LondonLife – Buckingham Palace’s Picture Gallery empties out…

Old Masters have been removed from the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace for the first time in almost 45 years to allow for essential maintenance works. The works, which include paintings by Titian, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Dyck and Canaletto, will be featured in a landmark new exhibition – Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace – which, featuring some 65 artworks in total, opens in the palace’s Queen’s Gallery on 4th December. They have been removed from the Picture Gallery – one of the palace’s State Room where Old Master paintings have hung since the reign of King George IV in the 1820s – over a period of four weeks to allow for building improvements which will include the replacement of electrics and pipework – some of which has not been updated since the 1940s – as well as the gallery’s roof. The refurbishment is part of a £370 million, 10 year refit programme being carried out at the palace due for completion in 2027.

This Week in London – King’s maps go online; life at Tower Bridge; Wildlife Photographer of the Year; and, the Gruffalo at Kew…

• Treasures including a hand-drawn map of New York City presented to the future King James II in 1664, Nicholas Hawksmoor’s architectural drawings for Castle Howard and some London churches, and Italian Jesuit Matteo Ripa’s massive 1719 Kangxi Map of China are among thousands of maps and views The British Library have placed online. The library is now nearing the end of the project to put 40,000 early maps and views online and most can now be accessed via the library’s Flickr Commons collection website. The documents are all part of the Topographical Collection of King George III, itself a distinct segment of the King’s Library which was donated to the Nation by King George IV in 1823. Other highlights to go online include Italian artist Bernardo Bellotto’s drawings of the town of Lucca, dating from about 1742, James Cook’s 1763 large manuscript map of the islands of St Pierre and Miquelon, and watercolours by noted 18th century artists including Paul Sandby and Samuel Hieronymus Grimm. PICTURED: Nicholas Hawksmoor, [An elevation and plan for St George, Bloomsbury]. London, between 1712 and 1730. Maps K.Top 23.16.2.a.

• A new exhibition celebrating the lives of those who work behind the scenes at Tower Bridge and the visitors who walk its floors opens in the iconic bridge’s Engine Rooms on Friday. Lives of a Landmark features images commissioned in 2019 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the bridge. Photographer Lucy Hunter spent several months at the bridge, recording daily life there and this display is the result. Admission charge applies. For more, head here.

Winning images from The Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year – including Sergey Gorshkov’s Grand Title winner, a rare glimpse of Siberian tigress – go on show at the South Kensington-based museum from Friday. The exhibition features the 100 images, selected from more than 49,000 entries, that were short-listed for the 56th annual competition, the results of which were announced in a virtual ceremony earlier this week. Runs until 6th June. Admission charge applies. For more, head to www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year.html.

The Gruffalo is the subject of a new “curated journey” taking place over the half-term break in Kew Gardens’ Arboretum. Visitors are encouraged to play the role of the “little brown mouse” and follow a trail to track down the Gruffalo, along the way encountering some of the other characters from Julia Donaldson’s famous book including Fox, Owl and Snake. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

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10 London buildings that were relocated…1. Marble Arch…

It’s well known that John Rennie’s London Bridge was purchased from the City of London by American entrepreneur Robert P McCulloch and in 1967 relocated to Lake Havasu City in Arizona. But what other London buildings have been relocated from their original site, either to elsewhere in the city or further afield?

First up is Marble Arch, originally built as a grand entrance to Buckingham Palace. Designed by John Nash, the arch was constructed from 1827 and completed in 1833 (there was a break in construction as Nash was replaced by Edward Blore) on the east side of Buckingham Palace for a cost of some £10,000.

Inspired by the Arch of Constantine in Rome (and, it has to be said, some envy over the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris, built to commemorate Napoleon’s military victories), the 45 foot high structure is clad in white Carrara marble and decorated with sculptural reliefs by Sir Richard Westmacott and Edward Hodges Baily.

An equestrian statue of King George IV was designed for the top by Francis Leggatt Chantrey but it was never put there (instead, it ended up in Trafalgar Square). The bronze gates which bear the lion of England, cypher of King George IV and image of St George and the Dragon – were designed by Samuel Parker.

The arch, said to be on the initiative of Nash’s former pupil, Decimus Burton, was dismantled and rebuilt, apparently by Thomas Cubitt, in its present location on the north-east corner of Hyde Park, close to Speaker’s Corner, in 1851.

There’s a popular story that the arch was relocated after it was found to be too narrow for the wide new coaches – this seems highly unlikely as the Gold State Coach passed under it during Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1952. Actually, it was moved to create room for Buckingham Palace’s new east facade (meaning the palace’s famous balcony, where the Royal Family gather to wave, now stands where the arch once did).

