In Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous 1886 story, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,the address of the home of Dr Henry Jekyll (and his alter-ego Mr Edward Hyde) is simply given as a square in Soho – then a rather seedy district.
Dr Jekyll is said to have bought the property from the heirs of a “celebrated surgeon”. Like the man himself, the house has two characters and features a “blistered and distained” rear entrance used by the dastardly Mr Hyde.
In a BBC Scotland documentary broadcast several years ago, author Ian Rankin identified the house in which Jekyll and Hyde lived as being based on that which pioneering Scottish surgeon and anatomist John Hunter (1728-1793) lived in on the east side of Leicester Square.
Hunter leased both the property at 28 Leicester Square (the present number 28 – the ground floor of which is a pub – is pictured) and another behind it (it fronted onto what was then Castle Street) in the 1780s. He then spent a good deal of money joining the two properties together, creating a complex of rooms which included space for his thousands of specimens (now in the Hunterian Museum) as well as an anatomy theatre. It was at the rear Castle Street entrance that he apparently received human cadavers, brought by so-called “resurrection men” for dissection.
“In the book, Stevenson gives a detailed description of the layout of Dr Jekyll’s home,” Rankin said in the documentary. “It is identical to John Hunter’s.”
He added that, despite Hunter’s “fame and respectability” – he was appointed Surgeon Extraordinary to King George III and was one of London’s most sought-after doctors, “Hunter still demanded a constant supply of cadavers for his growing anatomy collection and teaching”.
“Naturally Hunter’s new home, in Leicester Square, was purpose-built for a surgeon’s double life.” Or for the respectable Dr Jekyll and brutish Mr Hyde.
Interestingly, the previous owner of Dr Jekyll’s home us said to have been a Dr Denman – there was a Dr Thomas Denman who was a contemporary of John Hunter who was a pioneering obstetrician.
The Leicester Square property later became the site of the Royal Panopticon of Science and Art (more of that in an upcoming Lost London post).
PICTURE: Top – Number 28 Leicester Square as it is today/Google Maps; Below – A ground floor plan of John Hunter’s residence made in 1792 (drawn in 1832) © Wellcome Images/CC BY 4.0
February 3, 2017
Dating from 1766, the clock (pictured) sits in a seven foot tall decorated case, believed to have been made by London cabinet-maker Thomas Chippendale. Inside is a barograph – comprised of two tubes of mercury in which a float rises and falls as atmospheric pressure changes and the data is recorded on the clock dial which rotates once a year.
Scottish-born Cumming, who constructed his first barograph clock on the orders of King George III a year before this one in 1765, designed this clock based on ideas first outlined by Royal Society founding member Robert Hooke.
Following Cumming’s death in 1814, the clock was purchased by meteorologist Luke Howard – known as the ‘father of scientific meteorology’ – who used it to observe atmospheric pressure at his homes in London and Ackworth. The data gathered was published in his book Barometrographia in 1847.
While it has previously been loaned for display at the museum, it now forms part of the permanent collection.
WHERE: Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Gloucester Road); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.
PICTURES: Courtesy of the Science Museum.
September 17, 2016
Sure, it’s quite obvious that this well-known thoroughfare through Chelsea and Fulham in west London was named for a king but which king and why?
Access was granted only to those whom the monarch permitted – initially via ticket and from the 1720s via a copper pass stamped with the king’s monogram. Entry was controlled by a series of gates located along its length.
King George III was also known to use the route to travel to his palace at Kew and it was only in 1830 that it was finally opened to the public.
The road, which now runs west from Sloane Square for two miles through Chelsea, transforming into the New King’s Road after entering Fulham, is now known for its shopping (not to mention the site of the UK’s first Starbucks in 1999) although in the 1960s and 1970s it served as something of a hub for London’s counter-culture.
The road has been associated with many famous figures over the years – the king aside. Composer Thomas Arne lived at number 215 and apparently composed Rule Britannia while he did, actress Ellen Terry lived in the same property from 1904-1920 and bon vivant Peter Ustinov after her.
Other famous associations include one with Mary Quant, who opened her ground-breaking boutique Bazaar at number 138a in 1955 and Thomas Crapper, toilet entrepreneur, who had a premises at number 120.
This Week in London – Of Empress Catherine the Great and Capability Brown; a blue plaque double; and, the British graphic novel on show…
April 28, 2016
• A once forgotten collection of watercolour paintings and drawings owned by Empress Catherine the Great of Russia has gone on show at Hampton Court Palace as part of commemorations marking the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. The Empress and the Gardener exhibition features almost 60 intricately detailed views of the palace and its park and gardens during the time when Brown worked there as chief gardener to King George III between 1764 and 1783. The works came to be in the collection of the Empress – a renowned fan of English gardens – after Brown’s assistant, John Spyers, sold two albums of his drawings of the palace to the her for the considerable sum of 1,000 roubles. The albums disappeared into her collection at the Hermitage (now the State Hermitage Museum) and lay forgotten for more than 200 years before they were rediscovered by curator Mikhail Dedinkin in 2002. As well as the collection – on public show for the first time, the exhibition features portraits of Brown and the Empress, previously unseen drawings of her ‘English Palace’ in the grounds of the Peterhof near St Petersburg, and several pieces from the ‘Green Frog’ dinner service, created for the Empress by Wedgwood, which is decorated with some of the landscapes the prolific Brown created across England. Runs until 4th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.
