For the final in our series of memorable (and historic) views of London, we’re returning to Greenwich, except this time we’re looking across the River Thames from the southern end of the Isle of Dogs at some of the historic buildings of maritime Greenwich.

The splendid view from Island Gardens on the north bank of the Thames today reveals Sir Christopher Wren’s Old Royal Naval College, the Queen’s House and beyond that the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park. But it wasn’t always so.

Prior to its demolition by King Charles II in 1660, this was the site of a royal palace known Greenwich Palace or the Palace of Placentia which had occupied the site since the mid-15th century (and was rebuilt by King Henry VII in the late 15th/early 16th centuries).

Charles decided to demolish it to build a new palace on the site but only a section of it was ever completed and it was never used as a royal palace. In the late 17th century, Greenwich Hospital – incorporating what was built of Charles’ palace – was constructed on the site as a home for retired sailors from the Royal Navy. From 1869, it was used as the Royal Naval College and now houses a range of organisations (see our previous post here for more).

The Queen’s House, which lies at the centre of the view, was designed by Inigo Jones and started on the orders of Anne of Denmark, wife of King James I. But it remained unfinished when Queen Anne died in 1614 and it was Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, who completed it. The house these days serves as a gallery (for more, see our earlier post here).

Behind the Queen’s House can be seen the Royal Observatory, home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian (see our previous post here) – as well as, of course, the (previously aforementioned) statue of General Wolfe. Also in the modern view from Island Gardens is the Cutty Sark and the National Maritime Museum.

It’s believed that the view from where Island Gardens now stands is that replicated in Canaletto’s painting, Greenwich Hospital from the North Bank of the Thames (although, oddly, whether Canaletto ever actually visited the site is apparently a matter of some dispute).

Greenwich Park and the buildings on the other side of the river can be accessed from the park Island Gardens by the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

WHERE: Island Gardens on the north bank of the River Thames (nearest DLR is Island Gardens); WHEN: Anytime; COST: Free; WEBSITE: (For Greenwich Park across the river – www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx).

PICTURE:Top –  Paul Hudson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0; Below – David Adams

This prison dates from the time of King Richard II (1377-99) and stood off Borough High Street (just to the north of the Church of St George the Martyr) in Southwark until the mid 18th century when it moved to a new premises.

The prison, originally based in two houses apparently known as the Crane and the Angel (Angel Place bears witness to the latter), was first used for those convicted at the travelling court of the King’s Bench.

The prison was burned several times during periods of unrest and was upgraded during the reign of King Henry VIII. Among those imprisoned here were the reformer and martyr John Bradford who was held here before being burned at the stake in 1555 during the reign of Queen Mary (when it would have been known as the Queen’s Bench).

By the 1600s, it had become a debtors’ prison and in the mid-17th century – during the Commonwealth it was known as the ‘Upper Bench’ –  it reportedly held around 400 inmates who carried a collective debt of £900,000.

As with other prisons, the comfort of prisoners depended very much on their financial circumstances – those with money were able to live quite well. Those imprisoned here during this period included the dramatist Thomas Dekker and the King of Corsica, imprisoned in 1752 for debt (he died only four years later).

A Parliamentary inquiry in the 1750s revealed a host of problems with the prison including overcrowding, the practice of extortion by prison officers, promiscuity and drunkenness among prisoners and other irregularities, all of which led, in 1758, to the prison being closed (and later demolished) and moving to a new premises in St George’s Fields, Southwark (we’ll deal more with that facility in an upcoming post).

PICTURE: St George the Martyr on Borough High Street near where the first King’s Bench stood.

Tradition holds that the spot where this officially protected view originates from – the prehistoric barrow known as King Henry’s Mound – was where King Henry VIII stood on 19th May, 1536, to watch for a rocket fired from the Tower of London.

The signal was to indicate that his former wife, Anne Boleyn, had been beheaded for treason and hence that he was now free to marry Jane Seymour.

Sadly, the story is seen as unlikely – the king was apparently in Wiltshire at the time.

But it adds a nice nostalgia to this tree-framed view which looks across Richmond Park and areas south of the River Thames to the great dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The mound, which also offers views west over the Thames Valley towards Windsor, is believed to cover a burial chamber from the Bronze Age (it would have stood more prominently over the Thames Valley in those days) and was later used as a viewing position for hunting deer and falconry.

A permanent public telescope has been set up on the mound which since the 19th century has sat in Pembroke Lodge Garden (named for the Countess of Pembroke who lived in a cottage here between about 1788 and 1831).

The historic view made headlines last year over calls for London’s Mayor to step in and halt building work amid concerns that the 42-storey Manhattan Loft Gardens tower in Stratford, east London, could be seen in the view behind the cathedral dome.

WHERE: King Henry’s Mound, Richmond Park (nearest Tube station is Richmond); WHEN: 24 hour pedestrian access except during the deer cull in November and February; COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park

PICTURE: Royal Parks

Standing some 200 feet above sea level (almost 63 metres), this rounded grassy hill, just to the north of The Regent’s Park proper, has long held a fascination for Londoners partly, at least, for the panoramic views it offers of the city skyline. 

Once part of a hunting ground used by King Henry VIII, the hill – which has also been known as Battle and Greenberry Hill – was purchased in 1841 from Eton College to provide more public space for Londoners.

It has served as the site of a famous unsolved murder (that of magistrate Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey whose mysterious death, exploited by anti-Catholic plotter Titus Oates, caused considerable uproar) as well as duels, prize fights, mass gatherings and mystic happenings.

The latter have included it being the location where Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg) first organised a gathering of druids, known as a Gorsedd of Bards, in 1792, as well as it being the subject of a prophecy by 16th century ‘soothsayer’ Mother Shipton warning that the streets would “run with blood” if the hill should become surrounded by urban sprawl.