Whatever the reasons, it replaced Cumberland Gate as the new ornamental entrance to Hyde Park, complementing the arch Decimus Burton had designed for Hyde Park Corner in the park’s south-east.

Subsequent roadworks left the arch in its current position on a traffic island. It stands close to where the notorious gallows known as the “Tyburn Tree” once stood.

The rebuilt, now Grade I-listed, arch contains three small rooms which, until the middle of the 20th century, housed what has been described as “one of the smallest police stations in the world”. Only senior members of the Royal family and the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery are permitted to pass through the central gates.

PICTURES: Top – Marble Arch in its current location and; Middle – and an 1837 engraving showing the arch outside Buckingham Palace.

This Week in London – VJ Day remembered; Steve McQueen; and, Windsor gardens…

• The National Army Museum in Chelsea is joining with the Royal Air Force Museum, the National Museum of the Royal Navy and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to mark the 75th anniversary of VJ (Victory over Japan) Day, this Saturday, 15th August, with a series of free events including online talks. Among those taking part are World War II veteran Captain Sir Tom Moore, recently knighted by the Queen for his efforts in helping raise funds for the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic, author and explorer Levison Wood (who explores the story of his grandfather’s service in Burma), and Professor Tarak Barkawi, author of Soldiers of Empire: Indian and British Armies in World War II, as well as General Lord Richards, Grand President of the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League who’s involved in a conversation about the contribution of Commonwealth soldiers during the Far East campaign. For the full programme of events, head to www.nam.ac.uk/series/vj-day-75.

Steve McQueen is back at Tate Modern. The exhibition, which reopened last Friday following the reopening of all Tate galleries, spans 20 years of McQueen’s work and features 14 major pieces spanning film, photography and sculpture. The exhibition adds to the three visitor routes already in place at the Tate Modern and coincides with McQueen’s latest artwork Year 3, an epic portrait of London’s Year 3 pupils created through a partnership between Tate, Artangel and A New Direction which can be seen at Tate Britain until 31st January. Visitors must prebook. For more, head to tate.org.uk/visit.

Beyond London (a new regular feature in which we include sites around Greater London)
• The East Terrace Garden at Windsor Castle – commissioned by King George IV in the 1820s – has opened to weekend visitors for the first time in decades. Overlooked by the castle’s famous east facade, the formal garden features clipped domes of yew and beds of 3,500 rose bushes planted in a geometric pattern around a central fountain. It was originally designed by architect Sir Jeffry Wyatville between 1824 and 1826 on the site of an old bowling green made for Charles II in the 1670s. Plants, including 34 orange trees sent by the French King Charles X, were specially imported for the garden and statues were brought from the Privy Gardens at Hampton Court, including a set of four bronze figures by Hubert Le Sueur which  were made for Charles I in the 1630s and which remain in the garden today. Prince Albert is known to have taken a particular interest in the garden and the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, and her sister Princess Margaret grew vegetables there during World War II. As well as the opening of the East Terrace Garden on weekends, visitors with young children on Thursdays and Fridays in August are being given special access to the Castle’s Moat Garden beneath the iconic Round Tower, thought to have dated from the period of King Edward III and believed to be the setting for Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, the first story in Canterbury Tales. Pre-bookings essential. For more, see www.rct.uk.

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10 disease-related memorials in London…8. Former site of the Hospital for Tropical Diseases…

A blue plaque on a building in Euston marks one of the former sites of the  Hospital for Tropical Diseases – a short-lived episode in the life of a hospital which started life aboard a ship on the Thames.

The hospital, the idea for which originated with the Seamen’s Hospital Society and was funded by public subscription, was founded in 1821 aboard the former naval ship, the HMS Grampus for the relief of ill seamen with none less than King George IV himself as patron.

It was moved aboard the HMS Dreadnought in 1831 and then to the HMS Caledonia, renamed the Dreadnought, in 1857, before finally moving into a section of the Royal Greenwich Hospital in 1870 which in turn became known as the Dreadnought Hospital.

In 1919 the hospital moved to the Endsleigh Palace Hotel at the corner of Endsleigh Gardens and Gordon Street in Euston which was at the time being used as a hospital by the Red Cross. There it was joined by the School of Tropical Medicine which had been founded at the Albert Dock Seamen’s Hospital in 1899 (although this merged with the School of Hygiene in the 1920s and moved out).

It only remained there, however, until the start of World War II when it was temporarily relocated back at the Dreadnought Hospital where it remained for the war’s duration.

After the war – with the hotel damaged during then Blitz, the hospital relocated to 23 Devonshire Street in Marylebone before, in 1951 it became part of the National Health Service and moved into the then vacant St Pancras Hospital as part of the University College of London Hospital group.

