2016 is fast approaching and to celebrate, we’re looking back at the 10 most popular posts we published in 2015. Today, we present our most popular and second most popular articles posted this year…

London-Bridge-chapel2. Our second most popular article, posted in August, was another in our Lost London series and this time looked at a long-lost feature of Old London Bridge – Lost London – Chapel of St Thomas á Becket.

1. And we are finally there – the most popular of our posts published this year was run in conjunction with the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. Part of our LondonLife series, it took a look inside King Henry V’s rarely opened chantry chapel in Westminster Abbey – LondonLife – A rare glimpse inside King Henry V’s chantry chapel.

Sam-MarksHundreds gathered at Westminster Abbey last Thursday for a service to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt – 600 years to the day when word of the battle’s victory arrived in London. During the service, the sword of King Henry V – who was buried in the abbey and whose chantry chapel is located above his tomb (see our earlier post here) – was carried through the abbey and presented to the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, at the High Altar (pictured below). “A hundred years ago, as our countrymen fought alongside the French, the old enmities had been put away,” Rev Dr Hall told those at the service who included the Duke of Kent and Princess Michael of Kent. “In the dark days before the Second World War, the story of Agincourt encouraged men and women alike to strive their utmost for freedom from tyranny. Today we give hearty thanks for our freedoms, and we pray for an end to tyranny wherever it is found, and for enduring peace and prosperity.” Royal Shakespeare Company actor Sam Marks read the St Crispin’s Day speech from the Bard’s Henry the Fifth (pictured above) while veteran of the stage and screen, Robert Hardy, read the prologue from Act IV of the same play. For more on abbey, visit www.westminster-abbey.org.  PICTURES: Ian Stratton/Westminster Abbey.

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It wasn’t until four days after the battle which had taken place on 25th October, 1415, that news of King Henry V’s stunning victory over the French reached the English capital.

Westminster-Abbey-frontThe news apparently reached London very early in the morning and church bells were rung in celebration and a Te Deum sang in thanksgiving in many.

At 9am, a solemn procession of clergy made their way from St Paul’s Cathedral in the City to the shrine of St Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey (pictured) to give thanks.

Other attendees at the abbey included the Mayor-elect, Nicholas Wotton (this was the first of two occasions on which he was elected Lord Mayor), and the alderman of London, as well as the Queen Dowager, Joan of Navarre.

A few days later, on the 4th November, King Henry V’s brother – John of Lancaster, the Duke of Bedford, announced the news to Parliament.

King Henry V, meanwhile, arrived back in Dover on 16th November (apparently as a great snowstorm was making its presence felt) and headed for London. After pausing in Canterbury to give thanks in the cathedral and St Augustine’s Abbey, he reached the manor of Eltham (now in south-east London) on 22nd November.

He was met the next day on Blackheath by Wotton and City dignitaries who then, along with what were recorded as a crowd of 20,000 citizens, accompanied him and his small retinue, which included some of his most high profile prisoners such as Charles d’Orléans, Duke of Orléans (who spent 25 years as a prisoner in England), and Marshal Boucicaut (he would die six years later in Yorkshire), towards London.

There, welcomed as Henry V, “King of England and France”, he processed through the City which had been elaborately decorated – the decorations included the hanging of various coats of arms from various prominent sites as well as the positioning of statues of the likes of St George – ahead of his arrival.

Travelling down Cheapside, the king – who was modestly dressed in a purple gown and had eschewed wearing a crown for the event – stopped at St Paul’s where he performed his devotions, before proceeding to Westminster where he did the same before taking up residence for the night in the nearby Palace of Westminster.

On the king’s orders, a solemn mass was held in St Paul’s the next day for the fallen of both sides. The victorious king had returned!

Henry-V-chantry-chapelA fortunate few last weekend had the chance to have a look inside King Henry V’s elaborately carved chantry chapel in Westminster Abbey as part of commemorations marking the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. 