Around the summit of the hill stands a York Stone edging feature bearing an inscription from poet William Blake – “I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill” – while standing on the slope below is the famous Shakespeare’s Tree which was originally planted in 1864 to mark the 300th anniversary of the Bard’s birth (but was replaced in 1964).

The view over London is one of a number of protected views in the city (meaning you can’t build anything block it) and the trees below the summit are kept deliberately low so as not to impede sightlines.

The nearby residential district known as Primrose Hill is noted for being home to numerous famous figures including the likes of Jude Law, Kate Moss and the Gallagher brothers. It is also where the aliens in HG Well’s book, War of the Worlds, intended making their headquarters.

WHERE: Primrose Hill, The Regent’s Park (nearest tube stations are Chalk Farm, Swiss Cottage, St John’s Wood and Mornington Crescent); WHEN: Usually always; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/the-regents-park/things-to-see-and-do/primrose-hill.

PICTURE: Mike Rolls/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 (taken in 2012).

• Join in the hunt for Lindt gold bunnies at Hampton Court Palace this Easter. The bunny hunt is just one of the many chocolate-related activities taking place at the palace over the Easter period – visitors can also explore the history of chocolate and discover how it was made in the palace’s 18th century ‘chocolate kitchen’ by Thomas Tosier, King George I’s private chocolate chef while attractions outside also include the reopened ‘Magic Garden’. An imaginative play garden first opened in spring last year, it invites visitors to explore the world of Tudor tournaments on what was the site of King Henry VIII’s former tiltyard. The Palace Lindt Gold Bunny Hunt runs until 17th April (the Magic Garden is open until 27th October). Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/. PICTURE: Lindt & Sprungli (UK) Ltd.

Joseph Dalton Hooker – dubbed the ‘king of Kew’ – is the subject of a new exhibition in The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art in Kew Gardens. Joseph Hooker: Putting plants in their place explores the life of the botanist, charting his travels to many parts of the world – including  Antarctica and Mt Everest – and how he helped to transform Kew Gardens from a “rather run-down royal pleasure garden” into a world class scientific establishment. The exhibition features an array of drawings, photographs, artefacts and journals including 80 paintings by British botanical artists and an illustration of Mt Everest by Hooker, the earliest such work by a Westerner. Runs until 17th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

On Now – The Private Made Public: The First Visitors. The first in a series of public events and exhibitions celebrating Dulwich Picture Gallery’s bicentenary year, this display features the first handbook to the gallery, a 1908 visitor book which includes the signatures of Vanessa and Clive Bell and Virginia Woolf, and James Stephanoff’s watercolour, The Viewing at Dulwich Picture Gallery, which depicts the gallery’s enfilade as it would have been in the 1830s. The exhibition also looks back at some of the gallery’s first visitors and features quotes from notable artists, writers and critics shown next to works in the permanent collection. Can be seen until 4th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

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nonsuch-palaceThe earliest and most detailed depiction of King Henry VIII’s famed Nonsuch Palace, a watercolour by the celebrated Flemish painter Joris Hoefnagel, has been recently acquired by the V&A. 

The painting, made in 1568, is the most faithful only six surviving images of the palace which was located in Cheam, Surrey. The fanciful building was commissioned by the king in 1538 and featured a facade decorated with elaborate plasterwork in Franco-Italianate style with the aim of rivalling the Fontainebleau residence of French King Francois I.

One of the most important buildings of the English Renaissance period, it was unfinished when the king died in 1547 and was subsequently purchased from Queen Mary I by Henry Fitzalan, 12th Earl of Arundel, in 1557 – it was he who finished the building and most likely commissioned the Antwerp-born Hoefnagel to paint it. Later acquired by Queen Elizabeth I, it became one of her favourite residences and was eventually demolished by King Charles II’s mistress, the Duchess of Cleveland, between 1682 and 1688 to pay off gambling debts.

Nonsuch Palace from the South, which is the first major work of Hoefnagel to enter the collection, can be seen in the museum’s British Galleries in South Kensington. Entry is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

PICTURE: Nonsuch Palace from the South, Joris Hoefnagel, 1558, Watercolour © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

tower-of-londonA new “family friendly” permanent exhibition, Armoury in Action, opens today on the top floor of the White Tower at the Tower of London. The display, presented by Royal Armouries and Historic Royal Palaces, brings to life 1,000 years of history in a hands-on experience in which visitors can explore the weapons, skills and people from the Norman through to the Victorian eras. Featured are a master mason who explains the building of the White Tower – constructed on the orders of William the Conqueror, a medieval longbowman who explains the different types of arrows, a Civil War artillery captain who guides visitors through the process of firing a cannon, and a Victorian superintendent of firearms from the Ordnance Office who invites visitors to design their own musket. There’s also the chance to have a go at drawing back a medieval longbow, to dress King Henry VIII in his armour, to fire a half-sized Civil War cannon and sharpen sword skills against cabbages in an immersive interactive installation. The exhibition can be seen as part of a visit to the Tower. Meanwhile the Tower of London ice rink has opened once more in the fortress’ moat while, between 27th and 31st December, King Richard III and Queen Anne Neville are roaming the tower with their court as well as jesters and minstrels. Admission charges apply (ice-skating is separate to tower entry). For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/ or www.toweroflondonicerink.co.uk. PICTURE: HRP. 