It remained located there until 1998 when it moved to new purpose-built premises in Capper Street in Bloomsbury and then in 2004 made the move to its current location in the University College Hospital Tower in Euston Road. The hospital remains the only dedicated institution of its kind within the NHS.

The plaque on the Gordon Street property (the blue dot seen in the image above) was erected by the Seamen’s Hospital Society.

PICTURE: Right – Spudgun67 (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0/image cropped)

This Week in London – King George IV on display; The Clash’s ‘London Calling’ hits 40; and, Skate at Somerset House…

• King George IV’s public image and his taste for the theatrical and exotic as well as his passion for collecting are all the subject of a new exhibition opening at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, on Friday. Set against the tumultuous backdrop of his times (which included the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars as well as a period of unprecedented global exploration), George IV: Art & Spectacle shows the contrasts of his character – on the one hand “a recklessly profligate showman” and, on the other, a “connoisseur with intellectual interests whose endless acquisitions made him one of the most important figures in the formation of the Royal Collection”. The display features artworks including Rembrandt’s The Shipbuilder and his Wife (1633) – at 5,000 guineas it was the most expensive artwork he ever purchased (pictured), as well as works by the likes of Jan Steen, Aelbert Cuyp and David Teniers. There’s also portraits the King commissioned from Sir Thomas Gainsborough,  a Louis XVI service created by Sevres (1783-92) and the great Shield of Achilles (1821) – designed by John Flaxman, it was on display at his Coronation banquet. Other items include diplomatic gifts sent to the King – such as a red and yellow feather cape (‘ahu’ula) from King Kamehameha II and Queen Kamamalu of the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) and a Maori club brought from Hawaii by Captain Cook’s ship Resolution – and a copy of Emma sent to him by Jane Austen’s publisher. Runs until 4th May. Admission charge applies. For more, head to www.rct.uk/visit/the-queens-gallery-buckingham-palace. PICTURE: Sir Thomas Lawrence, George IV (1762-1830), 1821 (Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019)

A new exhibition commemorating the release of The Clash’s third album, London Calling, 40 years ago opens at Museum of London tomorrow.  The display features items from the group’s personal archive such as Paul Simonon’s broken Fender Precision Bass, which Simonon smashed while on stage in New York City on 21st September, 1979, a handwritten album sequence by Mick Jones showing the final order for the four sides of the double album London Calling, one of Joe Strummer’s notebooks from 1979 and the typewriter he used to document his ideas, lyrics and other writing, and Topper Headon’s drumsticks. To coincide with the opening, Sony Music is releasing the London Calling Scrapbook, a hardback companion to the display which comes with the album, on CD. The free display can be seen until next spring. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

Skate at Somerset House with Fortnum & Mason is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The ice-skating rink, which opened this week, is being accompanied by the major exhibition 24/7 exploring the non-stop nature of modern life, as well as a programme of events including Somerset’s first skating ‘all-nighter’ on 7th December and special ‘Skate Lates’. There’s also Fortnum’s Christmas Arcade which, along with dining venue Fortnum’s Lodge has been created in Somerset House’s West Wing, as well as the rinkside Skate Lounge – home to the Bailey’s Treat Bar, and the Museum of Architecture’s Gingerbread City, now in its fourth year. Until 12th January. Admission charges apply. Head here for more.

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10 (more) historic London garden squares…5. Brunswick Square…

This Bloomsbury square is another that’s one of a pair – in this case with Mecklenburgh Square which stands on the other side of the site of the now-demolished Foundling Hospital (across what’s now known as Coram’s Fields).

The three acre square was planned by Samuel Pepys Cockerell, who was appointed to develop the estate around the hospital with the intention of maintaining some open space around the hospital while allowing spare land to be leased for housing (and so raise some much needed funds for the hospital).

The square was over the period 1795-1802 while the gardens in the square’s middle were laid out in in the late 1790s (initially for use by residents only, they’re now open to the public).

The name comes from Caroline of Brunswick, wife of the then Prince Regent (later King George IV).

The square, which is Grade II-listed along with Coram’s Fields and Mecklenburgh Square, was a respectable if not highly fashionable residential location.

Famous residents have included numerous members of the Bloomsbury Group such as siblings Virginia (later Woolf) and Adrian Stephen, economist John Maynard Keynes and Leonard Woolf – all of whom lived in the same property (Virginia and Leonard moved out of the square when they married in 1912) as well as EM Forster. Writer JM Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, also lived for a time in a house overlooking the square.

Jane Austen refers to the square in Emma in which her sister Isabella praises it as “very superior to most others” and “very airy”.

All of the original buildings around the square have since been demolished and replaced – among them number is 40 which was built for the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children in the 1920s and now houses the Foundling Museum (there’s a statue of the hospital’s founder Thomas Coram outside by William MacMillan – pictured right).

