Eighteenth century physician Dr Richard Mead is noted not only for his attendance on the rich and famous of his time – including royalty – but also for his philanthropy, his expansive collections and, importantly, his contributions in the field of medicine.

Born in Stepney, London, on the 11th August, 1673, as the 11th of 13 children of nonconforming minister Matthew Mead, Mead studied both Utrecht and Leiden before receiving his MD in Italy. Returning to England in 1696, he founded his own medical practice in Stepney.

He married Ruth Marsh in 1699 and together the couple had at least eight children, several of whom died young, before her death in 1720 (he subsequently married again, this time to Anne, daughter of a Bedfordshire knight, Sir Rowland Alston).

Having published the then seminal text – A Mechanical Account of Poisons – in 1702, the following year Mead was admitted to the Royal Society. He also took up a post as a physician at St Thomas’ Hospital, a job which saw him move to a property in Crutched Friars in the City – his home until 1711, when he relocated to Austin Friars.

It was after this that he become friends with eminent physician John Radcliffe who chose Mead as his successor and, on his death in 1714, bequeathed him his practice and his Bloomsbury home (not to mention his gold-topped cane, now on display at the Foundling Museum – see note below).

Following Radcliffe’s death, in August of that year Dr Mead attended Queen Anne on her deathbed. Other distinguished patients over his career included King George I, his son Prince George and daughter-in-law Princess Caroline – in fact he was appointed as official physician to the former prince when elevated to the throne as King George II – as well as Sir Isaac Newton, lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope, Sir Robert Walpole and painter Antoine Watteau.

Mead, who had been named a governor of St Thomas’ in 1715 and elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1716, was over the years recognised as an expert in a range of medical fields – including, as well as poisons, smallpox, scurvy and even the transmission of the plague.

Among the many more curious stories about Dr Mead is one concerning a ‘duel’ (or fistfight) he apparently fought with rival Dr John Woodward outside Gresham College in 1719 over their differences in tackling smallpox and others which concern experiments he conducted with venomous snakes to further his knowledge of venom before writing his text on poisons.

Dr Mead was also known for his philanthropy and became one of the founding governors of the Foundling Hospital (as well as being its medical advisor) – a portrait of him by artist Allan Ramsay (for whom he was a patron), currently hangs at the museum.

Dr Mead, who by this stage lived in Great Ormond Street in Bloomsbury (the property, which backed onto the grounds of the Foundling Museum and which Mead had moved into after his first wife’s death, later formed the basis of the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children), is also noted for the large collection he gathered of paintings – including works by Dürer, Holbein, Rembrandt, and Canaletto, a library of more than 10,000 books, antiquities and classical sculpture as well as coins and jewels, all of which scholars and artists could access at his home (it took some 56 days to sell it all after his death).

While Dr Mead – who died on 16th February, 1754 – was buried in the Temple Church, there is a monument to him – including a bust by Peter Scheemakers – in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey.

Dr Mead is currently being honoured in an exhibition at the Foundling Museum – The Generous Georgian: Dr Richard Meadwhich runs until 4th January. There’s an accompanying blog here which provides more information on his life and legacy.

GreenwichFollowing on from the last moment in London’s history which looked at the death of Queen Anne, we pause a moment to look at the day 300 years ago – 18th September, 1714 – when her successor, King George I, landed at Greenwich as he arrived to take up his new throne.

There was apparently thick fog when the Elector of Hanover made his way up the Thames accompanied by a flotilla of boats carrying his family and entourage including 18 cooks as well as his mistress, Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenburg, and his half-sister Sophia Charlotte von Kielmansegg (known rather nastily among English courtiers as the “Maypole” and the “Elephant”).

He landed at the water gates of the Sir Christopher Wren-designed Royal Hospital for Seamen, now known as the Old Royal Naval College, in Greenwich (pictured above) but when the waiting crowds cheered the disembarking king, it was a case of mistaken identity. In fact, they were cheering his son, George Augustus (and future King George II) and by the time the king actually disembarked, much of the crowd had already dissolved, leaving a much smaller – and probably disappointing – gathering to welcome him.

The arrival of the king – a re-enactment of which took place at the ORNC last week – is depicted in a painting in the upper part of the the college’s Painted Hall. The work of artist James Thornhill, it depicts the king wearing Roman costume riding a chariot and appears alongside a figure of St George defeating the dragon (who, of course, stood for the papacy and family of the deposed King James II).

The Painted Hall also features a family portrait of the new Royal Family, excluding George’s wife Sophia Dorothea who was imprisoned in Germany at the time following allegations of infidelity. The future King George II is featured with his back to the king in reference to the hostility between the two of them.

The ORNC is currently looking to raise £5.5 million to conserve Thornhill’s paintings following a restoration of the Painted Hall in 2013. For more details, head to www.ornc.org/support/current/conserve-the-painted-hall.

Queen-Anne

While much attention is being paid this year to the fact it’s the 300th anniversary of the accession of King George I (and the House of Hanover), we thought we’d take a quick look at the event which precipitated that moment – the death of the last Stuart monarch, Queen Anne, on 1st August, 1714.

The queen (depicted here in Richard Belt’s copy of a Francis Bird original outside St Paul’s Cathedral), who had ruled since 1702 and was the first monarch of Great Britain thanks to the 1707 Act of Union, died at Kensington Palace at about 7.30am. She had apparently suffered a series of strokes, having experienced declining health for the previous couple of years (this included gout which had severely limited her mobility and saw her carried in a chair even at her coronation). She was 49.