Three iconic outfits worn by former PM Margaret Thatcher have gone on show in the fashion galleries at the V&A in South Kensington. The outfits, which were worn by Baroness Thatcher at significant moments in her public and private life, are among six outfits donated to the museum earlier this year by her children. The outfits include a distinctive blue wool Aquascutum suit she wore to the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool in 1987 and again to place her vote in the general election that year, a custom-designed brocade suit and taffeta opera cape with sweeping train designed by Marianne Abrahams for Aquascutum which she wore when delivering the keynote speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet at London’s Guildhall in 1988, and a wool crepe suit in striking fuchsia-pink by Starzewski that she wore to the Women of Achievement reception at Buckingham Palace on 11th March, 2004. There’s also a black slub silk hat with feathers and velvet-flecked tulle designed by Deida Acero, London, that she wore to the funeral of her husband, Sir Denis Thatcher, in 2003. The display is free to visit. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

On Now: Intrigue: James Ensor by Luc Tuymans. The first major exhibition of Belgian artist James Ensor’s work in the UK in 20 years, the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts Sackler Wing of Galleries off Piccadilly features some 70 paintings, drawings and prints by the modernist artist, who lived between 1860 and 1949, and is curated by contemporary Belgian artist Luc Tuymans. The display features three of his most important works – The Intrigue (1890), The Skate (1892) and Self-Portrait with Flowered Hat (1883). Runs until 29th January. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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liberty1Liberty, now a West End institution, was founded by Arthur Lasenby Liberty in 1875 with a vision to transform the way people thought of fashion and homewares.

Born the son of a Buckinghamshire draper, Liberty worked with relatives from a young age before he eventually started work with a women’s fashion house, Farmer and Rogers. Rising to management, when they refused to make him a partner in the business, he decided to strike out on his own and established Liberty & Co at 218a Regent Street, an ‘oriental warehouse’ selling ornaments, fabric and objets d’art. He named the property East India House.

libertyOnly 18 months after he first set up shop – financed with a £2,000 loan from his future father-in-law and employed three staff – he was already expanding his premises into properties to the south in Regent Street to house furnishings and carpets. He eventually took over all the buildings between 140 to 150 and named the extended building Chesham House.

The costume department was introduced in 1884 and together with its director EW Godwin, Liberty created in-house fashions to challenge those of Paris. He is also noted for having encouraged and collaborated with designers like Archibald Knox and William Morris.

Liberty, who took the company public in 1894, was knighted in 1913. He died in 1917, seven years before the current Liberty store – the mock-Tudor building on the corner of Regent Street and Great Marlborough Street – was built.

Designed by Edwin T Hall and son, the shop was built from the timbers of two ships, the HMS Impregnable and the HMS Hindustan (and the shop frontage measures the same length as the latter). It was built around three light wells, each of which was surrounded by smaller rooms – many of which have fireplaces and were designed to give the feel of rooms in a house.

Features on the Grade II*- listed building include its weathervane – an exact replica of the Mayflower, which took pilgrims to the US in 1620, decorative shields including the arms of Shakespeare and those of the wives of King Henry VIII, and the clock above the Kingly Street entrance.

Liberty, which is generally acknowledged to have been a powerful influence on 19th and 20th century fashions and tastes, was bought by its current owners, BlueGem in 2010.

~ www.libertylondon.com

trinity-buoy-wharf-lighthouse

September is the month of ‘Totally Thames’, London’s celebration of its mighty river, so we thought it only fitting that we look at one of the city’s riverside treasures.

Located to the east of the City at Trinity Buoy Wharf on the north bank of the Thames can be found London’s only lighthouse (pictured left). No longer operational, it was built between 1864-66 for what became known as the Corporation of Trinity House, an association of shipmen and mariners.

trinity-wharf-lighthouseGranted its charter by King Henry VIII in 1514, in 1573 it was given the authority to erect and maintain beacons, mark and signs to help sea navigation. It’s since been the provider of buoys, lighthouses and lightships and, while headquartered at Trinity House in the City of London, established Trinity Bouy Wharf, located at the confluence of the Bow and Thames Rivers, as its Thames-side workshop in 1803.

The wharf was originally used to make and store wooden buoys and sea marks and as a mooring site for the Trinity House yacht which laid and collected buoys.

The lighthouse is the second on the site – the first was built in 1854 by the then chief engineer of Trinity House James Walker. The second, existing, lighthouse was built James Douglass – Walker’s successor – and as an “experimental lighthouse” was used for testing equipment and training lighthouse keepers.

The wharf, meanwhile, continued to be used until 1988 when it was purchased by the London Docklands Development Corporation and the site is now leased to Urban Space Management who have developed it as a centre for art and cultural activities. The area around the wharf also now features two prototype “cities” made out of shipping containers.

One of the achievements of the short-lived reign of King Edward VI, son of King Henry VIII, was the establishment of this hospital for orphans in 1552 in what were once buildings used by the Greyfriars Monastery (for more on the history of Greyfriars, see our earlier post here).

Christs-HospitalLocated in Newgate Street, the hospital soon had a school attached which became known as the Blue Coat School thanks to the distinctive long blue coats the students wore (and still do, the school is now located near Horsham in West Sussex).

Many of the hospital buildings were destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666 but most were later rebuilt under the supervision of Sir Christopher Wren, although the actual work was apparently carried out by others.

Students at the school have included antiquarian William Camden, Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and writer Charles Lamb.

New buildings for girls were opened in Hertford in 1704 and the school moved out to Sussex in 1902 with the General Post Office built over the top of the demolished buildings.

PutneyThis south-west London Thames-side district (and the bridge named after it), traces the origin of its name back to Saxon times.

Putney2Recorded in the Domesday Book as Putelei and known in the Middle Ages as Puttenhuthe, it apparently goes back to a Saxon named Puttan who lived in the area and the Old English word ‘hyp’, which means ‘landing place’. Hence, “Puttan’s landing place” (or Puttan’s wharf).