• A house in Chelsea has become only one of 19 homes in London to bear two official blue plaques. Number 48 Paultons Square has the honour of having been home to two Nobel prize winners (albeit in different fields) – dramatist Samuel Beckett, who lived there for seven months in 1934 while writing his first novel, Murphy, and physicist Patrick Blackett, noted for his revolutionary work in U-boat detection during World War II, who lived there from 1953 to 1969. Other ‘doubles’ include 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead (home to Sigmund Freud and Anna Freud) and 29 Fitzroy Street in Fitzrovia (home to George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf). This year marks the 150th anniversary of the blue plaques scheme. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.
• The rise of the British graphic novel is the subject of a new exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury. The Great British Graphic Novel features works by 18th century artist William Hogarth as well as Kate Charlesworth, Dave Gibbons (one of the creators of the ground-breaking Watchmen), Martin Row, Posy Simmonds (creator of the Tamara Drewe comic strip) and Bryan and Mary Talbot. It runs until 24th July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org.
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April 18, 2016
This year marks 300 years since the birth of Lancelot “Capability” Brown, the most famed landscape designer of the Georgian age and a man who has been described as the “father of landscape architecture”.
Brown is understood to have been born in 1716 in the village of Kirkharle in Northumberland, the fifth of six children of a land agent and a chambermaid (he was baptised in on 30th August so it is believed his birth happened sometime earlier that same year).
He attended the village school before he worked as apprentice or assistant to the head gardener in Sir William Loraine’s kitchen garden at Kirkharle Hall.
Having left home in 1741 he joined the gardening staff of Lord Cobham, as one of the gardeners at his property in Stowe, Buckinghamshire.
There he worked with William Kent, another famed landscape architect of the Georgian age and one of the founders of the new English style of gardens, until, at the age of 26, he was appointed head gardener.
He remained in Stowe until 1750 and while there, in 1744, married Bridget Wayet (with whom he went on to have nine children). During his time there, he also created the Grecian Valley and also took on freelance work from Lord Cobham’s noble friends, a fact which allowed him to produce a body of work that would start to make his reputation.
Having struck out on his own from Stowe, he settled with his family in Hammersmith, London, in the early 1750s, already widely known and considered by some the finest gardener in the kingdom.
The work continued to flow in and it’s believed that, over the span of his career, Brown was responsible for designing or contributing to the design of as many as 250 gardens at locations across the UK, – many of which can still be seen today. As well as Stowe, these included gardens at Blenheim Palace, Appuldurcombe House on the Isle of Wight, Warwick Castle, Harewood House and Petworth House in West Sussex.
Following on from the work of Kent, Brown was known for his naturalistic undulating landscapes, in particular their immense scale, flowing waterways and a feature known as a ‘ha-ha’, a ditch which blended seamlessly into the landscape but which was aimed at keeping animals away from the main house of the estate.
His style, which contrasted sharply with the more formalised, geometric gardens epitomised in the French style of gardening, did not, however, meet with universal praise. Criticisms levelled against him including that he had often erased the works of gardeners of previous generations to complete gardens which were, in the end, described by some as looking no different to “common fields”.
It’s worth noting that Brown also dabbled in architecture itself – his first country house project was the remodelling of Croome Court in Worcestershire and he went on to design and contribute to the design of several houses including Burghley House Northamptonshire as well as outbuildings including stable blocks.
The nickname ‘Capability’ apparently came from his habit of informing his client that their estates had great “capability” for improvement. It’s wasn’t apparently a name he used himself.
So established became his reputation that in 1764 Brown was appointed King George III’s Master Gardener at Hampton Court Palace (as well as Richmond and St James’ Palaces), taking up residence with his family at Wilderness House. He also worked on the gardens at Kew Palace.
Brown died on 6th February, 1783, in Hertford Street in London at the door of his daughter Bridget’s house (she had married architect Henry Holland with whom he Brown had, at times, collaborated). He was buried in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul, the parish church of a small estate Brown owned at Fenstanton Manor in Cambridgeshire.
Brown impact on garden design in England is now undisputed although it wasn’t always the case – his contribution was largely dismissed in the 18th century and it was only in the later 20th century that he had become firmly established as a giant figure in the gardening world.
A celebrated portrait of Brown (pictured above) – painted by Nathaniel Dance in about 1773 – is in the collection of National Portrait Gallery.