Her body was so swollen at the time of her death that she had to be placed in a large square-shaped coffin which was carried by 14 men.

Following her funeral, on 24th August she was laid to rest next to her husband, George of Denmark (he’d died at Kensington six years before), in the Stuart vault on the south side of King Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey.

Many of the bones of her infant and stillborn children lie nearby (Anne was pregnant 18 times) and apparently due to a lack of space, only a “small stone” marks her grave site. Anne’s seated wax funeral effigy, modelled from her death mask, can be seen in the abbey’s museum.

The idiom “Queen Anne is dead” – used as a response to someone who brings old news or who states the obvious – is thought to have its origins in the idea that while news of her death was officially kept quiet so the Hanoverian succession could be shored up, news of it nonetheless leaked quite quickly meaning that by the time it was officially announced, it was already well known.

Historic Royal Palaces are offering you the chance to meet King George I and explore the world in which he lived at his former real-life home of  Hampton Court Palace this Easter weekend. A re-enactment marking the 300th anniversary of his accession will have the new Hanoverian king arrive by royal barge on the River Thames and will also include courtiers taking part in a “stately dance”, the King’s troupe of Hanoverian horses performing a “horse ballet” and a Georgian Army encampment with soldiers involved in firing displays. Visitors to the palace will also be able to see a new re-presentation of the Queen’s State Apartments which explores who the Hanoverians were, how they came to rule and their many and bitter family feuds. Runs from tomorrow (18th April) to 21st April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/.

The 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth is being celebrated with a week of events at the Guildhall Library next week. Kicking off on Tuesday, 22nd April, and running until Friday, 25th April, events include talks – with subjects including ‘Shakespeare’s London Theatreland’ and ‘Imaging Shakespeare’s Indoor Theatre’, and a six hour complete reading of Shakespeare’s sonnets with readers including actor Damian Lewis, author Alan Hollinghurst and Lord Mayor of City of London Fiona Woolf as well as Shakespeare-themed walks around the City and Southwark, and the free Shakespeare in Print exhibition at the Library. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visiting-the-city/archives-and-city-history/guildhall-library/Pages/default.aspx. Meanwhile, the V&A is also holding a Shakespeare Festival, kicking off next Monday and running until 4th May. Highlights of the festival include screenings of some of the best theatre productions of Shakespeare in the last 20 years, live performances by actors and musicians and a series of debates and talks including the “interactive lecture” Marchpane to Mutton – A Taste of Shakespeare’s Time by food historian and artists Tasha Marks. There’s also a competition – Cakespeare – in which the public are invited to design, bake and decorate a Shakespeare-themed cake and share an image of it on social media (#Cakespeare) by 4th May with the winner to receive a weekend for two to Stratford-upon-Avon and tickets to the Royal Shakespeare Company. The festival is being complemented by a display in the Theatre and Performance Galleries, Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright which features the First Folio as its centrepiece. Admission is free. See www.vam.ac.uk for more.

It might be two days ahead of the official saint’s day, but the Feast of St George will be celebrated in Trafalgar Square this Bank Holiday Monday with a banquet and guests including a five metre high interactive dragon. The festivities, hosted by Mayor of London Boris Johnson, will also include an English Farmers’ Market featuring 20 stalls, a kid’s marquee and traditional wooden garden games, harlequins on stilts, swing boats and circus lessons for children, a bandstand located in front of Nelson’s Column and a 12 foot tall Maypole. Runs from noon to 6pm. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/feast.

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

GeorgesThis year marks the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian accession and to celebrate, Historic Royal Palaces are running a range of events at Hampton Court, Kensington and Kew Palaces. The ‘Glorious Georges’ season opens on Easter weekend – we’ll be bringing more details closer to the time.In the meantime, see which of the Georges and associated figures you can identify in this image. For more, check out www.hrp.org.uk.

 

Armchair_for_Devonshire_House_ca._1733-40__Devonshire_Collection_Chatsworth._Reproduced_by_permission_of_Chatsworth_Settlement_Trustees._Photography_by_Bruce_WhiteThe life and work of William Kent, the leading architect and designer of early Georgian Britain, is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the V&A on Saturday. William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain covers the period 1709 to 1748 which coincides with the accession of the first Hanoverian King George I. the tercentenary of which is being celebrated this year. The display features more than 200 examples of Kent’s work – from architectural drawings for buildings such as the Treasury (1732-37) and Horse Guards (1745-59), to gilt furniture designed for Houghton Hall (1725-25) and Chiswick House (1745-38), landscape designs for Rousham (1738-41) and Stowe (c 1728-40 and c 1746-47) as well as paintings and illustrated books. The exhibition, the result of a collaboration between the Bard Graduate Center, New York City, and the V&A,  features newly commissioned documentary films and will have a section focusing on designs Kent created for the Hanovarian Royal family including those he produced for a Royal Barge for Frederick, the Prince of Wales (1732) and a library for Queen Caroline at St James’ Palace (1736-37). Runs until 13th July. Admission charge applies. See www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: Armchair for Devonshire House ca. 1733-40, © Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth. Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees.

