December 14, 2016
Debenhams’ origins go back to 1778 when a draper’s store started trading at 44 Wigmore Street in London’s West End. Soon run by Thomas Clark and his partner Mr Flint, the shop sold fabrics, bonnets, gloves and parasols.
The Debenhams name entered the story in 1813 when William Debenham, still young but having already learnt something of the trade at a hosiery in Nottingham, invested in the firm, now known as Clark & Debenham.
Success followed (apparently they expanded into a store across the road, calling one Clark & Debenham and the other Debenham & Clark) and in 1818, the firm opened its first store outside London – an exact replica of the Wigmore Street store in fashionable Cheltenham. This was followed by stores in other locations across England. (The original Debenhams store, which was rebuilt as a department store in the Edwardian era, is now largely occupied by offices).
The firm prospered in the coming years thanks to the demand for mourning attire in the Victorian age and in 1851 underwent another name change when Clement Freebody, brother of Debenham’s wife Caroline, invested in the firm, becoming Debenham, Son & Freebody and later just Debenham & Freebody (when William Debenham retired, it was his son William, Jr, who entered into partnership with Freebody) . At this time a wholesale business was established selling cloth and other items to dressmakers and other large retailers.
The company continued to expand and offices opened in various countries around the world – from Australia and South Africa to Canada and China. It’s said that in 1899, the store even had its own fire brigade and constabulary and around the start of the 20th century it became one of the first businesses to get a telephone.
In 1905, Debenhams Ltd was incorporated and in 1919 the business merged with Marshall and Snellgrove. Knightsbridge retailer Harvey Nichols was acquired in 1920 and seven years later the Debenham family’s involvement ended as the company went public.
Famous faces associated with the store in the early part of the 20th century included King Edward VII, for whom the business supplied coronation robes.
By 1950, Debenhams had become the largest department store group in the UK, owning 84 companies and 110 stores. Between 1985 and 1998, it was part of the Burton Group and it was during this period that it launched the Designers at Debenhams initiative as well as, in 1997, opening the first international franchise store in Bahrain. Debenhams listed on the London Stock Exchange following its demerger with the Burton Group and remain so until 2003 – when it was acquired by Baroness Retail Ltd – before returning to the London Stock Exchange in 2006.
It acquired nine stores from Roches in Ireland in 2007 and in 2009 acquired Danish department store chain Magasin du Nord.
As well as its flagship store in Oxford Street (refurbished for Debenhams 200th birthday in 2013), these days Debenhams owns and operates more than 18o stores in the UK, Ireland and Denmark (these include Browns of Chester which, following its acquisition in 1976, was allowed to keep its name). There are also some 60 franchise stores in more than 25 other countries.
For more, see www.debenhams.com.
PICTURE: Debenhams flagship Oxford Street store dressed up for Christmas.
January 29, 2016
Erected to the memory of Queen Alexandra, the consort of King Edward VII, the memorial – an ornate bronze screen – is located on the exterior of the garden wall of Marlborough House – the Queen’s former home – in Marlborough Road, opposite St James’ Palace.
It depicts a central figure, described as “Love Enthroned”, supporting a young girl (perhaps a symbol of the Queen’s support for the next generation), and attended by two crowned bowing figures which it’s believed represent faith and hope. An inscription – “Faith, hope, love – The guiding virtues of Queen Alexandra” – sits below.
The memorial was unveiled on 8th June, 1932, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang, in attendance. Queen Alexandra’s Memorial Ode, composed by Sir Edward Elgar, was first performed at the ceremony.
The memorial was the last public artwork to be completed by Gilbert, noted for having also created what is arguably London’s most famous statue – that of Eros in Piccadilly (see our earlier post here), who was knighted by King George V after the unveiling.
The Queen lived at the property during her widowhood until her death in 1925.
Apologies – we neglected to put in the link! Now corrected.
November 9, 2015
Another Drury Lane pub, the origins of this one go back to 1852 when it was established by Henry Wells on the site of what was once a potato warehouse.
The name, in this case, comes from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s eldest son, Albert Edward.
Only about 11-years-old when this West End pub was first built, he remained Prince of Wales until succeeding his mother as King Edward VII (nonetheless, the location proved somewhat prescient – Albert Edward was to become known for his bon vivant lifestyle including his love of the theatre (along with, of course, his love of philandering.))
Located close to theatres and the Royal Opera House, the pub at 150-151 Drury Lane (on the corner of Long Acre) was rebuilt in Portland stone in the early 20th century when the street was widened.
Now part of the Taylor Walker group, it remains a popular pub for theatre goers (and even hosts its own events). For more, see www.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub/prince-of-wales-covent-garden/c0659/.
April 10, 2015
Among the treasures on show at this year’s summer opening of Buckingham Palace, the Australian State Coach was a gift to Queen Elizabeth II by Australia on 8th May, 1988, to mark the Australian Bicentennial.
