walls were decorated with paintings depicting vices and virtues and Biblical figures.

These paintings, which were completed over an almost 60 year period from 1226 and which were repaired a couple of times during that period, were added to with commissions by successive monarchs.

The painted chamber was the location for the State Opening of Parliament in the Middle Ages and was where Oliver Cromwell and the others signed King Charles I death warrant in 1649. The body of King Charles II rested here overnight before he was interred in Westminster Abbey.

A ceiling panel from the Painted Chamber depicting a prophet, created between 1263-1266 PICTURE: © The Trustees of the British Museum (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Later neglected, the walls of the chamber were whitewashed and hung with tapestries and in the early 19th century restoration work was done to reveal the paintings again with artist and antiquarian Charles Stothard commissioned by the Society of Antiquarians in 1819 to make watercolour copies (further copies were also made by the clerk of works at Westminster, Thomas Crofton Croker).

By 1820, the chamber was being used for the Court of Requests, a civil claims court.

The Painted Chamber was gutted when fire devastated much of the Palace of Westminster on the night of 16th October, 1834. It was reroofed and refurnished and used by the House of Lords until 1847 – as well as for the State Opening of Parliament in February, 1835. It was finally demolished in 1851.

Two ceiling paintings which were removed in 1816 during repairs are now at the British Museum (pictured right).

Treasures of London – The ‘Line of Kings’…

PICTURE: HRP/Newsteam

A star sight at the Tower of London for some 350 years, the ‘Line of Kings’ dates back to the mid-17th century and was originally installed in the Royal Armouries at the Tower to promote the restored monarchy of King Charles II and the Stuart dynasty.

Often described as the “world’s longest running tourist attraction” (the first visitor was recorded in 1652), it features the historic armour of monarchs on wooden figures and accompanied by fully decked-out carved horses – the work of Grinling Gibbons and others among Britain’s best woodcarvers.

The line has been added to and redisplayed numerous times over its history, partly to accommodate successive monarchs (17 in all were included with King George II being the last).

Only those monarchs deemed worthy were included – this deemed “bad” kings like King Richard III were omitted while “good” kings like King William the Conqueror, King Edward III and King Henry V were included. Queens were not included – when Queen Mary II and King William III were created joint monarchs, only King William was included.

The display began to be mentioned in guidebooks from the 1750s onwards. In 1825, amid growing scholarship and criticism, the line underwent a major change.

It was dismantled and then redisplayed in a purpose-built gallery adjoining the south side of the White Tower. The new line-up included prominent noblemen as well as kings while the kings themselves were reshuffled with some, like King Edward III, dropped, and King James II added.

It was further enhanced in 1869 but the display closed in 1882. The equestrian figures then appeared on the upper floor of the White Tower.

The Line of Kings, which is now located on the entrance floor of the Tower, last underwent a significant revamp between 2011 and 2013.

Highlights include the earlier surviving armour of King Henry VIII – a silvered and engraved armour which was made in the years following his coronation in 1509 – as well as the gilded armours of King Charles I and King James II.

WHERE: White Tower, Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm daily; COST: £29.90 adults; £14.90 children under 15; £24 concession; family tickets from £52.20; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.  

Lost London – ‘Charles II trampling Cromwell’…

The statue at Newby Hall in North Yorkshire. PICTURE: Chris Heaton (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Originally installed at the Stocks Market in the City of London, this equestrian statue shows a figure atop a horse which is trampling over a prostrate figure lying on the ground.

The marble statue, which stands on a tall plinth, is believed to have been created in Italy by an unknown sculptor. It originally depicted Polish King John III Sobieski riding down a Turkish soldier. But it was bought to London by goldsmith and banker Sir Robert Vyner in the early 1670s.

A strong supporter of King Charles II, he had the sculpture’s head remodelled by Jasper Latham to depict the King (although the figure beneath was left largely untouched, meaning if it is supposed to represent Cromwell, he’s wearing a turban).