For more on events surrounding the 300th anniversary of Brown’s birth, see www.capabilitybrown.org.
PICTURE: Capability Brown by Nathaniel Dance, circa 1773. © National Portrait Gallery, London
This Week in London – Seminal moments in Shakespearean performance; Maria Merian’s Butterflies; and, British conceptual art…
April 14, 2016
• It’s the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death (in case you missed that), and among the many events marking the occasion comes a major exhibition at the British Library focusing on 10 key performances that it says have made the Bard the “cultural icon” he is today. Shakespeare in Ten Acts, which opens on Friday, focuses on performances which may not be the most famous but which represent key moments in shaping his legacy. They span the period the first performance of Hamlet at the Globe theatre in around 1600 to a radical interpretation of the same play from US theatre company The Wooster Group in 2013. Among the exhibition highlights are a human skull which was given to the actress Sarah Bernhardt by writer Victor Hugo (and which she used as Yorik’s skull when she played Hamlet in 1899), a dress worn by Vivien Leigh playing Lady Macbeth in the 1955 production of Macbeth at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the only surviving play script written in the Bard’s own hand and rare printed editions including Shakespeare’s First Folio and the earliest printed edition of Hamlet from 1603 (one of only two copies in the world). The exhibition, which runs until 6th September, is accompanied by a season of events. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: Shakespeare’s First Folio 1623 British Library Photo by Clare Kendall.
• Still talking exhibitions commemorating Shakespeare’s death and a manuscript of William Boyce’s Ode to the Memory of Shakespeare will be on display at The Foundling Museum’s Handel Gallery from tomorrow. The work, which was composed in 1756, was performed annually at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. The manuscript, the first page of which was thought to be lost until it was acquired in 2006, formerly belonged to Samuel Arnold, who compiled the first complete edition of Handel’s works. Runs at the Bloomsbury-based museum until 30th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.
• Exquisite watercolours depicting the natural world go on show in The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace from tomorrow. Maria Merian’s Butterflies features 50 works produced by the eighteenth century German artist and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian. The works – many of which record the flora and fauna of the then Dutch colony of Suriname in South America, were published in the 1706 work Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname) and partially printed, partially hand-painted versions of the plates were purchased by King George III for his library at Buckingham House (later Buckingham Palace). As well as insects, the works – which were based on a visit Merian made to the colony in 1699, depict lizards, crocodiles and snakes as well as tropical plants such as the pineapple. The exhibition runs until 9th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-queens-gallery-buckingham-palace.
• The evolution of conceptual art in Britain is the subject of a new exhibition at Tate Britain in Milbank Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-1979 features 70 works by 21 artists and positions conceptual art “not as a style but rather a game-changing shift in the way we think about art, how it is made and what it is for”. Highlights include Michael Craig-Martin’s An Oak Tree (1973) and Roelof Louw’s Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges) (1987) as well as Victor Burgin’s Possession (1976), Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document (1974-78) and Conrad Atkinson’s Northern Ireland 1968 – May Day 1975 (1975-76). Admission charge applies. Runs until 29th August. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.
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This Week in London – On the education of Georgian princesses; servant’s lives on show; and, 100 years of Vogue…
March 24, 2016
• The education of the daughters of King George III and Queen Charlotte is the subject of a new display which has opened at Kew Palace in Kew Gardens. The queen’s progressive approach to learning meant the princesses received a “thoroughly modern” schooling covering everything from geography to art, upholstery to tackling brain-teasers as well as botany and music. The latter, in particular the harpsichord, was a particular passion of Princess Augusta, and to instruct her and the other girls, JC Bach, son of world-renowned composer JS Bach, was employed as music master (the display features a hand-written copy of his father’s Well-Tempered Clavier – designed to train and test the skills of harpsichord players). Other items on show include a copy of Queen Charlotte’s own tortoiseshell notebook embellished with gold and diamonds, a letter the queen wrote to the princesses’ governess – reputedly the first letter she wrote in English, and a series of newly acquired satirical prints from the Baker Collection depicting Queen Charlotte and her daughters. The new display can be seen from today. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kew-palace/. PICTURE: Newsteam/Historic Royal Palaces.
• The lives of servants working in middle-class houses in London over the last 400 years are the subject of an exhibition which opened at the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch earlier this month. Swept Under The Carpet? Servants in London Households, 1600-2000 illustrates the dynamic nature of the relationship between servants and their employers – from the intimacy of a maid checking her master’s hair for nits in the late 17th century to an ayah caring for an Anglo-Indian family’s children in the late 19th century and an au-pair picking up after the children in the middle of the 20th century. It explores their story through an examination of the places in which they worked – the middle class parlour, drawing room and living room. Entry to the exhibition, which runs until 4th September, is free. For more, www.geffrye-museum.org.uk.