A new City Visitor Trail has been unveiled by the City of London, taking visitors on a 90 minute self-guided tour of some of the City’s main attractions (or longer if you want to linger in some of the places on the itinerary). The trail – a map of which can be picked up from the City Information Centre – goes past iconic buildings such as St Paul’s Cathedral, Guildhall, Mansion House, Monument, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge as well as lesser-known sites. As well as the main route, there’s also five specially themed routes – ‘Law and literature’, ‘London stories, London people’, ‘Culture Vulture’, ‘Skyscrapers and culture’, and ‘Market mile’ – and a City Children’s Trail, provided in partnership with Open City, which features three self-guided routes aimed at kids. As well as the map, the City has released an app – the City Visitor Trail app – which provides a commentary at some of the city’s main attractions which can either by read or listened to as it’s read by people closely associated with the locations (available for both iPhone and Android). For more, follow this link.

The works of the 16th century Venetian artist known as Veronese (real name Paolo Caliari) are being celebrated in a new exhibition, Veronese: Magnificence in Renaissance Venice at the National Gallery. More than 50 of his works are featured in the display including two altarpieces never before seen outside Italy: The Martyrdom of Saint George (about 1565) from the church of San Giorgio in Braida, Verona, and The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine (1565-70) from the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice. Others include early works like The Supper at Emmaus (about 1565), the beautiful Portrait of a Gentleman (c 1555) and the artist’s last autograph work, the altarpiece for the high altar of San Pantalon in Venice (1587). Runs until 15th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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

This oddly located church on the Strand is the work of acclaimed architect James Gibbs – the first public project he embarked upon after returning from Italy where he had trained.

St-Mary-le-StrandWhile the history of St Mary le Strand goes at least back to the Middle Ages (and it initially stood just south of the current churches’ position on land currently occupied by Somerset House), the construction of the current church – the first of 50 built in London under a special commission aimed at, well, seeing more churches built in the capital to meet the needs of the growing population – began around 1715 (the foundation stone was laid on 25th February, the year after the accession of King George I.)

While building was briefly delayed by the Jacobite rising which broke out in 1715, the church was finally consecrated for use on 1st January, 1723.

Gibbs, who trained under a baroque master – a style which contrasted with the Palladian-style favoured by Lord Burlington and others, had apparently originally intended the church to be in the Italianate style with a campanile over the west end instead of the steeple  but this scheme also included a 250 foot high column surmounted by a statue of Queen Anne located to the west of the church which would celebrate the work of the commission (it’s also worth noting that the churches built by the committee – and they didn’t get close to building 50 – were known as “Queen Anne Churches” despite their construction taking place largely after her death).

However, plans for the column were abandoned on the queen’s death on 1st August, 1714, and instead Gibbs – a Roman Catholic who thanks to his supposed Jacobite sympathies apparently finished the project without pay, was ordered to use the stone which had been gathered to build the steeple and, thanks to that, amend his plans for the church into an oblong form rather than the square form he had initially intended. The work shows the influence of Sir Christopher Wren as well as churches in Italy.

The interior has been remodelled several times since its creation. The white and gold plastered ceiling was apparently inspired by the work of Italian sculptor and architect Luigi Fontana on two Roman churches and other features include paintings by American artist Mather Brown (these were put in place in 1785 and are located on panels on the side walls of the chancel – they were restored in 1994), while the crucifix behind the altar was presented by parishioners in 1893.

It the late 1800s, the London County Council proposed demolishing the church so it could widen the Strand for traffic but this plan was abandoned after an outcry led by artist Walter Crane (although the graveyard was removed).

Famous faces associated with the church include Charles Dickens’ parents, John and Elizabeth, who were married here in 1809, and there’s a story that during a secret visit to London in 1750, Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart) renounced the Roman Catholic Church by receiving Anglican communion here. The parish currently includes that of nearby St Clement Danes after the church was bombed in 1941 (it’s now central church of the Royal Air Force).

WHERE: St Mary le Strand, Strand (nearest tube stations are Temple, Covent Garden, Holborn, Charing Cross and Embankment); WHEN: Usually open 11am to 4pm from Tuesdays to Thursdays and 10am to 1pm Sundays; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.stmarylestrand.org.

Chocolate-kitchen

Once making chocolate for kings including William III, George I and George II, a special royal chocolate-making kitchen has opened at Hampton Court Palace – the only surviving example of its kind in the country. The opening – which is part of Historic Royal Palaces’ celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian accession – comes after research identified the exact location of the kitchen which, having been used as a storeroom, was found in a “remarkably well preserved” state with original fittings such as the stove and furniture intact. Among those known to have worked in the kitchen is Thomas Tosier (pictured above), personal chocolatier to King George I, and it was in here he prepared special chocolate drinks. (Interestingly, Tosier’s wife Grace apparently traded on her husband’s royal association to promote her own chocolate house in Greenwich). A new display in the kitchen explores how the chocolate was made for the king and features copper cooking equipment and bespoke chocolate serving silverware, glassware and linens from the 18th century. The Royal Chocolate Kitchen will also play host to live Georgian chocolate making sessions. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces/Richard Lea Hair.

WHERE: Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey (nearest station is Hampton Court from Waterloo); WHEN: 10am to 4.30pm until 29th March after which it’s open to 6pm); COST: Adult £18.20, Concession £15.40, Child under 16 £9.10 (under fives free), family tickets, garden only tickets and online booking discounts available; WEBSITE:www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/.

