July 29, 2016
One of the achievements of the short-lived reign of King Edward VI, son of King Henry VIII, was the establishment of this hospital for orphans in 1552 in what were once buildings used by the Greyfriars Monastery (for more on the history of Greyfriars, see our earlier post here).
Located in Newgate Street, the hospital soon had a school attached which became known as the Blue Coat School thanks to the distinctive long blue coats the students wore (and still do, the school is now located near Horsham in West Sussex).
Many of the hospital buildings were destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666 but most were later rebuilt under the supervision of Sir Christopher Wren, although the actual work was apparently carried out by others.
Students at the school have included antiquarian William Camden, Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and writer Charles Lamb.
New buildings for girls were opened in Hertford in 1704 and the school moved out to Sussex in 1902 with the General Post Office built over the top of the demolished buildings.
May 23, 2016
The subject of a current exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians, Dr John Dee – mathematician, courtier, astrologist and ‘magician’ are just some of the tags he is labelled with – is one of the most enigmatic figures of Tudor England.
Born in London’s Tower ward in 1527, Dee was of Welsh descent and the son of Roland Dee, a mercer and courtier to King Henry VIII, and Johanna Wild. He attended school in Chelmsford and, at the age of 15 entered St John’s College, Cambridge, awarded a Bachelor of Arts in 1545 and a master’s degree in 1548. He was also a founding fellow of Trinity College when it was founded in 1546.
Dee travelled through Europe during the late 1540s and early 1550s, studying and lecturing at places including Louvain, Paris and Brussels. It was during this trip that he met mathematicians and cartographers like Gemma Frisius and Gerardus Mercator.
Back in England, Dee was appointed rector at Upton-upon-Severn (apparently on the recommendation of King Edward VI), and in 1555 was made a member of the Worshipful Company of Mercers. He had, meanwhile, turned down offers of professorships at both the Sorbonne in Paris and the University of Oxford, ostensibly because he had hopes of obtaining an official position at court.
It was perhaps in pursuit of this that he subsequently appeared at England’s Royal Court where he took on the role of teacher of the mathematical sciences while also serving as an astrologer to Queen Mary I and courtiers.
The latter role led to Dee’s arrest and imprisonment in 1555 on charges of being a ‘magus’ (magician) – he would go on to appear for questioning in the infamous Star Chamber – but he was eventually cleared of all charges.
In 1558, Dee became a scientific and medical advisor to Queen Elizabeth I and, by the mid-1560s, had established himself in the village of Mortlake (now in the south-west of Greater London) where he built a laboratory and gathered together what was the largest private library in the country at the time, said to have consisted of more than 4,000 books and manuscripts (and the subject of the current exhibition).
Dee was also associated with several English voyages of exploration for which he provided maps and navigational instruments, most famously Sir Martin Frobisher’s expedition to Canada in 1576-78.
He is also known for his strong views on natural philosophy and astrology and the occult, which included the idea that mathematics had a special, supernatural power to reveal divine mysteries. Some of his occult-related ideas were explored in his 1564 text Monas hieroglyphics – one of numerous works he authored – but his most influential work is said to have been a preface he wrote to an English translation of Euclid’s Elements published in 1570 in which he argued for the central role of mathematics.
Dee is said to have married three times – the first in the mid-1560s and, following the deaths of his previous two wives, the last time in 1578 when he was wedded to Jane Fromond, who was less than half his age and who had been a lady-in-waiting to the Countess of Lincoln. She bore him some eight children (although there are questions over the paternity of at least one) and died in 1604 of the plaque.
By the 1580s, having failed to win the influence he hoped to have at court and wanting to further his explorations into the supernatural (in particular, communication with ‘angels’ through occult practice of crystal-gazing), he travelled to Europe with a convicted counterfeiter and medium Edward Kelley to Europe.
Returning to England, after much lobbying, Queen Elizabeth I appointed him warden of Manchester College in 1596, but despite this, he returned to London in 1605 where his final years were marked by poverty.
He is believed to have died in March, 1609, at the London home of a friend and was apparently buried in Mortlake (pictured, above, is a memorial plaque at St Mary the Virgin in Mortlake).