Putney has something of a storied history – it was the birthplace of Tudor heavyweight Thomas Cromwell, Georgian-era author Edward Gibbon and it was here, in the still-standing parish church of St Mary the Virgin (pictured), that the Putney Debates were held in 1647 among members of the New Model Army.

The first bridge was apparently built here in the first half of the 18th century and the present stone bridge in the 1880s.

Today a sought-after riverside residential district, Putney boasts a sizeable high street, great riverside pubs and eateries and is particularly popular every April when The Boat Race is held between Oxford and Cambridge universities thanks to the starting point being just upstream of Putney Bridge.

The area also is home to the 400 acre Putney Heath (which adjoins Wimbledon Common), a popular site for duels in the 18th century, and also home to a stone and brick obelisk, erected in 1770 to mark the 110th anniversary of the Great Fire of London (more on that in an upcoming post).

Fire2• A new “theatrical” exhibition marking the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London is opening at the Museum of London on Saturday. Fire! Fire! takes visitors on an interactive journey from before, during and after the great fire, looking at how the fire started and spread and the personal stories of Fire1Londoners present at the time. Visitors will be able to step in Pudding Lane and see what life was like for 17th century Londoners, walk into the bakery where the fire started, and identify objects melted by the flames. Exhibits on show include a restored 17th century fire engine, originally built in London in the last 1670s, other firefighting equipment including a squirt, a leather bucket and fire hook, a pair of bed hangings, a burnt Geneva Bible, and letters written in the fire’s aftermath. Admission charges apply. Can be seen until 17th April next year. A series of events, including walks, tours, lectures, workshop and family activities, accompanies the exhibition. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/fire-fire.  The museum has also commissioned a Minecraft building group recreate London as it was in 1666 with the first of three interactive maps to be released next week (available for free download from www.museumoflondon.org.uk) and further maps to follow in September and February. For more information on other events surrounding the anniversary, see www.visitlondon.com/greatfire350.

The long lost Palace of Whitehall is the subject of a new visitor experience which kicks off at the last surviving part of the palace – the Banqueting House – today. Handheld devices, binaural 3D sound and haptic technology is being made available to guests as they stroll around the streets of modern Whitehall, allowing them to immerse themselves in the former palace during the time of the Tudors and the Stuarts. The Lost Palace experience, created in a collaboration between Historic Royal Palaces and Chomko & Rosier and Uninvited Guests, includes a chance to see the jousts which so delighted Queen Elizabeth I at Horse Guards Parade, accompany King Charles I as he walks through St James’s Park to his execution at the Banqueting House, meet Guy Fawkes following his arrest in the Gunpowder Plot, take part in a performance of King Lear and eavesdrop on an encounter between King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn before their doomed love affair began. The Palace of Whitehall was once the largest palace in Europe with 1,500 rooms spread across 23 acres. Tickets can be purchased at the Banqueting House. Runs until 4th September. For more details, see www.hrp.org.uk/thelostpalace.

DressDresses worn by Queen Elizabeth II during two of the most significant events in Her Majesty’s life – her wedding and her coronation – can be seen as part of the Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace from Saturday. The two dresses will form part of a special exhibition – Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe, the largest display of the Queen’s dress ever held. Alongside the two feature dresses, both designed by British couturier Sir Norman Hartnell, are around 150 outfits created by designers including Hartnell, Hardy Amies and Ian Thomas. The then Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress (pictured), made for her marriage to the Duke of Edinburgh on 20th November, 1947, was made in ivory silk, decorated with crystals and 10,000 seed pearls and attached to a 15 foot long train, while the Queen’s Coronation dress – created for the event on 2nd June, 1953, is made of white duchesse satin and encrusted with seed pearls, sequins and crystals (along with an extra four-leaf shamrock on the left side of the skirt, added secretly by Sir Norman, to bring her good luck). The exhibition, open to 2nd October, is being accompanied by special displays at both Windsor Castle and Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016. 

The world’s largest collection of London images – more than 250,000, dating from 1450 to now – are being made available on a free-to-access website hosted by the London Metropolitan Archives from today. Collage – The London Picture Archive features more than 8,000 historical photographs of capital’s streets as well as images of the Great Fire of London in 1666 and photographs of the construction of Tower Bridge along with maps, prints, paintings and films, all drawn from the collections at the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Art Gallery and the Clerkenwell-based London Metropolitan Archives. The collection can be accessed at www.collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk.

It’s hands-on gaming at the Science Museum for two weeks from Friday with more than 160 systems and hundreds of games available to play on. Power UP spans 40 years of gaming with games ranging from classics like Pong and Pac-Man to modern games like Halo and systems from Atari and SEGA to PS4 and Xbox One. Ninety minute sessions are being held four times daily from 11am tomorrow until 7th August. Ticket charges apply. For more , see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/powerup.

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Located on the south side of the Strand, the then-named Exeter House was built in the 1300s as the London palace of the Bishops of Exeter on land which had previously been occupied by the Knights Templar.

The-DevereuxIt was Bishop Walter Stapledon who had the palace constructed – as well as being Bishop of Exeter, he was Lord High Treasurer to the unpopular King Edward II, a role which eventually led to him being dragged from his horse in the City of London and murdered.

King Henry VIII gave the property to his Secretary of State, William, Lord Paget, and, in the late 16th century, it came into the hands of Robert Dudley, the 1st Earl of Leicester. He rebuilt it and renamed it Leicester House which it remained until, following his death in 1588, it was inherited by his stepson, Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex and a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, and renamed Essex House.

The house was rather large and in 1590 was reported as having as many as 42 bedrooms as well as a picture gallery, a banqueting suite and chapel.

