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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s London’s oldest…surviving cabmen’s shelter?


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

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

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

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

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

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

As to which is the oldest?

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s London’s oldest…cheesemonger?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PICTURE: Herry Lawford (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

 

 

 

10 historic London hotels…4. The Langham Hotel…

This sprawling London hotel in Portland Place – just past the top end of Regent Street – has spent much of its life as a hotel but was also once part of the BBC.

Built in 1863-65 to the plans of John Giles and James Murray, the £300,000 Langham Hotel – claimed as Europe’s first “grand hotel” – was deliberately designed to be on a scale and with a level of magnificence the city had not yet seen.

Spread over 10 floors – including those below ground – and designed in the style of an Italian palace, it boasted 600 rooms including numerous suites and featured mod-cons including the city’s first hydraulic lifts (electric lighting and air-conditioning would follow).

Features included its celebrated Palm Court, said to be the birthplace of the traditional afternoon tea.

It opened in a rather spectacular celebration on 10th June, 1865, with more than 2,000 guests including the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).

It soon gained a reputation among the rich and influential. Along with exiled members of European royal families including the Emperor Napoleon III of France and exiled Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, those who stayed here included the likes of American writer Mark Twain, Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, explorer Henry Morton Stanley and romantic novelist Ouida.

Charles Dickens believed there was no better place for dinner parties and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, another guest, used it as a setting in his Sherlock Holmes novels.

Its proximity to All Soul’s in Langham Place – the scene of many a fashionable wedding – saw it host many wedding receptions and the servants at Langham were led in prayers each morning by a clergyman from the church.

It was also popular with international musicians and artists thanks to the location of Queen’s Hall nearby.

The Langham declined in popularity during the two World Wars as the social centre of London moved west. Having served as a first aid and military post during World War II, it was badly damaged during the Blitz with much destruction caused when its massive water tank ruptured.

After the war, the BBC bought the hotel and used it for offices, studios and the BBC Club.

The BBC sold the building in the mid-Eighties and in 1991 after a £100 million renovation, it reopened as the Langham Hilton Hotel with Diana, Princess of Wales, a regular visitor.

It was sold again in 1995 and extended and refurbished. It again underwent a five year, £80 million, refurbishment in the mid 2000s, reopening in 2009.

The five star Langham – now the flagship of a group of hotels, celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2015 with the opening of the Regent Wing as well as The Sterling Suite, a luxurious six bedroom suite, and a new Langham Club Lounge.

Now a Grade II-listed building, it contains some 380 suites and rooms as well as The Grand Ballroom, the aforementioned Palm Court, restaurants including Roux at The Landau and Artesian, a British tavern, The Wigmore, and a spa.

It has appeared in numerous films, including the 1995 James Bond film, GoldenEye, in which it doubled for a hotel in St Petersburg. It also features a City of Westminster Green Plaque commemorating a meeting there between Oscar Wilde, Conan Doyle and Joseph Marshall Stoddart who commissioned the two writers to write stories for his magazine.

For more, see www.langhamhotels.com/en/the-langham/london.

PICTURE: Top – Sheep”R”Us (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – David Adams

Correction – this is actually number four in our special series, not three!

10 historic London hotels…2. The Savoy…


The first purpose-built luxury hotel built in Britain (and often referred to as London’s “most famous” hotel), The Savoy opened its doors on 6th August, 1889.

Located on the river side of the Strand on the site of what had been the medieval Savoy Palace (its most famous resident was John of Gaunt), the hotel was built by theatre impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte using profits made from his staging of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, some of which were performed in the neighbouring Savoy Theatre.

The now Grade II-listed building, which apparently had no overall architect in its initial design process, exuded opulence and its interiors included the latest in modern amenities such as electric lighting and lifts, en suite bathrooms in most of the guest rooms and constant cold and hot running water.

César Ritz, who would later rise to fame as the owner of The Ritz Hotel in Paris and then London (see our recent post), was hired as the manager and Auguste Escoffier as the chef. Together they oversaw the introduction of a new, unprecedented level of hotel service which would set the standard for future enterprises. This included keeping a comprehensive index of guest’s tastes and preferences and saw Escoffier revolutionise the restaurant industry in the country with the creation of various “stations” in the kitchen (his pots and pans are apparently still at the hotel).