The chapel, which is located on a sort of mezzanine level above the king’s tomb at the east end of the Shrine of Edward the Confessor, is one of the smallest of the abbey’s chapels. It was constructed on the orders of the king – who died Vincennes in August, 1422, and was buried in the abbey on 7th November that year – so prayers could be said in perpetuity for his soul.

The tomb was completed in 1431 and the chantry chapel was built above between 1437 and 1450. The latter is entered via narrow stairways of worn steps hidden inside a pair of stone turrets which flank the tomb.

For centuries the Henry V’s funeral ‘achievements’ – the king’s saddle, helm and shield – were displayed on a wooden beam above the chantry chapel but these were restored and moved to the abbey museum in 1972.

Henry V’s wife, Catherine de Valois, who survived her husband by 15 years was eventually – in the Victorian age – buried under the chantry chapel altar (originally buried in the old Lady Chapel, King Henry VII had her removed and placed in an open coffin in the open air next to the tomb of King Henry V, when building his new chapel – among visitors to her mummified body was diarist Samuel Pepys who even kissed her. In 1778 she was buried in a vault before being relocated to her current position in 1878).

An inscription on the altar in the chantry chapel reads: “Under this slab (once the altar of this chapel) for long cast down and broken up by fire, rest at last, after various vicissitudes, finally deposited here by command of Queen Victoria, the bones of Catherine de Valois, daughter of Charles VI, King of France, wife of Henry V, mother of Henry VI, grandmother of Henry VII, born 1400, crowned 1421, died 1438”.

The chantry chapel is still occasionally used for services but, measuring just seven by three metres, is not usually open to the public because of size and access issues.

Westminster Abbey will hold a special service of commemoration on 29th October in partnership with charity Agincourt600. The day before, 28th October, it will host a one day conference for Henry V enthusiasts entitled ‘Beyond Agincourt: The Funerary Achievements of Henry V’. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org/events/agincourt.

Above – King Henry V’s chantry chapel; Below – King Henry V’s tomb which sits below the chantry chapel. PICTURE: Jim Dyson/Dean & Chapter of Westminster

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This weekend marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt (25th October, 1415) when King Henry V and his army of English archers overcame the larger French host in what is now northern France during the Hundred Years War.

To mark the occasion, the Royal Armouries have launched a new exhibition at the Tower of London, The Battle of Agincourt: 600th Anniversary Exhibition which tells the story of the battle and its aftermath as well as some of the myths which sprang up in its wake.

Below are some of the “treasures” presented in the exhibition in the White Tower which runs until 31st January. There will also be a programme of associated events running at the Tower from tomorrow until 1st November. For more, see www.royalarmouries.org/agincourt.

King Henry V played a key role in the battle, which came more than two-and-a-half months after he launched an invasion of Normandy. Until Agincourt, the campaign had not gone well – dysentery had taken a considerable toll on his men and his army had only taken one target – the port of Harfleur – when, after crossing the River Somme, the French heralds summoned him to the fight. It was on the morning of the battle – St Crispin’s Day, 25th October – that he gave a short speech to stiffen the resolve of his army which William Shakespeare subsequently embellished in his play Henry V: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”. This painting of the king is by unknown artist, oil on panel, late 16th or early 17th century. PICTURE: © National Portrait Gallery.

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Three scenes from a four metre by two metre model of the battlefield of Agincourt, supported by the Arms and Armour Heritage Trust and constructed by MM Dioramas and Perry Miniatures. The model features 4,000 detailed scale model figures – 2,600 French and 1,750 English, representative of the larger forces each brought the fight (the exhibition puts the number of English 8,500-9,000 and the French at 12,000 although we should note others have claimed the English were outnumbered by as much as three or four to one). In the model, which draws on recent research to accurately bring to life the arms, armour and heraldry of those involved, English archers – who played a critical role in the battle (in fact, the battle is seen as an exemplar of the use of archers in battle) – are shown positioned behind wooden stakes that King Henry V asked them each to carry for protection against the French cavalry, seen charging towards them. The battle, which started in late morning when the English archers provoked the French into attacking, was all over by early afternoon and while it’s not certain how many died, sources are agreed that the French losses were considerably higher than the English. Following the exhibition the model will be going on permanent display at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds. PICTURE © Royal Armouries.