• On Now – Vogue 100: A Century of Style. This exhibition currently running at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square features iconic images of some of the 20th century’s most famous faces. Included are rarely seen images of the Beatles and Jude Law as well as portraits of everyone from artists Henri Matisse and Francis Bacon, actors Marlene Dietrich and Gwyneth Paltrow, Lady Diana Spencer and soccer player David Beckham. There’s also complete set of prints from Corinne Day’s controversial Kate Moss 1993 underwear shoot, Peter Lindbergh’s famous 1990 cover shot – said to define the ‘supermodel era’, a series of World War II photographs by Vogue‘s official war correspondent Lee Miller and vintage prints from the first professional fashion photographer, Baron de Meyer. The display can be seen until 22nd May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.
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This Week in London – Russia’s finest portraiture on show, Scottish art from the Royal Collection; and photographer/film-maker Paul Strand revisited…
March 17, 2016
• The “most important exhibition of Russian portraits ever to take place at a British museum” opens at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square today. The portraits of key figures from Russia spanning the period from 1867 to 1914 come from Moscow’s State Tretyakov Gallery which is simultaneously displaying a selection of portraits of famous Britons from the National Portrait Gallery in a joint event being held to mark the 160th anniversary of both institutions. Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky features portraits of the likes of Akhmatova, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky, Tolstoy and Turgenev by artists including Nikolai Ge, Ivan Kramskoy, Vasily Perov, Ilia Repin, Valentin Serov and Mikhail Vrubel. The majority of the works featured were commissioned directly from the artists by Pavel Tretyakov, a merchant, philanthropist and founder of the State Tretyakov Gallery, whose own portrait by Repin opens the exhibition. The exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery runs until 26th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk/russia. PICTURE: Ivan Morozov by Valentin Serov (1910) © State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
• The best Scottish art in the Royal Collection goes on show at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, from tomorrow. Scottish Artists 1750-1900: From Caledonia to the Continent brings together more than 80 works collected by monarchs since King George III. It tells the story of the emergence of a distinctly Scottish school of art through works painted by the likes of Allan Ramsay – who in 1760 was commissioned to paint King George III’s State portrait and subsequently became the first Scot appointed to the role of Principal Painter in Ordinary to His Majesty, and Sir David Wilkie – whose works depicting small-scale scenes of everyday life attracted the attention of the Prince Regent (later King George IV) in the early 17th century. Other artists represented in the collection include Sir Joseph Noel Paton, David Roberts, James Giles, John Phillip, William Leighton Leith, and William Dyce. Runs until 9th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.
• The work of American photographer Paul Strand is on show at the V&A from Saturday in the first retrospective showing of his art in the UK in 40 years. One of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, Strand (1890-1976) was instrumental in defining the way fine art and documentary photography is understood and practiced today. He is also credited with creating the first avant-garde film, Manhatta. The exhibition, Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century, features more than 200 objects including vintage photographic prints, films, books, notebooks, sketches and Strand’s cameras and includes newly acquired photographs from his only UK project – a 1954 study of the island of South Uist in the Scottish Hebrides. Can be seen until 3rd July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/paulstrand.
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February 22, 2016
As with so many London locations, the name Camden Town comes from a previous landowner – but more indirectly it originates with the great 16th and 17th century antiquarian and topographer William Camden.
The story goes like this: late in his life William Camden – author of Britannia, a comprehensive description of Great Britain and Ireland – settled near Chislehurst in Kent on a property which became known as Camden Place.
In the 18th century, the property came into the possession of Sir Charles Pratt, a lawyer and politician (among other things, he was Lord Chancellor in the reign of King George III), who was eventually named 1st Earl of Camden.
It was Pratt who, having come into the possession of the property by marriage, in about 1791 divided up land he owned just to the north of London (which has apparently once been the property of St Paul’s Cathedral) and leased it, resulting in the development of what became Camden Town (Pratt, himself, meanwhile, is memorialised in the name of Pratt Street which runs between Camden High Street and Camden Street).
In 1816, the area received a boost when Regent’s Canal was built through it – the manually operated, twin Camden Lock is located in the heart of Camden Town.
Although it has long carried a reputation of one of the less salubrious of London’s residential neighbourhoods (a reputation which is changing), Camden Town is today a vibrant melting pot of cultures, thanks, in no small part, to the series of markets, including the Camden Lock Market, located there as well as its live music venues.
Past residents have included author Charles Dickens, artist (and Jack the Ripper candidate) Walter Sickert, a member of the so-called ‘Camden Town Group’ of artists, and, in more recent times, the late singer Amy Winehouse.
Of course, the name Camden – since 1965 – has also been that of the surrounding borough.
February 19, 2016
The Royal Mews – a stables and carriage house – is these days located at Buckingham Palace but prior to being moved there, the Royal Mews, previously usually referred to as the King’s and Queen’s Mews depending who was on the throne, was located on the site where the National Gallery (pictured) and Trafalgar Square now stand.