• A new exhibition exploring German-born George Frideric Handel and his association with the royal family opens at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury tomorrow to mark the 300th anniversary of the coronation of King George I. The museum says no composer has been more closely associated with the British monarchy than Handel, whose anthem Zadok the Priest has been performed at every coronation since King George II in 1727 and whose Water Music was performed on the River Thames during the Diamond Jubilee for Queen Elizabeth II in 2012. By George! Handel’s Music for Royal Occasions features treasures from the Gerald Coke Handel Collection and loans from the British Library, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum and Westminster Abbey. Runs until 18th May. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

A landmark exhibition of David Bailey photographs opens at the National Portrait Gallery today. Bailey’s Stardust – one of the gallery’s largest scale photographic exhibitions, it occupies most of the gallery’s ground floor – features more than 250 portraits including a new portrait of Kate Moss and previously unseen images from Bailey’s travels to the Naga Hills in India in 2012. There’s also rooms devoted to portraits of the Rolling Stones and Catherine Bailey, images from Bailey’s trip to Papua New Guinea in 1974 and from east Africa which Bailey visited in 1985 in support of Band Aid. Admission charge applies. Runs until 1st June. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

A new exhibition at the British Museum explores how six key artists redefined the notion of art in Germany in the Sixties and Seventies. Germany divided: Baselitz and his generation features some 90 works including some 45 by George Baselitz as well as works by Markus Lupertz, Blinky Palermo, AR Penck, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter. Thirty-four of the works, including 17 by Baselitz, have been donated by Count Christian Duerckheim while a loan of some 60 additional works from the Duerckheim Collection makes up the rest of the exhibition. Runs in Room 90 until 31st August. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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

The-GeorgiansThe Georgians are under the spotlight in a new exhibition opening at the British Library tomorrow. Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain explores the ways in which the Georgian world influenced pop culture in Britain today, everything from fashion and theatre-going to our obsessions with celebrity scandals. The display features more than 200 artefacts from the library’s collection and includes Jeremy Bentham’s violin, Joseph van Aken’s An English Family at Tea, rare books and magazines, and illustrations and designs of landmark building’s such as Sir John Soane’s home (and now museum) in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The exhibition, which is accompanied by a series of events (see the library website for details) comes ahead of the 300th anniversary of the accession of King George I next year. Runs until 11th March. Admission charge applies. Meanwhile, to mark the exhibition, the library has joined with Cityscapes in launching a new Georgian garden installation on the library’s piazza. Titled Georgeobelisk, the six metre high installation, will remain on the piazza for five months. A tribute to the four King Georges, it also serves as a reminder that it was also during the Georgian era that the British love of gardening was cultivated. For more, see  www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/georgiansrevealed/index.html. PICTURE: Spectators at a Print shop in St Paul’s churchyard © British Museum.

Painting normally housed in “Britain’s answer to the Sistine Chapel” go on display in Somerset House today. The artworks, described as the “crowning achievement” of wartime artist Stanley Spencer, usually grace the walls of Sandham Memorial Chapel but are on display in London while the National Trust carries out restoration work at the Berkshire property. Spencer painted the works – which combine realism and visions from his imagination and were completed in 1932 – after serving as a hospital orderly during World War I.  The free display – Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War – can be seen until 26th January. For more, see www.somersethouse.org.uk.

Regent Street’s Christmas lights – a preview of the upcoming DreamWorks film Mr Peabody and Sherman – will be turned on this Saturday night. Actor Ty Burrell, director Rob Minkoff and singer Leona Lewis will have the task of switching on the lights at about 7.15 pm while performers will include Passenger, Eliza Doolittle and former Spice Girls Emma Bunton and Melanie C. The event will be hosted by radio presenters Bunton and Jamie Theakston. The street will be traffic free all day and from 3pm to 7pm, Regent Street retailers will be showcasing fashions on a catwalk located just North of New Burlington Street. Programmes will be available from information points on the day.

A new organ was dedicated in Westminster Abbey’s Lady Chapel on Tuesday. The organ was commissioned by the Lord Mayor of London, Roger Gifford, as a gift to the Queen to mark the 60th anniversary of her coronation in 1953. The Queen agreed the organ, which had briefly resided at the Lord Mayor’s residence the Mansion House, should be installed permanently in the Lady Chapel, built by King Henry VII. The new organ was dedicated by the Earl of Wessex. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org.

Now On: Achievement: New Photographs 2011-2013. Inspiring Britons at the peak of their professions are the subject of an exhibition running at the National Portrait Gallery. The display of recently acquired and previously un-exhibited photographs depict the likes of writer and presenter Charlie Brooker (by Chris Floyd), actress Gina McKee (Mark Harrison) and Skyfall director Sam Mendes (Anderson & Low). Admission is free. Runs until 5th January in Room 37a. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

Grosvenor-Square-1

The largest square in Mayfair, Grosvenor Square was laid out in the 1720s on the orders of  Sir Richard Grosvenor of Cheshire.

Sir Richard owned the Grosvenor Estate, a considerable tract of land in London’s west which includes in its northern part the land upon which the square was created (the estate is now owned by Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, the 6th Duke of Westminster).

It’s proximity to Hyde Park and Whitehall quickly made it, like many other historic squares, a fashionable place for politicians to live – among those who lived here in the late 18th century were three prime ministers.

The oval-shaped gardens in the middle of the square – which was only opened to the public in 1948 – were once home to a statue of King George I but this was removed at some point. Originally thought to have been laid out by gardener John Alston, they took on their current form in 1948 when they were redesigned by architect BWL Gallannaugh (interestingly, Grosvenor Square is also said to have been the last part of London to exchange gas lighting for electric lighting).

There’s almost no residential buildings on the square these days but among the most prominent buildings (in fact it dominates the west end of the square) is the US Embassy. Designed by Eero Saarinen, the building was completed in 1960 with US President John F Kennedy one of the first visitors.