It’s believed that William Shakespeare modelled the figure of Prospero in the 1611 play The Tempest on Dee (it’s also claimed that he was the model for Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus).
Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee runs at the Royal College of Physicians at 11 St Andrews Place, Regent’s Park, until 29th July. Entry is free (check website for opening hours). For more, see www.rcplondon.ac.uk.
December 22, 2015
Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of one of five highly ornate towers, luxurious banqueting houses from which the court would view tournaments in King Henry VIII’s walled tiltyard at Hampton Court Palace.
Built in the 1530s, the multi-storey towers were largely demolished by the 1680s and, with the exception of one of the towers which still stands at the palace (and is now a Grade I listed building), their precise location eventually lost.
Until now, that is. The green-glazed tiled floor of one of the ‘lost’ towers were unearthed earlier this month during works taking place as the tiltyard undergoes a family-oriented makeover by award-winning landscape architect, Robert Myers (to be known as ‘The Magic Garden’, it will be unveiled next Easter).
The richly decorated towers – where the king entertained dignitaries and ambassadors – are thought to slightly predate the tiltyard which was apparently laid out in 1537 – perhaps, it’s been suggested, to mark the birth of King Henry VIII’s son, the future King Edward VI.
The first recorded tournament at Hampton Court took place in 1557 when Queen Mary I held one to celebrate Christmas. Her sister Queen Elizabeth I continued the tradition by occasionally holding tournaments there but most days the tiltyard was used to train the young men of the court in warfare.
When tournaments gradually fell out of fashion, the towers were used as multi-purpose storage facilities housing, according to Historic Royal Palaces, everything from pigeons to two Catholic priests in service to King Charles I’s queen, Henrietta Maria, who were spent time ‘quarantined’ there after an outbreak of plague.
For more on Hampton Court Palace, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.
This Week in London – Hampton Court Palace turns 500; celebrating the influence of Rubens; and, remembering the liberation of Auschwitz…
January 22, 2015
• Hampton Court Palace turns 500 this year and the palace is conducting a programme of events in celebration of the landmark anniversary. Sadly, the first in a series of events – a night in which Historic Royal Palace’s chief curator Lucy Worsley, inspired by the recent BBC Two programme Britain’s Tudor Treasure: A Night at Hampton Court, will explore one of the greatest nights in Hampton Court’s history, the christening of King Henry VIII’s longed for son, Edward (later King Edward VI) – is already sold out but there are a range of further events planned (we’ll try and keep you informed as they come up through the year). In the meantime, HRP have announced that a rare 16th century hat which is rumoured to have once belonged to King Henry VIII is to return to the palace later this year after undergoing restoration. The story goes that the hat, which will become the oldest item of dress in the palace’s collection by almost a century, was caught by Nicholas Bristowe, the king’s Clerk of the Wardrobe, when Henry threw it in the air on hearing of the French surrender of Boulogne in 1544. Treasured by the Bristowe’s descendants, it has now been acquired by HRP and is expected to go on show in a future exhibition. We’ll be looking at the hat in more detail in a future post. For more on the palace, see www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/. PICTURE: HRP/Newsteam
• The first major exhibition in the UK to examine the influence of Peter Paul Rubens on the history of art opens at the Royal Academy of Arts on Piccadilly on Saturday. Rubens and His Legacy: Van Dyck to Cezanne brings together more than 160 works by Rubens and artists who were inspired by him both during his lifetime and later including everyone from Van Dyck, Watteau, Turner and Delacroix to Manet, Cezanne, Renoir, Klimt and Picasso. The exhibition is organised around six themes: poetry, elegance, power, lust, compassion and violence. Runs until 10th April in the Main Galleries. For more, see www.royalacademy.co.uk.
