Constructed on the site of the Duke of Somerset’s Tudor-era mansion, Somerset House as we know it today owes its origins to a national scheme aimed at creating public buildings in London which would rival those of Continental cities.
The campaign led to the passing of an Act of Parliament in 1775 for the construction of a new public building at Somerset House to house government agencies such as the Navy Office, Salt Office, Surveyor General of Lands, the King’s Bargemaster and the offices of the Duchy of Lancaster and Cornwall as well as various learned societies.
The former building – which had been worked on by the likes of Sir Christopher Wren and which had been used as a residence for the likes of King Charles II’s queen, Catherine of Braganza, following his death, had fallen into a state of considerable disrepair and was demolished in 1775.
William Robinson, secretary of the Office of Works, was initially given the job of designing the new building (much to the discontent of some) but after his sudden death the same year, the task was given to Sir William Chambers, comptroller of the Office of Works and one of England’s leading architects.
The basic design was as it appears today – four ranges built around a central court (now named the Edmond J Safra Fountain Court). The Strand Block, located to the north and the most highly decorated of the buildings inside and out, was built first and largely completed by 1780, the Embankment Building (home of the Navy Office) in 1786 and the east and west ranges two years later.
When Chambers died with the work unfinished in 1796, it was carried to completion by James Wyatt and declared complete in 1801, despite the fact elements of Chambers’ design were still outstanding. It had cost more than £460,000, in excess of three times Robinson’s original estimate.
One of the first new occupants – thanks to a decision by King George III – was the fledgling Royal Academy of Arts (it had been one of the last occupants of the former premises) and its focal point was the Great Exhibition Room where exhibitions were held until 1836. Others in the new building included The Royal Society (it remained until 1837 when, like the RA, it moved to Burlington House) and the Society of Antiquaries (it moved to Burlington House in 1874).
As well as being home to various offices of the Navy Board (the southern building, where it was housed, contains the stunning, now restored, Nelson stair), Somerset House was also home to the Inland Revenue.
New additions were made to the original design in the nineteenth century – the extension of the south block to the east and addition of a New Wing to the west – and the construction of the Victoria Embankment (see our earlier post here) meant the two watergates Chambers had designed became landlocked. Somerset House no longer rose directly from the water as he’d intended but from a roadway (as it does today – we’ve mentioned this before but you can see the original riverbank by looking through the glass floor of the building’s Embankment entrance).
Somerset House is these days home to a range of cultural and artistic organisations – from the British Fashion Council to the National Youth Orchestra and, in the north wing, the Courtauld Institute of Art. And as well as hosting various art installations, the central courtyard is host to an ice-skating rink over winter.
For more on Somerset House, see www.somersethouse.org.uk.
This 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.
Now the home of the Royal Academy of Arts, the origins of Burlington House on Piccadilly go back to the 1660s but it was Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, who had the property reworked into the Palladian building it is today.
It was Sir John Denham, Surveyor-General of the King’s Works for King Charles II, who first began building a red brick mansion on the site in the 1660s before he sold the still unfinished building to Richard Boyle, the 1st Earl of Burlington, in about 1667. He completed the house the following year.
The property next underwent major changes during the minority of the 3rd Earl (also Richard Boyle, 1612-1698) – his mother, the 2nd Countess, Lady Juliana, had architect James Gibbs carry out some alterations including the addition of a semi-circular colonnade at the front of the house and reconfiguration of the main staircase.
But around 1717-1718, the 3rd Earl (1694-1753), who himself was something of an architect, commissioned architect Colen Campbell to take over from Gibbs. The property was then reworked to a Palladian design – particularly the southern front of the building and William Kent was summoned to redesign interiors – the surviving interior of the Saloon is credited as the first ‘Kentian’ interior in England.
Lord Burlington soon shifted his attention to Chiswick House (see our earlier post here), and on his death in 1753, the house passed to the Dukes of Devonshire before it was eventually purchased by the 4th Duke’s younger son, Lord George Cavendish, around 1812. He had some of the interiors reworked by Kent admirer Samuel Ware, keeping them sympathetic to the Palladian vision. Four years after the purchase, Burlington Arcade was built along the western side of the premises.
In 1854, the property was sold to the British Government who initially intended demolishing the structure and using the site for the University of London but after strong opposition to the plan, it was occupied by the Royal Society, the Linnean Society and the Chemical Society while the Royal Academy – which had been founded by King George III in 1768 – took over the main block on a 999 year lease in 1867.
The building subsequently underwent further alterations – among them Sidney Smirke added a third floor to the main building – the Diploma Galleries – and the Main Galleries and the Art School on a garden to the north of the house. Later, three story ranges were raised around the courtyard and the three aforementioned learned societies moved into these and were later joined by the Geological Society of London, the Royal Astronomical Society and the Society of Antiquities.
The Royal Society left in 1968 and the British Academy moved in but this august institution moved out in 1998, leaving the building now home to the Royal Academy and the five learned societies, the Geological Society of London, the Linnean Society of London, the Royal Astronomical Society, the Society of Antiquaries of London, and the Royal Society of Chemistry.
More recent works at the property – the last survivor of four townhouses built along Piccadilly in the 1660s – have included a 1991 remodelling of the Diploma Galleries by Norman Foster – now known as The Sackler Wing of Galleries – and the restoration of the former state rooms including The Saloon, reopened as the John Madejski Fine Rooms.
