December 23, 2016
The painting, made in 1568, is the most faithful only six surviving images of the palace which was located in Cheam, Surrey. The fanciful building was commissioned by the king in 1538 and featured a facade decorated with elaborate plasterwork in Franco-Italianate style with the aim of rivalling the Fontainebleau residence of French King Francois I.
One of the most important buildings of the English Renaissance period, it was unfinished when the king died in 1547 and was subsequently purchased from Queen Mary I by Henry Fitzalan, 12th Earl of Arundel, in 1557 – it was he who finished the building and most likely commissioned the Antwerp-born Hoefnagel to paint it. Later acquired by Queen Elizabeth I, it became one of her favourite residences and was eventually demolished by King Charles II’s mistress, the Duchess of Cleveland, between 1682 and 1688 to pay off gambling debts.
Nonsuch Palace from the South, which is the first major work of Hoefnagel to enter the collection, can be seen in the museum’s British Galleries in South Kensington. Entry is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.
PICTURE: Nonsuch Palace from the South, Joris Hoefnagel, 1558, Watercolour © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
September 26, 2016
Sir Thomas Bludworth (also spelt Bloodworth) is usually only remembered as the man who had the unfortunate job of being Lord Mayor of London when the Great Fire broke out in 1666. So, given the fire’s 350th anniversary this month, we thought it timely to take a more in-depth look at his life and career.
Bludworth was born in London in February, in about 1620, the second surviving son of John Bludworth, master of the Vintner’s Company and a wealthy merchant. Trained to succeed his father – his elder brother having joined the clergy, Bludworth was himself admitted to the Vintner’s Company in the 1640s and joined the Levant Company in 1648.
First elected an alderman in 1658, he was discharged when he refused to serve as a sheriff and the following year served as the master of the Vintner’s Company. In 1660, he was briefly arrested along with 10 other members of City of London’s common council after the body refused to pay taxes until a representative parliament was convened.
Elected MP for Southwark later that year, Bludworth among city and parliamentary representatives who sailed to The Netherlands to attend the king, Charles II, in exile, and invite him to return to England. It was while attending the king in The Hague that he was knighted. Re-elected in 1661, he was an active parliamentarian who served in numerous different capacities.
Sir Thomas was twice married and had a number of children including a formidable daughter Anne who eventually married the historically unpopular George Jeffreys, (later King James II’s Lord Chief Justice and Lord Chancellor).
In mid-1662, he was once again made a City of London alderman and appointed one of two sheriffs for the following year. He became Lord Mayor of London in November, 1665, but apparently there was no pageant as was customary due to the plague.
During his year in the office – “the severest year any man had” – he faced both the plague and the Great Fire and his reputation has been largely formed out of his response to the latter thanks in large part his alleged response when woken and told of the fire as being: “Pish, a woman might piss it out!”.
Bludworth was heavily criticised at the time and over the years since his reaction to the fire – including not pulling down homes to create a firebreak and thus prevent the spread of the fire, but it should be noted that had he done so before he had received the king’s permission, he would have found himself personally liable.
Diarist Samuel Pepys’ who, following two encounters in the months before the fire had already described Bludworth as “mean man of understanding and despatch of any public business”, recorded that when he finally brought a message from the king ordering the creation of a firebreak, Sir Thomas seemed like “a man spent”.
“To the King’s message (to create a firebreak by pulling down houses), he cried, like a fainting woman, ‘Lord, what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses, but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it’.”
Another eyewitness describes him as looking like he was “frighted out of his wits” during the fire.
Sir Thomas’ own property at Gracechurch Street was among the casualties of the fire but he later built a new mansion in Maiden Lane.
He continued to serve as an MP after the fire and was, perhaps ironically, appointed to a committee working on a bill to provide “utensils” for the “speedy quenching of fire”. In the mid-1670s, he become one of the governing members of the Royal African Company.
Sir Thomas died on 12th May, 1682, aged around 60. He was apparently buried in Leatherhead.
September 17, 2016
Sure, it’s quite obvious that this well-known thoroughfare through Chelsea and Fulham in west London was named for a king but which king and why?
Access was granted only to those whom the monarch permitted – initially via ticket and from the 1720s via a copper pass stamped with the king’s monogram. Entry was controlled by a series of gates located along its length.
King George III was also known to use the route to travel to his palace at Kew and it was only in 1830 that it was finally opened to the public.
The road, which now runs west from Sloane Square for two miles through Chelsea, transforming into the New King’s Road after entering Fulham, is now known for its shopping (not to mention the site of the UK’s first Starbucks in 1999) although in the 1960s and 1970s it served as something of a hub for London’s counter-culture.
The road has been associated with many famous figures over the years – the king aside. Composer Thomas Arne lived at number 215 and apparently composed Rule Britannia while he did, actress Ellen Terry lived in the same property from 1904-1920 and bon vivant Peter Ustinov after her.
Other famous associations include one with Mary Quant, who opened her ground-breaking boutique Bazaar at number 138a in 1955 and Thomas Crapper, toilet entrepreneur, who had a premises at number 120.
August 15, 2016
It’s the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London ands we thought we’d take a quick look at what happened in the aftermath.
With much of the city razed in the four day fire of early September, 1666, attention quickly turned to the rebuilding of the City and within just a few days, proposals began coming in for the recreation – and transformation – of London.
Christopher Wren, John Evelyn and Robert Hooke were among those who put forward new designs for the city along with the likes of one Richard Newcourt, whose proposed rigid grid featuring churches set in squares wasn’t adopted for London but was eventually for the streets of Philadelphia in what is now the United States of America.