The name ‘mews’ actually refers to the fact that, from at least the reign of King Richard II in the late 14th century (although official records suggest there may have been a mews on the site as far back as the reign of King Edward I), the royal hawks were initially housed on the site – then in the village of Charing Cross – (the word ‘mew’ refers to the moulting of the birds and originally referred to when they were confined here for that purpose but later come to simply mean the place were the birds were caged).
The title of Keeper of the King’s Mews became a sought-after honour during the 15th century (although largely honorary with the actual work done by deputies) but among those who held the honour were Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known, during the Wars of the Roses as the ‘Kingmaker’.
In 1534, the King’s Mews was destroyed by fire and when it was rebuilt a few years later, it took the form of a stable but kept the original name of mews (although it has been suggested the change of use took place before the fire).
During the Civil War, the Mews were apparently used as a prison by the Parliamentarians for captured Royalists and during the Commonwealth, soldiers were apparently quartered here. Diarist Samuel Pepys also apparently visited several times.
In 1732 the building was again rebuilt, but this time it was to the grand designs of William Kent – images show a grand building with turrets and a great open square before it. In the 1760s, King George III had some of his horses and carriages moved to facilities on the grounds of Buckingham Palace (he had purchased this from the Duke of Buckingham for his wife’s use) but the bulk remained on the Charing Cross site.
In the early 19th century they were opened to the public but in the 1820s, King George IV – making Buckingham Palace his main residence – had the entire stables moved (the Royal Mews which now stand at Buckingham Palace were designed by John Nash and completed in 1825).
The old mews were subsequently demolished and Trafalgar Square – another Nash design – built on the site between 1827 and 1835 while the National Gallery opened in 1838.
The Charter for the Society of Artists of Great Britain and its associated Roll of Obligation have been rediscovered at the Royal Academy of Arts, 250 years after was society was founded. The documents, long thought to have been missing, date from 1765 and signify the formation of artists as a professional group in Britain. They form a crucial piece in history of the development of the Royal Academy of Arts, which formed in 1768 when a group of artists broke away from the society. The Charter, which consists of three pages of vellum with a portrait of a young King George III, hadn’t been seen since 1918. It and the Roll of Obligation – which features the crossed-out names of artists ‘expelled’ from the society, including the RA’s first president, artist Joshua Reynolds and German-born Johann Zoffany – were rediscovered earlier this year during an audit of the RA collections. The finding coincides with the 250th anniversary of the formal foundation of the society when it was granted a Royal Charter by King George III. Both documents will go on show from 2018 – the 250th anniversary of the founding of the RA – in new exhibition areas being created as part of the transformation taking place at the RA. For more on the Royal Academy, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.
September 21, 2015
It’s the riverside location which gives the area its name – Kew is apparently a corrupted form of Cayho, a word first recorded in the early 14th century which is itself made of two words referring to a landing place (the ‘Cay’ part) and a spur of land (the ‘ho’ part). The latter may refer in this case to the large “spur” of land upon which Kew is located, created by a dramatic bend in the Thames. The former may refer to a ford which crossed the river here (explaining the name of Brentford on the other side).
While the area had long been the home of a small hamlet for the local farming and fishing community, more substantial houses began to be developed in Kew in the late 15th and early 16th centuries thanks to the demand for homes for courtiers attending the King Henry VII and his successors at nearby Richmond Palace (the royal connections of the area in fact go back much further to the early Middle Ages).
But it was during the Georgian era, when the Royal Botanic Gardens were founded and Kew Palace, formerly known as the Dutch House, became a royal residence (it is pictured above), that Kew really kicked off (and by the way, Kew Palace is not the only surviving 17th century building in the area – West Hall, once home of painter William Harriot, is also still here).
While King George II and his wife Queen Caroline used Richmond Lodge, now demolished but then located at the south end of what is now the gardens, as their summer residence, they thought Kew Palace would make a good home for their three daughters (their heir, Frederick, Prince of Wales, lived opposite his sisters at the now long-gone White House). Kew Palace, meanwhile, would later be a residence of other members of the Royal Family as well, including King George III during his bouts of madness.
Other buildings of note from the Georgian era in Kew include Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, a thatched property built between 1754 and 1771 and granted to Queen Charlotte by her husband, King George III (like the palace, it now lies within the grounds of Kew Gardens). St Anne’s Church, located on Kew Green, dates from 1714 and hosts the tombs of artists Johann Zoffany and Thomas Gainsborough.
In 1840, the gardens which surrounded the palace were opened to the public as a national botanic garden and the area further developed with the opening of the railway station in 1869, transforming what was formerly a small village into the leafy largely residential suburb which we find there today (although you can still find the village at its heart).
As well as Kew Gardens (and Kew Palace), Kew is today also the home of the National Archives, featuring government records dating back as far as 1086.