Sir Robert, who had been responsible for making the king’s new coronation regalia to replace items lost or destroyed during the Commonwealth, offered to have the statue installed at the Royal Exchange after it was rebuilt following the Great Fire of 1666. When that was rejected, he had the statue installed at the Stocks Market – originally named for being the only location of fixed stocks in the City – near Cornhill in 1675 (Sir Robert served as Lord Mayor around the same time).

The statue was removed in 1739 to make way for the Mansion House. But all was not lost – given back to Vyner’s grandnephew, also Robert Vyner, it reappeared some years later at the Vyner family estate at Gautby Hall. In 1883, it was relocated to Newby Hall in North Yorkshire (which had come into the family via an inheritance) and still remains there today, about 150 metres east of the hall. It received a Grade II listing in 1967.

10 (lesser known) statues of English monarchs in London…7. Three Stuart Kings and a Queen… 

King Charles I (left) and his son King Charles II on what is now the south side of the gateway. PICTURE: haluk ermis (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The equestrian statue of King Charles I at the top of Whitehall is one of London’s most well-known. But less well-known is the statue of the ill-fated King which can be found standing in a niche on the Temple Bar gateway, located at the entrance to Paternoster Square just outside of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Charles is not alone. Part of the gateway’s purpose was as a dynastic statement in support of the Stuarts so the grand portal also features statues of Charles’ father King James I, his mother Queen Anne of Denmark, and his son King Charles II. King James and Queen Anne can be found on the north side of the gateway (originally the east side) and the two Charles’ on the south side (originally the west side).

The design of the gateway, which originally stood at the intersection of Fleet Street and the Strand as a ceremonial entrance into the City of London, is believed to be the work of Sir Christopher Wren who was acting on the orders of King Charles II after the Great Fire of London.

Queen Anne of Denmark and King James I on the north side of the gateway. PICTURE: lizsmith (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The statues, which cost a third of the total £1,500 spent on the gateway, are said to have been sculpted by one John Bushnell. They are depicted in Roman attire rather than the dress they would have worn during the period.

They were removed when the gateway was dismantled in 1878 and stored in a yard of Farringdon Road and when the gateway was re-erected at Lady Meux’s Hertfordshire estate at Theobold’s Park, they were placed back in their original locations. And they also accompanied the gateway back to the city when it was positioned its current location in 2004.

10 historic stairways in London – 9. ‘Two Princes Staircase’, Tower of London… 

The White Tower with external staircase – they’re not the stairs we’re talking about, a remnant of them is located in the niche you can see about half way up the external staircase. PICTURE: Amy-Leigh Barnard/Unsplash.

A truncated staircase – really just a few steps – located near the entrance to the White Tower is famous – or perhaps infamous is a better word – for its connection with the so-called ‘Princes in the Tower’ – the 12-year-old King Edward V and his nine-year-old brother, Richard, Duke of York, who disappeared after entering the Tower of London in the late 15th century.

While the princes are believed to have been held in the Bloody Tower, their connection with the staircase, which is located in a doorway niche halfway up the main outer stairway into the White Tower, dates to 1674.

King Charles II had ordered the demolition of what was left of the royal palace to the south of the White Tower and during those works a wooden chest containing two skeletons was discovered beneath the foundations of a staircase which had led up to St John’s Chapel.

Many have subsequently believed the skeletons to be those of the two princes.

A plaque located near the staircase remnant at the Tower of London. PICTURE: Ian McKellar (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The princes had been taken to the tower in April, 1483, following the death of their father, King Edward IV, on the 9th of that month. Their uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester (and the Lord Protector of his nephews), had done so, ostensibly for their protection, while Edward’s coronation was initially scheduled for June.

The last recorded reference to them being in the tower dates from 16th June when they were seen “shooting [arrows] and playing in the garden of the Tower sundry times”.

There has since been much debate over their fate with many believing Richard, who in July of that year was crowned King Richard III, had them murdered to ensure his own ascension to the throne.

The two skeletons found almost 200 years later were put on display for several years following their discovery before King Charles II ordered that they be placed in an urn and reburied in the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey. In 1933, they were disinterred and forensically examined by LE Tannery and W Wright who concluded they were the skeletons of two boys, aged 10 and 13. They were subsequently reinterred and have remained buried since. They have never been tested for DNA.