Devereux ended up beheaded for treason on Tower Hill in 1601 but his son, also Robert Devereux, became a distinguished general for the Parliamentarians during the Civil War. He received a delegation from the House of Commons at the property to offer their congratulations after the Battle of Newbury in 1643 and was laid out in state there in 1646 (insatiable diarist Samuel Pepys, then a 13-year-old boy, was among those who saw the body).

After the Civil War, the family’s debts resulted into the property passing into the hands of other families. The main part of the house was eventually demolished in the 1670s and part of the property sold to developer Nicholas Barbon. He built Essex Street, which still stands in the area, was built on the site.

The remaining part of the house, meanwhile, was used to house the Cotton Library before, in 1777, it too was demolished.

The mansion’s chapel, meanwhile, became a dissenters meeting house, known as the Essex Street Chapel, which became the birthplace of Unitarianism in England. The denomination’s headquarters, named Essex Hall, still stands on the site.

The pub The Devereux (pictured above), named for Robert Devereux, is among the buildings which now stand on the site (for more on the pub, see our earlier post here).

The subject of a current exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians, Dr John Dee – mathematician, courtier, astrologist and ‘magician’ are just some of the tags he is labelled with – is one of the most enigmatic figures of Tudor England.

John_Dee_memorial_plaque_at_S_Mary_the_Virgin_MortlakeBorn in London’s Tower ward in 1527, Dee was of Welsh descent and the son of Roland Dee, a mercer and courtier to King Henry VIII, and Johanna Wild. He attended school in Chelmsford and, at the age of 15 entered St John’s College, Cambridge, awarded a Bachelor of Arts in 1545 and a master’s degree in 1548. He was also a founding fellow of Trinity College when it was founded in 1546.

Dee travelled through Europe during the late 1540s and early 1550s, studying and lecturing at places including Louvain, Paris and Brussels. It was during this trip that he met mathematicians and cartographers like Gemma Frisius and Gerardus Mercator.

Back in England, Dee was appointed rector at Upton-upon-Severn (apparently on the recommendation of King Edward VI), and in 1555 was made a member of the Worshipful Company of Mercers. He had, meanwhile, turned down offers of professorships at both the Sorbonne in Paris and the University of Oxford, ostensibly because he had hopes of obtaining an official position at court.

It was perhaps in pursuit of this that he subsequently appeared at England’s Royal Court where he took on the role of teacher of the mathematical sciences while also serving as an astrologer to Queen Mary I and courtiers.

The latter role led to Dee’s arrest and imprisonment in 1555 on charges of being a ‘magus’ (magician) – he would go on to appear for questioning in the infamous Star Chamber – but he was eventually cleared of all charges.

In 1558, Dee became a scientific and medical advisor to Queen Elizabeth I and, by the mid-1560s, had established himself in the village of Mortlake (now in the south-west of Greater London) where he built a laboratory and gathered together what was the largest private library in the country at the time, said to have consisted of more than 4,000 books and manuscripts (and the subject of the current exhibition).

Dee was also associated with several English voyages of exploration for which he provided maps and navigational instruments, most famously  Sir Martin Frobisher’s expedition to Canada in 1576-78.

He is also known for his strong views on natural philosophy and astrology and the occult, which included the idea that mathematics had a special, supernatural power to reveal divine mysteries. Some of his occult-related ideas were explored in his 1564 text Monas hieroglyphics – one of numerous works he authored – but his most influential work is said to have been a preface he wrote to an English translation of Euclid’s Elements published in 1570 in which he argued for the central role of mathematics.

Dee is said to have married three times – the first in the mid-1560s and, following the deaths of his previous two wives, the last time in 1578 when he was wedded to Jane Fromond, who was less than half his age and who had been a lady-in-waiting to the Countess of Lincoln. She bore him some eight children (although there are questions over the paternity of at least one) and died in 1604 of the plaque.

By the 1580s, having failed to win the influence he hoped to have at court and wanting to further his explorations into the supernatural (in particular, communication with ‘angels’ through occult practice of crystal-gazing), he travelled to Europe with a convicted counterfeiter and medium Edward Kelley to Europe.

Returning to England, after much lobbying, Queen Elizabeth I appointed him warden of Manchester College in 1596, but despite this, he returned to London in 1605 where his final years were marked by poverty.

He is believed to have died in March, 1609, at the London home of a friend and was apparently buried in Mortlake (pictured, above, is a memorial plaque at St Mary the Virgin in Mortlake).

It’s believed that William Shakespeare modelled the figure of Prospero in the 1611 play The Tempest on Dee (it’s also claimed that he was the model for Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus).

Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee runs at the Royal College of Physicians at 11 St Andrews Place, Regent’s Park, until 29th July. Entry is free (check website for opening hours). For more, see www.rcplondon.ac.uk.

PICTURE: Robert Smith/CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikipedia

St-James-ClerkenwellThe Church of St James, which stands just to the north of Clerkenwell Green, is all that remains today of the medieval nunnery which once occupied a large swathe of land in the area. 

The Augustinian Nunnery of St Mary was founded in about 114o by Jorden de Briset, the lord of Clerkenwell Manor (he also founded the Hospitaller Priory of St John of Jerusalem which lay to the south – more on this here) on 14 acres of land to the east of the famous “Clerk’s Well” (more on the well, which was located close to, but within, the western border of the nunnery, in our earlier post here).

By 1160 a wall had been built around the precinct said to have been roughly bounded by Farringdon Lane, Clerkenwell Green (an open space between the two religious houses), St James’s Walk and a boundary to the south of, and parallel with, Bowling Green Lane to the north.

The church – where Briset and his wife were later buried and which doubled as a parish church – was built about the same time, along with an adjoining chapter-house – both of which were made of stone in contrast to the timber buildings which initially made up the rest of the complex.