None of these plans – Wren’s vision had apparently been inspired by the Gardens of Versailles while Evelyn’s was an Italianate city with wide piazzas – were eventually adopted, however, thanks largely to the difficulty in working out who owned which properties in the city (people had more on their mind, such as survival perhaps).
In October, 1666, King Charles II – who had encouraged many of those left homeless to move out of the City out of fears that a rebellion was in the offing – joined with the City authorities in appointing six commissioners to regulate the rebuilding (a key factor in which was the mandatory use of brick in place of wood).
Their actions were supported by a couple of parliamentary acts – drawn up to regulate the rebuilding and allow for the opening and widening of roads, among other things – and the establishment of specially convened Fire Courts to deal with property disputes (owners had to clear roadways of debris and establish their rights of ownership before they could start reconstruction).
Rebuilding was, not surprisingly, to take years – after all, almost 400 acres had been burned within the City walls and 63 acres outside them with more than 80 churches, 44 livery halls and more than 13,000 houses among the casualties. And it was patchy with new buildings standing alongside empty blocks awaiting reconstruction.
Construction of the many grand public buildings destroyed in the fire, such as St Paul’s Cathedral, would also take years (the cathedral, Wren’s Baroque masterpiece, wasn’t completed until 1711).
PICTURE: The Monument, which commemorates the Great Fire of London, is among the works of Sir Christopher Wren (for more on the Monument, see our earlier post here).
May 31, 2016
A view down Constitution Hill looking toward Whitehall, taken from the top of Wellington Arch at Hyde Park corner. To the left is Green Park and to the right, the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Constitutional Hill apparently has nothing to do with a document of any sort but takes its name from the fact that, considered to be a fine “constitutional” walk from St James’s Park to Hyde Park (King Charles II is rumoured to have been among those said to have taken their “constitutional” along this route while Queen Victoria survived a couple of assassination attempts on the road). The pillars at the near end are symbolic gates commemorating those who served Britain in World War I and II from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and the Caribbean (more on them in an upcoming post).
May 16, 2016
This West End district, located between Bloomsbury, Marylebone and Soho, probably owes its name to the Fitzroy Tavern, a public house which in turn is believed to owe its name to the Dukes of Grafton, whose family name was Fitzroy.
The Fitzroys (the name derives from a Norman-French phrase and was typically associated with base-born royal sons), owned land in the area until the end of the 1800s.
The family first become associated with the area after the Manor of Tottenham (more on that name in an upcoming post) came into the possession of Henry Fitzroy, an illegitimate son of King Charles II who became the Earl of Euston and later Duke of Grafton.
Incidentally, the grand Fitzroy Square, developed by the duke’s grandson, and Fitzroy Street are both also named after the family as are numerous other locations in the area including Grafton Street.
Fashionable as a residential area in the 1700s, the houses were gradually transformed into workshops – the area was noted for furniture-makers in particular – or cheap tenements and it’s during this period in the early 1800s that artists like John Constable were living in the area.
The name Fitzrovia apparently became popularised for the district which in the inter-war years, due to the community of artists and writers that met at the pub; it is said to have first appeared in print in the 1940s. Among those who were associated with the area during this period were the likes of writers Dylan Thomas and George Orwell and artists like Roger Fry and Augustus John.
More recently the area has become home to numerous media companies, particularly TV-related companies, and still hosts ample pubs, restaurants and cafes.
Notable buildings in the area include the BT Tower, a communications tower completed in 1964 which was until 1980, the tallest building not only in London but in the UK (and from where panoramic views could once be had – sadly it’s been long closed to the public).
Fitzrovia is also home to the quirky Pollock’s Toy Museum.
PICTURE: David Castor (caster)/Wikipedia
An official public record of the British Government, The London Gazette, initially known as The Oxford Gazette, was first published on 7th November, 1665.
But its publication didn’t take place in London – rather it was in Oxford (hence its being initially named – The Oxford Gazette) where King Charles II, having fled London due to the plague, ordered the publication to be printed at the University Press.
There’s several reasons behind its publication – one is that courtiers were apparently so worried about the plaque they didn’t even want to touch newspapers from London for fears of contagion of the plaque. But there was also a need, amid the swirl of rumours, gossip and sensationalism found in other publications, for a reputable publication of record (not the least because the introduction of censorship a few years before had suppressed other publications).
Published for the first couple of months under its Oxford masthead, it wasn’t until the following year – on 5th February, 1666 – that the gazette was first published in London (issue 24) after the royal court’s return.
The gazette had unparalleled access to government information – including reports from foreign embassies about what was happening abroad (important when news from overseas was limited), and official reports, including those ‘Mentioned in despatches’ from the War Office and Ministry of Defence.
Adopting the same model, official government gazettes followed in the coming years in Edinburgh (1699) and Dublin (1706 – later The Belfast Gazette). All three, from 1889, were published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. Today, The Gazette is published by The Stationary Office (TSO), on behalf of The National Archives (and is now online as well as in print).
Initially published only a couple of days a week, it is now published every weekday except on Bank Holidays.
Notable events published in The London Gazette include the Great Fire of London in 1665 (issue 85), the founding of the Bank of England in 1694 (issue 2982), the burial of Sir Isaac Newton in 1727 (issue 6569), the announcement of the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 (issue 11690), the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo in a “Gazette Extraordinary” in 1815 (issue 17028), and the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 (Supplement 40020).
You can see The London Gazette today and back issues as well as to order commemorative editions, head to www.thegazette.co.uk.