Historic Royal Palaces Chief Curator Lucy Worsley and special guests will look at the question of whether the urn should be opened and the bones tested using modern forensic methods in an online event on 16th March at 7pm. Follow this link to register for this event.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm (last admission), Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4.30pm (last admission) Sunday to Monday; COST: £29.90 adults; £14.90 children 5 to 15; £24 concessions (family tickets available; discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.

Treasures of London – The Solebay Tapestry…

The Burning of the Royal James at the Battle of Solebay, 28 May 1672 © National Maritime Museum, London

A monumental tapestry – and the only surviving one of its era depicting an English naval scene, the Solebay Tapestry was actually one a series of six designed by father and son team, Willem Van de Velde the Elder and Younger.

Commissioned by King Charles II and his brother, James, Duke of York (later King James II), the tapestry known as The Burning of the Royal James at the Battle of Solebay, 28 May 1672 – commemorates the Battle of Solebay, a naval battle fought in Southwold Bay off the coast of Suffolk on 28th May, 1672. The first battle of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, it ended with both sides claiming victory and was the final naval battle in which James was engaged.

It depicts the dramatic climax of the battle and shows the Royal James engulfed in flames after it was set alight by Dutch fireships. Edward Montagu, the first Earl of Sandwich whose was aboard the Royal James, died in the attack.

Detail from the Solebay Tapestry, showing the burning of the ‘Royal James’, before conservation. © National Maritime Museum, London

William Van de Veldes the Elder, who was a contemporary of Rembrandt and, along with his son, is considered the founder of English maritime painting, was present at the battle and made a series of sketches from a boat at the scene (he was actually there for the Dutch, not the English).

Subsequently commissioned to reimagine the battle from the English point-of-view, it was the studios of the Van de Velds in the Queen’s House in Greenwich that a series of ‘cartoons’ – large-scale paper designs – were produced using the sketches.

These were then presented to weavers who, once thought to have been based in Mortlake but now believed to have been based in either at Clerkenwell or Hatton Garden, used them to create the tapestries.

The tapestry in the collection of Royal Museums Greenwich was displayed behind King George VI during his speech at the opening of the National Maritime Museum in 1937 but hasn’t been able to be displayed for the past 22 years due to its fragile condition.

In urgent need of repair, the first phase of a conservation project was completed last year. Royal Museums Greenwich has now launched an urgent crowdfunding campaign through ‘Art Happens with Art Fund’ to raise £15,000 for the completion of the project. This will mean the tapestry can be included in an exhibition at the Queen’s House next February marking 350 years since the Van de Veldes’ arrival in England.

The crowdfunding campaign runs until 17th March. To contribute, head to www.artfund.org/save-solebay.

Detail from the Solebay Tapestry of sailor washed out to sea, taken in March 2019 before conservation. © National Maritime Museum, London

Famous Londoners – John Flamsteed…

Memorialised in the name of the house where he once lived at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, John Flamsteed was the first Astronomer Royal.

Flamsteed was born in Denby, Derbyshire, on 16th August, 1646, and was the only child of Stephen Flamsteed, who among other things was involved in the brewing industry, and his first wife Mary (who died when John Flamsteed was still quite young).

A bust of John Flamsteed at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

He was educated at local schools but left off his studies at the age of 15 due to his own ill health and his father’s need for his assistance in the household and with his business.

His poor health meant he pursued some more sedentary activities and it was during this period that he established interest in astronomy, writing his first paper in 1665. Flamsteed did briefly attend Jesus College in Cambridge in the early 1670s, although it’s not thought he ever took up full residence.

Flamsteed was ordained a deacon and was preparing to take up a living in Derbyshire in 1675 – having by then obtained an MA from Cambridge – when his patron Jonas Moore, whom he’d met in the summer of 1670 during a visit to London and then visited again in mid-1674, invited him to return to the city, ostensibly to establish an observatory which Moore, who was Surveyor-General of the Ordnance, had offered to pay for.