The coach – the first to be built for the Royal Family since the Coronation of King Edward VII in 1902 – was built by Australian WJ “Jim” Frecklington who also designed the Diamond Jubilee State Coach.
The coach, which is usually kept in the Royal Mews where it can be viewed by the public, has been used at the State Opening of Parliament and other occasions involving foreign royal families and visiting heads of state. It was also used to carry Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall and Michael and Carole Middleton back to Buckingham Palace after the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
It was last used to carry the Duke of Edinburgh and Señora Rivera, wife of the president of Mexico, on a State Visit in March this year.
The summer opening of the palace runs from 25th July to 27th September. The coach will be on display in the Grand Entrance portico.
WHERE: Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace (nearest Tube stations are Victoria, Green Park and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: 25th July to 31st August – 9.30am to 7.30pm daily (last admission 5.15pm)/1st to 27th September – 9.30am to 6.30pm (last admission 4.15pm); COST: £35.60 adults/£20 under 17 and disabled/£32.50 concessions/£91.20 family (2 adults and three under 17s); WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-state-rooms-buckingham-palace/plan-your-visit.
PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2015
This Week in London – Hampton Court Palace lights up; doll house histories; more on Christmas; and, memories of a royal progress at The Queen’s Gallery…
December 11, 2014
• Hampton Court Palace’s world famous gardens have been transformed into an “illuminated wonderland” which can be explored using a specially created trail. From tomorrow, visitors can use a glow-in-the-dark map to follow the trail which starts at the palace’s hedge maze – the UK’s oldest – and meanders through various locations around the grounds – including the formal gardens – before ending up at the palace’s East Front where, through the use of interactive technology, visitors can ‘paint’ the building’s facade just by moving around. Allow about an hour. Entry is timed between 5pm and 8pm. Runs until 23rd December. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/.
• The stories behind some of the UK’s best-known dolls’ houses are the focus of a new exhibition which opens at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green on Saturday. Small Stories: At home in a dolls’ house tells the story of 12 dolls’ houses dating as far back as 300 years. Each of the houses – which are displayed chronologically – has been set up to represent a particular time of day and, using interactive technology, tells the story of those who live and work in the building in a series of stories featuring marriages, parties, politics and even crimes. Highlights include: the Tate Baby House – dating from 1760, it features original wallpapers and painted panelling in the style of Robert Adam; the Killer House (pictured) – a gift from surgeon John Egerton Killer to his wife and daughters in the 1830s, this Chinese-style cabinet has gilded wallpapers, a four poster bed and liveried servants; Whiteladies House – a Modernist country villa designed by artist Moray Thomas and built in the 1930s; the Hopkinson House – based on the homes built in the 1930s in the London County Council suburb, the St Helier Estate; and, the Kaleidoscope House – designed by Laurie Simmons to suit a “design conscious step-family living in the new millennium”. There’s a further 20 dolls’ houses, dating from 1673 to 2014, on display in the museum’s permanent galleries (just some of the more than 100 in the museum’s collection). Admission is free. Runs until 6th September, 2015. For more, see www.museumofchildhood.org.uk. PICTURE: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
• The V&A has unveiled its 2014 Christmas Tree at the grand entrance to its South Kensington building. Designed by Gareth Pugh, Ceremony stands at more than four metres in height and, along with a shape not unlike a traditional Christmas tree, features nine tiered gold pyramids located around a central beacon of light to represent the nativity. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/c/christmas-tree-installation-by-gareth-pugh/. Meanwhile Winter Wonderland continues to entertain in Hyde Park with rides, markets, ice-skating and all the usual attractions. Open 10am to 10pm every day until 4th January (closed on Christmas Day). For more, see www.hydeparkwinterwonderland.com.
• On Now: Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East. This exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, features objects collected by the 20-year-old Prince of Wales, Albert Edward (later King Edward VII), during an educational tour of the Middle East in 1862. The display, which also features photographs taken by Francis Bedford – the first photographer to join a royal tour, follows the prince as he progresses through Egypt, Palestine and the Holy Land, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece. The exhibition is being show alongside Gold, a display of 50 gold items drawn from the Royal Collection. They include the Rillaton Cup, found in a Bronze Age burial dating from between 1700 and 1500 BC, a gold crown from Ecuador that predates the Incas, and an 18th century tiger’s head made from gold and rock crystal and taken from the throne of the Tipu Sultan of Mysore in India. Both run until 22nd February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.
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This Week in London – Bridges in focus; cheap entry to Tower Bridge; WW1 nurse honoured; and, Dennis Hopper’s photographs…
June 26, 2014
• A new exhibition on London’s bridges commemorating the 120th anniversary of the opening of Tower Bridge opens at the Museum of London Docklands tomorrow. The largest art exhibition ever staged at the museum, Bridge features rarely seen contemporary and historical works, photography, films and maquettes of London’s bridges and explores the role they play in the city. Highlights include Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s 1766 etching A view of the intended bridge at Blackfriars, London, Charles Ginner’s 1913 work London Bridge, and Ewan Gibbs’ 2007 linocut London. The exhibition will also feature a rare photograph taken by William Henry Fox Talbot in 1845, Old Hungerford Bridge. The oldest photograph in the museum’s collection, it will only be on display for one month from tomorrow. The exhibition, entry to which is free, runs until 2nd November. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/docklands/. (PICTURE: © Museum of London Docklands).