The north side of the square is home to the UCL School of Pharmacy, the west side features tiered apartments which form part of the Grade II-listed Brunswick Centre development, which dates from the late 1960s and early 1970s, while on the south side is the university residence known as International Hall.

The gardens were extensively renovated in 2002-03 by Camden Council; works which included restoration of railings apparently taken for munitions during World War II. Its trees include a London plane tree, said to be the second oldest in London, which in 2009 was declared one of the Great Trees of Britain.

On one of the garden’s railings, close to the statue of Captain Coram, is a tiny bronze sculpture of a mitten by artist Tracey Emin, a fitting symbol of the childhoods connected with the Foundling Hospital.

PICTURES: Top – Looking across Brunswick Square Gardens (Google Maps); Right – Thomas Coram (David Adams).

This Week in London – Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace; royal etchings; and, Ed Ruscha at Tate Modern…

The impact of Queen Victoria on Buckingham Palace, transforming what was empty residence into “the most glittering court in Europe”, is a special focus of this year’s summer opening of Buckingham Palace. Marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Queen, the exhibition Queen Victoria’s Palace recreates the music, dancing and entertaining that characterised the early part of the Queen’s reign using special effects and displays. Highlights include the Queen’s costume (pictured) for the Stuart Ball of 13th July, 1851, where attendees dressed in the style of King Charles II’s court. There’s also a recreation of a ball held in the palace’s newly completed Ballroom and Ball Supper Room on 17th June, 1856, to mark the end of the Crimean War and honour returning soldiers which uses a Victorian illusion technique known as Pepper’s Ghost to bring to life Louis Haghe’s watercolour, The Ball of 1856. The table in the State Dining Room, meanwhile, has been dressed with items from the ‘Victoria’ pattern dessert service, purchased by the Queen at the 1851 Great Exhibition, and the room also features the Alhambra table fountain, a silver-gilt and enamel centrepiece commissioned by Victoria and Albert in the same year, and silver-gilt pieces from the Grand Service, commissioned by the Queen’s uncle, King George IV, on which sit replica desserts based on a design by Queen Victoria’s chief cook, Charles Elme Francatelli. The summer opening runs until 29th September. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.rct.uk/visit/the-state-rooms-buckingham-palace. PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

 The Victorian reign is also the subject of a new exhibition at the British Museum where rare etchings by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert have gone on display. At home: Royal etchings by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert features 20 artworks that they created during the early years of their marriage and depict scenes of their domestic lives at Windsor Castle and Claremont including images of their children and pets. The display includes three works donated to the museum by King George V, Queen Victoria’s grandson, in 1926, and it’s the first time they’ve gone on public display. Prince Albert introduced the Queen to the practice of etching soon after their wedding and under the guidance of Sir George Hayter they made their first works on 28th August, 1840. They would go on to collaborate on numerous works together. The display can be seen in Room 90a until mid-September. Admission is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org. PICTURE: The Princess Royal and Prince of Wales, 1843, by Albert, Prince Consort (after Queen Victoria) © The Trustees of the British Museum.

American artist Ed Ruscha is the subject of the latest “Artist Rooms” annual free display in the Tate Modern’s Blavatnik building on South Bank. The display features works spanning Ruscha’s six-decade career, including large, text-based paintings and his iconic photographic series. There is also a display of Ruscha’s artist’s books – including Various Small Fires 1964 and Every Building on the Sunset Strip 1966 – as well as some 40 works on paper gifted to Tate by the artist. Highlights include his series of photographs of LA’s swimming pools and parking lots, paintings inspired by classic Hollywood cinema, and works such as DANCE? (1973), Pay Nothing Until April (2003) and Our Flag (2017). Runs until spring 2020. Admission is free. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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10 sites from Victoria and Albert’s London – 2. Buckingham Palace…

You may have noticed that last week we kicked off a new Wednesday series on 10 (more) London garden squares, only having kicked off a new series on 10 sites from Victoria and Albert’s London the week before. To clarify, we are currently running the Victoria and Albert series, the garden squares entry snuck in by accident (but we’ll be returning to the garden squares down the track)! Apologies for any confusion...


Queen Victoria, the first British monarch to use Buckingham Palace as an official residence, moved her household into the palace just three weeks after ascending to the throne on 20th June, 1837.

The palace, which had been empty for seven years following the death of her uncle King George IV, had been undergoing a grand repurposing under architect John Nash, transforming it from a house into a palace.

Originally built in 1703 as a London residence for John Sheffield, the 3rd Earl of Mulgrave, in 1761 the property had been purchased by King George III as a family home for his wife Queen Charlotte (14 of the couple’s 15 children were born here).