WHERE: Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly (nearest Tube stations are Piccadilly Circus and Green Park); WHEN: 10am to 6pm Saturday to Thursday/10am-10pm Friday (opening times for the John Madejski Fine Rooms may vary); COST: Varies depending on the exhibition (there are free guided tours of the John Madejski Fine Rooms – check the website for details); WEBSITE: www.royalacademy.org.uk.
PICTURE: Installation by Ãlvaro Siza, part of the Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined exhibition which runs until 6th April. Photo: Royal Academy of Arts. Photography: James Harris/Ãlvaro Siza
Around London – Celebrating the coronation at Buckingham Palace; Royal births at the MoL; the Fourth Plinth unveiled; Menon remembered; and, manufacturing at the Design Museum…
July 25, 2013
• The Queen’s Coronation in 1953 is the subject of a special exhibition opening at Buckingham Palace as part of the palace’s summer opening. Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the coronation, the display features an array of outfits including uniforms and robes worn on the historic event on 2nd June, 1953, as well as a series of paintings recording the event, works of art and objects used on the day and film footage and sound recordings. Among the highlights of the exhibition will be sketches made by Norman Hartnell, the principal designer of the outfits worn at the coronation by the Queen, principal ladies of the immediate Royal Family and the Maids of Honour. The State Rooms of Buckingham Palace open on Saturday and remain open until 29th September. An admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: Her Majesty The Queen in her Coronation Dress, 1953, Norman Hartnell. Royal Collection Trust/All Rights Reserved.
• Meanwhile in this, the week of the birth of Prince George, it’s only fitting that we mention a small display at the Museum of London showcasing memorabilia relating to royal babies of years past. A Royal Arrival features baby clothes and other items worn by future monarchs. They include a embroidered skullcap worn by the future King Charles I, a tiny linen vest and mitten which once was worn by the future King George III and a dress emblazoned with the three feather insignia which belonged to the future King Edward VII, eldest son of Queen Victoria. The free display will be on show until October. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• The new commission for Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth will be unveiled today. The 4.7 metre high sculpture, Hahn/Cock, is the work of contemporary artist Katharina Fritsch. It will sit on the plinth for the next 18 months. For more details, see www.fourthplinth.co.uk.
• Indian statesman VK Krishna Menon has been commemorated by English Heritage with a blue plaque on his former residence in Highgate. A key campaigner for Indian independence, Menon lived at 30 Langdon Road from 1929 to 1931, having moved to England from Madras in 1924. In 1947, Menon was appointed India’s First High Commissioner in London and among his greatest achievements was his work in keeping the country in the British Commonwealth after independence. Having been a local councillor in St Pancras, he later returned to India and embarked upon a political career there. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blueplaques/.
• On Now: The Future is Here. A major new exhibition examining the changes taking place in manufacturing around the world, opened this week at the Design Museum. The Future is Here looks at how everything from “cars to shoes” is manufactured, funded, distributed and bought. Among highlights is a ‘Factory’ where visitors can discover how 3D printing works and see production in process. There will also be the chance to make your own ‘action doll’ and see a sofa designed through a crowd-sourcing process which involved members of the public. Runs until 3rd November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.designmuseum.org.
July 23, 2013
As we all know by now, Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, are proud parents of a new born son with news of the new arrival provoking celebrations across Britain and, indeed, the world.
To celebrate the royal birth, here are 10 interesting facts about some previous royal births in London…
• The last time a Home Secretary attended a royal birth was in 1936 for the birth of Princess Alexandria, cousin of the Queen. The practice was officially stopped before the birth of Prince Charles in 1948.
• Such was the doubt over whether Mary of Modena, wife of King James II, was really pregnant that more than 40 eminent people were invited to witness the birth of their son Prince James in 1688 (and even then the rumours of that the stillborn baby had been swapped for another were rife).
• Queen Anne, who ruled from 1702-1714, went through 17 pregnancies but, tragically, outlived all of her children, her last surviving child – the Duke of Gloucester – dying in 1700.
• The tradition of firing a 41 gun salute on the news of the birth of a future monarch dates from the birth of the future King Edward VII. Twenty-one shots are fired in honour of the birth with an additional 21 fired because the guns are located in Green Park, a Royal Park.
• Queen Elizabeth II was born by caesarean section at 2.40am on April 21, 1926, at the home of her mother’s parents – 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair. (See our previous post on this here).
• Such was the animosity between Frederick, Prince of Wales, and his father, King George II, that when Frederick’s wife Augusta went into labour at the king’s home of Hampton Court Palace, he bundled her into a coach and had her taken to his home of St James’s Palace. With no preparations made there, his newly born daughter had to be wrapped in a tablecloth (the story is retold in detail in Lucy Worsley’s terrific book, Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court)
• Queen Victoria, who had nine children, used chloroform for pain relief during later births, despite the concept being frowned upon by some officials.
• Buckingham Palace (pictured above) has been the birthplace of numerous Royal Family members. Of course, Prince Charles was born here in 1948 as was his brother Prince Andrew (1960) and Prince Edward (1964) but so too – somewhat earlier – were 14 of King George III and Queen Charlotte’s 15 children when the property was known as Buckingham House and, later, the Queen’s House. King Edward VII was the only monarch who both was born and died in the building.
• Such was the desperation of King Henry VIII for a son, that a document announcing the birth were drawn up to that effect prior to Anne Boleyn giving birth to a daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I. The document was still issued – the only concession being an ‘s’ added to the end of the word prince.