September 14, 2015
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the building of Hampton Court Palace in Greater London’s south-west. We speak to Sheila Dunsmore, a State Apartment warder at Hampton Court Palace (pictured above in centre on the left)…
1. It’s Hampton Court Palace’s 500th anniversary – who first built the palace and why? “In 1514, Thomas Wolsey came to survey the land at Hampton Court. He wanted to find a suitable place to build a sumptuous country retreat away from the dirt of London, but close enough to the capital to travel back for meetings. It was also to be a place to entertain the important company his position as Archbishop of York provided, of which none were more important than young King Henry VIII.”
2. Where are the oldest parts of the palace today? “The oldest part of the palace is the Tudor kitchens, more specifically the area were the great fire is. This was once part of Sir Giles Daubeney’s original kitchen, and dates back to the manor already on the site when it was acquired by Wolsey. Sir Giles Daubeney was Lord Chamberlain to Henry VII, and acquired an 80 year lease on the property from the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, the then owners. The bell in the tower above the astronomical clock is also said to have come from the Knights Hospitallers’ original manor house.”
3. Hampton Court’s 500 years of history spans a number of definable eras – from Tudor to the 21st century. Which is your favourite and why? “My favourite era is the 1660s when Charles II came back to England to take up his rightful place as king. Although visitors do not really associate Charles with the palace, he did spend time here, most famously his honeymoon!”
4. With this in mind what is your favourite part of the palace? “I love the west front façade – it just looks so imposing and mysterious. Whether you are driving or walking past it it’s guaranteed to draw you in under its spell!”
5. Do you have a favourite anecdote from the palace’s history? “I love the story of Horace Beauchamp Seymour, a dashing military hero who had fought at the Battle of Waterloo. He came to live at the palace in 1827 and, as a handsome eligible widower, he caused quite a sensation amongst the ladies, especially when he joined the Sunday services at the Chapel Royal. It was not long before a series of fainting episodes began, with the strategically placed young lady fainting into the arms of the dashing Horace, who then proceeded to carry the lady out and stay with her until she regained her composure. After a third successive Sunday of fainting’s, the epidemic was brought to a swift halt by the aunt of Mr Seymour, herself also a palace resident. The feisty old lady pinned a sign to the chapel door warning any lady feeling faint that forthcoming Sunday that Bransome the dustbin man would be carrying her out. Needless to say the fainting ceased!”
6. A complex of buildings dating back as far as 500 years obviously requires considerable upkeep. What are the greatest challenges with regard to maintaining the palace? “I think the biggest challenge would have to be generating the money to keep restoring and conserving this historic palace. To do this we have to keep making sure that people want to visit, from international tour groups to local families who might visit again and again. To do this teams right across the palace work to create exciting exhibitions, immersive events and guided tours to ensure we’re offering people a memorable experience.”
7. Are there any areas of the palace which remain unseen by the public? And any plans to open further areas up? “The palace contains over 1,000 rooms, and visitors get to discover about a quarter of these during their visit. Some years ago we held a Servants, Soldiers and Suffragettes exhibition in a suite of rooms on the top floor of Fountain Court (previously unseen). It was incredibly popular so I’d imagine that in the future we’d look for other such opportunities to share other areas of the palace with our visitors. For anyone that can’t wait that long, on one night of the year (Halloween no less), our adults-only ghost tour offers the chance to peek behind the scenes and explore some areas of the palace off the beaten track!”
8. Are there any ‘secrets’ about the palace you can reveal to us? “A palace as old and as large as Hampton Court holds its fair share of secrets…When the fire took hold in 1986 it was devastating, but in a strange twist of fate some good came from it as well. As restoration of the damaged interiors took place little secrets were revealed to us; behind wood panelling in King William’s damaged rooms hand prints were found in the plaster from the palace’s builders, and sketches were found from the architects with designs for the rooms, all worked directly onto the bare walls. Most exciting of all, however, was the object found downstairs. During work to return King William’s private dining room (which had lost its original look over the years and been used as a function room for the grace and favour residents) to its former glory, a gun was found behind some wooden panelling. The gun dated from the late 1800s, and had a regimental dinner menu was wrapped around it. This is so intriguing – what was the story behind this gun? Who did it belong to? Why did they hide the weapon?”
9. If someone has just one day to visit the palace, what’s your ideal itinerary? “This is a tricky one, and depends very much on the individual…and the weather! I would say on a sunny day start by enjoying a historic welcome with our costumed interpreters, which really helps to set the scene. If it’s a bit chilly pick up a cloak to wear – you can choose between dressing as a Tudor or Georgian courtier. Heading inside, I’d start in the Tudor State Apartments to discover the rich opulence of Henry VIII’s Hampton Court, then visit the recently opened Cumberland Art Gallery, which contains masterpieces by Rembrandt, Canaletto and Van Dyck. Next I’d take in the baroque splendour of the Queen’s State Apartments, then explore the maze, East Front Garden and Privy Garden (weather permitting!). After a spot of lunch I’d suggest visiting the Mantegna Gallery, then the Young Henry exhibition which explores the life of the young Henry VIII, before finishing the day in King William III’s apartments.”
10. Finally, Historic Royal Palaces has already commemorated the 500th anniversary in numerous ways – from a spectacular fireworks display to a jousting tournament. Are there any more events coming up? “The beginning of September saw our costumed interpreters back with their own inimitable brand of entertainment, while at the end of September we’re hosting a sleepover inside the palace! As the evenings draw in, our popular ghost tours return for the winter season. Even further ahead we’ve got a series of carol evenings and even an ice rink for our visitors to enjoy!”
WHERE: Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey (nearest station is Hampton Court from Waterloo); WHEN: 10am to 6pm until 24th October after which it’s open to 4.30pm); COST: Adult £19.30, Concession £16, Child under 16 £9.70 (under fives free), family tickets, garden only tickets and online booking discounts available; WEBSITE:www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/.