A cloister and other stone buildings were erected to the north of the church later in the 12th and 13th centuries including a lodging for the prioress, a dormitory, refectory and kitchen for the nuns. Other buildings on the site included  a gatehouse, what was known as the “Nun’s Hall” – possibly a hall for guests – and an infirmary with its own chapel, the location of which is apparently something of a mystery.

Substantial renovation works were carried out in the late 15th and early 16th centuries and by the time of King Henry VIII’s dissolution, it had become one of the wealthiest monasteries in England (although it only ever housed about 20 canonesses).

One of the last nunneries to be suppressed, it was dissolved in 1539 with the nuns being pensioned off.

The site was initially granted to Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, who held it only briefly being returning it to the king in a deal for another property and subsequently purchased by a succession of different owners.

Many of the buildings were converted for use as private mansions and outbuildings, among them Newcastle House and Challoner (later Cromwell due to the legend that Oliver Cromwell resided there) House which faced them across what had been the cloister courtyard.

The mansions were gradually redeveloped into smaller properties – it remained a popular residential area despite the building of a House of Detention to the immediate north – and in 1788-92, the parish church of St James was rebuilt to the designs of local architect James Carr, with the spire apparently modelled on St Martin-in-the-Fields (Carr also bought Newcastle House and pulled most of it down before redeveloping the area).

Church gardens, which are open to the public, now occupy some of the site of the former nunnery – in 1987, part of the medieval cloisters were excavated here.

For some insightful walks delving into the history of London, see Stephen Millar’s three books, London’s Hidden Walks: Volumes 1-3.

The-Magic-Garden

PICTURE: Historic Royal Palaces

 Inspired by myths and legends of the Tudor Court, The Magic Garden has opened at Hampton Court Palace. The garden – located in King Henry VIII’s former tiltyard – has been designed by award-winning landscape architect Robert Myers and has been six years in the making. Features include the famous five lost tiltyard towers which have been recreated with each reflecting a different aspect of the Tudor era – from the King’s and Queen’s Towers which offer the best vantage point over the area, to the Discovery Tower which represents the Tudor fascination with exploration, the Battle Tower which symbolises King Henry VIII’s warlike spirit and the Lost Tower which brings to mind the eventual fate of the towers. There’s also a ‘wild wood’ – evoking the hunting grounds loved by the Tudors, a winding pathway of strange topiary and a ‘jungle’ of tree ferns and fatsias as well as a 25 foot long sleeping dragon who wakes as the clock strikes the hour. The garden, which is open until 30th October, is aimed at children of all ages, particularly those between two and 13 years-of-age. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

More than 500 artefacts related to the Rolling Stones have gone on display at the Saatchi Gallery in the first international exhibition on the group. EXHIBITIONISM: The Rolling Stones spans two floors and nine thematic galleries and charts the history of the Stones from the early 1960s to cultural icons as well as considering the band’s influence on popular culture. It features never-before-seen dressing room and backstage paraphernalia, instruments and costumes, original stage designs, audio tracks and video footage, personal diaries and album cover artwork. Works by an array of artists, designers, musicians and writers – everyone from Andy Warhol to Tom Stoppard and Martin Scorsese – are also included. Admission charge applies. Runs at the Kings Road gallery near Sloane Square until 4th September. For more, see www.saatchigallery.com.

The evolution of Dutch flower painting from the turn of the 17th century is the subject of a free exhibition which opened at the National Gallery off Trafalgar Square this week. Dutch Flowers features 22 works, about half of which come from the gallery’s collection while the other half come from private holdings. Artists whose works are featured include Jan Brueghel the Elder, Ambrosias Bosschaert and Roelandt Savoy – all among the first to produce paintings that exclusively depicted flowers. The exhibition – the first display of its kind for more than 20 years – is in Room 1 until 29th August. Admission is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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

Hampton-Court-PalaceArchaeologists have uncovered the remains of one of five highly ornate towers, luxurious banqueting houses from which the court would view tournaments in King Henry VIII’s walled tiltyard at Hampton Court Palace.

Built in the 1530s, the multi-storey towers were largely demolished by the 1680s and, with the exception of one of the towers which still stands at the palace (and is now a Grade I listed building), their precise location eventually lost.

Until now, that is. The green-glazed tiled floor of one of the ‘lost’ towers were unearthed earlier this month during works taking place as the tiltyard undergoes a family-oriented makeover by award-winning landscape architect, Robert Myers (to be known as ‘The Magic Garden’, it will be unveiled next Easter).

The richly decorated towers – where the king entertained dignitaries and ambassadors – are thought to slightly predate the tiltyard which was apparently laid out in 1537 – perhaps, it’s been suggested, to mark the birth of King Henry VIII’s son, the future King Edward VI.

The first recorded tournament at Hampton Court took place in 1557 when Queen Mary I held one to celebrate Christmas. Her sister Queen Elizabeth I continued the tradition by occasionally holding tournaments there but most days the tiltyard was used to train the young men of the court in warfare.

When tournaments gradually fell out of fashion, the towers were used as multi-purpose storage facilities housing, according to Historic Royal Palaces, everything from pigeons to two Catholic priests in service to King Charles I’s queen, Henrietta Maria, who were spent time ‘quarantined’ there after an outbreak of plague.

For more on Hampton Court Palace, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

Famed as the court painter of King Henry VIII, Hans Holbein the Younger was one of the greatest portrait painters of the sixteenth century.

Born in Augsburg, in southern Germany, in 1497-98, Holbein was the son of painter and draughtsman Hans Holbein the Elder. Hans, like his brother Ambrosius, followed the family trade which he apparently learnt under the tutelage of his father and uncle until breaking away to make his own mark.