• The oldest English king to father a child was King Edward I – he was 66-years-old when his last child, Princess Eleanor, was born in 1306. Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of King Henry II, was the oldest queen to father a child when she gave birth to the future King John at 44-years-of-age in 1166.
June 26, 2013
This rectangular-shaped square in Bloomsbury, known for its association with the medical profession, was first laid out in the early 1700s and was named for Queen Anne.
Originally known as Devonshire Square, the space was largely laid out between 1716 and 1725 on land owned by Sir Nathaniel Curzon of Kedlestone and, as with so many of London’s squares, attracted it’s fair share of the well-to-do. Among early residents were several bishops and members of the aristocracy.
One of the most interesting early associations with Queen Square is that of King George III and his consort Queen Charlotte. The king – better known to many as ‘Mad King George’ – was treated for mental illness in a house on the square and there’s a tradition that Queen Charlotte, stored some of the food to be consumed by the king during his treatment in the base of what is now the pub known as the Queen’s Larder (see our previous entry on the pub here).
There’s a statue of a queen in the central gardens which was thought to be of Queen Charlotte. Since it was erected in 1775, there has been some confusion over the statue’s identity – it has been thought at different stages to be of Queen Anne, Queen Mary (co-ruler with King William III), and Queen Caroline (consort of King George II) – a fact which has led to some confusion as to which queen the square was named after (although general consensus now seems to be that it was indeed Queen Anne whom the square was named after).
The houses in Queen Square – which was later associated with artists and literary types – were gradually replaced by institutional buildings relating to, among other things, education and the practice of medicine and today it remains a hub for the medical establishment – the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery and the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine (formerly known as the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital) are both located on the east side of the square and there are several other medical-related buildings located around it including the former Italian Hospital (Ospedale Italiano) which was founded by Italian businessman Giovanni Battista Ortelli in 1884 for poor Italian immigrants and since about 1990 has been part of the Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Other prominent buildings located on the square include the Church of St George the Martyr Holborn (number 44) which, built in 1706, predates the square’s formation. The church is known as the ‘sweep’s church’ due to the practice of a parishioner who provided Christmas dinners for 100 chimney sweep apprentices each year.
The gardens themselves are protected by an Act of Parliament passed in the 1830s and the gardens are to this day maintained by trustees appointed under that act. Aside from the statue of the queen, monuments in the gardens include a small plaque commemorating the bomb which landed in the square during a Zeppelin raid in World War I (no one was killed), benches commemorating 16 doctors from the homeopathic hospital who died in the Trident air disaster of 1972, and some lines of poetry on a flower bowl and surrounds by Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes in honor of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee of 1977. Statues include a 2001 bronze of Mother and Child and, (this one we love), a sculpture of Sam the cat, apparently a local resident (pictured)!
September 14, 2012
Given this week’s release of English Heritage’s The London List 2011 – which lists all properties given a new or upgraded heritage listing last year, we thought it was only appropriate to look at one of the properties listed, in this case the Royal Kitchens in Kew Gardens.
Upgraded to a Grade I listing in 2011, the kitchens were opened to the public for the first time in May this year following a £1 million restoration. The origins of the kitchens go back to the 1730s when they were built to the designs of William Kent to serve the White House, the grand mansion of Frederick, Prince of Wales (eldest son and heir of King George II).
While the White House was demolished in 1802, the Georgian kitchens – built in a separate building to mitigate the risk of fire – were kept to serve the nearby premises of Kew Palace (formerly known as the “Dutch House”, it had been originally built in 1631 for a Flemish merchant).
But after the death of Queen Charlotte (wife of King George III) in 1818, members of the Royal family only stayed occasionally and so the kitchen fell into disuse. While the upper floors were given over to accommodation, the lower floor remained untouched, allowing it to survive in a considerable degree of intactness.
The kitchens centre on the double storey ‘Great Kitchen’ featuring three charcoal stoves as well as a rare cooking range with “smoke jack” and fan. Other rooms include a scullery, a bakery, larders and stores for silver and spices while among the surviving furnishings is a preparation table or dresser, cupboards, shelves and baking ovens. Upstairs, the office of the clerk who oversaw the feeding of the Royal Household has been restored.
Historic Royal Palaces, who look after the kitchens, have installed a new permanent exhibition at the site which focuses life on the 6th February, 1789, the date when King George III, having suffered his first bout of ‘madness’ (believed to be porphyria), was given back his knife and fork. William Wybrow was the Master Cook at this time and William Gorton the Clerk of the Kitchen.
WHERE: The Royal Kitchens, Kew Gardens, Kew (nearest Tube Station is Kew Gardens); WHEN: 11am to 5pm daily until 30th September, then Thursday to Sunday until 28th October, then daily again until 4th November; COST: Kew Gardens tickets must be purchased – £16 adults/£14 concessions/children under 16 free – and then tickets to Kew Palace – £6 adults/£4.50 concessions/children under 16 free (or free with annual Historic Royal Palaces membership); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/kewpalace/stories/palacehighlights/royalkewkitchens.
For more on Kew Palace, check out Kew Palace: The Official Illustrated History.
June 15, 2012
With Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square stealing much of the limelight, the Duke of York’s Column in Waterloo Place tends to get overlooked. So we thought it was time we took a more in-depth look at its history.