• Don’t forget there is a special admission entry offer of just £1.20 to the Tower Bridge Exhibition this Monday, 30th June – 120 years to the day since the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) opened the iconic structure. Tickets must be bought at the door. There will be some Victorian re-enactors at the bridge on the day including police, tourists and engineers and each visitor will receive a special ticket which replicates the design of the invite to the 1894 ceremony (a limited edition commemorative badge will also be available to buy). For more, see www.towerbridge.org.uk.
• The Australian-born nurse responsible for the entire nursing operation on the Western Front during World War I has been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque unveiled at her former home in Chelsea. Maud McCarthy, one-time Army Matron-in-Chief, was in charge of more than 6,000 British, Imperial and American nurses in 1918. Her accolades included the Florence Nightingale Medal – the highest international distinction a nurse can receive. McCarthy lived at 47 Markham Square for almost 30 years after the war, from 1919 until shortly before her death in 1949. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.
• An exhibition featuring more than 400 photographs taken by the late US actor, film director and artist Dennis Hopper opened at the Royal Academy of Arts off Piccadilly today. Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album is the first time the body of work – first shown in Texas in 1970 – has been displayed in the UK. The photographs document the social and cultural life of the American Sixties and cover a range of themes and subjects. They include portraits of the likes of Paul Newman, Andy Warhol and Jane Fonda, and images depicting members of counter-cultural movements as well as events such as the 1965 march civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. Admission charge applies. Runs until 19th October. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.
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Around London – Celebrating the coronation at Buckingham Palace; Royal births at the MoL; the Fourth Plinth unveiled; Menon remembered; and, manufacturing at the Design Museum…
July 25, 2013
• The Queen’s Coronation in 1953 is the subject of a special exhibition opening at Buckingham Palace as part of the palace’s summer opening. Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the coronation, the display features an array of outfits including uniforms and robes worn on the historic event on 2nd June, 1953, as well as a series of paintings recording the event, works of art and objects used on the day and film footage and sound recordings. Among the highlights of the exhibition will be sketches made by Norman Hartnell, the principal designer of the outfits worn at the coronation by the Queen, principal ladies of the immediate Royal Family and the Maids of Honour. The State Rooms of Buckingham Palace open on Saturday and remain open until 29th September. An admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: Her Majesty The Queen in her Coronation Dress, 1953, Norman Hartnell. Royal Collection Trust/All Rights Reserved.
• Meanwhile in this, the week of the birth of Prince George, it’s only fitting that we mention a small display at the Museum of London showcasing memorabilia relating to royal babies of years past. A Royal Arrival features baby clothes and other items worn by future monarchs. They include a embroidered skullcap worn by the future King Charles I, a tiny linen vest and mitten which once was worn by the future King George III and a dress emblazoned with the three feather insignia which belonged to the future King Edward VII, eldest son of Queen Victoria. The free display will be on show until October. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• The new commission for Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth will be unveiled today. The 4.7 metre high sculpture, Hahn/Cock, is the work of contemporary artist Katharina Fritsch. It will sit on the plinth for the next 18 months. For more details, see www.fourthplinth.co.uk.
• Indian statesman VK Krishna Menon has been commemorated by English Heritage with a blue plaque on his former residence in Highgate. A key campaigner for Indian independence, Menon lived at 30 Langdon Road from 1929 to 1931, having moved to England from Madras in 1924. In 1947, Menon was appointed India’s First High Commissioner in London and among his greatest achievements was his work in keeping the country in the British Commonwealth after independence. Having been a local councillor in St Pancras, he later returned to India and embarked upon a political career there. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blueplaques/.
• On Now: The Future is Here. A major new exhibition examining the changes taking place in manufacturing around the world, opened this week at the Design Museum. The Future is Here looks at how everything from “cars to shoes” is manufactured, funded, distributed and bought. Among highlights is a ‘Factory’ where visitors can discover how 3D printing works and see production in process. There will also be the chance to make your own ‘action doll’ and see a sofa designed through a crowd-sourcing process which involved members of the public. Runs until 3rd November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.designmuseum.org.
July 23, 2013
As we all know by now, Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, are proud parents of a new born son with news of the new arrival provoking celebrations across Britain and, indeed, the world.
To celebrate the royal birth, here are 10 interesting facts about some previous royal births in London…
• The last time a Home Secretary attended a royal birth was in 1936 for the birth of Princess Alexandria, cousin of the Queen. The practice was officially stopped before the birth of Prince Charles in 1948.