• The 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz will be marked at Westminster Abbey with a special service at 6.30pm on 1st February. At least 1.1 million prisoners died at the camp, located in south-west Poland, around 90 per cent of them Jewish. It was liberated on 27th January, 1945 by the Red Army. Tickets are free but need to be booked. Follow this link to book. Meanwhile, the Imperial War Museum London in Lambeth has invited people to mark Holocaust Memorial Day – 27th January – with a visit to the free Holocaust Exhibition which has a 13 metre long model depicting the arrival of a deportation train from Hungary at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in 1944, accompanied by testimonies from 18 survivors. Recommended for children aged 14 and above. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-london.
This Week in London – The Magna Carta at the new City of London Heritage Gallery; Tudor monarchs at the NPG; Mapping London; and objects with story at Pitzhanger…
September 11, 2014
• The 13th century’s finest surviving copy of the Magna Carta is taking centre stage at the new City of London Heritage Gallery which opens to the public this Friday. The 1297 document, which bears a superimposed memo reading ‘make it happen’, is being featured as part of the Corporation’s efforts to mark next year’s 800th anniversary of the signing of the landmark document. Other items on display in the new permanent, purpose-built exhibition space at the Guildhall Art Gallery include the medieval Cartae Antiquae, a volume containing transcripts of charters and statues covering laws enacted between 1327 and 1425 – a period which includes the reign of King Richard III, a poster for a World War I recruitment meeting held at the Guildhall in 1914, and a series of paintings depicting the 25 City Aldermen who were in office in the mid-1400s. The gallery, admission to which is free, will in future feature a rotating selection of rare documents from the City of London Corporation’s archives including the purchase deed William Shakespeare signed on buying a home in Blackfriars in 1613. For more, including opening times, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/heritagegallery. For more on events to mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta next year, see www.magnacarta800th.com. PICTURE: Copyright London Metropolitan Archives.
• Rare depictions of Tudor monarchs will be seen at the National Portrait Gallery in the most complete presentation of their portraiture to date. The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered features the gallery’s oldest portrait – that of King Henry VII – displayed alongside a Book of Hours inscribed by the king to his daughter, six portraits of King Henry VIII along with his rosary (on loan from Chatsworth), portraits of King Edward VI and a page from his diary in which he relates his father’s death, five portraits of Queen Mary I along with her prayer book (on loan from Westminster Cathedral) and several portraits of Queen Elizabeth I displayed alongside her locket ring (on loan from Chequers, the country residence of the PM). There will also be a discussion surrounding the search for a “real” portrait of the ‘nine days queen’, Lady Jane Grey, alongside a portrait of her that dates from the Elizabethan period. With many of the portraits newly examined as part of the gallery’s ‘Making Art in Tudor Britain’ project, visitors to the gallery will also be able to access a specially created app which allowing them to access the new research while looking at the portraits. The display, which will form the core of a larger exhibition in Paris next year, can be seen until 1st March. Admission to the gallery, off Trafalgar Square, is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.
• An exhibition of rare maps from London, dating from between 1572 and last year, at gallery@oxo on South Bank, is closing on Sunday. Part of the Totally Thames festival, the Mapping London exhibition shows how the landscape along the River Thames as it passes through the capital has changed over the years. It features the first available map of London, which dates from 1572, as well as a 2013 map of underground London, monumental wall maps, and even a map of London that doubles as fan. The free exhibition at Oxo Tower Wharf is being curated by Daniel Crouch, one of the world’s leading map dealers. For more, see www.totallythames.org/events/info/mapping-london.
• A Crafts Council touring exhibition showcasing the work of 12 contemporary artisans and design studios – each of which uses objects as a means of storytelling – has opened at Pitzhanger Manor House and Gallery in Ealing – its first stop – this week. Crafting Narrative: Storytelling through objects and making explores the potential of objects to reflect on history, culture, society and technology through a combination of new and commissioned works, film text and photography. Works include Hilda Hellström’s The Materiality of a Natural Disaster which consists of food vessels made of soil from a field belonging to the last resident inside the Japanese Daiichi nuclear plant exclusion zone, Onkar Kular and Noam Toran’s archive of objects belonging to the fictional Lövy-Singh clan – an East London family of mixed Jewish and Sikh descent, and Hefin Jones’ The Welsh Space Campaign which features objects such as astronaut boots in the form of traditional Welsh clogs in an attempt to show how Wales has the capacity to explore space. The free exhibition is at the manor until 19th October. For more, see www.pitzhanger.org.uk.