Flamsteed arrived in February, 1675, stayed with Moore in the Tower before, after meeting King Charles II, was made an official assistant to a Royal Commission which the king had established charged with examining the merits of a proposal – put forward by a “le Sieur de St Pierre” to find longitude by the position of the Moon.

The commission decided the proposal wasn’t worth taking further but did recommend the establishment of an observatory from which the movement of the stars and Moon could be mapped in the hope of developing a method of finding longitude. Flamsteed was subsequently appointed “The King’s Astronomical Observator” – the first Astronomer Royal – on 4th March, 1675, by royal warrant, and in June that same year, another royal warrant provided for the founding of the Royal Greenwich Observatory. Flamsteed laid the foundation stone on 10th August.

He was admitted as a fellow of the Royal Society in February the following year and in July he moved into the observatory, now known as Flamsteed House (it contains famed Octagonal Room with large windows from which celestial events could be watched), which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. It was to serve as Flamsteed’s home for next decade or so.

Flamsteed House, Royal Greenwich Observatory, its named after John Flamsteed. PICTURE: Dmitry Djouce.

Flamsteed’s achievements as an astronomer included the accurate calculation of the solar eclipses of 1666 and 1668 and recording some of the earliest sightings of Uranus which he mistakenly thought was a star. He was also in regular contact with many other scientific luminaries of the day and famously fell out with both Sir Edmond Halley (his one-time assistant and future successor as Astronomer Royal) and Sir Isaac Newton.

Flamsteed’s own catalogue of almost 3,000 stars wasn’t published until after death in 1725 thanks to the effort’s of his wife Margaret – whom he had married on 23rd October, 1692 (they were to have no children although Flamsteed’s niece, Ann Heming, did live with them). Margaret also published his star atlas, Atlas Coelestis, posthumously in 1729.

In 1684, Flamsteed was elevated to the priesthood and made rector of the village of Burstow, near Crawley in Surrey – a post, which, along with that of Astronomer Royal, he held until his death on 31st December, 1719.

He was buried in Burstow and there is a plaque on the wall of the church there marking his grave (which was added long after his death). Aside from his earthly honours – which includes the name of Flamsteed House at the Royal Observatory, a crater on the Moon is named after him as is an asteroid.

Treasures of London – Wren’s Great Model of St Paul’s Cathedral…

PICTURE: Andrea Vail (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

Housed now in the building it depicts, the Great Model of St Paul’s Cathedral was created by architect Sir Christopher Wren to show King Charles II what his proposed grand new English Baroque cathedral would look like (following the destruction of the medieval cathedral in the Great Fire of 1666).

Made of oak, plaster and lime wood, the model was made by William Cleere to Wren’s design in between September, 1673, and October, 1674, at a scale of 1:25. It measures 6.27 metres long, 3.68 metres wide and more than four metres tall, making it one of the largest in the UK.

The model, which cost about £600 to make – an extraordinary sum which could apparently buy a good London house, was designed to be “walked through” at eye level and, as well as being a useful way to show the King what the proposed building would look like, was also something of an insurance policy in case something happened to Wren.

It was based on drawings made by Wren and his assistant Edward Woodroofe on a large table in the cathedral’s convocation or chapter house (later demolished in the early 1690s) and was originally painted white to represent Portland stone with a blue-grey dome and gilded details.

There are some differences between the model and the finished cathedral – among them was a substantial extension of the quire, double-height portico on the west front, and, of course, the bell towers on the west front which were made in place of the cupola which was located halfway down the nave on the model.

Part of an earlier wooden model from 1671 also survives – it was apparently lost for many years and rediscovered in 1935.

The Great Model can be seen on tours of the Triforium.

WHERE: 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: £21 adults/£18.50 concessions/£9 children/£36 family (these are walk-up rates – online advanced and group rates are discounted); WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk (for tours, head to www.stpauls.co.uk/visits/visits/guided-tours)

Treasures of London – The pelicans of St James’s Park…

Pelicans were first introduced to St James’s Park in 1664 when a pair of the rather large birds were presented as a gift from the Russian Ambassador to King Charles II. They’ve been there ever since.