The hotel was expanded in 1903-04 under the eye of architect Thomas Edward Collcutt (the designer of Wigmore Hall) with new east and west wings and the main entrance was moved from the river side of the building to Savoy Court running off The Strand. The Front Hall is a survivor of this period while the Lancaster Ballroom dates from 1910.

The hotel underwent further remodelling in the 1920s – it was during this period that the famous stainless steel sign over the Savoy Court entrance, designed by art deco architect Howard Robertson (later Sir Howard), was created (Savoy Court incidentally is the only street in the UK where traffic must keep to the right – more on that another time). The sign is topped with a gilt statue of Peter of Savoy, the uncle to King Henry III’s wife, Eleanor of Provence (pictured below). It was Peter who first built the Savoy Palace on the land where the hotel now stands. The sign, meanwhile, was created for the 1904 extension but placed here during the 1920s works.

Further modifications – including the introduction of air conditioning – followed in later decades. The hotel now boasts some 267 rooms and suites (the latter include the Royal Suite which spans the entire riverside of the fifth floor), many of which feature panoramic views of the River Thames.

Famous guests over the years have included royalty such as King Edward VII (when Prince of Wales) as well as more recent royals, French actress Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin, Sir Henry Irving and Sir Laurence Olivier. It’s also hosted a who’s who of Hollywood – everyone from Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland to Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne – and US President Harry S Truman.

Others associated with the hotel include opera singer Dame Nellie Melba – the dessert known as a Peach Melba was created here in her honour, and artist Claude Monet, who painted Waterloo Bridge from a position on one of the balconies.

Among other significant events to take place within its walls was a 1905 “Gondola Party” hosted by American millionaire George A Kessler which saw the central courtyard flooded as part of a recreation of Venice with guests dining on an enormous gondola and entertainment featuring singer Enrico Caruso.

In 1953, to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the hotel hosted a ball attended by 1,400 of the rich and famous with special touches including 16 Yeoman Warders from the Tower of London who lined the entrance staircase.

Films shot here include Kipps (1921), based on a HG Wells novel (Wells was in attendance during the filming), The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981) and Notting Hill (1999).

The Savoy remained in the Carte family until it was bought by an American private equity house in 1998 and eventually sold, in the mid-2000s, to become part of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts of Canada.

Closed in late 2007 for a complete renovation (the cost of which has been put at £220 million), it reopened in October, 2010. Among restaurants and bars now in the premises are the Thames Foyer restaurant – hosted in a glass atrium, it’s where afternoon tea is taken, the American Bar – described as the oldest cocktail bar in Britain, the Beaufort Bar, and the restaurant Kaspar’s.

The latter is named after the hotel’s oldest “employee” – Kaspar the Cat. Carved in 1927 by Basil Ionides, the cat was created to act as a 14th guest in the private dining rooms when 13 guests were present, a figure which was considered unlucky and which, tradition held, meant the first person to leave the table would one the first to die.

Its origins go back to 1898 when a wealthy South African by the name of Woolf Joel apparently scoffed at the idea of 13 being an unlucky number at the table and volunteered to leave it first. He was shot dead back in South Africa just a few week’s later. In the wake of his death, management at the hotel decreed that any table of 13 would be joined by a staff member.

But this was only a short-term solution – not only there was there the privacy of diners to consider, the fact staff would be a person down when this was required was a problem. So when Ionides redecorated the private dining room ‘Pinafore’ in the 1920s, he created the cat, complete with napkin, to fulfil the role of the 14th diner. And so he has ever since. Kaspar, the subject of a children’s book written by Michael Morpugo in 2008, can these days be found in Kaspar’s or, when not working, in the Front Hall.

For more, see www.thesavoylondon.com

10 historic London hotels…1. The Ritz Hotel…

This Piccadilly institution was constructed from 1904 to 1906 and takes its name from Swiss hotelier César Ritz.

It was constructed on the site of a former coaching inn for the Blackpool Building and Vendor Company – it was the first steel-framed building in London – and designed by Mewés and Davis, the architects of the Paris Ritz. And even though Ritz himself was apparently actually retired at the time, it was built according to his specifications.