Send all items for inclusion to email@example.com.
August 22, 2014
Four bronze angels, designed for the tomb of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, have been temporarily reunited in the V&A’s Medieval & Renaissance galleries as the museum looks for funding to acquire them.
Once thought lost, the Wolsey Angels were commissioned in 1524 from Florentine sculptor Benedetto de Rovezzano for the tomb of Wolsey, chief advisor to King Henry VIII and one of the most powerful men in the kingdom. Each of the angels, which measure around a metre in height, was created between 1524 and 1529 – the period in which Wolsey was trying to have the pope annul Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
As is well-known, Wolsey failed to do so and died in 1530 in disgrace. Henry appropriated Wolsey’s assets including the tomb which the king apparently intended to use for himself. The work was slow, however, and when Henry died in 1547, it remained unfinished. His children – King Edward VI, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I – each said they would complete the tomb as a memorial to their father but didn’t and in 1565, Elizabeth moved parts of the tomb to Windsor.
During the English Civil War elements of the tomb were sold off to raise funds and only the black stone chest – now used to house the remains of Admiral Lord Nelson in the St Paul’s Cathedral crypt – were believed to have survived along with four large gilt-bronze candlesticks which were installed at St Bavo Cathedral in Ghent.
The angels passed out of sight until, in 1994, two of them appeared in a Sotheby’s sale. Acquired by a Parisian art dealer, they were later attributed to Benedetto. The remaining two angels were discovered at Harrowden Hall in Northamptonshire in 2008 – the hall is now owned by the Wellingborough Golf Club – and it was subsequently revealed that the other two had been stolen from the same site 20 years previously.
The V&A has embarked on a campaign – backed by Hilary Mantel, the Booker Prize winning author of Wolf Hall – to acquire the four angels, priced at £5 million. It has already been granted £2 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund has pledged a further £500,000.
Mantel described the recovery of the angels as “one of those miracles that historians pray for; something that seems irrevocably lost has been there all the time”. “To claim the angels for the nation would connect us to one of the liveliest eras of our history and one of its most remarkable men.”
Donations can be made via the V&A’s website at www.vam.ac.uk/wolseyangels.
PICTURE: Wolsey Angels on display at the V&A/© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
December 2, 2013
While the designation of London’s oldest public library depends on your definition, for the purposes of this article we’re awarding the title to the Guildhall Library.
Its origins go back to about 1425 when town clerk John Carpenter and John Coventry founded a library – believed to initially consist of theological books for students, according to the terms of the will of former Lord Mayor, Richard (Dick) Whittington (for more on him, see our previous post here).
Housed in Guildhall (pictured above), this library apparently came to an end in the mid-1500s when Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector for the young King Edward VI, apparently had the entire collection loaded onto carts and taken to Somerset House. They were not returned and only one of the library’s original texts, a 13th century metrical Latin version of the Bible, is in the library today.
Some 300 years passed until the library was re-established by the City of London Corporation. Reopened in 1828, it was initially reserved for members of the Corporation but the membership was soon expanded to include”literary men”.
By the 1870s, when the collection included some 60,000 books related to London, the library moved into a new purpose-built building, located to the east of Guildhall. Designed by City architect Horace Jones, it opened to the public in 1873.
The library lost some 25,000 books during World War II when some of the library’s storerooms were destroyed and after the war, it was decided to build a new library. It opened in 1974 in the west wing of the Guildhall where it remains (entered via Aldermanbury).
Today, the 200,000 item collection includes books, pamphlets, periodicals including the complete London Gazette from 1665 to the present, trade directories and poll books as well as the archive collections such as those of the livery companies, the Stock Exchange and St Paul’s Cathedral and special collections related to the likes of Samuel Pepys, Sir Thomas More, and the Charles Lamb Society.
The library also holds an ongoing series of exhibitions.