• Such was the doubt over whether Mary of Modena, wife of King James II, was really pregnant that more than 40 eminent people were invited to witness the birth of their son Prince James in 1688 (and even then the rumours of that the stillborn baby had been swapped for another were rife).
• Queen Anne, who ruled from 1702-1714, went through 17 pregnancies but, tragically, outlived all of her children, her last surviving child – the Duke of Gloucester – dying in 1700.
• The tradition of firing a 41 gun salute on the news of the birth of a future monarch dates from the birth of the future King Edward VII. Twenty-one shots are fired in honour of the birth with an additional 21 fired because the guns are located in Green Park, a Royal Park.
• Queen Elizabeth II was born by caesarean section at 2.40am on April 21, 1926, at the home of her mother’s parents – 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair. (See our previous post on this here).
• Such was the animosity between Frederick, Prince of Wales, and his father, King George II, that when Frederick’s wife Augusta went into labour at the king’s home of Hampton Court Palace, he bundled her into a coach and had her taken to his home of St James’s Palace. With no preparations made there, his newly born daughter had to be wrapped in a tablecloth (the story is retold in detail in Lucy Worsley’s terrific book, Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court)
• Queen Victoria, who had nine children, used chloroform for pain relief during later births, despite the concept being frowned upon by some officials.
• Buckingham Palace (pictured above) has been the birthplace of numerous Royal Family members. Of course, Prince Charles was born here in 1948 as was his brother Prince Andrew (1960) and Prince Edward (1964) but so too – somewhat earlier – were 14 of King George III and Queen Charlotte’s 15 children when the property was known as Buckingham House and, later, the Queen’s House. King Edward VII was the only monarch who both was born and died in the building.
• Such was the desperation of King Henry VIII for a son, that a document announcing the birth were drawn up to that effect prior to Anne Boleyn giving birth to a daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I. The document was still issued – the only concession being an ‘s’ added to the end of the word prince.
• The oldest English king to father a child was King Edward I – he was 66-years-old when his last child, Princess Eleanor, was born in 1306. Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of King Henry II, was the oldest queen to father a child when she gave birth to the future King John at 44-years-of-age in 1166.
March 6, 2013
We’ve previously mentioned the home of the British Government – the Houses of Parliament – in this series but this week we’re looking at another government building – a gem of 19th century architecture.
In existence since 1782, the Foreign Office had originally been housed in two houses in St James and then, as the department grew, to properties in Whitehall – first in The Cockpit (this building has an interesting history we’ll look at in a later post) and then in Downing Street. Initially lodged in what had been Lord Sheffield’s house in Downing Street, the department soon spilled over into neighbouring properties.
The deteriorating quality of these abodes, however, was such that there were fears for their collapse and plans to build a new Foreign Office were mooted. But it wasn’t until the 1850s that it was decided the government announced plans for a competition to design new Foreign and War Offices on Downing Street. There was something of a heated debate over the style of the building between those favouring classical and those favouring gothic architecture but in 1858 George Gilbert Scott (knighted in 1872) was finally appointed as architect.
While Scott apparently originally favoured a building in the gothic style, this was opposed by then Prime Minister Lord Palmerston whose preferences for a classical building eventually won the day.
Work on the new building began in the early 1860s and it eventually opened in July, 1868. While the War Office was never constructed, other departments were located in adjoining premises within the same block. These included the India Office – while Scott oversaw the exterior design, the interior was designed by Matthew Digby Wyatt, surveyor of the former East India Company and subsequently Architect to the Council of India. It opened in November 1867 but was taken over by the Foreign Office in 1947 following India’s independence – and the Colonial and Home offices – designed by Scott, these were completed by 1875.
Plans to build a new Foreign Office were mooted in the mid-20th century and there was talk of demolishing the existing building but after a public debate, Scott’s building was protected after being given Grade I listed building status.
In 1968, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office merged (the latter had only been created two years before) and the Home Office moved out of its premises, meaning that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office now occupied all four original departmental premises. A modernisation program subsequently took place and there was also a significant restoration program which was completed by January 1997.
Stand out rooms in the complex include the grand Locarno Suite – three interlinked rooms designed by Scott to host dinners, receptions and conferences which gained its current moniker in 1925 when the Locarno Treaties were signed here; as well as the India Office Council Chamber – designed by Wyatt, it features a great marble chimney taken from the former Director’s Court Room in East India House located in Leadenhall Street in the City; and, Wyatt’s spectacular Durbar Court which features a glazed cast-iron roof added in 1868 (the name dates from 1902 when some of coronation celebrations of King Edward VII were held here). The many grand staircases in the building – including the beautiful Muses Stair with its octagonal lantern – are also worth noting.
While the buildings, which are officially entered off King Charles Street, are not usually open to the public, they have been opened for the past few years during London’s Open House weekend. There is an audio tour available which details much of the fine artwork in the building.