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Lyle Bacinet, north Italian, late 14th century. Rare in terms of its quality, it would have been used mostly by mounted knights. By the late 14th century, men-at-arms would have worn complete plate armour. PICTURE © Royal Armouries.

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An arrowhead typical of the period. These would have been made in ‘sheaves’, bundles of 24 arrows which would have been worn on the archer’s waist. PICTURE © Royal Armouries.

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 An English ‘ballock dagger’, dating from the late 14th – early 15th centuries. A common weapon and characteristic shape of the period. Such weapons may have been carried by archers to finish off the wounded. PICTURE © Royal Armouries.

 

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Shakespeare’s retelling of events in Henry V has kept the story of the famous battle alive down the centuries. In a nod to the important role the Bard has played, the exhibition features a rare First Folio of Shakepeare’s plays as well as tabard (below) worn by Richard Burton in the title role of King Henry V at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1951. It was made of hessian and felt with simulated armour at the shoulders so it would appear to have been worn on the battlefield. PICTURE © Victoria and Albert Museum.

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Other 20th century artefacts related to Agincourt include a film poster for Henry V (1944), a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s play which starred and was directed by Laurence Olivier. PICTURE: © ITV / REX.

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For more information on events surrounding the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, see www.agincourt600.com.

Star-clockThe world’s oldest clock and watch collection can be seen at its new home at the Science Museum in South Kensington from tomorrow. The Clockmaker’s Museum, which was established in 1814 and has previously been housed at City of London Corporation’s Guildhall, has taken up permanent residence in the Science Museum. Assembled by the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers – founded in 1631 – the collection features some 600 watches, 80 clocks and 25 marine timekeepers spanning the period from the 15th century to today. Highlights among the collection include: a year duration long case clock made by Daniel Quare of London (c. 1647-1724); a star-form watch (pictured) by David Ramsay, first master of the Clockmaker’s Company; the 5th marine timekeeper completed in 1770 by John Harrison (winner in 1714 of the Longitude Prize); a timekeeper used by Captain George Vancouver on his 18th century voyage around the Canadian island that bears his name; a watch used to carry accurate time from Greenwich Observatory around London; and, a wristwatch worn by Sir Edmund Hillary when he summited Mount Everest in 1953. The collection complements that already held by the Science Museum in its ‘Measuring Time’ gallery – this includes the third oldest clock in the world (dating from 1392, it’s on loan from Well’s Cathedral) and a 1,500-year-old Byzantine sundial-calendar, the second oldest geared mechanism known to have survived. Entry is free. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/clocks. PICTURE: The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers.

Westminster Abbey is kicking off its commemorations of the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt by opening Henry V’s chantry chapel in Westminster Abbey to a selected few on Saturday night, the eve of the battle’s anniversary. The chapel, which is above the king’s tomb at the east end of the abbey, will be seen by the winners of a public ballot which opened in September. It has never before been officially opened for public tours. The chapel is one of the smallest of the abbey’s chapels. It is occasionally used for services but, measuring just seven by three metres, is not usually open to the public because of size and access issues. Meanwhile the abbey will hold a special service of commemoration on 29th October in partnership with charity Agincourt600 and on 28th October, will host a one day conference for Henry V enthusiasts entitled Beyond Agincourt: The Funerary Achievements of Henry V. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org/events/agincourt.