The exterior facade features Norwegian granite and Portland stone and boasts an arcade on Piccadilly which deliberately evokes the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. The interior, the work of Waring and Gillow, is designed in the style of Louis XVI and was designed to be opulent with all rooms featuring a working fireplace.

Public spaces include the Palm Court – famous for its traditional afternoon teas –  and a Michelin-starred restaurant with floor to ceiling windows overlooking Green Park. Other features include the Rivoli Bar, designed in 2001 by Tessa Kennedy to resemble the bar in the Orient Express, and the basement Ritz Club, a private casino.

The now Grade II*-listed hotel was officially opened by Ritz himself on 24th May, 1906, and was soon adopted by the rich and famous – the patronage of the Prince of Wales (future King Edward VIII) after the death of King Edward VII was one key reason for its success.

Actor Charlie Chaplin, who apparently had to have 40 police hold back the crowd to enter the hotel, is also a name famously associated with it as is that of Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova who performed here.

The Aga Khan and Paul Getty both had suites, and playwright Noel Coward and Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, regularly dined here while Tallulah Bankhead famously sipped champagne from a slipper in the bar. The Marie Antoinette Suite was also famously the location of a conference between Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower and Charles de Gaulle during World War II.

The hotel also featured in 1999 film Notting Hill, starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, and in the more recent TV drama Downton Abbey.

The five star hotel underwent a major 10 year refurbishment after it was acquired by the Barclay brothers in 1995. The complex these days includes the adjoining 18th century property William Kent House (designed, of course, by William Kent).

In 2001, the hotel was awarded the first Royal Warrant for Banqueting and Catering Services. Other boasts these days include being the only UK hotel to have a certified tea sommelier (among teas served is the hotel’s own Ritz Royal Blend).

For more, see www.theritzlondon.com.

Treasures of London – The Readymoney Drinking Fountain…

This gothic drinking fountain located in the centre of the Broad Walk in The Regent’s Park takes its name from Sir Cowasjee Jehangir, whose nickname, thanks to his business success, was ‘Readymoney’.

A wealthy industrialist from Bombay, Sir Cowasjee donated the four-sided fountain to the park in 1869 as a thank-you for the protection he and fellow Parsees received from British rule in India (hence why the fountain is also sometimes called the Parsee Fountain).

Made from 10 tonnes of Sicilian marble and four tonnes of red Aberdeen granite, it was designed by Robert Keirle – architect to The Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association – and made by sculptor Henry Ross (at a cost of £1,400).

Set on an octagonal stepped base, it features a basin on each of the four sides. Decorative elements above the basins include carved marble panels featuring a lion and a Brahmin bull.

Three of the gables feature a small bust – one of Queen Victoria, another of Prince Albert and another of Readymoney himself. The fourth has a clock instead.

The now Grade II-listed fountain was erected by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association and unveiled by Princess Mary of Teck (later Queen Mary, wife of King Edward VII) on 1st August, 1869 (she also has some gardens in the park named after her).

The fountain was restored in 1999-2000 and again in 2016-17. The water no longer flows but it remains as a memorial to Sir Cowasjee’s story.

PICTURES: Top – Peter Smyly (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0); Right – Chmee2 (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0) Images cropped.

A Moment in London’s History – Alexandra Palace burns down (again)…

This month marks 38 years since Alexandra Palace, known to many as the ‘People’s Palace’, in north London burned down – for the second time.

The palace – named for Princess Alexandra, wife of the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), and subsequently nicknamed ‘Ally Pally’ – was originally opened in 1873 as an entertainment and recreation centre inspired by the success of the Crystal Palace in London’s south.

But just 16 days later – having already attracted some 120,000-plus visitors – Alexandra Palace burned down when a fire started in the dome. A second palace complex was opened on the site two years later, on 1st May, 1875, and this palace, which a 1900 Act of Parliament declared was to remain forever available for public use, stood until 1980.

It served various purposes over the years including, of course, hosting various musical and threatrical events as well as hosting shooting events during the 1908 Olympics, acting as an internment camp during World War I, and being used as the transmitting centre for BBC radio and television – a role which saw it, in 1936, become the home of the world’s first regular public television service.