The London Olympics are almost upon us and having completed our series on the Queen to mark her Diamond Jubilee, we’re launching a new special looking at historic sporting events which took place in London and where they were carried out.
The 1908 Summer Olympics – officially recognised as the fourth “modern” Games – were initially to be held in Rome. But the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 1906 devastated the city of Naples and so the funds which were to be used for the Games had to be diverted to help the stricken community.
A number of candidates, including Milan and Berlin, were apparently considered before it was decided to hold the Games in White City in London’s west alongside the Franco-British Exhibition already being held in the area (the white marble clad buildings constructed for the exhibition buildings are what gave the area its name).
A new stadium – the White City Stadium – was constructed in just 10 months for the Games and was designed to accommodate 66,000 people. As well as the running track around the perimeter with which we are familiar today, there was also a cycle track located outside the running track while the infield hosted swimming and diving pools and a pitch where football, hockey, rugby and lacrosse could be played. Wrestling and gymnastics was also conducted in the middle of the stadium.
While many of the 110 events in 22 different sports – including athletics, archery, lacrosse, rugby union, swimming, water polo and tug of war (the only time run at an Olympics, it was won by a City of London police team) – and were held at the stadium, a number were held elsewhere.
These included tennis (at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon – see yesterday’s post), rowing (at Henley), fencing (at the neighbouring British-Franco Exhibition) and jeu de paume or ‘real tennis’ (at the Queen’s Club in West Kensington).
The Games, which ran for six months from April to October, were noted for being the first in which Winter events were included (four figure skating events were held at the Prince’s Skating Club in Knightsbridge), for being the first at which the Olympic creed – “The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well” – was publicly proclaimed.
They were also the Olympics at which length of the marathon was set at 26 miles, 385 yards (the distance from a window outside the nursery at Windsor Castle, where the event was started to give the Royal Family a good view, to the stadium) and were the first Games in which spectators marching into the arena behind their country’s flag during the opening ceremony.
The marathon, incidentally, was particularly controversial with Italian Dorando Pietri finishing first after being assisted across the finish line by officials when he collapsed (he was disqualified but awarded a special cup for his efforts by Queen Alexandra). There was also controversy when the US team refused to dip their flag before King Edward VII in the opening ceremony. Judging disputes also led to the creation of standard rules and the introduction of neutral judges in subsequent Games.
White City Stadium initially fell into disuse but was subsequently used for greyhound racing and athletics. The site is now occupied by the BBC. There is a ‘Roll of Honour’, unveiled on the site in 2005, which commemorates the 1908 Games.
Oh, and the most medals were won by Great Britain who won 56 gold, 51 silver and 38 bronze while the US came next with 23 gold, 12 silver and 12 bronze.
You can check out the Olympic website for more including images – www.olympic.org/london-1908-summer-olympics.
June 1, 2012
The latest in the series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken and, importantly in this case, what it’s of. If you think you can identify this picture, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!
Well done to Jameson Tucker, this is indeed a relief on the Temple Bar Memorial, which stands where the Strand turns into Fleet Street. It depicts Queen Victoria on a royal progress to the Guildhall in 1837, a few months after her accession, when she was met at this spot by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen and presented with the sword of state and keys to the city.
According to a tradition said to date back to 1215, the Temple Bar is the only place where the monarch may enter London after first seeking permission from the Lord Mayor and being presented with the City’s Pearl Sword (one of five City swords, this is said to have been first given to the City by Queen Elizabeth I).
The monument itself was designed by Sir Horace Jones and erected in 1880 to mark the location where the Temple Bar – the ceremonial entrance to the City of London – originally stood (the last incarnation of the Temple Bar, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, is now located near in Paternoster Square near St Paul’s – see our earlier post for more on Wren’s Temple Bar).
On top of the granite and bronze monument stands a rearing griffin (actually it’s supposed to be a dragon), one of the city’s official boundary markers, sculpted by Charles Birch while on either side are bronze statues, by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, of Queen Victoria and Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), who in 1872 were the last of the Royal family to pass through the Temple Bar gateway before its demolition in 1878 (they were on their way to St Paul’s to attend a thanksgiving service following the prince’s recovery from typhoid).
This is depicted in a relief on the north side of the monument by Charles Kelsey. Charles Mabey’s relief showing the Queen’s progress is located on the south side of the monument; he also designed one on the east side which shows a curtain being drawn over the old Temple Bar.
May 18, 2012
Given we’re marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a look at sites of significance to her story located in London, it’s perhaps only fitting that we take a look at the nearest royal residence outside the city.
Windsor, located as close as half an hour by train from London’s Paddington station (or around 50 minutes to an hour from Waterloo), boasts plenty to see including the historic town centre, nearby Eton, great river and country walks and, of course, Legoland. But today our attention will remain on Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world.