The monument is dedicated to Prince Frederick (1763-1827), the second son of King George III and commander-in-chief of the British Army during wars which were fought between France and European powers including Britain between 1792 and 1802.
The Duke was not a successful military commander on the field – his one outing in Flanders was a disaster and is said to have resulted in him being immortalised in the song, The Grand Old Duke of York – but he is celebrated for reforming the army after his return to England.
The almost 42-metre high monument features a larger-than-life bronze statue of the Duke dressed in the robes of the Knights of the Garter – the work of Sir Richard Westmacott – standing on the top of a granite column and gazing down a series of steps and over The Mall towards St James’s Park.
The overall monument was designed by Benjamin Dean Wyatt. His design was selected by a committee from among other submissions and erected between 1830-33. While the Duke was an inveterate gambler and died deeply in debt, the British Army is said to have voted to forgo a day’s pay to fork out the £25,000 required to build the commemorative monument. It was said in jest that the height of the monument allowed the Duke to escape his creditors.
Interestingly, the hollow column contains a spiral staircase which originally gave access to a viewing platform at the top. Access was apparently prohibited after a spate of suicides.
Looking for more on statues and monuments around London – why not check out Peter Matthews’ London’s Statues and Monuments?
Around London – Leicester Square reopens; RA and MOL exhibitions mark Diamond Jubilee; ‘Jed’ retires; and, the history of horses at the British Museums…
May 24, 2012
• Leicester Square officially reopened last night following a £15.3 million transformation which has seen every paving stone replaced, new plants, and 40 new water jets placed around the Grade II listed fountain and statue of William Shakespeare. The 17 month makeover also included new lighting, new seating and a refurb of the underground toilets. The square – which owes its name to Robert Sidney, the 2nd Earl of Leicester, who purchased this land in 1630 and, after building himself a mansion, kept aside part of the land for public use – now welcomes as many as 250,000 tourists a day and is known as one of the world’s premiere sites for the release of new films.
• The Royal Academy of Arts is marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a new exhibition opening tomorrow which features a selection of paintings by Royal Academicians elected during the early part of the Queen’s reign. The Queen’s Artists will include works by Jean Cooke, Frederick Gore and Ruskin Spear and will be displayed in the Reynolds and Council Rooms. Meanwhile The Saloon will house a collection of sculptures, paintings and drawings prepared by Royal Academicians for British coins and royal seals on loan from the Royal Mint Museum. The collection includes portraits of the Queen by Edward Bawden and Sir Charles Wheeler which have never before been shown in public, and Sir Anthony Caro’s new coin design of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Over in the Tennant Gallery, The King’s Artist’s George III’s Academy, will look at the king’s role in the foundation of the academy in 1768 and his influence in selecting the first artists. Highlights include portraits of King George III (pictured) and Queen Charlotte painted by the academy’s first president, Sir Joshua Reynolds. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Copyright Royal Academy of Arts, London/John Hammond.
• A new exhibition focusing on Londoners and their treasured souvenirs commemorating Queen Elizabeth II opens tomorrow at the Museum of London. At Home with the Queen features 12 photographic portraits of Londoners at home with their mementos as well as a selection of royal commemorative objects from the museum’s collection. The latter include trinkets produced for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, official Coronation Day street decorations, Silver Jubilee paper tableware and souvenirs relating to the current Diamond Jubilee. Runs until 28th October. Admission is free. For more (including a series of events running on conjunction with the exhibition), see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• The Royal Parks’ Shire horse, Jed, retired last week after a decade of service working in Richmond Park. The Queen presented a commemorative retirement rosette to Jed who was born in 1993 and joined the Royal Parks from Bass Brewery in Burton upon Trent almost 10 years ago. Horses have been used in Richmond Park since it was enclosed by King Charles I in 1637. The horses took a break in 1954 but the Shires were reintroduced in 1993 as a way to sustainably manage the parkland. For more on Richmond Park, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park.
• On Now: The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot. This major free exhibition at the British Museum is part of the august institution’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and traces the history of the horse from domestication around 3,500 BC through to present day, with a particular focus on Britain’s equestrian tradition, from the introduction of the Arabian breed in the 18th century to events like Royal Ascot. Highlights include one of the earliest known depictions of horse and rider – a terracotta mould found in Mesopotamia dating from around 2000 to 1800 BC, a cylinder seal of Darius dating from 522 to 486 BC depicting the king hunting lions in a chariot, a 14th century Furusiyya manuscript, an Arabian manual of horsemanship, and the 19th century Abbas Pasha manuscript, the primary source of information about the lineage of purebred Arabian horses acquired by Abbas Pasha (mid-nineteenth century viceroy of Egypt). The exhibition is being held in Room 35. Runs until 30th September. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
May 18, 2012
Given we’re marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a look at sites of significance to her story located in London, it’s perhaps only fitting that we take a look at the nearest royal residence outside the city.
Windsor, located as close as half an hour by train from London’s Paddington station (or around 50 minutes to an hour from Waterloo), boasts plenty to see including the historic town centre, nearby Eton, great river and country walks and, of course, Legoland. But today our attention will remain on Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world.
There has been a fortress on this site since shortly after the Norman invasion when in about 1080 King William the Conqueror ordered it constructed on a ridge above the river bank as part of a series of defensive fortifications around London. The earth and timber Norman castle was gradually added to over the years – King Henry I (reigned 1100-1135), the first king to live here, added domestic quarters while King Henry II (reigned 1154-1189) built substantial royal apartments transforming the castle into a palace and began replacing the outer timber walls with stone fortifications as well as rebuilding the Norman Keep as the Round Tower (parts of which still date from this period). King Henry III (reigned 1216-1272) built upon and expanded his work.