• The role the black community played at home and on the fighting front during conflicts from World War I onward is the focus of a programme of free events and tours as Imperial War Museums marks Black History Month during October. IWM London in Lambeth will host a special screening of two documentary films – Burma Boy and Eddie Noble: A Charmed Life – telling the stories of African and Caribbean mean who served in World War II on 25th October. IWM London will also feature a series of interactive talks from historians revealing what it was like for black servicemen during both world wars from this Saturday until Sunday, 1st November. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.

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

Bermondsey Abbey, which was more than 130-years-old by the time King John put his seal to the Magna Carta in 1215, has an unusual connection to the unpopular king – it is one of a number of buildings in London which has, at various times in history, been erroneously referred to as King John’s Palace.

This suggestion – that it was a palace which was later converted into an abbey – may have arisen from a site on the former abbey grounds being known at some point in its history as King John’s Court (that name was said to commemorate the fact that King John visited the abbey).

Putting how King John’s name came to be linked with the abbey aside, we’ll take a quick look at the history of the abbey which rose to become an important ecclesiastical institution in medieval times.

While there was a monastic institution in Bermondsey as far back as the early 8th century, the priory which was here during the reign of King John was founded in 1082, possibly on the site of the earlier institution, by a Londoner named as Aylwin Child(e), apparently a wealthy Saxon merchant who was granted the land by King William the Conqueror.

In 1089, the monastery –  located about a mile back from the river between Southwark and Rotherhithe – became the Cluniac Priory of St Saviour, an order centred on the French abbey of Cluny, and was endowed by King William II (William Rufus) with the manor of Bermondsey.

It was “naturalised” – that is, became English – by the first English prior, Richard Dunton, in 1380, who paid a substantial fine for the process. It was elevated to the status of an abbey by Pope Boniface IX in 1399.

It had some important royal connections – King John’s father, King Henry II and his wife Queen Eleanor celebrated Christmas here in 1154 (their second child, the ill-fated Henry, the young King, was born here a couple of months later), and Queen Catherine (of Valois), wife of King Henry V, died here in 1437. It was also at Bermondsey Abbey that Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of King Edward IV and mother of the two “Princes in the Tower”, died in 1492 following her retirement from court.

The abbey, which grew to have an enormous income thanks to its acquisition of property in a range of counties, survived until the Dissolution when, in 1537, King Henry VIII closed its doors. It was later acquired by Sir Thomas Pope who demolished the abbey and built a mansion for himself on the site (and founded Trinity College in Oxford apparently using revenues from the property). We’ll deal more with its later history in an upcoming post.

The ruins of the abbey were extensively excavated in the past few decades and some of the remaining ruins of the abbey can still be seen buildings around Bermondsey Square and a blue plaque commemorating the abbey was unveiled in 2010. Bermondsey Street runs roughly along the line of the path which once led from the abbey gates to the Thames and the abbey had a dock there still commemorated as St Saviour’s Dock. The abbey’s name is commemorated in various streets around the area.

For more on the history of the Magna Carta, see David Starkey’s Magna Carta: The True Story Behind the Charter.

PICTURE: An archaeological dig at the ruins of Bermondsey Abbey in 2006. Zefrog/Wikipedia.

In this, the final in our series looking at Shakespeare’s London, we take a quick look at some of the plethora of London locations mentioned by the Bard in his historical plays. Some we have already covered, but here are a few more…

Westminster-AbbeyWestminster Abbey (pictured): We’ve already talked about Poet’s Corner but Shakespeare himself makes mention of Westminster Abbey in his plays, notably in Henry VI, Part I, when it’s the scene of Henry V’s funeral. The Jerusalem Chamber, principal room of Cheyneygates, the medieval house of abbots of Westminster is mentioned in Henry IV, Part II.

The Houses of Parliament: True, the buildings have changed somewhat since Shakespeare’s day but the former Palace of Westminster is the site of scenes in numerous plays including Richard IIHenry IV, Part II and Henry VI, Part III are set. Among rooms mentioned is Westminster Hall which survives today from the original building.