On 10th July, 1980 – having been transferred into the ownership of Haringey Council from the Greater London Council six months earlier and now in the early stages of a renovation project, it caught fire during a jazz festival.

Starting behind the venue’s historic Willis Organ in the Great Exhibition Hall, the fire spread through the roof and destroyed about a third of the building including the hall, Banqueting Suite, former roller rink and theatre dressing rooms. Only the Palm Court and area occupied by the BBC – including the theatre and transmitting tower – escaped damage (interestingly, the burnt out shell of the Great Hall featured in the film 1984, representing Victory Square).

The building was subsequently redeveloped and restored and reopened again on 17th March, 1988. Offering a range of recreational facilities including performance spaces, an ice rink, boating lake and animal enclosure, it now operates as a charitable trust administered by the London Borough of Haringey.

Grade II-listed since 1996, the palace is currently undergoing a £27 million restoration and development project which will see a new public space created in the East Court and allow visitor access to a range of historical artefacts, including photographs and early film, for the first time, as well as see the Victorian-era theatre restored.

The theatre will reopen in December but before that – on 1st September – will host the Proms with the BBC Concert Orchestra performing Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury (the event is already sold out). For more, see www.alexandrapalace.com.

PICTURE: Alexandra Palace today (Dun.can (licensed under CC BY 2.0))

This Week in London – Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries to open at Westminster Abbey; Royal Collection’s Indian treasures on show; and, Thomas Cole…

The new Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries at Westminster Abbey open to the public on Monday. The museum galleries, located more than 50 feet above the abbey’s floor in the medieval Triforium, tell the 1,000 year history of the abbey through some of its greatest treasures. Entry to the Triforium – never before open to the public – is via the new Weston Tower, the first major addition to the abbey since 1745 which comes with previously unseen views of the neighbouring Palace of Westminster. The exhibition in the galleries, meanwhile, features some 300 objects and tells the abbey’s story around four major themes – building the abbey, worship and daily life, the abbey’s relationship to the monarchy and its role as a national place of commemoration and remembrance. Among the items on show are a column capital from the cloister of St Edward the Confessor’s Church (built around 1100), a scale model of the abbey commissioned by Sir Christopher Wren which features a never built massive central spire, The Westminster Retable (1259-69) – the oldest surviving altarpiece in England, the Litlyngton Missal – an illuminated 14th century service book, Queen Mary II’s Coronation Chair dating from 1689, the 2011 marriage licence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and early abbey guidebooks for visitors. The new galleries and tower were completed in a £22.9 million project funded through private donors and trusts. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org/visit-us/plan-your-visit/the-queens-diamond-jubilee-galleries/.  PICTURES: Top – The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries; Right – The Weston Tower (Images courtesy of Westminster Abbey/Alan Williams).

The Royal Collection’s South Asian art goes on show at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace from tomorrow. Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India 1875-6 centres on the historic four month visit made by Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) to the subcontinent prior to his mother, Queen Victoria, being formally declared Empress of India. It brings together some of the finest examples of Indian design and craftsmanship in the Royal Collection including some of the 2,000 gifts presented to the Prince on his tour. Highlights include an enamelled gold and diamond perfume holder given by Ram Singh II, Maharajah of Jaipur, a 10 piece gold service given by the Maharaja of Mysore, and a jewelled walking stick featuring a concealed gun, thought to have been the gift of Maharao Ram Singh of Bundi. There are also enamelled peacock feather fans, a gold and emerald turban ornament, and a brooch and necklace featuring a depiction of the Prince and Princess of Wales. The display can be seen until 14th October. Admission charge applies. The exhibition is being shown alongside Splendours of the Subcontinent: Four Centuries of South Asian Paintings and Manuscripts, which features highlights from the Royal Collection’s world-class holding of paintings and manuscripts from the region. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.