National-GalleryJourneying with Ambrosius to Basel in what is now Switzerland, the two brothers became apprenticed to the city’s leading painter Hans Herbster. In 1517, Holbein went with father to Lucerne where they worked painting murals for a leading merchant. It is thought while there, that he visited northern Italy where he studied Italian frescos.

Returning to Basel in 1519, he quickly re-established his business there, becoming a member of the artists’ guild, and married Elsbeth Schmid, their first son arriving in the first year of their marriage (the couple apparently had four children, two of whom are depicted in a portrait with his wife he painted in the late 1520s).

He was soon completing numerous major projects for the city – including painting internal murals for the Town Hall’s council chamber – and was also involved in creating illustrations for books – the most famous being the series of images known as the Dance of Death – and painting portraits, including his first portraits of the Renaissance scholar, Erasmus. It was these and other portraits that ensured his fame across Europe.

The decline in the production of religious art, thanks to the Reformation which was then sweeping over the continent, apparently led Holbein to look further afield for work and, having first gone to France, in 1526 he went to England.

There he was welcomed by Sir Thomas More, then a key figure in the regime of King Henry VIII, who soon found him some commissions. His works during this period included portraits of More, William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, astronomer Nicholas Kratzer and courtiers like Sir Henry Guildford.

He returned to Basel a wealthy and successful man in 1528 and remained there for four years before once again leaving his family and heading to England, this time finding favour with the Boleyn family and Thomas Cromwell.

It was early during this period – he remained in England until his death in 1543 – that he painted portraits of Hanseatic League merchants of the Steelyard (see our earlier post here) as well as The Ambassadors (see our earlier post here).

In 1536, he was employed as painter to King Henry VIII and the following year he painted what is arguably his most famous image – that of King Henry VIII in all his glory in the image known as the Whitehall Mural which pictured the king with his the wife, Queen Jane Seymour, his father, King Henry VII and his mother, Queen Elizabeth of York (the image was lost in the fire which destroyed Whitehall Palace in 1698 but copies were made and a copy is now at Hampton Court Palace).

King Henry VIII was to be his subject on numerous occasions as were other members of the Royal Family, courtiers and prospective wives including, famously, a portrait of Anne of Cleves which may have oversold her beauty to the king who was unimpressed with her in person (there is apparently no evidence the king blamed Holbein himself for this).

While he had successfully navigated his way past the downfall of Sir Thomas More and then the Boleyn family, the fall of Sir Thomas Cromwell did cause significant damage to his standing. Nonetheless he retained his official position at court and it was during this time that he painted some of his finest miniatures including those of the sons of Henry VIII’s friend, Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk.

It is believed Holbein may have returned to visit his family in late 1540 before returning to London where he died sometime in October or November, 1543, having made his will on 7th October at his home in Aldgate (plague has been suggested as the cause of his death). The site of his grave is unknown.

Holbein’s legacy is such that the portraits he created in his two stints in London have become a key component in how we view Tudor England – and in particular, the Tudor court – today.

His works can be seen in key locations across London including the National Gallery (pictured above), the National Portrait Gallery (where his bust is one of a series of artists on the exterior) and Hampton Court Palace.

HamptonCourtPalace500thBirthday-3

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the building of Hampton Court Palace in Greater London’s south-west. We speak to Sheila Dunsmore, a State Apartment warder at Hampton Court Palace (pictured above in centre on the left)…

1. It’s Hampton Court Palace’s 500th anniversary – who first built the palace and why? “In 1514, Thomas Wolsey came to survey the land at Hampton Court. He wanted to find a suitable place to build a sumptuous country retreat away from the dirt of London, but close enough to the capital to travel back for meetings. It was also to be a place to entertain the important company his position as Archbishop of York provided, of which none were more important than young King Henry VIII.”

2. Where are the oldest parts of the palace today? “The oldest part of the palace is the Tudor kitchens, more specifically the area were the great fire is. This was once part of Sir Giles Daubeney’s original kitchen, and dates back to the manor already on the site when it was acquired by Wolsey. Sir Giles Daubeney was Lord Chamberlain to Henry VII, and acquired an 80 year lease on the property from the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, the then owners. The bell in the tower above the astronomical clock is also said to have come from the Knights Hospitallers’ original manor house.”

3. Hampton Court’s 500 years of history spans a number of definable eras – from Tudor to the 21st century. Which is your favourite and why? “My favourite era is the 1660s when Charles II came back to England to take up his rightful place as king. Although visitors do not really associate Charles with the palace, he did spend time here, most famously his honeymoon!”

4. With this in mind what is your favourite part of the palace? “I love the west front façade – it just looks so imposing and mysterious. Whether you are driving or walking past it it’s guaranteed to draw you in under its spell!”

5. Do you have a favourite anecdote from the palace’s history? “I love the story of Horace Beauchamp Seymour, a dashing military hero who had fought at the Battle of Waterloo. He came to live at the palace in 1827 and, as a handsome eligible widower, he caused quite a sensation amongst the ladies, especially when he joined the Sunday services at the Chapel Royal. It was not long before a series of fainting episodes began, with the strategically placed young lady fainting into the arms of the dashing Horace, who then proceeded to carry the lady out and stay with her until she regained her composure. After a third successive Sunday of fainting’s, the epidemic was brought to a swift halt by the aunt of Mr Seymour, herself also a palace resident. The feisty old lady pinned a sign to the chapel door warning any lady feeling faint that forthcoming Sunday that Bransome the dustbin man would be carrying her out. Needless to say the fainting ceased!”

6. A complex of buildings dating back as far as 500 years obviously requires considerable upkeep. What are the greatest challenges with regard to maintaining the palace? “I think the biggest challenge would have to be generating the money to keep restoring and conserving this historic palace. To do this we have to keep making sure that people want to visit, from international tour groups to local families who might visit again and again. To do this teams right across the palace work to create exciting exhibitions, immersive events and guided tours to ensure we’re offering people a memorable experience.”