Pelicans in St James’s Park in 2015. PICTURE: Philippa Willitts (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

More than 40 pelicans have apparently made their home at the park over the years. Past pelicans have included the solitary Daphne – nicknamed the ‘Lady of the Lake’, she lived alone at the park in the early 1970s as well as Astra and Khan, who came from Astrakhan in Russia and were presented by the Russian Ambassador in 1977. There’s also been a Louis, who came from Louisiana in 1982, and Vaclav and Rusalka, who were a gift from Prague Zoo in 1995.

There are currently six members of the ‘scoop’ or ‘squadron’ (just two of the collective nouns used for pelicans) in the park. They include Isla and Tiffany – gifted from Prague in 2013 – and Gargi (gifted in 1996 after he was found in a Southend garden) as well as newer arrivals, brothers Sun and Moon, and a female named Star, all of whom came from Prague Zoo in 2019. Five are Eastern Whites and one is a South American White.

The pelicans are fed fresh fish each day between 2:30pm and 3pm, next to Duck Island Cottage, and while they are free to go where they wish, they rarely go far from the almost 57 acre park. But they did make headlines for eating a pigeon in 2006.

Royal Parks are offering a walking tour of St James’s Park which ends with watching the daily feeding on 5th November. Head here for details.

This Week in London – Royal portraits in Greenwich; Sir Roger Bannister to be honoured; and, drawing on the Tate’s Turbine Hall floor…

King Henry VII by unknown Netherlandish artist, 1505 (oil on panel) © National Portrait Gallery, London

More than 150 of the finest portraits of royal families over five dynasties are on show at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, which is being run in conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery, features famous paintings, miniatures, sculpture, photographs, medals and stamps from the Tudor, Stuart, Georgian, Victorian and Windsor dynasties. Highlights include the earliest known portrait of Henry VII (also the oldest artwork in the exhibition) which was painted in 1505 by an unknown artist, Flemish artist Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger’s famous ‘Ditchley Portrait’ of Elizabeth I, portraits of Charles II and his mistresses, early 19th century domestic photographs of Queen Victoria and her family, and a selection of paintings and photographs of Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton and Annie Leibovitz. Runs until 31st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/TudorsWindsors.

Westminster Abbey has announced a new memorial to Sir Roger Bannister, the first man to run under a mile in four minutes. The abbey said the memorial ledger stone to Bannister, who later became a neurologist, will be placed in what is known as ‘Scientists’ Corner’ in the building’s nave, close to the graves of scientists Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin as well as the ashes of Stephen Hawking. “Throughout his life Sir Roger Bannister reached out for that which lay beyond,” said the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, in a statement. “As a sportsman, pushing himself towards a prize some considered beyond human reach, as a scientist ever eager for deeper understanding of neurology. We are delighted that his memory and his achievement will be set in stone in the Abbey. He ran the race set before us all.” Bannister is famous for having run a mile in three minutes, 59.4 second at Oxford on 6th May, 1954 – a record which stood for almost nine years.

Be among those transforming the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall into an “ever changing work of art”. Visitors are invited to join in covering the hall’s floor with their own jottings using coloured drawing materials as part of artist Ei Arakawa’s interactive installation, Mega Please Draw Freely. The installation, which can be contributed to until 29th August, kicks off UNIQLO Tate Play – a new free programme of playful art-inspired activities for families, being in partnership with UNIQLO, at the Tate Modern. The project, which has seen the Turbine Hall floor covered with a temporary surface allowing it to be drawn upon, is inspired by the Gutai group, radical Japanese artists who wanted to change the world through painting, performance and children’s play and, in particular, the group’s ‘Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition of 1956’ in which Yoshihara Jirō created the groundbreaking work Please Draw Freely, a large board on which people were free to draw and paint. Visitors can access Mega Please Draw Freely by booking a free collection display ticket online at www.tate.org.uk.

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

London Explained – The Royal Parks…

Green Park, the smallest of the eight Royal Parks. PICTURE: David Adams

One of the most beautiful features of London are its Royal Parks.