The Tower of London: As one would expect, this prominent London landmark pops up in several of Shakespeare’s plays including Henry VI, Part I and Richard III where its plays a rather central role – among the events recorded in the latter play are the infamous drowning of Richard III’s elder brother George in a butt of Malmsey wine.

Ely House: The London residence of the bishops of Ely, this long gone building is mentioned in Richard II (for more on Ely House see our earlier posts on Ye Olde Mitre Tavern here and St Etheldreda’s Church here ).

The London Stone: Now at 111 Cannon Street, the London Stone originally was located at another location in Cannon Street and its here in Henry VI, Part II, that rebel Jack Cade stops to strike his sword upon the stone (for more on the London Stone, see our earlier post here).

Other London sites mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays include generic “London Streets” (mentioned in a number of plays), “Eastcheap, near the Boar’s Head Tavern” (Henry IV, Part II), the Temple Garden (Henry VI, Part I) and Blackheath (Henry VI, Part II).

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This week (and next week) as part of our look at Shakespeare’s London, we’re taking a look at a few of the many memorials to William Shakespeare located around London…

• Westminster Abbey: Perhaps the most famous of London’s memorials to Shakespeare can be found in Poet’s Corner, an area of the abbey which has become noted as a burial place and memorial site for writers, playwrights and poets. Designed by William Kent, the memorial statue of Shakespeare was placed here in January, 1741 (there had apparently been some earlier talk of bringing his bones from Stratford-upon-Avon but that idea was squashed). The life-size statue in white marble, sculpted by Peter Scheemakers, was erected by Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, Dr Richard Mead, Alexander Pope and Tom Martin. The memorial also features the heads of Queen Elizabeth I, King Henry V and King Richard III on the base of a pedestal and shows Shakespeare pointing to a scroll on which are painted a variation of lines taken from The Tempest. A Latin inscription records the date the memorial was created and an English translation of this was added in 1977. For more on the abbey, see www.westminster-abbey.org.

• Guildhall Art Gallery (pictured above): Facing into Guildhall Yard from niches under the loggia of the Guildhall Art Gallery are four larger-than-life busts of historical figures connected with the City of London. As well as one of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, architect Christopher Wren, and diarist Samuel Pepys (along with a full-length statue of Dick Whittington and his famous cat) is a bust depicting Shakespeare. Carved out of Portland stone by sculptor Tim Crawley, the busts were installed in 1999. Much attention was apparently paid to creating a bust which resembled pictures of Shakespeare. Follow this link for more on the gallery.

Former City of London School: This Thames-side building, dating from the 1880s, features a full length statue of Shakespeare who gazes out over the river. He’s not alone – poet John Milton, Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Thomas More and Sir Francis Bacon stand nearby, selected, apparently, to represent various disciplines taught at the school. The statues were the work of John Daymond who depicted Shakespeare flanked by representations of classics and poetry and drawing and music. The school vacated the building on Victoria Embankment  in the 1980s and it’s now occupied by JP Morgan.

We’ll be looking at some more works depicting Shakespeare next week…

The-GlobeMention William Shakespeare and London in the same breath and everyone immediately thinks of one building – the reconstructed Globe on Bankside. So we thought that to kick off our new series – being run in honour of the 450th anniversary of the playwright’s birth – we’d take a look at history of the iconic structure.

The-Globe2The original Globe Theatre, located a few hundred metres to the south, opened in 1599 as a home for the actors’ company known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later renamed the King’s Men on the accession of King James I in 1603), of which Shakespeare was a member. Founded by James Burbage, this merry band was originally was housed at London’s first purpose-built playhouse Shoreditch before lease disputes led them to establish a new theatre in Southwark, close to the then existing theatre, The Rose.

Up and running by 1599 (Shakespeare was among four actors who bought a share in the property to help fund the new building which used timbers from the former Shoreditch theatre), the new theatre was used for 14 years until, during a performance of Henry VIII in 1613, wadding from a stage cannon ignited and the theatre burned to the ground. Rebuilt with a tiled roof, it remained the home of the company until it was closed down by the Puritan government in 1642 and demolished two years later.