Where: Guildhall Library, Aldermanbury; WHEN: 9.30am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday; COST: Entry is free and no membership of registration is required but ID may be required to access rarer books; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visiting-the-city/archives-and-city-history/guildhall-library/Pages/default.aspx.
October 11, 2013
Located in the north-east corner of the churchyard of St Paul’s Cathedral, St Paul’s Cross – also known simply as Paul’s Cross – was a large free-standing cross which served as an open-air pulpit for at least 500 years.
The history of the Cross goes back to at least the 12th century and it long served as a public gathering place for Londoners to hear sermons or matters of public importance. King Henry III met Londoners here in 1259 so they could swear their allegiance, people like 15th century chaplain Richard Walker appeared here to plead guilty for crimes against the church (in his case to charges of sorcery) and it was here that William Tyndale’s testaments were burnt in the 16th century.
Conversely, it was also from here that the English Reformation was preached (there’s a painting in the Houses of Parliament of King Edward VI listening to a sermon preached from the Cross by reformist Bishop Latimer). It has been said that if all the sermons preached here had been collected, they would effectively make a history of the Church of England.
The cross and pulpit were destroyed during the English Civil War in 1643.
These days there’s a plaque marking the original site of the cross (above). In 1910, the St Paul’s Cross Memorial – a column topped with a gilt statue of St Paul designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield (pictured top), was installed nearby (as ordered by the will of HC Richards, according to a plaque on the site) and remains there today.
The Virtual Pauls Cross website, led by Professor John N Wall of North Carolina State University in the US, reconstructs what the site would have looked like when John Donne gave his Gunpowder Day sermon on 5th November, 1622.
November 16, 2012
Built in the 16th century for King Henry VIII, Bridewell Palace only had a short-lived life as a royal residence before it was handed over to the City of London and used as a poorhouse and prison.
Located on the western bank of the Fleet River (the site is now occupied by Unilever House and remembered in the place names of Bridewell Place and Bridewell Court), the palace – named for a holy well located nearby which was dedicated to St Bride (St Brigid) – was built on the direction of the king’s key advisor Cardinal Thomas Wolsey between 1510-15 on land which had previously been the site of St Bride’s Inn.
In 1515 Cardinal Wolsey gave it to King Henry VIII after taking up residence at Hampton Court and York Place – Henry was looking for a royal residence in London after the Palace of Westminister was largely destroyed in a fire in 1512. Work continued on the palace until its completion in 1523.
The palace, the site of which is now marked with a plaque on the approach to Blackfriars Bridge, consisted of two courtyards surrounded by brick buildings with the three storey royal lodgings (separate quarters for the king and queen) located around the inner courtyard and entered by a grand staircase from the outer courtyard. It also featured a watergate was located on the Thames and, interestingly, Bridewell was the first royal palace not to have its own great hall.
Among historic events hosted here was the visit of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1522 (the emperor did not stay here but his entourage did). In 1528 meetings of the papal delegation took place at Blackfriars (located next door and joined by a specially built gallery) to discuss the king’s divorce from Queen Katherine of Aragon – it’s here that the Queen made her most famous speech declaring her fidelity to the king – and for its duration the king and queen lodged at Bridewell. It’s also said that it was at Bridewell Palace that artist Hans Holbein the Younger painted his famous work – The Ambassadors (see our earlier post on this here).
Following Cardinal Wolsey’s fall from favor in 1529, King Henry VIII no longer used the property (he took over the Palace of Whitehall, then known as York Place, as his main residence in 1530 – for more on this see our earlier post here). It was leased for much of the following decade to the French ambassador in London before, following petitioning for a new hospital for the poor from Nicholas Ridley, the Bishop of London, King Edward VI gave it to the City of London in 1553. They took over fully in 1556 and converted the palace into a prison, hospital and workrooms (we’ll deal in detail with the prison in an upcoming post).
December 16, 2011
Its name now more well known as one of the City of London’s 25 wards, Aldersgate was a gate opening to the city’s north, located close to where the Museum of London now stands, and was one of the city’s four original gates.