August 24, 2015
Best known as the “Hanging Judge” thanks to his role in the so-called Bloody Assizes of 1685, George Jeffreys climbed the heights of England’s legal profession before his ignominious downfall.
Born on 15th May, 1645, at the family home of Acton Hall in Wrexham, North Wales, Jeffreys was the sixth son in a prominent local family. In his early 20s, having been educated in Shrewsbury, Cambridge and London, he embarked on a legal career in the latter location and was admitted to the bar in 1668.
In 1671, he was made a Common Serjeant of London, and despite having his eye on the more senior role of Recorder of London, was passed over. But his star had certainly risen and, despite his Protestant faith, he was a few years later appointed to the position of solicitor general to James, brother of King Charles II and the Catholic Duke of York (later King James II), in 1677.
The same year he was knighted and became Recorder of London, a position he had long sought, the following year. Following revelations of the so-called the Popish Plot in 1678 – said to have been a Catholic plot aimed the overthrow of the government, Jeffreys – who was fast gaining a reputation for rudeness and the bullying of defendants – served as a prosecutor or judge in many of the trials and those implicated by what turned out to be the fabricated evidence of Titus Oates (Jeffreys later secured the conviction of Oates for perjury resulting in his flogging and imprisonment).
Having successfully fought against the Exclusion Bill aimed at preventing James from inheriting the throne, in 1681 King Charles II created him a baronet. In 1683 he was made Lord Chief Justice and a member of the Privy Council. Among cases he presided over was that of Algernon Sidney, implicated in the Rye House Plot to assassinate the king and his brother (he had earlier led the prosecution against Lord William Russell over the same plot). Both were executed.
It was following the accession of King James II in February, 1685, that Jeffreys earned the evil reputation that was to ensure his infamy. Following the failed attempt by James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth and illegitimate son of the late King Charles II, to overthrow King James II, Jeffreys was sent to conduct the trials of the captured rebels in West Country towns including Taunton, Wells and Dorchester – the ‘Bloody Assizes’.
Of the almost 1,400 people found guilty of treason in the trials, it’s estimated that between 150 and 200 people were executed and hundreds more sent into slavery in the colonies. Jeffreys’, meanwhile, was busy profiting financially by extorting money from the accused.
By now known for his corruption and brutality, that same year he was elevated to the peerage as Baron Jeffreys of Wem and named Lord Chancellor as well as president of the ecclesiastical commission charged with implementing James’ unpopular pro-Catholic religious policies.
His fall was to come only a couple of years later during Glorious Revolution which saw King James II overthrown by his niece, Mary, and her husband William of Orange (who become the joint monarchs Queen Mary II and King William III).
Offered the throne by a coalition of influential figures who feared the creation of a Catholic dynasty following the birth of King James II’s son, James Francis Edward Stuart, William and Mary arrived in England with a large invasion force. King James II’s rule collapsed and he eventually fled the country.
Remaining in London after the king had fled, Lord Jeffreys only attempted to flee as William’s forced approached the city. He made it as far as Wapping where, despite being disguised as a sailor, he was recognised in a pub, now The Town of Ramsgate (pictured above).
Placed in custody in the Tower of London, he died there of kidney problems on 18th April, 1689, and was buried in the Chapel Royal of Saint Peter ad Vincula (before, in 1692, his body was moved to the Church of St Mary Aldermanbury). All traces of his tomb were destroyed when the church was bombed during the Blitz (for more on the church, see our earlier post here).
August 3, 2015
The plague, which was apparently also known as the Poor’s Plague, is said to have broken out in early 1665 – perhaps February – with the first areas to be affected dockside districts and the crowded slum of St Giles in the Fields before it moved into the City proper. There are claims that the outbreak’s origins occurred a couple of months earlier at a property in Drury Lane where contaminated bales of goods imported from Holland were opened by Flemish weavers.
However it came to be in London, it soon spread and by July was running rampant with many of the nobility, merchants, and tradesmen choosing to flee the city in the hope of escaping its reach. They included King Charles II and his family and court who moved to Hampton Court in early July and then to Salisbury at the start of August before, following some cases there, to Oxford in September.
Those who did come down with the disease – generally thought to have been bubonic plague, a disease of rats which is transmitted to humans via fleas – were confined to their homes with red crosses and the words ‘Lord, have mercy on us’ painted on the door while gatherings in public – such as for the theatre – were banned to prevent the disease’s spread.
Other measures to contain the disease included the imposition of a curfew and the killing of an estimated 40,000 dogs and 200,000 cats, thought to be spreaders of the disease, on the orders of the mayor, Sir John Lawrence.
Bills of mortality recorded the number of deaths weekly – in the week of 19th to 26th September, the number peaked at 7,165 people before declining. By late in the year life in the capital had started returning to normal.
While the bodies were buried in mass graves, by September the growing numbers of dead meant many were simply left to rot where they fell.
The estimated numbers of those who died varies somewhat depending on the source but according to the Museum of London’s website, the Great Plague of 1665 is estimated to have killed 100,000 people – about a fifth of the population – within just seven months of its outbreak.
While the sheer number of dead is unprecedented, other plagues were proportionally deadlier, in particular the coming of the Black Death in 1348 which killed about half of all Londoners over an 18 month period (equating to an estimated 40,000 people).
The Great Plague was, thankfully, the last major plague to affect London. Among those who had survived was the diarist Samuel Pepys whose entries provide a valuable source of information on how the plague affected Londoners (pictured above is detail from the gateway into the church of St Olave Hart Street – Pepys’ parish church at the time of the plague – where a number of victims of the Great Plague were buried).