You can see the original site of The Globe just in nearby Park Street. The shape of the structure is marked by a dark line embedded in the pavement (pictured).

The reconstructed building which stands proudly by the water today was the vision of the late American actor, director and producer, Sam Wanamaker. He founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust which, with the on-site assistance of Queen Elizabeth II, opened the theatre at its current site in 1997 (sadly, Wanamaker had died three-and-a-half-years previously).

The building’s design was drawn from sifting through what little historical evidence could be found including the findings of an archaeological dig at the original site, descriptions contained in Shakespeare’s plays (including the line from Henry V – “Or may we cram within this wooden ‘O’), and printed panoramas from the time, although it should be noted that much – particularly the design of the stage – is speculative.

Meanwhile the techniques used in the construction of the theatre were the subject of years of research and were in accord with those of the early 17th century  and included using oak laths and staves to support lime plaster and then covering the walls in white lime wash while the roof was made of water reed thatch.

One of the best ways to see the theatre and make the most of the atmosphere is to see a play from a standing position in the pit!

WHERE: Globe Theatre Exhibition & Tour, Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk (nearest Tube stations are Southwark and London Bridge); WHEN: Exhibition is open 9am to 5.30pm daily – tours run at various times, see website for details; COST: Exhibition and tour cost is £13.50 adults/£12 seniors/£11 students/£8 children (5-15 with children under five free)/£36 family of four; WEBSITE: www.shakespearesglobe.com.

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Tomorrow is the Lord Mayor’s Show and once again the great procession will make its through London’s streets so the Lord Mayor may swear their loyalty to the Crown. So, to celebrate, we thought we’d interrupt our regular programming and bring you 10 facts about the Lord Mayor’s Show…

1. The origins of the Lord Mayor’s Show go back to 1215 when King John granted the city the right to elect their mayors but only on condition that they made their way to Westminster to swear their loyalty each year. There is evidence that by the late 14th century, the journey had turned into something of a procession.

2. Lawyer Fiona Woolf is the 686th Lord Mayor, formally taking on the job when outgoing mayor Roger Gifford hands the City insignia to her in what is known as the Silent Ceremony held at Guildhall today. She is only the second woman to ever hold the post; Mary Donaldson was the first to do so in 1983.

3. The person responsible for organising the day is the Pageantmaster. The current Pageantmaster is Dominic Reid – he gets to travel in a ceremonial Landrover.

4. The day was originally held on 28th October, the Feast of St Simon and St Jude, but was moved to 9th November in 1751 when Britain adopted the Gregorian Calendar. Because this meant it call be held on any day of the week, to simplify matters in 1959 it was decided that the Show would be held on the second Saturday in November.

5. Effigies of Gog and Magog, seen guardians of the City of London, have appeared in the Lord Mayor’s Show since at least 1554, during the reign of King Henry V. For more on Gog and Magog, see our Famous Londoners post.

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6. Since the early 15th century the Lord Mayor had travelled to Westminster via a pageant on the River Thames. This was dropped in favour of travelling on horseback. The magnificent State Coach used in tomorrow’s procession, meanwhile, was first used to convey the Lord Mayor to Westminster in 1757 (the mayors had ridden in coaches since 1712 after Sir Gilbert Heathcote fell off his horse in 1711). For more on the State Coach, see our Treasures of London article. As happened last year, before the Show starts, the Lord Mayor will once again travel upriver in the QRB Gloriana accompanied by a procession of 24 traditional Thames boats from London’s livery companies and port authorities. The flotilla will leave Vauxhall at 8.30am and travel past Tower Bridge to HMS President.