Remodelling of the property began the following year and had been continued by King George IV following his accession to the throne in 1820. As a result of the ongoing work, George IV never lived in the palace nor did his successor, King William IV, who preferred Clarence House.

The building works still weren’t finished when Victoria moved in. Her ministers had advised her to remain at Kensington Palace, her childhood home, until the works were finished but Victoria wasn’t having any of that – the move would help her escape the overbearing care of her mother Victoria, Duchess of Kent, the ambitious Sir John Conroy, and the so-called (and stifling) ‘Kensington System’ of rules under which she’d been brought up.

When Victoria married Albert (see the previous entry) on 10th February, 1840, the newly weds made the palace their London home. It was here that, over the next 17 years, Victoria would give birth to eight of their nine children (starting with Victoria ‘Vicky’, in 1840), and where the couple would work, controversially at side-by-side desks.

The couple’s growing family was soon stretching the palace accommodations and following a request from Queen Victoria, in 1846 some £20,000 was granted by Parliament on 13th August to complete and extend the grand property with an additional £50,000 for the works raised from the sale of the Royal Pavilion to the Brighton Corporation.

Under the direction of architect Edward Blore and builder Thomas Cubitt, the East Wing was added at the front of the palace, enclosing what had previously been a horseshoe-shaped courtyard and creating the famous central balcony where the Royal Family now gather on special occasions. Queen Victoria made the first public appearance on the balcony in 1851 during the Great Exhibition (pictured above are members of the Royal Family at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton).

A new ballroom – designed by Nash’s student James Pennethorne – was added to the State Rooms shortly after. This was inaugurated in May, 1856, with a ball held there the following month to mark the end of the Crimean War.

The ball was one of several held at the palace during those years along with official royal ceremonies and other entertainments including musical performances by the likes of Felix Mendelssohn and Johann Strauss II.

A new exhibition, Queen Victoria’s Palace, opens at Buckingham Palace next month. 

WHERE: State Rooms, Buckingham Palace (nearest Tube stations are Victoria, Green Park and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: 20th July to 29th September (opening at 9am, closing times vary – see website for details); COST: £25 an adult/£14 a child (under 17s/under fives free)/£22.80 concession/£64 family; WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/buckinghampalace.

PICTURES: Top – Diliff (licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0); Lower – David Adams.

10 sites of significance in Jane Austen’s London…6. Carlton House…

It’s perhaps the most famous of the visits that Jane Austen made during her London stays and while the property no longer exists, we thought it was worth mentioning. 

But first, let’s explain. The Prince Regent (later King George IV) was an admirer of Jane’s novels, so much so that when he was aware of the author’s presence in London, he issued – via his librarian and chaplain Rev James Stanier Clarke – an invitation for her to visit the library and tour his palatial London property, Carlton House.

The grand, lavishly decorated property, created from an existing property between 1783 and 1812 by the architect Henry Holland, was among the grandest in London at the time. Facing on to the south side of Pall Mall, the building sat across what is now Waterloo Place while its gardens abutted St James’s Park.

Jane visited on 13th November, 1815, and in the company of Rev Clarke toured the library. During her visit, it was suggested she could dedicate her next novel to the Prince Regent, an idea which didn’t sit that well with Jane who was a supporter of his estranged wife, Princess Caroline.

After her initial equivocation, her publisher John Murray apparently managed to prevail upon Jane to do so and she eventually capitulated, dedicating her novel Emma to him (a special copy of the novel was sent to the Prince at Carlton House).

Carlton House, meanwhile, didn’t last for much longer. King George IV, on his accession to the throne, decided to create a property more fitting for a king and ordered works to be carried out on Buckingham House so it could be his main London residence (as Buckingham Palace).

Carlton House, despite the exorbitant sums the Prince had spent transforming it, was demolished in 1825 and the John Nash-designed Carlton House Terrace built upon the site. Columns from the Carlton House were reused in creating the portico of the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square.

PICTURE: Carlton House (via Wikipedia).

10 sites of significance in Jane Austen’s London…2. 23 Hans Place (and 64 Sloane Street), Belgravia…

Another of the places Jane Austen stayed when visiting London, the terraced house at 23 Hans Place was the address her brother Henry moved to from his flat in Covent Garden (see last week’s entry)

Jane stayed at the premises for almost two years over 1814 and 1815 (it was her last known visit to London). Austen, who stayed in a bedchamber at the front of the house on the top floor (a plaque commemorating Jane’s occupancy is located on the building), described the home as “delightful” and expressed her love of the garden.

The house has been considerably altered since although the original property still is said to lie underneath the brick skin now upon it.