A short-lived addition to Old St Paul’s Cathedral before it burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, the classical-style portico was designed by Inigo Jones as part of makeover King James I ordered him to give the cathedral in the first half of the 17th century.
St Paul’s, which was completed in the early 14th century in the Early English Gothic style (see our post here for more on its earlier history), had fallen into a state of disrepair by the 1620s, thanks in part to a fire caused by lightning which had brought the spire – 489 feet (149 metres) high when built – crashing down through the nave roof in 1561.
The spire wasn’t rebuilt and repair works undertaken to the cathedral roof were apparently shoddy, meaning that by the early 1600s, things were in a parlous state.
Jones started work in the 1620s, cleaning and repairing the massive structure and adding a layer of limestone masonry over the exterior to give the building a more classical look inspired by the temples of ancient Rome he had seen in that city and in Naples and the work of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio.
This was complemented by the grand portico he added to the west front in the 1630s (and which was paid for by King James’ son, King Charles I). Featuring 10 columns across its breadth and four deep (these, it has been suggested, stood about 45 feet tall), it was topped by a frieze of lions’ heads and foliage with plans for a series of statues which some say were to be saints and others kings to be placed along the top (in the end only statues of King Charles I and King James I were ever placed there). The facade also featured turrets at either side.
Work on the repairs came to a halt in 1642 thanks to the Civil War, during which Parliamentarian forces famously used the cathedral’s great nave for stables.
Following the Restoration in 1660, with Jones now dead (he died in 1652), Sir Christopher Wren was invited by King Charles II to restore the grand old building but Sir Christopher proposed it be demolished instead, a decision which lead to an outcry among London’s citizens.
Wren then changed his plans to instead restore the existing build but replace the spire with a dome. His scaffolding was in place around the cathedral when the Great Fire broke out in 1666 and badly damaged the building (although the portico apparently remained standing until 1687-88 when Sir Christopher had it demolished to make way for his new western front).
Interestingly, it is said Wren used blocks from the portico to create the foundations for the building which now stands on the site.
PICTURE: Wenceslaus Hollar’s rendering of Inigo Jones’ West Portico/Wikipedia
For more on the history of St Paul’s Cathedral see Ann Saunders’ St Paul’s Cathedral: 1,400 Years at the Heart of London.
April 27, 2015
One of the most famous streets (and photographed) in London (though sadly not open to the public), Downing Street in Whitehall is these days most well-known for being the location, at Number 10, of the official residence of the British Prime Minister.
But Downing Street’s history dates back to a time before the first British PM moved in (this was Sir Robert Walpole in the 1735 and even after that, it didn’t become a regular thing for Prime Ministers to live here until the Twentieth century). And its name bears testimony to its creator, Sir George Downing, a soldier and diplomat described as “a miserly and at times brutal” man who served first under both Oliver Cromwell and, following the Restoration, King Charles II (and was, coincidentally, one of the first graduates of Harvard University).
In the 1650s, Sir George took over the Crown’s interest in land here, just east of St James’s Park, and intended to build a row of townhouses upon it. His ambitions were delayed, however, due to an existing lease with the descendants of Elizabethan courtier Sir Thomas Knyvet who had once lived in a large home on the site of what is now Number 10 Downing Street.
By the 1680s, however, the lease had expired and between 1682-84, Downing was able to construct a cul-de-sac, closed at the St James’s Park end, featuring either 15 or 20 two storey terraced townhouses with stables and coach-houses, designed by no less than Sir Christopher Wren.
While the homes were apparently of shoddy craftsmanship and stood upon poor foundations (Churchill famously wrote that Number 10 was “shaky and lightly built by the profiteering contractor whose name they bear”), the street apparently attracted some notable residents from the start.
These included the Countess of Yarmouth, who briefly lived at Number 10 in the late 1680s, Lord Lansdowne and the Earl of Grantham, and even, briefly, apparently the diarist James Boswell in the mid 1700s. Downing himself isn’t thought to have ever lived here – he retired to Cambridge a few months after the houses were completed.
The houses between Number 10 and Whitehall – on the north side of the street – were taken over by the government and eventually demolished in the 1820s to allow for the construction of offices for the Privy Council, Board of Trade and Treasury while the houses on the south side remained until they were demolished in the early 1860s to make way for the Foreign, India, Colonial and Home Offices.
The numbers in the street have changed since Downing’s houses were first built. Of the original homes in the street only Number 10 (home of the PM) and Number 11 (home of the Chancellor of the Exchequer) survive.
Access to the street has been restricted since the 1980s with the current black steel gates put in place in 1989.
An underground tunnel apparently runs under the street connecting number 10 with Buckingham Palace and the underground bunker, Q-Whitehall, built in the 1950s in the event of nuclear war.
This Week in London – Charles I’s overlooked artist; St George’s Day in Trafalgar Square; Indigenous Australia; prints from the Royal Collection on show; and, ‘What is Luxury’ at the V&A…
April 23, 2015
• The first ever display of works of overlooked 17th century artist Cornelius Johnson, court painter to Charles I, has opened at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square. Cornelius Johnson: Charles I’s Forgotten Painter features rarely viewed portraits of the king’s children including the future Charles II, James II and Mary (later Princess of Orange-Nassau) as well as a painting of Mary’s son William – all of which have been taken from the gallery’s collection. Overshadowed by Sir Anthony van Dyck, Johnson – who emigrated to The Netherlands when the English Civil War broke out – has been largely ignored by art historians despite the breadth of his work – from group portraits, such as his largest surviving English painting, The Capel Family, to tiny miniatures – and the fact that he is thought to be the first English-born artist who took to signing date his paintings as a matter of course, something he is believed to have picked up during his training in The Netherlands. The display features eight painted portraits and six prints from the gallery’s collection as well as three paintings from the Tate. Runs until 13th September in Room 6. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: King Charles II by Cornelius Johnson , 1639. © National Portrait Gallery, London.