The gate’s origins go back to late Roman times – it was apparently created to strengthen the city’s northern defences against Saxon incursions – and was built with two roadways passing through the wall protected by semi-circular towers. (The name apparently has nothing to do with the age of the gate as many believe but may be a corruption of a Saxon name Ealdred or come from a type of tree which grew nearby.)
An important link to places like the fair at Smithfield, St Bartholomew’s Priory and the Charterhouse in the Middle Ages, it was used as a prison and even as late as 1660, diarist Samuel Pepys writes of seeing the limbs of executed traitors displayed upon it. It was also had residential quarters above it – these were said to have been occupied at times by the City Crier and in the mid-1500s were used by printer and stationer John Day (he is said to have printed an early copy of the Bible, dedicated to King Edward VI, there in 1549).
In 1603, it was through Aldersgate that King James I entered London (his arms were later placed over the gate), and just 14 years later, in 1617, the entire gate was rebuilt. Repaired in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666 (it’s final form was said to feature, as well as the arms of King James I, statues of the Biblical figures Jeremiah and Samuel), it was finally demolished in 1761 to improve the flow of traffic.
PICTURE: Site of where Aldersgate once stood. To the right of the picture is the Church of St Botolph-without-Aldersgate.
December 14, 2011
Situated close to London’s riverfront, there is believed to have been a church on this site since at least 1100, although it is believed to have been previously dedicated jointly to the apostles St James and St John.
The name of Garlickhythe can be explained by its location – the word ‘hythe’ is a Saxon word for a landing place or jetty and it is believed garlic, used as a preservative and medication, was unloaded nearby and even possibly traded on Garlick Hill where the church stands.
The church was rebuilt in the 1300s and again after the Great Fire (it was another of Sir Christopher Wren’s designs and thanks to the abundance of natural light inside was known as ‘Wren’s Lantern’) but it largely escaped damaged in World War II (the projecting tower clock was among the casualities but while a 500 lb bomb buried itself in the south-east corner of the church, it failed to explode).
What bombs failed to do, however, a death watch beetle did and when one was discovered in the roof timbers in the 1950s, the church was closed until 1963 while it was restored. The exterior clock was restored in 1988 and repairs to the south transept were required after a crane counterweight smashed into the church in 1991.
Inside, the church boasts the second highest ceiling – 40 foot – of any churches in London (St Paul’s being the highest) and much of the carved woodwork inside, including the font cover, altar table and churchwardens pews, is still original.
There is also original ironwork including a mayoral swordrest as well as a Stuart and Georgian coat-of-arms (the Stuart arms are among a number of features which come from St Michael Queenhithe – it was combined with this parish in the late 1800s; St Michael’s was pulled down in 1894 ).
The magnificent Bernhard Schmidt organ was installed in 1718. The church also houses two rare chalices dating from the time of Edward VI in the mid-16th century and some other rare plate as well as the oldest parish registers in England (these date from the 16th century with the first entry being that of the baptism of Edward Butler on 18th November, 1535).
St James Garlickhythe, which sits in the parish of St James Garlickhythe with St Michael Queenhithe and Holy Trinity-the-Less (the latter being another now demolished church), boasts connections to 12 livery companies including the Vintners (the church is located in Vintry Ward) and the Joiners. Among those buried there are six former mayors.
The church is currently appealing for funds for a new ring of eight bells to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II next year.
And we couldn’t mention the church without referring to Jimmy Garlick, the church’s mummy. An embalmed body of an older man, this was discovered in the church vaults in 1855 and, identity unknown, was subsequently put on display so that curious onlookers could, for a small fee, look upon him or apparently even touch him. Jimmy, whose identity remains unknown, is no longer on public view.
WHERE: Garlick Hill (just off Upper Thames Street) (nearest Tube station is Mansion House). WHEN: See website for service times; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.stjamesgarlickhythe.org.
November 2, 2011
The oldest of the royal parks, the 74 hectare (183 acre) Greenwich Park has been associated with royalty since at least the 15th century.
The area covered by the park had been occupied by the Romans (there are some remains of a building, possibly a temple, near Maze Hill Gate) and later the Danes, who raised protective earthworks here in the 11th century. After the Norman Conquest, it became a manor.