British-born artist Thomas Cole’s depictions of the unspoiled American wilderness form the centre of a new exhibition at The National Gallery. Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire includes 58 works, mostly on loan from North American collections, including his iconic painting cycle The Course of Empire (1834-6), and the masterpiece that secured his reputation (and which has never been seen in the UK before), View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm – The Oxbow (1836). Cole’s paintings will be shown alongside those of artists who had the greatest influence on him including JMW Turner and John Constable. Opens on 11th June and runs until 7th October. Admission charge applies. As a bonus, The National Gallery is also hosting a free exhibition of a series of 10 works created by Ed Ruscha in response to Cole’s The Course of Empire. These can be seen in Room 1. Admission is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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

10 islands in the Thames – 9. Taggs Island…


Formerly known as Walnut Tree Island (among other names), this Thames River island, which lies just upstream of Hampton Court Place, was once a playground for the wealthy and is now home to about 100 residents living in houseboats.

The island was once part of the manor of Hampton Court and by the mid-19th century was home to a number of squatter families who made a living by harvesting osiers (willow rods) used in basket weaving.

In 1850, it was purchased by a property speculator and lawyer Francis Kent (another name for the island was Kent’s Ait) who evicted the squatters and rented part of the island to Joseph Harvey, who established a pub called The Angler’s Retreat there. Another part he leased to a local boatbuilder and waterman named Thomas George Tagg who set up a boat rental and boat-building business there.

In the 1870s, Tagg – whose name became that of the island’s – took over the licence of the pub and built a larger, more imposing hotel in its place, transforming the backwater establishment into a high society favourite. Among its patrons were none other than Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and the actress Sarah Bernhardt.

The island also become a mooring site for luxurious houseboats and by the 1880s, the island was ringed with the craft – among those who rented one was none other than JM Barrie, later the author of Peter Pan.

In 1911, Tagg’s original lease of the island ran out and it was subsequently taken by Fred Karno (formerly known as Fred Westcott), a theatre impresario who is credited with having ‘discovered’ Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel and who had stayed in houseboats on the island.

He subsequently built a luxurious hotel there, The Karsino, which he sold in 1926, but which went on to change hands several time over the ensuring years (and names – it became known variously as the Thames Riviera and the Casino Hotel).

Eventually, in a badly dilapidated state, the hotel once known as The Karsino was demolished in 1971 (but not before putting in an appearance in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange).

Karno also owned a luxurious houseboat, the Astoria, which was once moored on the island but which is now owned by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour (who adapted it into a rather stylish recording studio in the Eighties – A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell were apparently both recorded here) and moored upstream on the northern bank of the Thames.

A road bridge was built to connect the island to the mainland in the 1940s – when the island was being used to produce munitions – but this collapsed in the 1960s.

A new bridge was built to the island in the 1980s and a small lagoon carved out of the centre to increase the number of mooring sites for houseboats.

No homes are these days permitted to be constructed on the island but it’s still a mooring place for houseboats, some 62, in fact. These days the island owned by an association of the houseboat owners who each have their own garden on the island.

In the centre of the island is a rather unique sundial (see below). And just to the south-east of Taggs Island lies the much smaller Ash Island; the stretch of water separating the two was apparently once known as Hog’s Hole.

PICTURES: Top – Houseboats on Taggs Island ( Motmit at en.wikipedia/licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0) ; Right – The Karsino in 1924 (Adam37/licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0); Below – The sundial (stevekeiretsu/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Lost London – Canterbury Music Hall, Lambeth

Described by the Theatres Trust as a “key building” in music hall history, the Canterbury Music Hall was first erected in Westminster Bridge Road in 1852 on the site of an old skittles alley which had been attached to the Canterbury Tavern.

It was the tavern owner, Charles Morton, who erected the building which he apparently paid for out of the profits he made on selling drink while offering the entertainment for free.

Morton built upon the “song and supper room” tradition by employing a resident group of singers and such was its popularity that only a couple of years after the doors to the first hall opened, Morton was able to build a second, much larger music hall on the same site complete with a grand staircase, supper room and art gallery as well as seating for some 1,500 people.

Among stars to perform there was French acrobat Charles Blondin, who apparently made his way across the hall on a tightrope tied between the balconies.

In 1867 William Holland took a lease from Morton and the programmes then began to move away from the light music and ballads it was known for toward a more varied program with comedy prevailing. The art gallery was converted into a bar and a proscenium stage may have been added at this time.