• Trafalgar Square will be at the centre of London’s St George’s Day celebrations on Saturday with live music, celebrity chefs, a masterclass by leading tea experts and children’s games and activities. The musical lineup will feature the band from the West End musical Let It Be and the Crystal Palace Brass Band – one of the few traditional brass bands remaining in London. The free event runs between noon and 6pm on Saturday. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/stgeorges.
• Indigenous Australia, the first major exhibition in the UK to present a history of Indigenous Australia through objects, opens at the British Museum today. Drawing on the museum’s collection, Indigenous Australia features objects including a shield believed to have been collected in Botany Bay on Captain Cook’s voyage of 1770, a protest placard from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy established in 1972 and contemporary paintings and specially commissioned artworks from leading indigenous artists. Many of the objects have never been on display before. Runs until 2nd August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• Thirty prints from the Royal Collection will be on show at The London Original Print Fair to mark its 30th anniversary. The fair runs at the Royal Academy from today until Sunday and among the selected works from the more than 100,000 prints in the Royal Collection are the 2.3 metre long woodcut by Albrecht Durer entitled Triumphal Cart of the Emperor Maximillian (1523), Wenceslaus Hollar’s four etchings of tropical Seashells (c1650), a sequence of proofs of Samuel Reynolds’ portrait of King George III at the end of the monarch’s life, and lithographs produced by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert dating from 1842. For more on the fair, see www.londonprintfair.com. For more on the Royal Collection, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.
• The question of what is meant by the concept of luxury is under examination in the V&A’s new exhibition What is Luxury? Opening at the South Kensington museum Saturday, the exhibition will feature a range of luxury objects – from the George Daniels’ Space Travellers’ Watch to a Hermés Talaris saddle, and Nora Fok’s Bubble Bath necklace. Also on show in a section of the exhibit looking at what could determine future ideas of luxury is American artist Gabriel Barcia-Colombo’s DNA Vending Machine (complete with prepackaged DNA samples) and Henrik Nieratschker’s installation The Botham Legacy which tells the fictional story of a British billionaire who sends altered bacteria into space in an attempt to find valuable metals on distant plants. Runs until 27th September. Admission charge applies. See www.vam.ac.uk/whatisluxury.
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London has been making headlines around the world recently thanks, in part, to the estimated £200 million heist which took place in Hatton Garden last week. So we thought it was a good time to take a look back to one of London’s most famous robberies (or attempts at least)…
The attempt dates back to 1671 when a self-styled colonel, Irish adventurer Thomas Blood, made an attempt to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.
The Irishman – whose history included fighting on both sides in the English Civil War, first with the Royalists and then with the Parliamentarians when he saw the tide was turning – visited the Tower of London several times in the lead-up to the attempt as he, disguised as a parson, cultivated a relationship with Talbot Edwards, an elderly keeper of the jewels, and his family.
On the night of 9th May, he and a group of accomplices, including his son, attended a dinner put on by the Edwards at the Tower. While waiting for the meal, Blood asked to see the jewels which were housed behind a grille in the basement of the Martin Tower (pictured above) above which the Edwards had an apartment.
Edwards complied and once in the Jewel House, Blood and his accomplices attacked him, knocking him to the floor with a mallet and then stabbing him before binding and gagging him.
They then turned their attention to the jewels – Blood used a mallet to flatten St Edwards Crown so he could hide it beneath his coat while his brother-in-law Hunt filed the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross in two to fit it in his bag and a third man, Robert Perot, stuffed the Sovereign’s Orb down his trousers.
Things didn’t go smoothly after that and the alarm was raised before the gang could make their getaway. It has been suggested it was Edwards who raised the alarm – that despite efforts to shut him up he managed to remove his gag and raise the alarm – but other versions say it was his son, returning from service in Flanders, who raised the alarm on seeing the gang.
In any event, the gang fled, evading efforts of the warders to stop them, before Blood, Hunt and Perot were captured on the Tower of London wharf. The crown, globe and orb were all recovered, albeit damaged.
Blood refused to speak after his capture and was eventually taken before King Charles II for interrogation. But he was evidently so impressed with his captive that he not only pardoned Blood but also rewarded him with land in Ireland.
Blood did later end up briefly in prison after a dispute with the Duke of Buckingham and died soon after his release in August, 1680, but in the intervening years he had become something of a celebrity around London including the Royal Court.
Security around the Crown Jewels, meanwhile, was upgraded somewhat in the wake of the attempt. While others have tried to steal them, none have ever been successful.
WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station is Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Saturday and Monday (last admission 5pm); COST: £24.50 an adult/£11 a child (5-15 years)/£18.70 concession/£60.70 a family of four (discount applies to online bookings); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/.
February 20, 2015
Having previously looked at the Norman fortification (razed by King John in 1213 – see our earlier post here), this time we’re taking a look at the later (medieval) fortification known as Baynard’s Castle.
In the 1300s, a mansion was constructed about 100 metres east of where the castle had originally stood on a riverfront site which had been reclaimed from the Thames. This was apparently destroyed by fire before being rebuilt in the 1420s and it became the seat of the House of York during the Wars of the Roses. King Edward IV was proclaimed king here in 1461 and King Richard III was offered the crown here in 1483 (a moment famously captured by William Shakespeare).