Its enclosure only happened in 1433 after the land came into the possession of Humphrey of Lancaster, Duke of Gloucester and brother of King Henry V. At the time regent to the young King Henry VI, Duke Humphrey also built a tower on the heights above the park – where the Royal Observatory now stands.
Following the duke’s death in 1447, the land was seized by Margaret of Anjou – wife of King Henry VI – and subsequently became known as the Manor of Placentia. King Henry VII later rebuilt the manor house, creating what was known as Greenwich Palace or the Palace of Placentia.
Not surprisingly, it was King Henry VIII, who, having been born at Greenwich Palace, introduced deer to the park. Indeed the park was to have strong associations with others in his family – the king married Catherine of Aragorn and Anne of Cleeves at Greenwich Palace, and his daughters, later Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I, were born there while his son, King Edward VI, died there in 1553 at the age of only 15. (There’s a tree in the park known as Queen Elizabeth’s Oak, which is said to be where she played as a child).
In 1613, King James I gave the palace and accompanying park – which he had enclosed with a high wall – to his wife, Queen Anne of Denmark, apparently as an apology after swearing at her in public when she accidentally shot one of his favorite dogs. Queen Anne subsequently commissioned Inigo Jones to design what is now known as the Queen’s House – for more on that, see our earlier post.
Following the Restoration, King Charles II ordered the palace rebuilt and while this work remained unfinished, the king did succeed in having the park remodelled – it is believed that Andre Le Notre, gardener to King Louis XIV of France, had a role in this.
The works included cutting a series of terraces into the slope – these were known as the Great Steps and lined with hawthorn hedges – as well as creating a formal avenue of chestnut trees (now known as Blackheath Avenue), and some woodlands. Work is currently taking place on restoring an orchard which dates from 1666 at the park.
King Charles II also commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to build the Royal Observatory that still stands on the hill overlooking the park – it stands on the site once occupied by the Duke Humphrey Tower (the Royal Observatory is home of the Prime Meridian – see our earlier post on the Royal Observatory for more).
King James II was the last monarch to use the palace and park – his daughter Queen Mary II donated the palace for use as a hospital for veteran sailors and the park was opened to the pensioners in the early 1700s. The hospital later become the Royal Naval College and the National Maritime Museum later moved onto the site (for more on this, see our earlier post).
As an aside, Royal Parks say the truncated shape of some of the trees in the park is apparently due to the fact that when anti-aircraft guns were positioned in the flower garden during World War II, the trees had to be trimmed to ensure a clear field of fire.
Facilities in the park today include a tea house, a children’s playground, sporting facilities such as tennis courts and, of course, the Wilderness Deer Park where you can see wildlife at large. Statues include that of Greenwich resident General James Wolfe, an instrumental figure in establishing British rule in Canada – it sits on the crest of the hill opposite the Royal Observatory looking down towards the Thames.
The park, which is part of the Greenwich World Heritage Site, is slated as a venue for next year’s Olympics – it will host equestrian events and the shooting and running events of the pentathlon.
WHERE: Greenwich Park (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark – other nearby stations include Greenwich, Maze Hill and Blackheath); WHEN: 6am to at least 6pm (closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx
March 8, 2011
Remembered primarily for having founded the Royal Exchange as a centre for commerce in London and Gresham College, Sir Thomas Gresham was one of London’s leading merchants and financiers and an important advisor to successive monarchs during the sixteenth century.
Gresham was born in Milk Lane, London, to merchant Sir Richard Gresham (himself Lord Mayor of London in 1537-38) around 1518-19. He studied at Cambridge before being apprenticed to learn the family trade with his uncle, Sir John Gresham.
In 1543, he was admitted to the Mercers’ Company and subsequently spent time in the Low Countries, residing principally in Antwerp and acting as an agent for King Henry VIII. In 1544 he married Anne Fernley, widow of another London merchant. He also had a house in Lombard Street at this time.
Sir Thomas became an important advisor to King Edward VI, helping him alleviate financial concerns, a role he continued to play during the successive reigns of Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I (although he spent some time out of favor during Mary’s reign).