There has been a fortress on this site since shortly after the Norman invasion when in about 1080 King William the Conqueror ordered it constructed on a ridge above the river bank as part of a series of defensive fortifications around London. The earth and timber Norman castle was gradually added to over the years – King Henry I (reigned 1100-1135), the first king to live here, added domestic quarters while King Henry II (reigned 1154-1189) built substantial royal apartments transforming the castle into a palace and began replacing the outer timber walls with stone fortifications as well as rebuilding the Norman Keep as the Round Tower (parts of which still date from this period). King Henry III (reigned 1216-1272) built upon and expanded his work.
But it was in the reign of King Edward III (1307-1327) that the castle was expanded enormously. This included the reconstruction of the lower ward including the rebuilding of the chapel, naming it St George’s (although the current chapel dates from the reign of King Edward IV – 1461-1470), and the reconstruction of the upper ward complete with apartments for him and his wife, Queen Phillipa, arranged around courtyards (although some of the work wasn’t completed until the reign of his successor, King Richard II – 1377-1399). It was also during King Edward III’s reign that the castle became the base for the Order of the Garter (which he created in 1348), a role it still fulfills.
Other works were ordered by successive Tudor monarchs including King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, and Queen Mary I. Parliamentary forces seized the castle during the Civil War (Oliver Cromwell did use it as his headquarters for a time) and Royalists were imprisoned here (King Charles I was in fact buried in a vault beneath St George’s Chapel after his execution having been previously imprisoned here).
The next major additions came in the reign of King Charles II (1660-1685) when the Upper Ward and State Apartments were reconstructed in baroque splendor, the latter complete with splendid murals ceiling paintings by Italian artist Antonio Verro (the murals were later destroyed but some of the ceiling paintings survive).
From the time of King William III (1689-1702), monarchs began spending more time at Hampton Court Palace but the focus returned to Windsor with King George III. He ordered a range of improvements and updates including modernising Frogmore House in the Home Park for his wife Queen Caroline (the property was subsequently used by various royals but no-one currently lives there), but many of these were stopped prematurely due to his illness. His son, King George IV, picked up where his father left off.
In the reign of Queen Victoria, Windsor became the royal family’s principal residence and was visited by heads of state including King Louis Philippe in 1844 and Emperor Napoleon III in 1855. The Queen’s husband, Prince Albert, died here on 14th December, 1861.
King Edward VII (1901-1910) and King George V (1910-1936) both had a hand in redecorating the palace and the Queen’s father, King George VI (1936-1952), was living in the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park when he succeeded to the throne.
In more recent times, the castle was the home to the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret, for much of World War II. The castle suffered its greatest setback in recent times in 1992 when a serious fire broke out in the Queen’s Private Chapel which destroyed several rooms including the ceiling of St George’s Hall which dated from the reign of King George IV. Restoration works took five years to complete.
Today the Queen spends many private weekends at the castle while the court is officially in residence here for a month over the Easter period and during Ascot Week in June – it’s at this time that the Garter Day celebrations take place with the installation of new knights.
The Queen also hosts State Visits here with banquets held in St George’s Hall as well as what are known as a ‘sleep and dine’ in which high profile figures are invited to dinner with the Queen before being shown a special display of items from the Royal Library and then spending the night. The Royal Standard flies from the Round Tower when the Queen is in residence.
As well as touring the State Apartments, the Gallery, Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House (completed in the 1920s for Queen Mary, wife of King George V), and St George’s Chapel, visitors to the castle can experience the Changing of the Guard at 11am every day but Sundays between May and early August (and every second day after that).
WHERE: Windsor (a short walk from either Windsor Central Station or Windsor & Eton Riverside Station); WHEN: 9.45am to 5.15pm until 27th July (times vary after this date – check the website); COST: £17 an adult/£10.20 a child (under 17s – under fives free)/£15.50 concession/£44.75 family (price includes an audio tour); WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/windsorcastle.
Around London – Leading ladies of the 18th century at NPG; “at risk” in London; and, Antarctic images at the Queen’s Gallery…
October 20, 2011
• A new exhibition featuring some of London’s leading ladies of the eighteenth century opens at the National Portrait Gallery today. The First Actresses: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons is the first exhibition devoted to eighteenth century actresses and features 53 portraits depicting the likes of Gwyn and Siddons as well as Lavinia Fenton, Mary Robinson and Dorothy Jordan. Highlights of the exhibition include a little known version of Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Sarah Siddons as the “tragic muse”, William Hogarth’s The Beggar’s Opera and Thomas Gainsborough’s portraits of Giovanna Bacelli and Elizabeth Linley. The exhibition reveals the key role these women played in the celebrity culture found in London (and elsewhere) during the period. As a counterpoint, an accompanying exhibition displays photographs and paintings of some of today’s actresses. Runs until 8th January (an admission charge applies). For more information on the exhibition or the programme of accompanying events, see www.npg.org.uk.