7. The modern route of the show – which takes in Cheapside, Ludgate Hill, Fleet Street going out from Mansion House to the Royal Courts of Justice and then returns back along Queen Victoria Street – was fixed in 1952 (although occasionally it has been disrupted due to things like roadworks). It apparently features 3,500 manholes, all of which have to be checked before the big day.

8. The modern Lord Mayor’s Show parade, which kicks off at 11am, is three-and-a-half miles long. This year’s procession features more than 7,000 participants.

9. Among those in the parade are representatives of the livery companies including that of the “great 12” –  the Mercers, Grocers, Drapers, Fishmongers, Goldsmiths, Merchant Taylors, Skinners, Haberdashers, Salters, Ironmongers, Vintners and Clothworkers – as well as other companies including some distinctly “new world”.

10. The fireworks display was canceled last year but is back for this year’s festivities. It kicks off at 5pm.

For more on the show – including a downloadable timetable and map – head to www.lordmayorsshow.org.

Regular watchers of London’s Lord Mayor’s Show parade will be familiar with the two giants Gog and Magog who for centuries have been an integral part of the procession. But just who are the two stern figures who strike fear into the hearts of all they pass (well, perhaps not so much the fear)?

Gog-and-MagogWhile the names Gog and Magog appear several times in different contexts in the Bible came t0 epitomise the enemies of God, legend has it that the Gog and Magog seen in this context were leaders of a race of giants who inhabited Britain in times of prehistory.

Defeated by Brutus, a descendent of the Trojan Aeneas and the founder of London and first king of Britain, they were then chained to the gate of his palace which stood on the site of where Guildhall – home of the City of London Corporation – now stands.

Seen as guardians of the City of London, figures of the giants have been carried in the Lord Mayor’s Show – the annual procession surrounding the election of the new Lord Mayor – since as far back as the reign of King Henry V (originally made of ‘wickerwork and pasteboard’, they were later replaced with wooden ones).

The seven foot high wicker versions of the giants which are now carried in the parade were donated by the Worshipful Company of Basketweavers in 2006 (pictured here in the 2010 parade) and are the just latest in a series of effigies and statues of the two giants which have been associated with Guildhall.

These include pair of nine foot high limewood statues of the giants which currently stand in Guildhall – carved in 1953 by David Evans, they replaced two earlier, 14 foot high oak versions made by Richard Saunders in the early 1700s which were destroyed in the Blitz during World War II. They, in turn, were created to replace earlier papier mache versions.

As well as being found in numerous cities around the world, figures of the two giants also famously feature as the clock’s bell ringers on the facade of the Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West in Fleet Street. The clock, incidentally, was the first public clock in London to have a minute hand.

The oldest of the royal parks, the 74 hectare (183 acre) Greenwich Park has been associated with royalty since at least the 15th century.

The area covered by the park had been occupied by the Romans (there are some remains of a building, possibly a temple, near Maze Hill Gate) and later the Danes, who raised protective earthworks here in the 11th century. After the Norman Conquest, it became a manor.

Its enclosure only happened in 1433 after the land came into the possession of Humphrey of Lancaster, Duke of Gloucester and brother of King Henry V. At the time regent to the young King Henry VI, Duke Humphrey also built a tower on the heights above the park – where the Royal Observatory now stands.

Following the duke’s death in 1447, the land was seized by Margaret of Anjou – wife of King Henry VI – and subsequently became known as the Manor of Placentia. King Henry VII later rebuilt the manor house, creating what was known as Greenwich Palace or the Palace of Placentia.

Not surprisingly, it was King Henry VIII, who, having been born at Greenwich Palace, introduced deer to the park. Indeed the park was to have strong associations with others in his family – the king married Catherine of Aragorn and Anne of Cleeves at Greenwich Palace, and his daughters, later Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I, were born there while his son, King Edward VI, died there in 1553 at the age of only 15. (There’s a tree in the park known as Queen Elizabeth’s Oak, which is said to be where she played as a child).