It was while Jane was staying there that she was invited by the Prince Regent (later King George IV) – a fan of her writing – to Carlton House on 13th November, 1815, where she was permitted to dedicate one of her future works to him (Emma was duly dedicated the following year).

Henry, meanwhile, lived here until 1816 – the complete collapse of the bank in which he was partner had come in March of that year after which Henry was declared bankrupt. Following the financial disaster, he took up a post as curate at Chawton in Hampshire where the family were based.

While we’re in the area, we should also mention another property around the corner – 64 Sloane Street. It was here that Henry lived before moving to Covent Garden and here that, in April and May 1813, Jane stayed with Henry as his wife Eliza was dying (she passed away on 25th April).

Henry and Eliza had moved into the the Sloane Street property in 1809 (from Brompton) and Jane had visited several times (among the books she worked on while there was Sense and Sensibility).

Both properties were part of the Hans Town development which dated from the late 1770s.

PICTURE: Gwynhafyr/CC BY-NC 2.0

 

A Moment in London’s History…The ‘Blanketeers’ March…

The ‘blanketeers’ were a group of weavers, mainly from Lancashire, who in March, 1817, controversially intended to march from Manchester to London to petition the Prince Regent (later King George IV). 

One of a series of protests which came amid the economic hardship facing England in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars (they would eventually culminate in the infamous Peterloo Massacre of 1819 in which 11 people died in Manchester), participants in the so-called ‘blanket march’ hoped to bring to the attention of the Prince Regent the poor state of the textile industry in Lancashire,

They were also protesting against the recent suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act (this was done in the wake of the Spa Fields Riots in late 1816 and an attack on the Prince Regent’s coach a couple of months earlier).

About 5,000 weavers gathered at St Peter’s Field in Manchester – each carrying a blanket on their back, both for sleeping under during the journey (they apparently hoped people would provide shelter along the way) and to identify their association with the textile industry (hence the name ‘blanketeers’).

Thousands more spectators came to see off the men who intended to march in small groups of 10 to avoid accusations of an illegal mass gathering (meetings of more than 50 had been banned). Each group leader would carry a petition tied around his arm.

They didn’t get far. The Riot Act was read and troops sent in – the King’s Dragoon Guards – who initially arrested more than a score of people including key reform movement leaders Samuel Drummond and John Bagguley.

Several hundred men did manage to set off but the cavalry set off in pursuit. Some were taken into custody by police, and most were turned back including some 300 who reached Stockport. But there is a story,  albeit apparently rather a dubious one, that one marcher – some report his name as ‘Abel Couldwell’ – did reach London and handed in his petition.

 

This Week in London – Russia’s finest portraiture on show, Scottish art from the Royal Collection; and photographer/film-maker Paul Strand revisited…

Russia 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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Lost London – The King’s Mews at Charing Cross…

National-Gallery2The 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.

What’s in a name?…Savile Row

Famous around the world as the home of bespoke tailoring in London, Savile Row owes its name – like so many other streets in Mayfair – to landowner Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington.

Savile-RowBurlington (1612-98) resided at Burlington House (now home of the Royal Academy of Arts) on Piccadilly and after his death the land around his former home was developed and the streets named for Burlington and members of his family.

Among them was his wife, Lady Burlington, née Lady Dorothy Savile, after whom Savile Row was named. Laid out in 1695, the street was actually located on the site of the former kitchen gardens of Burlington House and was given its name (originally Savile Street) in the 1730s.

The first to reside here were apparently mostly military and politicians (these included PM William Pitt the Younger) and it was only in the early 19th century that the first tailors started to set up shop here. With clients including society dandy Beau Brummell (see our our earlier post here) and the Prince Regent (later King George IV), the street’s fame grew rapidly and continued into the 20th century when customers included some of the biggest names in Hollywood – Cary Grant, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra among them.

Among the famous tailoring firms still operating in Savile Row are Anderson & Sheppard (at number 30, it’s where the Prince of Wales has his suits made), Henry Poole (at number 15, Victorian-era owner Henry Poole is credited as the inventor of the tuxedo), and Hardy Amies.

Headquartered at number 14 (with a shop at number 8), Amies gained an international reputation when appointed dressmaker to Queen Elizabeth II in 1955/the address was previously owned by the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan and was also the address Jules Vernes gave Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days).

One last tailor worth a particular mention is that of Tommy Nutter, who set up shop at number 35 in the late Sixties with a nameplate out front simply reading Nutters and shocked traditionalists with his modern take on tailoring – this modern approach continues among some tailors in the street even today.

The street also has a famous claim in the story of the Beatles – the moved their company Apple Corps Company into number 3 in July, 1968, and it was on the roof of this building that they played their last live gig on 3rd January, 1969.