On Sunday, Princess Charlotte, daughter of Prince William and Princess Kate, was christened at Sandringham. So we thought we’d take a quick look at another christening that took place in London almost 200 years ago, that of Princess Victoria.
The future Queen Victoria was born on 24th May, 1819 – the daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent (fourth son of King George III), and his wife, Princess Victoria Mary Louisa of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.
At the insistence of the Prince Regent (later King George IV), the christening was a small affair and was held a month after the birth on the afternoon of 24th June in the magnificent Cupola or Cube Room of Kensington Palace (pictured as it is now, above).
The guest list was small and included the Prince Regent, Prince Frederick, the Duke of York, and his wife Princess Frederica, Princess Augusta Sophia, Princess Mary, the Duchess of Gloucester, and her husband, Prince William, and Prince Leopold, who had recently become a widower after the death of Princess Charlotte.
The ceremony was conducted by Charles Manners-Sutton, the archbishop of Canterbury, and, thanks to the intransigence of the Prince Regent, her name was apparently only decided at the last minute.
The Prince Regent has earlier forbidden the use of such ‘royal’ names including Charlotte, Elizabeth, Georgina or Augusta and when asked by the archbishop what she would be named, he replied brusquely that she would be named Alexandrina in honour of the Russian Tsar Alexander, one of the new princess’s godparents.
Her second name was Victoria in honour of her mother, and while Victoria was often called “Drina” while a girl, she herself apparently preferred her second name to her first.
The gold font used in the ceremony formed part of the Crown Jewels and its origins go back to the time of King Charles II.
Interestingly, there were a couple of significant Victorian connections during Princess Charlotte’s christening – the font used at this christening was known as the Lily Font (like its predecessor, it is usually found with the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London).
It was commissioned by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for the christening of their first daughter, Princess Victoria, in 1841, apparently due to Queen Victoria’s dislike for the gold font used at her own christening – it had been used by King Charles II to christen his illegitimate children.
The Lily Font has apparently been used at every royal christening since except that of Princess Eugenie who had a public baptism in Sandringham in 1990.
Princess Charlotte also wore a replica of the christening gown worn by Princess Victoria.
WHERE: The Broad Walk, Kensington Gardens, Kensington (nearest Tube stations are High Street Kensington or Queensway); WHEN: Daily 10am to 6pm (until 31st October); COST: £17.50 adult/£14.10 concession/children under 16 free (online booking discounts available, Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace.
This Week in London – Charles I’s overlooked artist; St George’s Day in Trafalgar Square; Indigenous Australia; prints from the Royal Collection on show; and, ‘What is Luxury’ at the V&A…
April 23, 2015
• The first ever display of works of overlooked 17th century artist Cornelius Johnson, court painter to Charles I, has opened at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square. Cornelius Johnson: Charles I’s Forgotten Painter features rarely viewed portraits of the king’s children including the future Charles II, James II and Mary (later Princess of Orange-Nassau) as well as a painting of Mary’s son William – all of which have been taken from the gallery’s collection. Overshadowed by Sir Anthony van Dyck, Johnson – who emigrated to The Netherlands when the English Civil War broke out – has been largely ignored by art historians despite the breadth of his work – from group portraits, such as his largest surviving English painting, The Capel Family, to tiny miniatures – and the fact that he is thought to be the first English-born artist who took to signing date his paintings as a matter of course, something he is believed to have picked up during his training in The Netherlands. The display features eight painted portraits and six prints from the gallery’s collection as well as three paintings from the Tate. Runs until 13th September in Room 6. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: King Charles II by Cornelius Johnson , 1639. © National Portrait Gallery, London.
• Trafalgar Square will be at the centre of London’s St George’s Day celebrations on Saturday with live music, celebrity chefs, a masterclass by leading tea experts and children’s games and activities. The musical lineup will feature the band from the West End musical Let It Be and the Crystal Palace Brass Band – one of the few traditional brass bands remaining in London. The free event runs between noon and 6pm on Saturday. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/stgeorges.
• Indigenous Australia, the first major exhibition in the UK to present a history of Indigenous Australia through objects, opens at the British Museum today. Drawing on the museum’s collection, Indigenous Australia features objects including a shield believed to have been collected in Botany Bay on Captain Cook’s voyage of 1770, a protest placard from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy established in 1972 and contemporary paintings and specially commissioned artworks from leading indigenous artists. Many of the objects have never been on display before. Runs until 2nd August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• Thirty prints from the Royal Collection will be on show at The London Original Print Fair to mark its 30th anniversary. The fair runs at the Royal Academy from today until Sunday and among the selected works from the more than 100,000 prints in the Royal Collection are the 2.3 metre long woodcut by Albrecht Durer entitled Triumphal Cart of the Emperor Maximillian (1523), Wenceslaus Hollar’s four etchings of tropical Seashells (c1650), a sequence of proofs of Samuel Reynolds’ portrait of King George III at the end of the monarch’s life, and lithographs produced by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert dating from 1842. For more on the fair, see www.londonprintfair.com. For more on the Royal Collection, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.