The Royal Parks signage in The Regent’s Park. PICTURE: Elliott Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The parks, which covers some 5,000 acres, are owned by the Crown and managed by a charity, The Royal Parks. They include eight of London’s largest open spaces – Hyde Park, The Green Park, Richmond Park, Greenwich Park, St James’s Park, Bushy Park, The Regent’s Park, and Kensington Gardens – as well as some other important open spaces such as Brompton Cemetery, Victoria Tower Gardens, Canning Green and Poet’s Corner.

All eight of the Royal Parks have historically been owned by the Crown with St James’s Park considered the oldest (while Greenwich Park is the oldest enclosed park).

Under an Act of Parliament passed in 1851, the Crown transferred management of the parks to the government. These powers were originally vested in the Commissioners of Works and later transferred to the Minister of Works in 1942. They now rest with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

The Royal Parks charity was created in 2017 when The Royal Parks Agency – a former executive agency of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – and the Royal Parks Foundation came together. It is governed by a board led by chairman Loyd Grossman.

Deer in Richmond Park, largest of The Royal Parks. PICTURE: David Adams

The largest of the eight Royal Parks is Richmond Park which covers some 2,500 acres in London’s south-west (it’s followed by Bushy Park which is just over 1,000 acres). The smallest of the parks is Green Park at just 40 acres.

Interestingly, Hampton Court Palace gardens, which are open to the public are not part of The Royal Parks but instead are under the care of Historic Royal Palaces.

Here’s one fact about each of the eight Royal Parks.

  1. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey gave Bushy Park to King Henry VIII in 1529 (along with Wolsey’s home, Hampton Court Palace).
  2. Green Park was initially known as Upper St James’s Park after it was enclosed by King Charles II in 1668.
  3. The Royal Observatory, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, is located in Greenwich Park.
  4. Hyde Park became the location of the first artificially lit highway in the country when King William III, who had moved his court to Kensington Palace and found his walk back to St James’s rather dangerous, had 300 oil lamps installed upon a route which later became known as Rotten Row.
  5. Queen Caroline, wife of George II, gave Kensington Gardens much of its present form when, in 1728, she oversaw the creation of the the Serpentine and the Long Water.
  6. Horse Guards Parade is considered part of St James’s Park.
  7. Architect John Nash designed a summer palace for the Prince Regent which was to be located in The Regent’s Park but was never built.
  8. Prime Minister Lord John Russell was given a home in Richmond Park (Pembroke Lodge) by Queen Victoria in 1847.

A Moment in London’s History – The “execution” of Oliver Cromwell…

It was 360 years ago late last month that the body of Oliver Cromwell, one time Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, was, having previously been exhumed from his grave in Westminster Abbey, hanged from a gallows at Tyburn before being beheaded.

Cromwell had died two years previously on 3rd September, 1658, at the age of 59. It’s thought he died of septicaemia brought on by a urinary infection (although the death of his favourite daughter Elizabeth a month before is also believed to have been a significant factor in his own demise).

He (and his daughter) were buried in an elaborate funeral ceremony in a newly created vault in King Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster Abbey.

Cromwell’s son Richard had succeeded him as Lord Protector but he was forced to resign in May, 1659, and divisions among the Commonwealth’s leadership soon saw Parliament restored and the monarchy restored under King Charles II in 1660.

In late January, 1661, on Parliament’s order, Cromwell’s body as well as those of John Bradshaw, President of the High Court of Justice for the trial of King Charles I, and Henry Ireton, Cromwell’s son-in-law and a general in the Parliamentary army during the English Civil War, were all exhumed from their graves.

A contemporary engraving of the execution of Cromwell, Ireton and Bradshaw. PICTURE: Via Wikipedia.

The bodies of Cromwell and Ireton were taken to the Red Lion Inn in Holborn where they lay under guard overnight and were joined by that of Bradshaw the following day.

That morning – the 30th January, a date which coincided with the 12th anniversary of the execution of King Charles I in 1649 – the shrouded bodies in various states of decomposition and laying in open coffins were dragged on a sledge to gallows at Tyburn were they were publicly hanged.