RE Villiers took over management in 1876 and the building was again largely rebuilt – this time as a three tier theatre with a sliding roof. The venue hosted regular ballet performances and these proved popular with royalty – the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) was said to be a regular patron. The interior was again remodelled, this time with an Indian theme, in 1890.

The decline of the popularity of music halls saw it start to show films from 1914 and eventually to become a dedicated cinema. It survived until it was destroyed during a World War II bombing raid in 1942.

PICTURE: A print showing the hall after its 1856 rebuild (via Wikipedia)

 

 

Eight historic department stores in London…6. Debenhams…

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. 

debenhamsThe 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.

Treasures of London – Queen Alexandra Memorial…

Queen-Alexandra-MemorialErected 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.

Queen-Alexandra-Memorial-smallThe now Grade I-listed bronze memorial, which is the work of Alfred Gilbert and was erected in 1932, is sometimes described as London’s only Art Nouveau statue.

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.

London Pub Signs – The Prince of Wales…

Prince-of-WalesAnother 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/.

Treasures of London – The Australian State Coach…

Australian-State-Coach
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…

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/.

Killer_Cabinet_1840sThe 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.

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

This Week in London – Bridges in focus; cheap entry to Tower Bridge; WW1 nurse honoured; and, Dennis Hopper’s photographs…

Bridge-ExhibitionA 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.

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

Around London: Historic pearls at the V&A; ‘Big Brother’ house opening; aircraft pioneers honoured; and Jonathan Yeo at the NPG…

The_Rosebery_Tiara_QMA_Collection._Photo_c_SothebysA pearl-drop earring worn by King Charles I at his execution in 1649, pearl tiaras worn by European nobles and a pearl necklace given to Marilyn Monroe by Joe DiMaggio in 1954 are among the items on display as part of a new exhibition which opened at the V&A last Saturday. The V&A and Qatar Museums Authority exhibition traces the history of pearls from the early Roman Empire to now and features more than 200 pieces of jewellery and works of art. Other items on display include ‘Queen Mary II’ pearls dating from 1662-1664, a miniature portrait of Queen Charlotte wearing pearl jewellery and a set of buttons, finely enamelled and framed with pearls, worn by George III in 1780. There’s also the Dagmar necklace given to Princess Alexandra when she married the future King Edward VII in 1863. The exhibition is part of the Qatar UK 2013 Year of Culture. Admission charge applies. Runs until 19th January. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: Lady Rosebery’s pearl and diamond tiara (1878) © Christie’s Images.

The Big Brother house – located in Elstree Studios in north London – opens to the public tomorrow and on Saturday as part of a partnership between Initial – an Endemol Company, Channel 5 and the National Trust. Some two million people tuned in to watch the final night of the show this summer leading one TV critic to describe the property as “the most important house in Britain”. The opening is being preceded by an Opening Gala featuring housemates past and present as well as celebrities – but that’s an invitation only event. Sadly, tickets for the opening are already sold out – for returns and your last chance of getting in, follow this link.

The UK’s first aircraft manufacturers – Horace, Eustace and Oswald Short – have been commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque placed on their former workshop in Battersea. Unveiled this week by Jenny Body – the first female president of the Royal Aeronautical Society, the plaque can be found at the railway arches near Queen’s Circus where the brothers, who lived nearby in the Prince of Wales Mansions, worked on ballooning and first made the transition to aircraft construction. Among their firsts was the construction of the first British powered aircraft to complete a circular mile of flight and the creation of Britain’s first ever purpose-built aircraft factory (it was located on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent). For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

On Now: Jonathan Yeo Portraits. New and previously unseen works including a six foot high portrait of controversial artist Damien Hirst and a portrait of Kevin Spacey as King Richard III feature in this exhibition running at the National Portrait Gallery. Other subjects featured in the painted works include media mogul Rupert Murdoch, model Erin O’Connor, artist Grayson Perry and actor Sierra Miller. Runs until 5th January. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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…

Norman-Hartnell-sketchThe 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/.

The-Future-Was-HereOn 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.

Special – 10 facts about royal births of years past…

Buckingham-Palace

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.