Grosvenor-Square-2The hulking embassy is only one of the many American connections to the square, connections which at one point led to it being known as “Little America”. Dwight Eisenhower, commander of the US armed forces in World War II, based his headquarters at number 20 in 1944, while number nine – one of the few residences to survive – was home to John Adams, first American ambassador to the Court of St James and later the country’s second president.

The American theme, which has meant the square has been the focus of demonstrations such as those protesting the Vietnam War as well as outpourings of support such as in the wake of the September 11 attacks, is also evident in the statutory in the square’s gardens with grand, full size statues of  President Franklin D. Roosevelt (a bronze by William Reid Dick unveiled by Eleanor Roosevelt on the third anniversary of the president’s death – 12th April, 1948 – it is pictured above), President Eisenhower (a bronze by Robert Dean dating from 1989), and President Ronald Reagan (unveiled on 4th July, 2011, pictured right).

On the eastern side of the garden square is the September 11 Memorial Garden opened in 2003 while on the south side is the Monument to the Eagle Squadrons, the three RAF squadrons in World War II mostly composed of American volunteers before the US entered the war. There’s also a set of memorial “Diplomatic Gates”, installed in 1984 to commemorate the bicentennial of the Treaty of Paris and honour US and UK politician who have worked in the service of peace.

Other notable buildings include number one, the Canadian High Commission (previously the US embassy); and number four, one of  square’s oldest houses. Now demolished, number 44 was the home of the Earl of Harrowby and where the British Cabinet were dining when word arrived of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo.

In the first of a new Wednesday series looking at historic London garden squares, we take a look at what next to Trafalgar Square, is the most famous square in the entire city – Leicester Square.

Located in the heart of the West End, Leicester Square’s history finds its origins back in the 17th history when Robert Sidney, the 2nd Earl of Leicester acquired property on the site where the square now stands. Then known as St Martin’s Field and located within the parish of St Martin’s, Sidney purchased four acres in 1630 and constructed Leicester House on land now located at the square’s northern end.

Leicester-SquareThe earl raised the ire of locals, however, when – having subsequently fenced off the land to prevent people from wandering on to his property – he enclosed what had previously been common land.

The people appealed to King Charles I who appointed three members of the Privy Council to look at the issue. Their decision? That the earl keep a section of his land open for the use of the parishioners of St Martin’s.

First known as Leicester Field, it was this land which later became known as Leicester Square. Fine homes were built around the square (its proximity to the Royal Court and centre of government made it a desirable place to live for the well-to-do and those seeking influence) with the centre enclosed with rails (it’s pictured here in 1750).

The square’s reputation also had a royal boost when, in 1717/1718, Leicester House became home to Prince George (later King George II) and his wife Princess Caroline along with their court after the prince fell out with his father King George I and was banished from St James’ Palace (this story is recounted in marvellous detail in Lucy Worsley’s terrific book, Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court).

The prince remained at the house for 10 years and was proclaimed King George II after his father’s death at its gate. Interestingly, King George II’s eldest son, Prince Frederick, also lived here for a time after he too fell out with his father (King George II). Apparently their relationship was even worse than the previous generation’s had been.

Despite its royal attractions, even at this stage the square apparently had it’s darker side with some less than savoury characters attending the hotels and livery stables that were built there. But things were to get worse as the wealthy moved out – a situation not helped when Leicester House was demolished in the 1790s.

Leicester Square became known as an entertainment venue in the 19th century (among attractions was the short-lived Royal Panopticon of Science and Art which showcased the best in science and art and Wyld’s Great Globe which contained a gigantic model of the earth) and received a new injection of life when theatres and music halls moved in, bringing the crowds back with them.

Shakespeare-StatueMeanwhile, the status of the square – and whether it could be built upon – remained a matter of debate well into the 19th century. That ended in 1874 when businessman Albert Grant bought the freehold of the land, had the garden created upon it and then donated it to the Metropolitan Board of Works as a gift to the city.

Responsibility for the management of the square now rests with the City of Westminster. The square area – which is now known for hosting film premieres as well as the tourists who inevitably gather there – was pedestrianised in the 1980s and has just undergone a redevelopment and modernisation which was unveiled last year.

Meanwhile, work to restore the 19th century Shakespeare statue and fountain in the square’s centre is about to be completed (pictured). The square also contains a statue of actor Charlie Chaplin in the square as well as busts of scientist Sir Isaac Newton, painter and first president of the royal Academy Sir Joshua Reynolds, 18th century pioneer surgeon John Hunter, and painter William Hogarth.

The tradition of the entertainment continues in the modern era through the cinemas which now stand in the square and regularly host film premieres (an interesting, if oft-repeated, film-related anecdote connected to the square is that it was in a phone booth located at the square that during the 1960s a young actor Maurice Micklewhite saw a poster for The Caine Mutiny and decided to change his name to Michael Caine).

PICTURES (top) Wikipedia and (below) City of Westminster.

Perhaps not so much a sign as a pub name, the strangely monikered Doggett’s Coat and Badge in South Bank is named after a rowing race – said to be the oldest continuous sporting event in the country – in which apprentice waterman traditionally competed for a prize consisting of waterman’s coat and badge and named after Irish-born actor and theatre manager, Thomas Doggett.

The race – which is held in July and runs over a course of four miles and seven furlongs from London Bridge to Chelsea (the starting and finishing points were originally both marked by pubs called The Swan) – was first held in 1715 when it was first organised by Doggett who financed it up until his death in 1721 after which he left instructions in its will for it to be carried on by The Fishmongers’ Company (which it still is today).