The bodies remained on the gallows until sunset when they were removed and beheaded (Cromwell’s beheading apparently took eight blows). The bodies were believed to have been subsequently thrown into a common grave at Tyburn (although there’s all sorts of speculation surrounding the fate of Cromwell’s – indeed some believe his body had already been removed from Westminster Abbey before the exhumation took place and that it was the body of someone else which was hanged and beheaded).

The decapitated heads, however, were kept. They were placed on 20 foot long spikes at Westminster Hall for public display (Samuel Pepys was among those who saw them).

In 1685, however, the spike holding Cromwell’s head broke in a storm. Cromwell’s head is said to have ended up in the possession of a soldier who took it and hid it in his chimney (a reward was offered but searches were unsuccessful). The fate of the head then remains somewhat clouded but in 1710 it was being displayed in the London museum of Swiss-French collector Claudius Du Puy.

It subsequently passed through various hands until it was eventually bought by Dr Josiah Henry Wilkinson in the early 19th century. It remained in the possession of his family until, following tests which concluded it was indeed Cromwell’s head, it was offered to Sydney Sussex College, Cromwell alma mater, where, in 1960, it was buried in a secret location.

London Pub Signs – The Dove, Hammersmith…

While many establishments have been temporarily forced to close as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we publish this piece in the hope you’ll be able to visit soon…

The Dove, Hammersmith, seen from the Thames. PICTURE: Tarquin Binary (public domain)

This storied Thames-side pub in London’s west apparently has associations with everyone from King Charles II to Arts and Crafts designer William Morris and author Graham Greene and is known as a prime site to watch the annual Boat Race between Cambridge and Oxford universities.

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The Dove, Hammersmith. PICTURE: Michael Gwyther-Jones (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The establishment, now Grade II-listed, at 19 Upper Mall is said to have a history dating back to the late mid 18th century and was originally founded as a coffee house.

The rooms within are fittingly small given the building’s age; in fact, the bar was once listed by Guinness World Records as the smallest bar room in the world.

The pub’s name apparently comes from the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark in which a dove is sent out after the great flood to find dry land and returns with an olive leaf in its beak indicating the receding waters (it’s also interesting to note that the pub was known for almost 100 years as ‘The Doves’ for many years – it has been said this was due to a sign-writer’s error which was only corrected in the last 1940s).

King Charles II is said to have met his mistress Nell Gwyn at this riverside location prior to its current incarnation. Others who have come to be associated with the pub itself – Morris and Greene aside – include American author Ernest Hemingway, Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and Scottish poet, playwright and lyricist James Thompson who is said to have written the words for his 1740 song, Rule, Britannia!, here.

Another association comes from Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, founder of the Doves Bindery and the Doves Press, both of which he named after this pub. It’s also mentioned in the pages of Sir Alan Herbert’s 1930 popular novel, The Water Gipsies.

Now part of the Fuller’s chain. For more information, see www.dovehammersmith.co.uk.

10 London buildings that were relocated…8. Temple Bar…

This ornate Baroque archway only stands with walking distance from where it originally stood marking the entrance to the City of London. But it came to this position by a somewhat roundabout route.

Temple Bar – with statues of Queen Anne and King James I (looking towards St Paul’s Cathedral) PICTURE: David Adams.

The gate was originally constructed at the junction where Fleet Street becomes the Strand, it marked the boundary between the City of London and Westminster.

While the first gate on the site dates back to the 14th century (prior to that the boundary was apparently marked with a chain two posts), the gate we see today dates from 1672 when, despite having survived the Great Fire of London, the previous gate – a crumbing wooden structure – was demolished and this upmarket replacement built to the design of none other than Sir Christopher Wren (earlier designs for the gate created by Inigo Jones were never acted upon).

An artist’s impression of the Temple Bar in 1870 from Illustrated London News.

Made of Portland stone, the new structure featured figures of King Charles I and King Charles II on the west side and King James I and Queen Anne of Denmark on the east (it’s said that a third of the total £1,500 cost was spent on the statuary alone).