• Cemetery in Hackney and Kensal Green, a park in Hounslow and a Piccadilly property formerly used as the Naval and Military Club are among the “priority sites” listed on English Heritage’s annual Heritage At Risk Register. Released earlier this week, the register’s 10 London”risk priority sites” include London’s first metropolitan cemetery – Kensal Green (All Souls) – which dates from 1833, Gunnersbury Park in West London – featuring a large country home known as Gunnersbury Park House, it was built in 1801-28 and later remodelled, and a mansion at 94 Piccadilly – built in 1756-60 for Lord Egremont, it was later used at the Military and Naval Club and is now for sale. Others on the list include Abney Park Cemetery in Hackney – laid out in 1840, it is described as London’s most important Nonconformist cemetery, a medieval manor farm barn in Harmondsworth in London’s outer west, Tide Mill in Newham, East London, and the entire Whitechapel High Street and Stepney Green conservation areas. For more information, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/caring/heritage-at-risk/.
• On Now: The Heart of the Great Alone: Scott, Shackleton and Antarctic Photography. Opening at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, tomorrow, the exhibition marks the centenary of Captain Robert Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole and features a collection of photographs presented to King George V by the official photographers on Scott’s expedition of 1910-13 and Ernest Shackleton’s expedition of 1914-16 as well as unique artifacts including the flag given to Scott by Queen Alexandra (the widow of King Edward VII) which was taken to the Pole. Highlights include Herbert Ponting’s images The ramparts of Mount Erebus and The freezing of the sea and Frank Hurley’s stunning images of Shackleton’s ship Endurance as it was crushed by ice. Runs until 15th April, 2012 (admission charge applied). For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.
September 20, 2011
Last weekend saw thousands of people make their way to rarely opened properties across London as part of Open House London. Among the properties we visited was the Middle Temple Hall, one the finest example of a 15th century hall in London (if not the UK). The hall was built in the 1560s and early 1570s – by which time the Middle Temple, one of the medieval Inns of Court (more of which we’ll be talking about in an upcoming series), had already existed for about 200 years – and the hall which the Temple currently used, that of the former Templar Knights, was starting to fall apart. The new hall was constructed under the direction of law reporter Edmund Plowden, then Treasurer of the Inn, and funded by members of the Middle Temple. In use by about 1570, Queen Elizabeth I is, according to some stories, said to have dined there many times and it was in the hall that the first performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night took place. While it suffered some damage in World War II bombings, the hall still looks much as it did in the late 1500s. It remains at the centre of the Middle Temple’s collegiate and social life and it is here that members are called to the Bar. Among the notable objects inside are numerous paintings and stained glass memorials of people associated with the Inn (including Sir Walter Raleigh and numerous monarchs – from King Charles I to King Edward VII) as well as the High Table – a table made of three 29 foot long planks from a single oak, it is said to be a gift from Queen Elizabeth I – and the ‘cupboard’, a smaller table which was apparently made from the hatch cover of Sir Francis Drake’s ship, the Golden Hind. Late note: I should add that the Middle Temple Hall is not normally open to the public.
September 9, 2011
The bridge – a major restoration of which was completed in March this year – was officially opened on 30th June, 1894, by the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) eight years after work on a new Thames crossing commenced, driven by the need for a bridge which was more accessible to people living in East London (at the time pedestrians and vehicles were facing considerable congestions, with some being forced to wait hours before crossing the Thames).
At the time of its completion, Tower Bridge (although not universally acclaimed at the time) was the most sophisticated and largest bascule bridge ever built – the word bascule comes from the French for ‘see-saw’ and refers to the action of the bridge when it swings open. The bascules, which took only a minute to open, were initially operated by a steam-powered hydraulic system although since 1976, they have been driven by oil and electricity.
The 293 feet tall structure was built from steel and clad in Portland stone and Cornish granite to ensure it blended with the nearby tower of London. It was built with two walkways joining to two great towers at a height of 110 feet. Initially open to the elements, these were conceived as a way for people to cross the bridge while the bascules were raised open but due to a lack of use, they were closed in 1910 (they were reopened in 1982 when the first permanent exhibition took up residence at the bridge).
These days as well as providing a thoroughfare across the river for pedestrians and vehicles (and still opening for larger boats and ships from time to time although 24 hours notice is required), the bridge – which, along with four other London bridges, is maintained by the Bridge House Estates trust, a charity whose roots go back to the 11th century – houses an exhibition which tells the story of its construction. The walkways provide wonderful views down the river.
Interestingly, the iconic colors of Tower Bridge only date from 1976 when the structure was painted red, white and blue for the Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee. Before that, the bridge was painted a chocolate brown though it was originally a greenish blue color.
One of the most interesting stories associated with Tower Bridge is that of a bus driven by Albert Gunton. On the bridge when it started opening in December 1952, he had to make the bus jump the gap – at three foot wide – to avoid the bus toppling into the river below. Passengers only suffered minor injuries and Gunton was later awarded a bravery award for his actions.
A list of times when the bridge will be lifted (this happens around 1,000 times a year) is kept on the Tower Bridge website.