While there’s a nice story that Doggett, who managed the Drury Lane Theatre and later the Haymarket Theatre and carving out a name for himself as a ‘wit’, started the race as thanks to Thames watermen for rescuing him when he fell off a watercraft while crossing the Thames, Doggett – a committed Whig – actually started the race to commemorate the ascension of King George I – the first ruler of the House of Hanover – on 1st August, 1714, following the death of Queen Anne.

This year’s race winner was Merlin Dwan (London Rowing Club) who beat four others to finish in 24 minutes, 28 seconds.

The pub, one of the Nicholson franchise, is located in a multiple storey modern building complex and sits along the course of the race in South Bank. It features a range of bars including Thomas Doggett’s Bar and the Riverside Bar as well as a dining room and other function rooms.

For more on the pub, see www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/doggettscoatandbadgesouthbanklondon/. For more on the race (which we’ll be mentioning, along with more on Thomas Doggett, in more detail in upcoming posts), see www.DoggettsRace.org.uk.

A late 17th and early 18th century wood carver and sculptor, the curiously named Grinling Gibbons is remembered for his magnificent carvings in numerous English buildings including such London icons as St Paul’s Cathedral and Hampton Court Palace.

Not much is known about Gibbons’ early life. The son of English parents (his father was apparently a draper), he was born in Rotterdam in The Netherlands on 4th April, 1648, and, as a young man, is believed to have undertaken an apprenticeship as a sculptor in that country.

Around the age of 19, he moved to England – first to York and to Deptford in the south. It was the quality of his work which led diarist John Evelyn, having discovered Gibbons working on a limewood relief of Tintoretto’s Crucifixion in a small cottage near Deptford in early 1671, that led him to introduce him to Christopher Wren, the architect of the age, and fellow diarist Samuel Pepys and to eventually present him (and his relief) to King Charles II at Whitehall Palace on 1st March the same year.

But Gibbons’ work apparently failed to initially impress at court and it was only following his ‘discovery’ later that year by the court artist Sir Peter Lely that he began to receive major commissions.

It’s apparently not known when Gibbons married his wife Elizabeth and moved to London they were living there by 1672 and were having the first of their at least 12 children (while at least five of their daughters survived into adulthood, none of their sons did).

In 1672, they were living in an inn, called La Belle Sauvage or The Bell Savage, located on Ludgate Hill near St Paul’s, and, while Gibbons continued to maintain a workshop here into the 1680s, the family moved to Bow Street in Covent Garden around the end of the 1670s (the house here apparently collapsed in 1702 and was subsequently rebuilt in brick).

Gibbons, who was admitted to the Draper’s Company in 1672 and held various posts within it over ensuing years, reached the pinnacle of his success when he was made master sculptor and carver in wood to King William III in 1693, and was later made master carpenter to the king, then King George I, in 1719.

Having worked mostly in limewood, Gibbons, recently called the “British Bernini”, is known for his distinct and exuberant style which features cascading foliage, fruit, animals and cherubs. While he worked on numerous important buildings outside of London – including carvings in the Chapel Royal and king’s dining room at Windsor Castle, in a chapel at Trinity College in Oxford, at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and a famous ‘carved room’ at Petworth House in Sussex – and beyond (he also created two presentation panels – known as the ‘Cosimo’ and ‘Modena’ panels which were sent to Italy as royal gifts), Gibbons is also noted for his work on a number of prominent buildings in London.

Among the buildings he worked on or in around London are the churches of St James’s in Piccadilly, St Mary Abchurch, St Michael Paternoster Royal and, famously, St Paul’s Cathedral (where he carved choir stalls, the bishop’s thrones and choir screen) as well as Hampton Court and Kensington Palaces.

While he is primarily remembered for his limewood carvings, Gibbons’ workshop was also responsible for sculpting statues, memorials and decorative stonework. A couple of the workshop’s statues can still be seen in London – one of King Charles II in Roman dress at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea and another of King James II outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square – while the magnificent Westminster Abbey memorial to Admiral Sir Clowdisley Shovell is also attributed to him.

Gibbons died at his Bow Street home on 3rd August, 1721, and was buried in St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden (his wife had been buried there several years before).

For more on Grinling Gibbons, check out David Esterly’s Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving.

Often described as the “finest dining hall in Europe”, the Painted Hall in Greenwich was originally designed to be the Royal Hospital for Seamen’s communal dining hall. 

But the domed hall, which forms part of King William Court – the image, right, is taken from the west end, wasn’t used as such following its completion in the mid 1720s – designed by Sir Christopher Wren and his assistant Nicholas Hawksmoor with spectacular interior paintings by Sir James Thornhill, it was deemed too grand for such a mundane purpose and instead the veteran seamen, who had moved their dining hall to the undercroft, acted as tour guides for those who would pay to see its splendour.

The paintings, for which Thornhill received his knighthood, took almost 20 years to complete. They were designed to show Britain’s naval power as well as a variety of royal subjects in their splendour. The Stuart dynasty are featured on the ceiling of the Lower Hall while the West Wall depicts the Hanoverians – King George I surrounded by his children and grandchildren including the future King George II. Thornhill himself is also present on the lower right hand section of the West Wall painting while in the background is the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral – a reference to Sir Christopher Wren.

The hall has since served a variety of purposes but among the most significant events to take place there was the lying in state of the body of Admiral Lord Nelson following his death in the Battle of Trafalgar in October, 1805. A plaque at the top of the hall marks the spot where the coffin stood.