But it was in the reign of King Edward III (1307-1327) that the castle was expanded enormously. This included the reconstruction of the lower ward including the rebuilding of the chapel, naming it St George’s (although the current chapel dates from the reign of King Edward IV – 1461-1470), and the reconstruction of the upper ward complete with apartments for him and his wife, Queen Phillipa, arranged around courtyards (although some of the work wasn’t completed until the reign of his successor, King Richard II – 1377-1399). It was also during King Edward III’s reign that the castle became the base for the Order of the Garter (which he created in 1348), a role it still fulfills.
Other works were ordered by successive Tudor monarchs including King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, and Queen Mary I. Parliamentary forces seized the castle during the Civil War (Oliver Cromwell did use it as his headquarters for a time) and Royalists were imprisoned here (King Charles I was in fact buried in a vault beneath St George’s Chapel after his execution having been previously imprisoned here).
The next major additions came in the reign of King Charles II (1660-1685) when the Upper Ward and State Apartments were reconstructed in baroque splendor, the latter complete with splendid murals ceiling paintings by Italian artist Antonio Verro (the murals were later destroyed but some of the ceiling paintings survive).
From the time of King William III (1689-1702), monarchs began spending more time at Hampton Court Palace but the focus returned to Windsor with King George III. He ordered a range of improvements and updates including modernising Frogmore House in the Home Park for his wife Queen Caroline (the property was subsequently used by various royals but no-one currently lives there), but many of these were stopped prematurely due to his illness. His son, King George IV, picked up where his father left off.
In the reign of Queen Victoria, Windsor became the royal family’s principal residence and was visited by heads of state including King Louis Philippe in 1844 and Emperor Napoleon III in 1855. The Queen’s husband, Prince Albert, died here on 14th December, 1861.
King Edward VII (1901-1910) and King George V (1910-1936) both had a hand in redecorating the palace and the Queen’s father, King George VI (1936-1952), was living in the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park when he succeeded to the throne.
In more recent times, the castle was the home to the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret, for much of World War II. The castle suffered its greatest setback in recent times in 1992 when a serious fire broke out in the Queen’s Private Chapel which destroyed several rooms including the ceiling of St George’s Hall which dated from the reign of King George IV. Restoration works took five years to complete.
Today the Queen spends many private weekends at the castle while the court is officially in residence here for a month over the Easter period and during Ascot Week in June – it’s at this time that the Garter Day celebrations take place with the installation of new knights.
The Queen also hosts State Visits here with banquets held in St George’s Hall as well as what are known as a ‘sleep and dine’ in which high profile figures are invited to dinner with the Queen before being shown a special display of items from the Royal Library and then spending the night. The Royal Standard flies from the Round Tower when the Queen is in residence.
As well as touring the State Apartments, the Gallery, Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House (completed in the 1920s for Queen Mary, wife of King George V), and St George’s Chapel, visitors to the castle can experience the Changing of the Guard at 11am every day but Sundays between May and early August (and every second day after that).
WHERE: Windsor (a short walk from either Windsor Central Station or Windsor & Eton Riverside Station); WHEN: 9.45am to 5.15pm until 27th July (times vary after this date – check the website); COST: £17 an adult/£10.20 a child (under 17s – under fives free)/£15.50 concession/£44.75 family (price includes an audio tour); WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/windsorcastle.
Around London – Tate acquires photographic collection; new additions to Army museum; Picasso at the British Museum; and, Zoffany at the Royal Academy…
May 3, 2012
• A major collection of photographs of London, including works by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and Irving Penn, has been promised to the Tate Gallery. The collection, which will more than double the Tate’s photographic holdings, was assembled by Eric and Louise Franck over a 20 year period. It comprises around 1,400 photographs taken by 120 photographers between the 1880s and 2000s and is a record of the lives of people living in London. Highlights include Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work, Waiting in Trafalgar Square for the Coronation Parade of King George VI (1937), Bruce Davidson’s Girl with Kitten (1962), Elliot Erwitt’s Bus Stop, London (1962), Robert Frank’s London (Child Running from Hearse) (1951) and Irving Penn’s Charwomen, London (1950). More than two-thirds of the collection is being donated to the Tate Gallery, carrying an estimated value of more than £1 million, while the remaining works will be purchased. A selection from the collection will be exhibited in Another London, opening at the Tate Britain on 27th July. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.
• An Afghan schoolbook which uses bullets and Kalashnikovs as counting tools, Operational Service Medals and charm bracelets have been added to the National Army Museum’s Conflicts of Interest gallery. The gallery explores over 40 conflicts in which the British Army has been involved including that in Afghanistan. The illustrated childrens’ textbook dates from the time of the Soviet War in Afghanistan in the 1980s and was found by Captain Daniel Hinxman in 2007. Other artefacts added to the gallery include an Operational Service Medal for Afghanistan awarded to Sapper Dewi Allen for service in 2009-10, a memorial writsband produced by the family of Corporal David Barnsdale after he was killed in an IED attack in 2010 and a ‘lucky charm’ bracelet made by an Afghan for Lance Corporal Jose Cravalho De Matos. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk.