This Week in London – Buckingham Palace offers a “Royal Welcome”; exploring London’s outdoor spaces; and contemporary portraiture at the V&A…

Buckingham-PalaceBuckingham Palace opened its 19 State Rooms to the public last weekend under the theme of ‘A Royal Welcome’. As well as the chance to see the State Rooms themselves, a series of displays and films are located throughout the palace which show how Royal Household staff are involved in welcoming the tens of thousands of guests who come to the palace each year for receptions, State Banquets, garden parties and investitures. And, for the first time, the public can enter the palace through the Grand Entrance where the Australian State Coach will be displayed. Other highlights include the Palace Ballroom – set up for a State Banquet with silver gilt candelabra and centrepieces from King George IV’s grand service, displays recreating part of the dresser’s workroom and the palace kitchens, pantries and wine cellars in the throes of preparing for a State Banquet, and some of the gifts received during State Visits to the palace. Items of Queen Elizabeth II’s personal jewellery are also on display including the Kokoshnik Tiara, worn at a State Banquet in honour of the President of Mexico this year, Queen Mary’s Dorset bow brooch and the diamond Coronation necklace and earrings. The palace is open until 27th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.

A new interactive map of public outdoor areas in London has been created to help encourage the city’s residents and tourists to make the most of the great outdoors this summer. The map details more than 200 public spaces including squares, green spaces and public street amenities, many of which have been improved as part of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson’s Great Outdoors initiative which has seen more than £400 million invested in 242 projects since 2009. To check out the map, follow this link.

A new exhibition examining contemporary portraiture – and its inspiration from traditional modes of portraiture such as miniatures, medals and death masks – opened at the V&A in South Kensington this week. Facing History: Contemporary Portraiture features more than 80 prints and photographs drawn from the V&A’s collection and created by artists including Julian Opie, Grayson Perry, Thomas Ruff, Maud Sulter and Gavin Turk. Works featured include self-referential pieces like Grayson Perry’s pair of prints, Mr and Mrs Perry and Gavin Turk’s Portrait of Something that I’ll Never Really See, portraits of real and fictional characters like Brian D Cohen’s Man with Eyes Closed (Walter White) whose subject is both a character from US TV series Breaking Bad and Bryan Cranston, the actor who played him, Cecilia Mandrile’s identity-card inspired ID-Intensively Displaced series, and 11 pieces from Ellen Heck’s Forty Fridas. Exhibition runs until 24th April. Admission is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

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A Moment in London’s History – Princess Victoria’s christening…

Cupola-Room

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.

PICTURE: HRP/newsteam

Treasures of London – The Great Pagoda, Kew Gardens…

pagoda

News this week that Historic Royal Palaces and the Royal Botanic Gardens are embarking on a two year project to restore eighty decorative dragons to the Kew Pagoda has led us to take a look at the history of the exotic tower set amid the trees.

pagoda15Designed by architect Sir William Chambers (one of his drawings is depicted here), the pagoda was built in 1762 during the eighteenth century craze for Chinoiserie and was probably commissioned by Princess Augusta as part of the ongoing works she undertook in the gardens after the death of her husband Prince Frederick, eldest son of King George II and Queen Caroline.

Standing 163 feet (or almost 50 metres) high, the 10 storey pagoda was originally decorated with eighty golden dragons. It was designed to be the high point of a world tour through the gardens which also took in Roman ruins and Arabic mosques.

While the pagoda remains, the dragons were only on the structure for some 22 years before being removed in 1784 during roof repairs. Thanks to rumours they were made of solid gold, it was suggested they were sold off to pay the debts of the Prince Regent (the future King George IV), but experts say the wooden figures had simply rotted and so had to be removed.

Following their removal, the dragons subsequently disappeared and despite several attempts to find them – including one by Decimus Burton, architect of the famous Palm House (for more on that, see our earlier post), in 1843 – they have never been found.

Historic Royal Palaces and the Royal Botanic Gardens have now decided to replace them with new ones, drawing on contemporary accounts and drawings and using a team of specialist craftsmen to create them.

The restored pagoda – complete with new dragons – will be open to the public in 2017.

It is one of several ornamental buildings still located in the gardens. Others include a Japanese gateway and a Japanese wooden house called a minka.

WHERE: The Great Pagoda, Kew Gardens (nearest Tube station is Kew Gardens); WHEN: 10am daily (closing times vary – see websites for details); COST: £16.50 adults/£13 concessions/children £3.50 (discounts apply for online bookings); WEBSITE: www.kew.org.

PICTURES: RBG Kew

8 structures from the London that never was – 3. Sir John Soane’s royal palace…

Prolific early 19th century architect Sir John Soane designed many public buildings in London including, famously, the Bank of England (since considerably altered) and the somewhat revolutionary Dulwich Picture Gallery. He also designed a number that were merely fanciful works and never commissioned nor constructed.