Shortly after its construction, it became a location for the display of the remains of traitors (usually heads), the first of which were the body parts of Rye House plotter Sir Thomas Armstrong and the last of which was the head of Jacobite Francis Towneley in 1746 (there’s also a story that such was the interest when the heads of the Rye House plotters – who had planned to assassinate King Charles II and crown his brother, the future King James II, in his place – were displayed, telescopes were rented out so people could get a closer look).

Temple Bar with statues of King Charles I and King Charles II (looking into Paternoster Square). PICTURE: Eric Heupel (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Among the luminaries who passed under the central arch were Anne Boleyn (the day before her coronation) and Queen Elizabeth I. The Queen did so most famously on her way to give thanks in St Paul’s Cathedral for the English victory over the Spanish Armada and since then, whenever a Sovereign has wanted to enter the City past Temple Bar, there’s been a short ceremony in which the Sovereign asks permission of the Lord Mayor of London to enter. Granting this, the Mayor then offers the Sword of State as a demonstration of loyalty and this is subsequently carried before the Sovereign as they proceed through the City as a sign of the Lord Mayor’s protection.

The Temple Bar stood in its original location until 1878 when, to help traffic flow, it was carefully removed brick-by-brick over a period of 11 days (the City of London Corporation well aware of its historical significance) . It was initially intended that the gateway would be rebuilt somewhere else in the city, but time passed and no suitable site was found.

Instead, the gate lay in pieces in a yard in Farringdon Road before, in the mid 1880s, Sir Henry Bruce Meux had all 2,500 stones transported via trolleys pulled by horses to his estate at Theobalds Park in Hertfordshire and re-erected there as a gateway (the Lady Meux apparently used the small upper room for entertaining – among those said to have dined here was King Edward VII and Winston Churchill).

Temple Bar at Theobolds Park. PICTURE: Christine Matthews (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

In 1976, the Temple Bar Trust was formed to have the archway returned to London – they eventually succeeded 30 years later in 2004 when it was re-erected on its current site between St Paul’s and Paternoster Square at a cost of some £3 million.

The original site of the Temple Bar is now marked with a Victorian era memorial – erected in 1888 – which features statues of Queen Victoria and Edward, the Prince of Wales.

What’s in a name?…Gunnersbury…

There is a tradition which holds that this tiny district in west London was named after Gunhilda, a niece of King Canute.

While that story may be merely apocryphal, the name Gunnersbury does apparently mean the ‘manor of Gunhilda’, so it follows there was a Gunhilda who once lived here.

The manor – said to have been held by Alice Perrers, mistress to King Edward III, for a time as well as by the bishops of London – was located in what is now Gunnersbury Park.

It was rebuilt in the Palladian-style in the mid 17th century for Sir John Maynard, legal advisor to King Charles II, and a century later was used by Princess Amelia, the daughter of King George II as a summer residence (during which time William Kent is said to have improved the gardens; a ‘Temple’ built in the gardens during that time survives today).

The house was demolished in 1801 and the estate divided into two with two new properties built – Gunnersbury Park and Gunnersbury House. Both properties subsequently passed into the hands of the Rothschild banking family and, after part of the estate was sold off for housing, the houses and surviving estates were acquired by local municipalities.

These days 185 acres, the park – jointly run by the Boroughs of Houslow and Ealing – is now open to the public and since 1929, the Grade II-listed house, Gunnersbury Park, has contained a museum dedicated to local history.

The area also lends its name to the Gunnersbury Triangle, a three hectare nature reserve which was saved from development in the early 1980s.

Gunnersbury previously had its own Church of England parish church – built in 1886, St James’s was located on Chiswick High Road until it was demolished in the late 1980s (another church, Gunnersbury Baptist Church stands in Wellesley Road and a Russian Orthodox Cathedral stands on Harvard Road).

There is also a Gunnersbury Tube station which offers a link to both the Underground and Overground. Located on the District Line, it sits under the 18 story high British Standards Institution building.

PICTURE: The large mansion in Gunnersbury Park in 2006 (Lancey/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

LondonLife – “Secret” door rediscovered in the Houses of Parliament…

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)

 

This Week in London – Britain’s Baroque culture; a celebration of orchids and Indonesia; and, London’s “hidden” Underground…

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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What’s in a name?…Blackheath…


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)