• On Now: Picasso Prints: The Vollard Suite. The British Museum is hosting this exhibition featuring Pablo Picasso’s most celebrated series of etchings, The Vollard Suite – the first time a complete set of the etchings has been shown in a British public institution. The suite consists of 100 etchings produced between 1930 and 1937, at a time when Picasso was involved in an affair with his nurse and muse Marie-Therese Walter. The predominant them of the suite is that of the sculptors studio – the artist was at this stage making sculpture at his new home outside Paris. The etchings, which have no titles and were not assigned an order, will be displayed alongside examples of the type of classical sculpture and objects which inspired the artist as well as Rembrandt etchings, Goya prints and Ingres drawings which also influenced Picasso’s works. The exhibition is being held in Room 90 and runs until 2nd September. Entry is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• On Now: Johan Zoffany RA: Society Observed. This exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts re-evalutes the life and career of the Frankfurt-born artist Zoffany, who moved to London in 1760 where he created portraits and subject pictures which attracted the patronage of the likes of actor David Garrick and courtiers of King George III. The exhibition, arranged into eight sections, features more than 60 oil paintings and a selection of drawings and prints taken from British and international collections, both public and private, with many of the items never before exhibited. Runs until 10th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.
February 6, 2012
Today marks 60 years since Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne, making her Britain’s second-longest serving monarch. While the celebrations are yet to kick off in earnest (the Diamond Jubilee weekend will be officially held over the 2nd to 5th June), we thought we’d take a quick look at the top 10 longest-serving monarchs who were crowned at Westminster Abbey in London:
1. Queen Victoria – 63 years (20th June, 1837-22nd January, 1901)
2. Queen Elizabeth II – 60 years (6th February, 1952-current)
3. King George III – 59 years (25th October, 1760-29th January, 1820)
4. King James I (VI of Scotland) – 57 years (24th July, 1567-27th March, 1625)
5. King Henry III – 56 years (18th October, 1216-16th November, 1272)
6. King Edward III – 50 years (25th January, 1327-21st June, 1377)
7. Queen Elizabeth I – 44 years (17th November, 1558-24th March, 1603)
8. King Henry VI – 38 years (31st August, 1422-4th March,1461, and, 31st October, 1470-11th April, 1471)
9. King Henry VIII – 37 years (22nd April, 1509-28th January, 1547)
10. King Henry I – 35 years (3rd August, 1100-1st December, 1135)
December 12, 2011
The most acclaimed tragic actress of the 18th and early 19th centuries, Sarah Siddons is best remembered for her iconic role as Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth.
Born in 1755 into the theatrical Kemble family (her father was an actor and theatre manager and many of her 11 younger siblings, including John Philip Kemble, also went on to be actors) in Brecon, Wales, Siddons first began appearing with Kemble’s company while still at school. Still only a young teenager, she also began a romance with one of the company’s actors, William Siddons.
The liaison was discouraged by her parents (as was the idea of her acting) and in 1770 she was sent into service with a family in Warwick. She had kept up correspondence with Siddons, however, and, after her parents withdrew their opposition to the match, they were married on 26th November, 1773.
The couple rejoined Kemble’s company initially but were soon working for another, Chamberlain and Crump, and it was while doing so in the spa town of Cheltenham that Siddons’ abilities came to the notice of famed actor, playwright and theatre manager David Garrick.
Invited to London, her initial foray into acting there, however, fell flat and, following a short-lived season at Drury Lane Theatre which resulted in her services no longer being required (it is believed the fact she had two very young children at the time, having only just given birth to the second, didn’t help her performances), Siddons instead headed to the country and worked in places like York, Manchester and Bath, rebuilding her somewhat battered reputation.
It proved a successful move for when she was invited back to London in 1782, her now not just restored but blossoming reputation preceded her. To much acclaim she performed in the title role in David Garrick’s play, Isabella, or, the Fatal Marriage.
It was to be the first of many high profile roles – the most famous of which was to play Lady Macbeth – and Siddons soon rose to become the most sought-after actress in the city, a position which allowed her to mix among the elite of society (among her friends were counted lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson and philosopher Edmund Burke and she even appeared before King George III and Queen Charlotte). Venerated as a “cultural icon”, her star continued to climb in the 1780s and it was in 1783-84 that she sat for a portrait, The Tragic Muse, by Sir Joshua Reynolds (pictured).
Her personal life, meantime, was another matter and in 1804, Siddons and her husband – who had increasingly spent time apart during the preceding years, formally separated (William died in Bath four years later). She had also experienced the deaths of many of her children – in fact, only two of her seven children were to outlive her.
Siddons retired from the stage in 1812 – her final moving performance was, you guessed it, as Lady Macbeth – but continued to appear on special occasions until 1819.
She died in June, 1831, and, following a huge funeral, was buried at St Mary’s Cemetery at Paddington Green. There is a statue of her at the grave. Siddons is among those actresses currently featured in the National Portrait Gallery exhibition The First Actresses – Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons. The exhibition runs until 8th January (an admission charge applies). For more information visit www.npg.org.uk.