In 1613, King James I gave the palace and accompanying park – which he had enclosed with a high wall – to his wife, Queen Anne of Denmark, apparently as an apology after swearing at her in public when she accidentally shot one of his favorite dogs. Queen Anne subsequently commissioned Inigo Jones to design what is now known as the Queen’s House – for more on that, see our earlier post.

Following the Restoration, King Charles II ordered the palace rebuilt and while this work remained unfinished, the king did succeed in having the park remodelled – it is believed that Andre Le Notre, gardener to King Louis XIV of France, had a role in this.

The works included cutting a series of terraces into the slope – these were known as the Great Steps and lined with hawthorn hedges – as well as creating a formal avenue of chestnut trees (now known as Blackheath Avenue), and some woodlands. Work is currently taking place on restoring an orchard which dates from 1666 at the park.

King Charles II also commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to build the Royal Observatory that still stands on the hill overlooking the park – it stands on the site once occupied by the Duke Humphrey Tower (the Royal Observatory is home of the Prime Meridian – see our earlier post on the Royal Observatory for more).

King James II was the last monarch to use the palace and park – his daughter Queen Mary II donated the palace for use as a hospital for veteran sailors and the park was opened to the pensioners in the early 1700s. The hospital later become the Royal Naval College and the National Maritime Museum later moved onto the site (for more on this, see our earlier post).

As an aside, Royal Parks say the truncated shape of some of the trees in the park is apparently due to the fact that when anti-aircraft guns were positioned in the flower garden during World War II, the trees had to be trimmed to ensure a clear field of fire.

Facilities in the park today include a tea house, a children’s playground, sporting facilities such as tennis courts and, of course, the Wilderness Deer Park where you can see wildlife at large. Statues include that of Greenwich resident General James Wolfe, an instrumental figure in establishing British rule in Canada – it sits on the crest of the hill opposite the Royal Observatory looking down towards the Thames.

The park, which is part of the Greenwich World Heritage Site, is slated as a venue for next year’s Olympics – it will host equestrian events and the shooting and running events of the pentathlon.

WHERE: Greenwich Park (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark – other nearby stations include Greenwich, Maze Hill and Blackheath); WHEN: 6am to at least 6pm (closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx

Happy St George’s Day!

April 23, 2011

Amid the celebration of Easter and the flurry of preparations for the upcoming Royal Wedding, you could be forgiven for overlooking the fact that today was St George’s Day.

Hard to do in central London, however, where Trafalgar Square was the centrepoint for celebrations of a musical kind.

Held on the 23rd April each year, St George’s Day – a national day of celebration in England although not yet a national holiday – commemorates the death of St George in 303 AD.

Tradition says St George was a Roman soldier who served the Emperor Diocletian before he was executed for refusing the adjure his Christian faith.

His story – which gradually morphed into a tale in which he defeats a dragon in a symbolic triumph of good over evil – came to England with returning crusaders during the Middle Ages.

He was later adopted as the country’s patron saint (it has been suggested this took place after King Henry V’s victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 but while his feast day was made a national holiday in 1222, it remains a matter of conjecture as to when he become the country’s patron saint).

As one would expect of a national saint, there are numerous depictions of St George around London – the image above is of a massive bronze sculpture by Michael Sandle (1988) which sits in Salisbury Court in the City of London.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

February 14, 2011

It’s Valentine’s Day, so we’re pausing from our usual updates to give you a couple of interesting historical titbits…

• The first recorded written Valentine’s Day card is generally attributed to Charles, the Duke of Orleans, who wrote it to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London following King Henry V’s defeat of the French at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415;

• Geoffrey Chaucer, author of 1382 text Parlement of Foules – a poem written in honor of King Richard II’s engagement to Anne of Bohemia which is generally attributed with first linking St Valentine’s Day and romantic love, was born in and lived in London (although it should be noted that many don’t believe Chaucer was referring to 14th February in his reference but to another day associated with a different St Valentine).

PICTURE: Andrew C. (www.sxc.hu)