Royal-PalaceForemost among them was a sprawling royal palace which would occupy part of Green Park off Constitution Hill.

While Soane had been designing royal palaces as far back as the late 1770s when in Rome on his Grand Tour, in 1821 he designed one, apparently as a new home for the newly crowned King George IV.

Birds-eye view drawings show a triangular-shaped palace with grand porticoes at each of the three corners as well as in the middle of each of the three sides. Three internal courtyards surround a large central dome.

Despite Soane’s hopes for a royal commission, the king appointed John Nash to the job of official architect and so Soane’s palace never went any further than the drawing board.

He also designed a grand gateway marking the entrance to London at Kensington Gore through which the monarch would travel when heading to the State Opening of Parliament in Westminster – it, too, was never realised.

 PICTURE: Wikipedia

10 significant sites from Georgian London – 8. Marble Hill House…

Marble-Hill-HouseA Palladian villa located on the bank of the Thames between Richmond and Twickenham, Marble Hill House was built in the mid to late 172os for Henrietta Howard, mistress of King George II and later Countess of Suffolk.

The symmetrical property – seen as a model for later Georgian-era villas in both England and overseas – was constructed by Roger Morris. He, along with Henry Herbert – a friend of the countess and later the 9th Earl of Pembroke – was also involved in its design as was Colen Campbell, architect to the Prince of Wales and future King George II, who is believed to have drawn up the first sketch designs for the house.

As well as being familiar with the work of neo-Palladian Inigo Jones, Lord Herbert had travelled in Italy and there is it believed had directly encountered the works of sixteenth century Italian architect Andrea Palladio whose architecture the property emulated (see our earlier post on Chiswick House here).

Key rooms include the ‘great room’ – a perfect cube, this is the central room of the house and boasts a wealth of gilded carvings; the dining parlour which had hand-painted Chinese wallpaper; and, Lady Suffolk’s rather sparsely furnished but nonetheless impressive, bedchamber.

Marble-Hill-GrottoHoward, who as well as being a mistress of King George II both before and after his accession to the throne in 1727, was a Woman of the Bedchamber to his wife, Queen Caroline of Ansbach, and, as a result, initially spent little time at the property (which coincidentally was built using money the King had given her while he was still Prince of Wales).

But after she become the Countess of Suffolk in 1731 when her estranged husband Charles Howard became 9th Earl of Suffolk after his brothers’ deaths, Lady Suffolk was appointed Mistress of the Robes, and following the death of her husband in 1733, retired from court.

In 1735 following the end of her intimate relationship with the King, she married a second time, this time happily, to George Berkeley, younger brother of the 3rd Earl of Berkeley and an MP. Together the new couple split their time between a house in Savile Row and Marble Hill. Her husband died in 1746 and Lady Suffolk, who had come to be considered a very “model of decorum”, died at Marble Hill in 1767.

Among the visitors who had spent time at the property were poet and neighbour Alexander Pope (responsible for the design of the grounds along with royal landscape gardener Charles Bridgeman), writer and satirist Jonathan Swift, and, in Lady Suffolk’s later years, Horace Walpole – son of PM Sir Robert Walpole and builder of the Gothic masterpiece Strawberry Hill.

Following Lady Suffolk’s death, later residents of the property included another Royal Mistress – Mrs Fitzherbert, mistress to the future King George IV, Swedenborgian Charles Augustus Tulk and Jonathan Peel, brother of Sir Robert Peel (you can read more about Sir Robert Peel here).

Following the latter’s death, the house stood empty for many years before publication of plans for a redevelopment by then owner William Cunard caused a public outcry which saw the property pass into the hands of the London County Council around the year 1900.

The house opened to the public as a tea room in 1903 and remained as such until the mid-1960s when, now in the hands of the Greater London Council, it underwent a major restoration project and was reopened as a museum. In 1996, the house – which now stands on 66 acres and can be seen in a much lauded view from Richmond Hill – came into the care of English Heritage.

The grounds – Marble Hill Park – are open to the public for free and include a cafe located in the former coach house. Other features in the grounds include Lady Suffolk’s Grotto – pictured above – based on one at Pope’s residence nearby. It was restored after being rediscovered in the 1980s.

WHERE: Marble Hill House, Richmond Road, Twickenham (nearest Tub-e station is Richmond (1 miles) or train stations at St Margaret’s or Twickenham);  WHEN: Various times Saturday and Sunday – entry to the house by guided tour only; COST: £5.90 adults/£3.50 children (5-15 years)/£5.30 concession/£15.30 family; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/marble-hill-house/.