7. Are there any areas of the palace which remain unseen by the public? And any plans to open further areas up? “The palace contains over 1,000 rooms, and visitors get to discover about a quarter of these during their visit. Some years ago we held a Servants, Soldiers and Suffragettes exhibition in a suite of rooms on the top floor of Fountain Court (previously unseen). It was incredibly popular so I’d imagine that in the future we’d look for other such opportunities to share other areas of the palace with our visitors. For anyone that can’t wait that long, on one night of the year (Halloween no less), our adults-only ghost tour offers the chance to peek behind the scenes and explore some areas of the palace off the beaten track!”

8. Are there any ‘secrets’ about the palace you can reveal to us? “A palace as old and as large as Hampton Court holds its fair share of secrets…When the fire took hold in 1986 it was devastating, but in a strange twist of fate some good came from it as well. As restoration of the damaged interiors took place little secrets were revealed to us; behind wood panelling in King William’s damaged rooms hand prints were found in the plaster from the palace’s builders, and sketches were found from the architects with designs for the rooms, all worked directly onto the bare walls. Most exciting of all, however, was the object found downstairs. During work to return King William’s private dining room (which had lost its original look over the years and been used as a function room for the grace and favour residents) to its former glory, a gun was found behind some wooden panelling. The gun dated from the late 1800s, and had a regimental dinner menu was wrapped around it. This is so intriguing – what was the story behind this gun? Who did it belong to? Why did they hide the weapon?”

9. If someone has just one day to visit the palace, what’s your ideal itinerary? “This is a tricky one, and depends very much on the individual…and the weather! I would say on a sunny day start by enjoying a historic welcome with our costumed interpreters, which really helps to set the scene. If it’s a bit chilly pick up a cloak to wear – you can choose between dressing as a Tudor or Georgian courtier. Heading inside, I’d start in the Tudor State Apartments to discover the rich opulence of Henry VIII’s Hampton Court, then visit the recently opened Cumberland Art Gallery, which contains masterpieces by Rembrandt, Canaletto and Van Dyck. Next I’d take in the baroque splendour of the Queen’s State Apartments, then explore the maze, East Front Garden and Privy Garden (weather permitting!). After a spot of lunch I’d suggest visiting the Mantegna Gallery, then the Young Henry exhibition which explores the life of the young Henry VIII, before finishing the day in King William III’s apartments.”

10. Finally, Historic Royal Palaces has already commemorated the 500th anniversary in numerous ways – from a spectacular fireworks display to a jousting tournament. Are there any more events coming up? “The beginning of September saw our costumed interpreters back with their own inimitable brand of entertainment, while at the end of September we’re hosting a sleepover inside the palace! As the evenings draw in, our popular ghost tours return for the winter season. Even further ahead we’ve got a series of carol evenings and even an ice rink for our visitors to enjoy!”

WHERE: Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey (nearest station is Hampton Court from Waterloo); WHEN: 10am to 6pm until 24th October after which it’s open to 4.30pm); COST: Adult £19.30, Concession £16, Child under 16 £9.70 (under fives free), family tickets, garden only tickets and online booking discounts available; WEBSITE:www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/.

Crypt

Founded in Clerkenwell in 1144, the Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem served as the order’s English headquarters.

The order, also known as the Knights Hospitaller, was founded in Jerusalem in 1080 to care for the sick and poor, and soon spread across Europe with the English ‘branch’ established on 10 acres just outside the City walls apparently by a knight, Jorden de Briset.

The original buildings – of which only the 12th century crypt (pictured above) survives complete with some splendid 16th century tomb effigies including that of the last prior, Sir William Weston – included a circular church, consecrated in 1185, and monastic structures including cloisters, a hospital, living quarters and a refectory or dining hall.

There are records of dignitaries staying at the priory as it grew in size and renown – among them was King John who in 1212, apparently stayed here for an entire month. There are also surviving accounts of Knights Hospitaller riding out in procession from the priory and through the City at the start of a journey to the Holy Land.

The priory and church were attacked during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, thanks to its connection with the hated Poll Tax (Prior Robert Hales was also the Lord High Treasurer and was beheaded during the revolt on Tower Hill).

The church was subsequently rebuilt as a rectangular-shaped building and then, in the early 16th century, enlarged when the site was significantly renovated. These renovations were still relatively new when the priory was dissolved in 1540 during the Dissolution of King Henry VIII.

The priory church, which survived the Great Fire of 1666, was later used as a parish church but was destroyed in an air raid in World War II. Subsequently rebuilt, it can be visited today along with the crypt below and the cloister garden, created in the 1950s as a memorial to St John’s Ambulance members from the London area (the original shape of the circular church is picked out in the paving here).

Perhaps the most famous building to survive is St John’s Gate which dates from the 16th century and was once the gatehouse entrance to the priory (added in the final renovations).

After the Dissolution it served various roles including as the office of the Master of Revels (where Shakespeare’s plays were licensed), the home of The Gentleman’s Magazine (Samuel Johnson was among contributors and worked on site), a coffee house (run by William Hogarth’s father) and a public house called the Old Jerusalem Tavern (yes, Charles Dickens was said to be a regular). It is now home to the recently renovated Museum of the Order of St John (you can see our earlier post on the museum here).

WHERE: Museum of the Order of St John, St John’s Gate (and nearby priory church), St John’s Lane, Clerkenwell (nearest Tube stations is Farringdon); WHEN: 10am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday (tours are held at 11am and 2.30pm on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday); COST: Free (a suggested £5 donation for guided tours); WEBSITE: www.museumstjohn.org.uk.

We’ll kick off a new Wednesday series next week…