Between 1834 and 1936, the Painted Hall served as the National Gallery of Naval Art during which more than 300 paintings around naval themes were displayed there (today these form part of the basis of the National Maritime Museum’s art collection).

After an extensive restoration, in 1939 it was again used as a dining room for officers attending the Royal Naval College and for other grand dinners, including one celebrating the formation of the United Nations in 1946.

It’s now available for hire and has also served as a film location – including for films such as The Madness of King George, Quills and the more recent film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

An appeal has been launched to restore the hall with the expected nine month, £450,000 restoration of the West Wall paintings slated to begin after the Olympic Games. To donate, head here.

WHERE: King William Court, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich (nearest Docklands Light Rail station is Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich). WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.ornc.org/visit/attractions/painted-hall.

Covering almost 1,000 hectares, Richmond Park, located by the Thames in the city’s south-west, is the largest of the Royal Parks. We have talked about some of Richmond Park’s history in an earlier post, but here we’ll give a little more detail.

The park’s association with royalty goes back at least to the time of Edward I, who ruled in the late 13th and early 14th century, when it was part of the Manor of Sheen.

It was King Henry VIII who renamed the manor Richmond (after one he possessed in Yorkshire) but it was King Charles I to whom the park owes its existence as we know it.

Charles, who had brought the court to Richmond in 1625 to escape the plague, enclosed the park – then farmland and pastures – in 1637 with eight miles of walls (these still remain, albeit having been repaired) and kept 2,000 red and fallow deer inside. The move didn’t met with universal approval from his subjects but he did pay compensation and eventually give people a right of way and allow them to collect firewood after complaints.

Features within the park – which still contains 650 Red and fallow deer (don’t get too close!) – include King Henry’s mound which features a protected, although tiny, view of St Paul’s Cathedral in the city 12 miles distant – it’s said by some that it was here where King Henry VIII watched for fireworks to be set off at the Tower of London indicating Anne Boleyn had been beheaded although the truth of that remains lost to history (others say it was here he watched hunting parties in the park – perhaps more likely).

The park is also home to White Lodge – it was a hunting lodge built for King George I and is now The Royal Ballet Lower School (complete with ballet museum) – and Pembroke Lodge – this house with stunning views overlooking the Thames Valley, now a restaurant, was once home to Prime Minister Lord John Russell and later the childhood home of his grandson, Nobel Prize-winning philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell.

More recently created is the Isabella Plantation – a woodland garden created largely in the 1950s by George Thomson , then park superintendent, his head gardener, Wally Milleron, an area once known as The Sleyt or Isabella Slade. The garden is well worth a visit at any time of year, having been specifically designed to be interesting all year round.

Richmond Park also features a lake divided in two by a causeway – as so known as Pen Ponds – which was dug in 1746 and remains a good place to see waterbirds.

WHERE: The park is located south of the Thames-side village of Richmond (nearest tube is Richmond). WHEN: 7am in summer (7.30am in winter) to dusk; COST: Free to enter; WEBSITE:www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond_park/

An Ulster-Scots born physician, scientist and avid collector, Sir Hans Sloane served as doctor to no less than three British monarchs during the 17th and 18th centuries and during his life amassed a vast collection of natural specimens and curiosities which after his death were used to form the core of the British Museum’s collection.

Born on 16th April, 1660, at Killyleagh in County Down, Ireland, Sir Hans was the son of Alexander Sloane, a “receiver-general of taxes” who originally hailed from Scotland.

Even as a young man, he developed a keen interest in the natural sciences. Having suffered from some ill-health which, at the age of 16 is said to have kept him confined to a room for a year, in 1679, at the age of 19, he moved to London where he studied chemistry at the Apothecaries Hall and botany at the Chelsea Physic Garden – a period during which he befriended the botanist John Ray and chemist Robert Boyle.

Four years later, he travelled through France where he received his Doctorate of Physics. On his subsequent return to London in 1685, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society and in 1687 a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.

Given the chance to travel to Jamaica as physician to the new Governor, Christopher, the 2nd Duke of Albemarle, he only spent 15 months there (the Governor died soon after arrival). But it was an important period during which not only did he document and collect a vast amount of flora and fauna (bringing some 800 specimens back to London), he also came up with the idea of drinking chocolate with milk after witnessing locals drinking the dark chocolate with water but finding the mix made him “nauseous” (back in England, his concoction was first sold as a medicine and was later manufactured as a drink by Cadburys).

Having returned to London in 1689, he published the information he had gathered in Jamaica, and in 1693 he become secretary to the Royal Society.

In 1695 he married a Jamaican sugar planter’s widow, Elizabeth Langley Rose (with whom he had several children but of whom only two daughters, Sarah and Elizabeth, survived) and, thanks in part to an ongoing association with the duke’s widow, was able to set up a fashionable medical practice at 3 Bloomsbury Place on the northern end of Bloomsbury Square.

The house, not far from where the British Museum now stands, become something of an attraction in its own right, filled with objects and specimens he had collected on his travels as well as those – in some cases complete collections – given to him by others including friends and patients (in fact, he had to purchase the property next door, number four, to find room for them all – this property is now marked with a Blue Plaque).

The composer Handel is said to have been among those who visited the property and there is a delightful tale that says Sir Hans was outraged when Handel placed a buttered scone on one of his rare books.