WHERE: The exhibition entrance is located at the north west tower of the bridge (nearest Tube stations are Tower Hill or London Bridge); WHEN: 10am to 6.30pm (last admission 5.30pm) daily until end of September, then 9.30am to 6pm (last admission 5pm) until March; COST: £6 an adult/£4.20 concessions/£2.50 children aged 5 to 15 (under fives are free)/£12.50 for a family; WEBSITE: www.towerbridge.org.uk
Ahead of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton tomorrow, here’s a look at some of the more curious and interesting facts related to London’s Royal Wedding past…
• The first public Royal Wedding in modern times was that of Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI), and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) which took place on 26th April, 1923. Instead of being held at a royal chapel as was more usual, they were married at Westminster Abbey in a public display which was apparently staged to lift the national spirit in the aftermath of World War I.
• Lady Diana Spencer (later Diana, Princess of Wales) memorably said Prince Charles’ name in the wrong order during their wedding ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral on 29th July, 1981. Lady Diana accidentally called him Philip Charles Arthur George instead of the correct Charles Philip Arthur George.
• Queen Victoria’s extravagant wedding cake was the first to feature a model of the bride and groom on its summit (with a figure of Britannia looming over them). The two tier cake measured nine foot across and weighed 300 lbs.
• While white wedding dresses had been worn for some time, it was apparently after Queen Victoria wore a white dress at her 1840 wedding that the idea spread to the masses. (Interestingly, the first documented princess to wear a white wedding dress is said to have been Philippa of England, the daughter of King Henry IV, in 1406).
• The first televised Royal Wedding was that of Princess Margaret, younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, to Antony Armstrong-Jones (Lord Snowdon) on 6th May, 1960. It attracted some 300 million viewers worldwide.
• The tradition of a royal bride leaving her bouquet on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey was started by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. She apparently did so in tribute to her brother Fergus who had died during World War I. Princess Mary, daughter of King George V, made a similar gesture at her wedding in 1922 – she left her bouquet at the Cenotaph in Whitehall after her wedding.
• One of the most scandalous Royal Weddings was that of George, Prince of Wales (later King George IV) to Princess Caroline of Brunswick on 8th April, 1795 at the Chapel Royal in St James’s Palace. Described as being “far from a love match” on the Historic Royal Palaces’ website, Prince George was said to have been drunk during the wedding and at one stage apparently even attempted to escape from the ceremony.
• If the rain stays away, the newly married prince and his bride will be returning to Buckingham Palace in the 1902 State Landau. The open-topped carriage was constructed for King Edward VII’s coronation and apparently made roomy to accommodation him. The carriage was used by Prince Charles and Lady Diana when they left St Paul’s Cathedral after their 1981 wedding. If the weather it poor, it’s expected that the 1881 Glass Coach, bought for the coronation of King George V in 1911, will be used instead.
For more fascinating facts on Royal Weddings, see the BBC website (www.bbc.co.uk/history/royal_weddings), or Historic Royal Palaces’ blog, The ‘other’ royal weddings (http://blog.hrp.org.uk). For more on the current Royal Wedding, see the official website (www.officialroyalwedding2011.org).
November 10, 2010
We’re nearing the end of our series on Wren’s London (next week we’ll take a final look at some of the Wren designs we’ve not yet mentioned), so this week we look at one of his lesser known (and less accessible) designs – Marlborough House.
Tucked away behind high brick walls next to St James’ Palace just off Pall Mall, Marlborough House was built for Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough – a confidant of Queen Anne – and completed in 1711.
The duchess, who secured a lease of the site from Queen Anne, selected Sir Christopher as the architect in preference to Sir John Vanbrugh, but she later fell out with Wren and, after dismissing him, oversaw the completion of the building herself. It is believed that the design of the house was actually the work of Wren’s son, also named Christopher, although the plans were undoubtedly drawn up under Wren senior’s watchful eye.
The house, built of red Dutch bricks brought to England as ballast in troop transports, was noted for its plain design. But the walls of the central salon and staircases were decorated with scenes of battles the Duke had fought in.
The property remained in the hands of the Dukes of Marlborough until it was acquired by the Crown in 1817. The building – which was substantially extended in the mid 1800s to the designs of Sir James Pennethorne – was subsequently used by members of the royal family including Princess Charlotte (only daughter of the future King George IV) and her husband Prince Leopold (later the King of the Belgians), Queen Adelaide, widow of William IV, Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), George, Prince of Wales (later George V), King Edward VII’s widow, Queen Alexandra, and, lastly, Queen Mary, widow of George V.
Following the death of the Queen Dowager in 1953, Queen Elizabeth II donated it for use by the Commonwealth Secretariat who still occupy the building today.
WHERE: Pall Mall (nearest Tube stations are Green Park and Piccadilly); WHEN: Two hour tours are usually held every Tuesday morning (check first); WEBSITE: www.thecommonwealth.org/Internal/191086/34467/marlborough_house/