For further reading – Robyn Asleson’s A Passion for Performance: Sarah Siddons and Her Portraitists…
PICTURE: Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse by the Studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1784 © National Portrait Gallery, London
Around London – Illuminating manuscripts at the BL; Capability Brown and Richard Burton blue plaqued; and, Grayson Perry at the British Museum…
November 17, 2011
• Opened to the public last week, Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination – a landmark exhibition at the British Library – features a “treasure trove” of illuminated manuscripts collected by the kings and queens of England between the 9th and 16th century. Highlights include 16 illuminated manuscripts of King Edward IV, what the library calls the first “coherent collection” of royal books; the Psalter of King Henry VIII, A History of England by Matthew Paris, a 13th century monk, scholar and advisor to King Henry III; Thomas Hoccleve’s Regement of Princes – a early 15th century instruction book on how to be an effective ruler; a 14th century Genealogical Chronicle of the English Kings; and, The Shrewsbury Book, created in Rouen in 1445 and presented to Margaret of Anjou on her marriage to King Henry VI by the renowned military commander John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. An impressive series of public events featuring well known writers and historians – including Eamon Duffy, Michael Wood, and Andrew Marr – is taking place alongside the exhibition. Runs until 13th March. An admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk.
PICTURE: The Coronation of Henry III, Images of English Kings, from Edward the Confessor to Edward I, England, c. 1280-1300, Cotton Vitellius, A. xiii, f. 6 © British Library Board
• Leading 18th century landscape gardener Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown has been honored with a blue plaque at his former home in Hampton Court Palace. Brown, who designed more than 120 landscapes during his lifetime, lived at Wilderness House after King George III appointed him Chief Gardener at the palace – he lived there from 1764 until his death in 1783. Brown’s legacy can still be seen at country houses around England – including at Petworth House in West Sussex, Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, Chatsworth House in Derbyshire and Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. He had earned the name ‘Capability’ by the 1760s – apparently he often spoke of a property’s capabilities when speaking of it. English Heritage unveiled the plaque last week. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk.
• A second blue plaque worth mentioning this week is that marking the former home of actor Richard Burton. Michael Sheen – currently playing Hamlet at the Young Vic – was among those who last week attended the unveiling on the plaque at the home Burton and his wife actress Sybil Williams lived in from 1949 to 1956, the period during which he rose to international fame. While living at the house 6 Lyndhurst Road in Hampstead, Burton was a member of the Old Vic theatre company – performing, to the acclaim of critics, roles including that of Hamlet, Othello, Coriolanus and Henry V – and in 1952 made his Hollywood debut with My Cousin Rachel. Other films he appeared in during the period include The Robe (1953), The Desert Rats (1953), and Alexander the Great (1956). Following the close of the Old Vic season in 1956, Burton moved to Switzerland and went on to even greater public fame following his role in the 1963 film Cleopatra alongside his then lover (and later wife) Elizabeth Taylor. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk.
• On Now: Grayson Perry – The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman. This exhibition at the British Museum explores a range of themes connected with the ideas of craftsmanship and sacred journeys and includes 190 objects from the museum’s collection selected by the artist along with a works by Grayson himself, many of which will be on public view for the first time. They include everything from Polynesian fetishes to Buddhist votive offerings, a prehistoric hand axe to 20th century badges and a re-engraved coin from 1882 featuring a bust of Queen Victoria with a beard and boating hat. At the heart of the exhibition sits Grayson’s own work, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, a richly decorated cast-iron “coffin-ship”. Runs until 19th February. An admission charge applies. For more, visit www.britishmuseum.org.
October 3, 2011
The origins of the pub go back to the early 18th century – around 1710 – when there was known to be an alehouse on the site now occupied by the tavern. The story goes that as King George III (aka the ‘Mad King George’ depicted in the film of the same name) began to be affected by mental illness he was brought to a house in Queen Square where he stayed and was treated by a Dr Willis.
While he was undergoing this treatment – which was apparently initially successful, his wife Queen Charlotte rented an underground cellar below the alehouse and there stored some of the king’s favorite delicacies.
When a tavern was later built on the site, it was named The Queen’s Larder in honor of the role it had played in providing a storehouse for his treats.
The square itself contains a statue which was believed to be of Queen Anne – after whom the square was renamed (it had previously been known as Devonshire Square) – but it is now thought that the statue may in fact be of Queen Charlotte.
September 30, 2011
A series of four marine timekeepers which eventually solved the ‘problem’ of longitude – revolutionising sea travel by allowing mariners to accurately locate their position – are housed at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.
Calculating longitude – an east-west position on the earth – is relatively simple. Because time moves forward one hour for every 15 degrees one travels in an eastward direction (or back an hour for every 15 degrees one travels westward), it’s possible to calculate a position by simply knowing the local time at two different places on earth.
The problem was that the pendulum clocks of the 1600s were affected by changes in temperature and humidity and couldn’t keep accurate time on board a ship meaning that while a mariner might know the local time, he could not get an accurate measurement of time elsewhere to compare it to.
While mariners could use the ‘lunar distance method’ to measure longitude – this involved measuring the motion of the moon relative to the stars – it relied on clear skies and was not very accurate. So in 1714 the British Government announced it would award a prize of £20,000 to anyone who could come up with a solution to longitude which was accurate to within half a degree (or two minutes).
Clockmaker John Harrison was among those who took up the challenge (his somewhat tragic story is told in great detail in Dava Sobel’s terrific 1995 book Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time). His first effort, known simply as H1, was constructed between 1730 to 1735 and, using a counterbalanced spring mechanism making it independent of gravity, was successfully tested on a voyage to Lisbon.