With his services as a physician highly prized, in 1696, he was appointed physician to Queen Anne, the first of the three monarchs he would serve. In 1712-13, with his collection still growing, he purchased the Manor of Chelsea to help house it (four acres of which were leased to the Chelsea Physic Garden, which had been founded in 1673 with the idea of providing a training ground for apprentice apothecaries, in perpetuity).

He subsequently moved his collection out to this property and his connection with Chelsea is still celebrated in place names such as name Sloane Square (not to mention Sloane Street, Sloane Gardens, Hans Street, Hans Crescent, Hans Road and Hans Place). There is also a statue of the bewigged man in Duke of York Square (pictured), not far from Sloane Square – this is a 2007 copy of 1737 original by John Rysbrack, another (older) copy of which can be found in the Chelsea Physic Garden.

Following Queen Anne’s death in 1714, in 1716 Sir Hans was appointed physician to her successor, King George I (he was also created a baronet the same year, becoming the first medical practitioner to receive a hereditary title).

Three years later, in 1719, he become president of the Royal College of Physicians, an office he held for 16 years, and in 1727, he was appointed physician to King George II. The same year he succeeded Isaac Newton as president of the Royal Society, an office which he held until 1741.

In 1742, Sir Hans retired to his property in Chelsea.

By the time of his death on 11th January, 1753 at the ripe old age of 93, Sir Hans had collected more than 71,000 objects including books, manuscripts, drawings, coins and medals and plant specimens which he bequeathed to King George II in exchange for a payment of £20,000 to his executors.

Parliament agreed, following a lottery to raise the money, his collection went on to form the basis of the British Museum, first opened to the public in 1759 in Bloomsbury. It was also to form the basis of the museum’s later offshoot, the Natural History Museum at South Kensington.

Sir Hans was buried at Chelsea Old Church with his wife Elizabeth who died in 1724.

Found living ‘wild’ in the woods near Hamelin in northern Germany, in 1725, Peter was brought to London at the behest of King George I the following year (the king had heard of his plight while visiting his Hanoverian homeland and had initially had him taken to his summer palace at Herrenhausen). Peter subsequently spent time at the court of the king as well as those of the Prince of Wales, the future King George II, and his wife, Caroline of Ansbach.

On his arrival in London, Peter, believed to be about 15 or 16 years old when he was found, quickly acquired celebrity status – Daniel Defoe wrote a pamphlet, Mere Nature Delineated, in which he mused about his nature and Jonathan Swift wrote a satire on the excitement surrounding his arrival in London while a wax figure of him was exhibited in the Strand and along with other palace courtiers, he appears in a now famous painting by William Kent which still hangs on the king’s grand staircase in Kensington Palace.

Treated by the royals as something of a ‘pet’, efforts were made to educate Peter but later abandoned due to his apparent lack of progress. Many were also said to have been shocked at his lack of manners – something that may have helped contribute to his eventual departure from court.

When the king died in 1727, his daughter-in-law, now Queen Caroline, granted a yeoman farmer in Hertfordshire, James Fenn, a pension in return for looking after Peter.  He is recorded as having wandered off on a couple of occasions and, after one incident involving a fire in 1751, was fitted with a collar to prevent further escapes (the collar is still in the keeping of the Berkhamsted School in Hertfordshire).

Peter subsequently spent the remainder of his life in rural England (where he was known to have developed a love for gin but was generally remarked upon as being timid). Meeting him a few years before his death, Scottish philosopher and judge James Burnett, Lord Monboddo, recorded that while Peter could understand what was said to him, he could only say the words ‘Peter’ and ‘King George’.

Peter died in 1785, when he was at least 70-years-old. He was buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church in Northchurch, Hertfordshire.

It is now believed that Peter may have been affected by the chromosomal disorder Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome, thanks to the work of Historic Royal Palaces historian Lucy Worsley who, while researching the lives of courtiers at Kensington Palace for her book Courtiers, noted features such as Peter’s “cupid bow lips”, coarse hair and drooping eyelids in Kent’s portrait and passed on a description to a professor of genetics.

It is thought such a diagnosis may help explain why Peter ended up living alone in the German forest where he was found.

A once favored residence of British monarchs, Kensington Palace’s connections with royalty date back to 1689 when, then a private country home known as Nottingham House, the building was purchased by King William III and Queen Mary II.

The royal couple turned to Sir Christopher Wren, then Surveyor of the King’s Works, who was charged with adapting the property into a suitably regal residence.

Wren’s work included the addition of four new pavilions – one at each corner – to provide extra accommodation for the king and queen. The King’s Apartments, approached by a Grand Staircase, were located in the south east, and the Queen Apartment’s in the north west. While many later additions were made, the basic layout of these buildings remains true to Wren’s original design.

Among the many spectacular original rooms is the King’s Gallery, built for William in 1695. It features an 1694 wind dial connected to a weather vane which turns according to the direction of the prevailing wind.

The property’s subsequent royal residents have included Queen Anne, King George I and King George II (it was King George III who made Buckingham Palace his primary London residence). Princess (later Queen) Victoria was born here in 1819 (it was she who first opened the State Apartments to visitors in 1899) while more recent residents in the palace’s private areas have included Princess Margaret and, of course, Diana, Princess of Wales.

WHERE: The Broad Walk, Kensington Gardens, Kensington (nearest tube stations are High Street Kensington or Queensway); WHEN: Daily 10am to 5pm (last admission 4pm); COST: £12.50 adult/£11 concession/£6.25 child/£34 family (online booking discounts available, Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace

PICTURE: Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam.co.uk