Knighted for his services to the crown in 1559, he proposed to built his ‘exchange’ in 1565, offering to pay for it himself if the City of London and Mercers’ Company provided the land. Modelled on the bourse in Antwerp with a trading floor and shops and offices set around a large central courtyard, it was officially awarded the title ‘royal’ by Queen Elizabeth I in 1571.
Sir Thomas died suddenly in 1579, apparently of a heart attack, and left the majority of his wealth to his widow but included clauses in his will stating that after her death rents from the Royal Exchange be used to create a college which would see seven professors offer free lecturers on subjects ranging from astronomy and geometry to rhetoric and divinity.
Known as Gresham College, it became the first institution of higher education in London when it was founded in 1597 and was initially based at Sir Thomas’ mansion in Bishopsgate (it’s now based in Barnard’s Inn Hall and, as it has for the past 400 years, still offers free public lectures).
In 1666, Sir Thomas’ Royal Exchange burnt down along with much of London but it was rebuilt immediately afterward (King Charles II laid the foundation stone of the new building) and rebuilt again following another fire in 1838 (at the time the building was largely occupied by two insurance companies, one of which was Lloyds of London).
It’s this third building, designed by Sir Thomas Tite to resemble the original plan, which stands on the site today. While trading has long since ceased there – it’s now a luxury-end shopping centre – Sir Thomas’s symbol, the gold ‘Gresham Grasshopper’, can still be seen on the weathervane. For more information on the Royal Exchange, see www.theroyalexchange.co.uk.
January 7, 2011
Built as a symbol of the triumphal reign of the Tudor dynasty (not to mention as a response to the French King Francis I’s palace Château de Chambord), Nonsuch Palace near Ewell in Surrey, now part of greater London, was the last palace constructed by King Henry VIII.
Construction on the palace started in 1538, the 30th year of Henry’s reign and only six months after the birth of Henry’s son and heir, later King Edward VI. The medieval village of Cuddington was demolished to make way for the new premises.
The multi-storied building was designed around an inner and an outer courtyard, each entered through a fortified gatehouse, with the royal apartments located in the latter. While plain on the outside, the inner courtyard interior was decorated with stucco reliefs depicting, among other things, Roman emperors, gods and goddesses and Henry VIII with his son Edward. To cap it off, there were two great octagonal towers built at either end.
While the bulk of of the work had been completed when Henry died in 1547, it is believed that the palace may still have been unfinished. In any case, it only remained a royal property for a short time before Queen Mary I sold it to Henry Fitzalan, the Earl of Arundel. It passed back into royal hands when the earl’s son-in-law, John Lumley, was forced to sell it back to Queen Elizabeth I to settle a debt. The queen was said to have stayed frequently at the palace.
King James I granted the palace to his wife, Queen Anne of Denmark, and it was also used by his son Henry, Prince of Wales. King Charles I also granted the palace to his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, before it was sold off by Parliamentary commissioners after the Civil War. When King Charles II came to the throne, the palace was once again given to Henrietta Maria and then, when she died in 1669, to Barbara Villers, Countess of Castlemaine, a mistress of the king.
The building was demolished in 1682 with the materials and sale of the land used to pay off the countess’ gambling debts. While some parts of the building were carted off to be incorporated into others, no trace of the building remains above the ground but its former site, on the west side of what is now Nonsuch Park in Cheam, is marked by three granite bollards. A separate banqueting house and extensive gardens were also built near the site.
The building, which was only depicted a few works, can be confused with Nonsuch Mansion House, the oldest parts of which date from the 18th century, which still stands on the east side of the park and was probably built on the site of a former keeper’s lodge.
There are exhibitions on the palace in the Honeywood Museum (the heritage centre for the London Borough of Sutton) in Carshalton and in the Tudor house known as Whitehall in Cheam. The Epson and Ewell History Explorer website also have a trail you can follow which encompasses the former site of the palace.
PICTURE: Nonsuch Palace in an engraving by Joris Hoefnagel. Source: Wikipedia.