King Henry VII transformed the fortified mansion into a royal palace at the start of the 16th century – adding a series of towers – and his son, King Henry VIII, gave it to the ill-fated Catherine of Aragon when they married. The Queen subsequently took up residence (Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves also resided here when queen – the latter was the last member of the royal family to use it as a permanent home).
After King Henry VIII’s death, the palace passed into the hands of the Earl of Pembroke (brother-in-law of Queen Catherine Parr, Henry’s surviving Queen) who substantially extended it, adding ranges around a second courtyard. In 1553, both Lady Jane Grey and Queen Mary I were proclaimed queen here. Queen Elizabeth I was another royal visitor to the palace, entertained with a fireworks display when she did.
It was left untouched during the Civil War (the Pembrokes were Parliamentarians) but following the Restoration, it was occupied by the Royalist Earl of Shrewsbury (among his visitors was King Charles II). It wasn’t to be for long however – the palace was largely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, although remnants of the building, including one or two of the towers, continued to be used for various purposes until the site was finally cleared in the 1800s to make way for warehouses.
The site in Queen Victoria Street in Blackfriars (the area is named for the monastery built on the site of the Norman castle) is now occupied by the Brutalist building named Baynard House. The castle is also commemorated in Castle Baynard Street and Castle Baynard Ward.
It was discovered in archaeological excavations in the 197os that the castle’s waterfront wall had been built on top of the Roman riverside city wall.
PICTURE: © Copyright Andrew Abbott
January 19, 2015
This Covent Garden pub in London’s West End is named after Nell Gwyn, the 17th century orange seller turned actress who became most famous for being the mistress of King Charles II (for more on Nell, see our earlier post here)
‘The Nell’, as its known, is one of the area’s oldest pubs – a sign says there has apparently been a pub on the site since before 1660 when the Theatre Royal Drury Lane – located opposite – was built.
There’s supposedly an underground tunnel that connects the theatre and the pub which is said to have been used by the king when he was visiting Nell (we’re not sure if it was Nell or the king who was in the pub). It was also apparently used by other theatre-goers who were warned to return to the theatre when intermission was over by a bell located inside the pub.
Now located at 29 Catherine Street pub (the street was formerly known as Brydges Street – we’ll deal with its renaming in an upcoming post), was apparently originally called The Lamb and then renamed the Sir John Falstaff in the nineteenth century, during which period it hosted exhibitions featuring a tattooed man from the South Seas and a Zulu warrior woman, before assuming its current moniker.
The pub was also apparently a regular for many prominent literary and theatrical figures, not to mention market traders from nearby Covent Garden. The exterior of the pub appears in the Alfred Hitchcock film, Frenzy.
For more on the pub, see www.nellofolddrury.com.
This Week in London – New gallery at Hampton Court; Northwest Passage explorers remembered; and, celebrating Churchill’s birthday…
November 20, 2014
• A new gallery opens today in the restored Cumberland Suite at Hampton Court Palace. The Gothic Revival suite of rooms, designed by William Kent for William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and the youngest son of King George II, were the last major royal commission ever undertaken at the palace. They will now house a selection of the Royal Collection’s finest paintings including masterpieces by Holbein, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Bassano and Gainsborough. The restoration followed two years of research aimed at returning the rooms to a state which as closely as possible represents Kent’s original decorative scheme. One of the rooms – the duke’s large light closet – is being opened to the public for the first time in 25 years and will house 12 of Canaletto’s smaller Grand Canal views of Venice. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/.
• The exploration of the Northwest Passage is the subject of a new exhibition which has opened at the British Library in King’s Cross. Lines in the Ice: Seeking the Northwest Passage looks back over 400 years with exhibits including King Charles II’s personal atlas, 19th century woodcut illustrations and wooden maps made by Inuit communities, and artefacts related to three of the most eminent explorer to seek out the Northwest Passage – Martin Frobisher, Sir John Franklin and Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole. The exhibition has opened just weeks after the discovery of the HMS Erebus, one of Sir John Franklin’s lost ships. There’s a full programme of events to accompany the exhibition. Runs until 29th March. Admission is free. For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: The world we live in, c. 1958, on display in Lines in the Ice. Courtesy of British Library.
• Celebrate Winston Churchill’s birthday at a special after-hours event in the Churchill War Rooms in Whitehall next week. Advance booking is required to buy tickets for the event which will include a silent disco, drink tasting workshops and the chance to strike your best Churchill pose in a special photo booth. The event runs on the evening of 27th November. To book, head to www.iwm.org.uk/events/churchill-war-rooms/lates-at-churchill-war-rooms-churchill-s-birthday.
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October 13, 2014
He lends his name to one of London’s best small museums but who was the person behind the name the Geffrye Museum?
Details about his life are somewhat scant but it is generally believed Sir Robert Geffrye (among a number of variants of the spelling of his name) was born around 1613 in the village of Landrake near Saltash in Cornwall.
Moving to London while still just in his teens, he is believed to have undertaken a seven year apprenticeship, eventually admitted as a member of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers and freeman of the City of London.
It’s been suggested he was an ironmonger in name only but it seems to be the case that his new status gave him the opportunity to launch his career as a merchant and he apparently made a fortune from investing in African and East Indian trade.
Geffrye – who married Priscilla Cropley, a lawyer’s daughter, at the chapel in the Mercer’s Hall in Cheapside in 1651 and lived in Lime Street – was twice Master of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers (first in 1667 and then again in 1685).
He was knighted by King Charles II in 1673 (his coat-of-arms can still be seen in the Ironmonger’s Hall) and in 1674, he was appointed a sheriff of London before being elected Lord Mayor in 1685 (his wife Priscilla had died in 1676).