• The question of what is meant by the concept of luxury is under examination in the V&A’s new exhibition What is Luxury? Opening at the South Kensington museum Saturday, the exhibition will feature a range of luxury objects – from the George Daniels’ Space Travellers’ Watch to a Hermés Talaris saddle, and Nora Fok’s Bubble Bath necklace. Also on show in a section of the exhibit looking at what could determine future ideas of luxury is American artist Gabriel Barcia-Colombo’s DNA Vending Machine (complete with prepackaged DNA samples) and Henrik Nieratschker’s installation The Botham Legacy which tells the fictional story of a British billionaire who sends altered bacteria into space in an attempt to find valuable metals on distant plants. Runs until 27th September. Admission charge applies. See www.vam.ac.uk/whatisluxury.
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April 21, 2015
The fringe loom of Queen Charlotte – wife of King George III – is among the objects on display at Kew Palace this year. Historic Royal Palaces is exploring some of the untold stories of the king’s daughters who once called the palace, which was originally built in 1631 for a Flemish merchant before it was acquired by King George II, home. Under examination are the pastimes of the royal women – from drawing and painting to weaving, paper cutting and even the decoration of a ‘Baby House’ created by the princesses as a showcase of their talents. Along with Kew Palace – located inside Kew Gardens in London’s west, also opened is the nearby rustic retreat built in 1770 known as Queen Charlotte’s cottage. Inside is the “Print Room”, hung with more than 150 satirical engravings, and the “Picnic Room”, decorated paintings of trailing nasturtiums and convolvulus – the work of Princess Elizabeth, an acclaimed artist. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/KewPalace/.
PICTURE: Historic Royal Palaces
This Week in London – The Clowns’ Service has a new venue; Sir Jacob Epstein at the Foundling Museum; Mark Boxer’s caricatures at the Cartoon Museum…
January 29, 2015
• The 69th annual Clowns’ Service will be held this Sunday – but the venue has changed. An annual tradition since 1946, the service is held in memory of Regency performer (and man hailed as the “inventor” of the modern clown), Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837). It has been held at Holy Trinity Church in Dalston since 1959 after the previous building where it was held – St James’ Chapel in Pentonville Road; site of Grimaldi’s grave – was gutted in a fire (permission was given for clowns to attend in costume in 1967) but this year, due to repairs at Holy Trinity, the service is being held at sister church All Saints, Livermore Road, in Haggerston (E8 4EZ) (www.trinitysaintsunited.com). Kicks off at 3pm but you’ll have to be early to find a space. About 60 clowns usually attend and a clown show for children follows.
• Bronze sculptures and drawings of babies and children by Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959) form the basis of a new exhibition opening tomorrow at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. Sir Jacob Epstein: Babies and Bloomsbury features portraits of Epstein’s own children and grandchildren and those of friends and contemporaries. The artist lived in Bloomsbury himself between 1914 and 1927 during which time he had five children from a series of extramarital affairs (interesting his long-suffering wife Margaret, herself unable to have children, brought up the youngest and oldest of these and put up with his affairs until her death in 1947 – although she is believed to have shot his long-term lover Kathleen Garman, later his wife and Lady Epstein, in the shoulder with a pearl-handled pistol. Also opening at the Foundling Museum tomorrow is a display of four rarely-exhibited portraits of Georg Frideric Handel and contemporaries Corelli, Geminiani and Daniel Purcell which are on-loan from the Royal Society of Musicians and which once hung in the royal box of King George III. Both exhibitions run until 10th May. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.
• On Now: The Caricatures and Cartoons of Mark Boxer. This exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury features more than 100 of Boxer’s caricatures and cartoons from The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The New Statesman, The London Review of Books and The Observer. Among the more than 80 caricatures on display – works for which he is particularly noted – are those of Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II, Antonia Fraser, Seamus Heaney, Tony Benn, Clive James, Barry Humphries and David Frost. Runs until 22nd March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org.
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This Week in London – Notting Hill Carnival; St Paul’s treasures on show; Sherlock Holmes on film; and more…
August 21, 2014
• The August Bank Holiday is upon us which means it’s carnival time! The Notting Hill Carnival kicks off this Sunday with an extravaganza of costumes, dancing, music and food. The carnival’s origins go back to the late Fifties and early Sixties (the exact date is somewhat controversial!) when it started as a way of Afro-Caribbean communities celebrating their cultures and traditions, drawing on the tradition of carnivals in the Caribbean. The carnival is now Europe’s largest street festival and this year’s parade signifies the start of a three year celebration in the lead-up to the Golden Jubilee year of 2016. The carnival kicks off at 9am on Sunday – children’s day – and the same time on Monday – adult’s day – and organisers say the procession should be completed by 7pm. For more, see www.thelondonnottinghillcarnival.com. PICTURE: Wayne G Callender/Notting Hill Carnival.