But Harrison wasn’t satisfied and began work on H2 in 1737 before, after realising its shortcomings three years later, starting work on another clock, H3, in 1740. He worked on this for 19 years but it failed to meet the accuracy requirements of the Board of Longitude which was charged with looking overseeing the awarding of the £20,000.
In 1753, Harrison asked a London watchmaker John Jefferys to create a watch to his designs, initially for his own personal use. But he soon discovered that with a few improvements, H4 – which looks like a large pocketwatch (see picture), could be the answer he was looking for.
In 1761 and 1764, Harrison’s son William took the watch on two voyages to the West Indies, yet, despite the fact that its accuracy was well within the requirements of the Board of Longitude, the board initially refused to pay up. After much wrangling Harrison was finally paid £10,000 but told that to obtain the other half of the money, he would have to create at least two more copies of H4.
Harrison went on to make one copy – H5 – while watchmaker Larcum Kendall, made another, K1, at the direction of the Longitude Board. When Harrison suggested that Kendall’s K1 could be considered the second of the two copies he was required to make, the board rejected the idea. Harrison then appealed directly to the king, George III, and finally to parliament before he was eventually awarded a further £8,750 in 1773.
Kendall’s watch, meanwhile, was taken by Captain James Cook on a three year voyage as far afield as Antarctica. It was a test which proved beyond all doubt the accuracy of the timekeepers. A year after Cook’s return in 1775, John Harrison died in his house in Red Lion Square on 24th March, 1776. It is not known whether he knew of the success of the timekeeper taken on Cook’s voyage.
Harrison’s four timekeepers are now housed at the Royal Observatory where the intriguing story of their creation is told.
WHERE: Royal Observatory, Blackheath Avenue, Greenwich (nearest DLR stations are that of Greenwich and Cutty Sark and it can also be reached by river – stop at Greenwich Pier); WHEN: 10am to 5pm (last admission 4.30pm) daily; COST: £7 adult/£5 concessions/free for children 15 and under (annual passes available – £10 an adult/£7.50 concessions) ; WEBSITE: www.nmm.ac.uk/places/royal-observatory/
PICTURE: Courtesy of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich
September 5, 2011
Founded in 1689, Ede & Ravenscroft is thought to be not only the oldest tailor in London but the world.
The origins of the business can be traced back to William and Martha Shudall, tailors who set up shop in Aldwych in London that year. Their work had soon caught the eye of royalty with the company winning the contract to create robes for the coronation of King William III and Queen Mary II after what is known as the Glorious Revolution.
As well as making robes for the clergy, government officials and those working in the legal and academic professions, the company’s relationship with the Royal Family continued and they have provided robes and tailoring for as many as 12 coronations including that of King George III.
Wig-making was added to the business in the 1800s when Joseph Ede (robe maker to Queen Victoria) married into the Ravenscroft family – already known for their wig-making (the business was renamed from Ede & Son to include the Ravenscroft name in 1902).
The company, headquartered at 93 Chancery Lane (they also have several other shopfronts including one at Burlington Gardens near Savile Row – see picture), currently holds three Royal Warrants, being official robe-makers to the Queen, Prince Philip and Prince Charles.
Around London – The Tower hosts Royal Beasts; take a ride on a 1938 tube train; Lambeth Palace Library celebrates the King James Bible; and, see model cathedrals at Sir John Soane’s house…
June 16, 2011
• The history of the Royal Menagerie is the focus of a new exhibition on now at the Tower of London. Royal Beasts explores the history of the Tower menagerie which, founded during the reign of King John in the early 1200s, remained there for more than 600 years. Among the animals were lions (the first record of which dates from 1210), a grizzly bear (a gift from the Hudson Bay Company to King George III), elephants, tigers, ostriches and kangaroos. Highlights of the exhibition include modern animal sculptures by artist Kendra Haste and interactive sensory displays. The recently restored north wall walk and the never before opened Brick Tower will host some of the displays, including sights, sounds and smells of some of the animals. See www.hrp.org.uk/TowerofLondon.
• A 1938 tube train will run along the western end of the Piccadilly Line this Sunday (that’s Father’s Day in case you’ve forgotten) as part of the London Transport Museum’s Heritage Vehicles on the Move 2011 programme. Leaving Northfields, the train will travel to High Street Kensington via Earl’s Court (crossing from the Piccadilly to the District Line in a move not normally experienced by the general public) before heading back down the District Line to Acton Town where it will change back onto the Piccadilly Line. The train will then undertake the “fishhook move”, visiting Heathrow Terminal 4 before going to Terminals 1,2,3 and 5. The entire journey is expected to last about two hours. Tickets, which can be purchased at the museum ticket desk or by calling 020 7565 7298, will need to be collected at Northfields Station. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/events/vehicles-on-the-move.
• Lambeth Palace Library is celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible with a new exhibition. The exhibits include a 1611 edition of the Bible as well as Medieval Bible translations, landmark editions of the Bible which drew on the textual scholarship of the Renaissance and Reformation and early printed vernacular versions. Runs until 29th July. Admission is by pre-booking only. For information on buying tickets and more, see www.lambethpalacelibrary.org/content/2011exhibition.
• On Now: Time is running out to see Sir Herbert Oakley’s collection of 27 models of European and English cathedrals at the Sir John Soane Museum. The models were made in the 1850s by William Gorringe, who was a modelmaker by appointment to Queen Victoria. Runs until 25th June. For more, see www.soane.org/exhibitions/