In 1688, Geffrye became president of Bridewell and Bethlehem Hospitals – a role which he held for two years and which apparently saw him attending Bridewell every Friday to judge and sentence prisoners.
He died in February 1704 and was buried in the now long-gone St Dionis Backchurch, where his wife had been buried earlier. Their remains were transferred to the almshouses grounds after the church was demolished in 1878.
Geffrye left behind a substantial fortune and, along with bequests to family, friends and charities, he made a sizeable bequest which funded the building of 14 almshouses in Shoreditch (now home to the Geffrye Museum which this year celebrates its tercentenary) (for more on the museum and alms houses, see our earlier posts here and here).
A replica of an original 1723 statue of Sir Robert still adorns the almshouses which bear his name (pictured above).
For more on the people that made London, see Boris Johnson’s Johnson’s Life of London: The People Who Made the City That Made the World.
July 28, 2014
No, the name of the famous Bond Street in Mayfair has nothing to do with James Bond. Rather, the street – in fact, two streets named Old and New Bond Street – takes its name from a 17th century courtier, Sir Thomas Bond.
Bond was the comptroller of the household of Queen Henrietta Maria, then the Queen Mother thanks to being the widow of King Charles I and the mother of King Charles II. He was also something of a land developer – the head of a consortium that purchased Albermarle House from Christopher Monck, the 2nd Duke of Albermarle, in 1683.
The house was promptly demolished and the area redeveloped with what is now Old Bond Street – which runs from Piccadilly to Burlington Gardens – laid out in 1686 and given Sir Thomas’ surname (he’d died the previous year).
The northern extension of Old Bond Street (which runs from Burlington Gardens to Oxford Street) – named New Bond Street – was developed in the 1720s. Caroline Taggart, in The Book of London Place Names, says it was residents of Old Bond Street who insisted on the use of ‘new’ in the name, no doubt to differentiate between themselves and the newcomers or, as Taggart suggests, ‘upstarts’.
Traditionally known as a location for art dealers (Sotheby’s auction house – identified by an ancient Egyptian bust of the goddess Sekhmet which sits on the facade – has stood there for more than a century), the street has become increasingly known for its luxury fashion and accessories retailers such as Asprey’s, Chanel, Cartier, Dolce & Gabbana, Bulgari and Tiffany & Co (see the Bond Street Association for more). Other landmark buildings in the street include the home of the Fine Art Society and the Royal Arcade.
Bond Street is also home to US sculptor’s Lawrence Holofcener’s work, Allies (pictured above), depicting former British PM Winston Churchill and US President Franklin D Roosevelt, and at the northern end stands the Bond Street Underground Station which opened in 1900.
Famous residents have included Admiral Horatio Nelson – who stayed at number 147 in 1797-98 while he recovered after losing his arm at Tenerife, eighteenth century satirist Jonathan Swift and politician William Pitt the Elder, as well as twentieth century spy Guy Burgess, who lived at Clifford Chambers before his defection to USSR.
Around Christmas, the street plays host to a rather special display of lights (pictured top).
Constructed on the site of the Duke of Somerset’s Tudor-era mansion, Somerset House as we know it today owes its origins to a national scheme aimed at creating public buildings in London which would rival those of Continental cities.
The campaign led to the passing of an Act of Parliament in 1775 for the construction of a new public building at Somerset House to house government agencies such as the Navy Office, Salt Office, Surveyor General of Lands, the King’s Bargemaster and the offices of the Duchy of Lancaster and Cornwall as well as various learned societies.
The former building – which had been worked on by the likes of Sir Christopher Wren and which had been used as a residence for the likes of King Charles II’s queen, Catherine of Braganza, following his death, had fallen into a state of considerable disrepair and was demolished in 1775.
William Robinson, secretary of the Office of Works, was initially given the job of designing the new building (much to the discontent of some) but after his sudden death the same year, the task was given to Sir William Chambers, comptroller of the Office of Works and one of England’s leading architects.
The basic design was as it appears today – four ranges built around a central court (now named the Edmond J Safra Fountain Court). The Strand Block, located to the north and the most highly decorated of the buildings inside and out, was built first and largely completed by 1780, the Embankment Building (home of the Navy Office) in 1786 and the east and west ranges two years later.
When Chambers died with the work unfinished in 1796, it was carried to completion by James Wyatt and declared complete in 1801, despite the fact elements of Chambers’ design were still outstanding. It had cost more than £460,000, in excess of three times Robinson’s original estimate.
One of the first new occupants – thanks to a decision by King George III – was the fledgling Royal Academy of Arts (it had been one of the last occupants of the former premises) and its focal point was the Great Exhibition Room where exhibitions were held until 1836. Others in the new building included The Royal Society (it remained until 1837 when, like the RA, it moved to Burlington House) and the Society of Antiquaries (it moved to Burlington House in 1874).
As well as being home to various offices of the Navy Board (the southern building, where it was housed, contains the stunning, now restored, Nelson stair), Somerset House was also home to the Inland Revenue.
New additions were made to the original design in the nineteenth century – the extension of the south block to the east and addition of a New Wing to the west – and the construction of the Victoria Embankment (see our earlier post here) meant the two watergates Chambers had designed became landlocked. Somerset House no longer rose directly from the water as he’d intended but from a roadway (as it does today – we’ve mentioned this before but you can see the original riverbank by looking through the glass floor of the building’s Embankment entrance).
Somerset House is these days home to a range of cultural and artistic organisations – from the British Fashion Council to the National Youth Orchestra and, in the north wing, the Courtauld Institute of Art. And as well as hosting various art installations, the central courtyard is host to an ice-skating rink over winter.
For more on Somerset House, see www.somersethouse.org.uk.