• A pop-up display of some of St Paul’s Cathedral’s treasures will appear today and tomorrow (Thursday, 21st August, and Friday 22nd August) in the cathedral’s crypt. Put together by Museum Studies students from Leicester University, the display will feature items relating to a royal event from each of the first three centuries of Wren’s church. They include images and objects from the Thanksgiving Service for the recovery of King George III in 1789 as well as items from Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981. The display will be shown from 1pm to 2pm each day – entry is free via the cathedral’s north west crypt door. Meanwhile, the cathedral is offering a private, behind the scenes evening photography tour of the building for the winner of a photography competition looking for “the most surprising image” of the cathedral. The winner – and five friends – will also be treated to a meal at the Grange Hotel’s Benihama restaurant. The Surprise St Paul’s competition runs until 26th September and entrants just need to tweet or post their images to the church’s Twitter or Facebook pages with the hashtag #SurpriseStPauls. For more, see www.stpauls.co.uk.
• The National Gallery has made free wi-fi available throughout the building. The Trafalgar Square-based gallery says it’s now also welcoming visitor photography and is encouraging visitors to check in on Facebook and comment on Twitter using the hashtag #MyNGPainting. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.
• Fancy yourself a detective? The Museum of London and the BFI are asking for the public’s help in tracking down a copy of the first ever feature film starring the fictional character Sherlock Holmes. A Study in Scarlet was released 100 years ago this autumn and was directed by George Pearson with then unknown James Bragington playing the part of Holmes. An adaption of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story of the same name, it is based around Brigham Young’s trek across America with his Mormon followers and sees Holmes solve a series of murders. The film was made at Worton Hall studios and on location in Cheddar Gorge and Southport Sands in 1914. The organisations are seeking the film in the lead-up to the Museum of London’s landmark exhibition on Holmes which opens in October. If you do happen to find the film, you can write to Sherlockholmes@bfi.org.uk or make contact via social media using the hashtag #FindSherlock.
• A public ballot has opened for tickets to attend the art installation Fire Garden by renowned French troupe Carabosse at Battersea Power Station this September. The event – which will be held on the nights of Friday 5th and Saturday 6th September – is one of the highlights of Totally Thames, a month-long celebration of London’s great river, and is presented as a tribute to the power station before it’s closed to the public for redevelopment. A free event, it’s expected to be so popular that organisers are holding a ballot for tickets. The ballot closes midday on 27th August. To enter via the Totally Thames website, head here.
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It’s a church with a difference for the final entry in our Georgian series. Known as the “Cathedral of Methodism”, the Grade I-listed chapel on City Road in the Borough of Islington was first opened in 1778 just over the road from Bunhill Fields graveyard and remains in use today.
Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, had already established a London base in a former cannon foundry close by known as the Foundery when the fact the lease was expiring and plans for residential development of the area led him to look elsewhere for a headquarters for the Methodism movement (which he still then considered part of the Anglican Church).
Wesley approached the City of London for a new site and, following a massive fundraising effort, in April, 1777, the building’s foundation stone was laid. The architect for the new building was George Dance the Younger, then surveyor to the City of London, and the builder, a local preacher named Samuel Tooth.
The new chapel – which Wesley described as “perfectly neat, but not fine” – was opened on All Saints Day, 1778 – apparently Wesley spent the first 15 minutes of his sermon railing against the elaborate hats worn by female congregants.
The chapel last underwent a major restoration in the 1970s after it was found to be unsound and was reopened in 1978 in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh exactly 200 years after Wesley first opened it.
Inside the chapel – which features seats upon a gallery as well as the ground floor – features a ceiling said to have been the widest unsupported ceiling in England at the time it was built (the present one is a replica; the original had been damaged by fire in 1879).
The original pillars used in the chapel to support the gallery were ship’s masts from the naval dockyard at Deptford given as a gift from King George III – these were replaced during the centenary commemoration of Wesley’s death with pillars of French jasper in 1891 but a couple of originals can still be seen in the vestibule.
Memorials inside the chapel include those to John and Charles Wesley and early Methodists John Fletcher and Thomas Coke.
Next to the chapel is the house Wesley lived in during the last 11 years of his life (this can be visited – and we’ll cover it in more detail in a later post) and underneath it in the crypt is the Museum of Methodism – well worth a visit in its own right.
Wesley’s tomb (pictured) is located behind the east end of the church (accessed through the chapel) and outside the entrance to the chapel is a statue of Wesley. The grave of Susanna Wesley, mother of the Wesleys, can be found across the road in Bunhill Fields.
WHERE: Wesley’s Chapel, 49 City Road (nearest Tube station Old Street and Moorgate); WHEN: 10am to 4pm Monday to Saturday (services Sunday – check website for details); COST: free but donations welcome; WEBSITE: www.wesleyschapel.org.uk.