Lost London – The Holbein portrait of King Henry VIII’s family…

King Henry VIII; King Henry VII
by Hans Holbein the Younger
(ink and watercolour, circa 1536-1537
NPG 4027)
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Thankfully much copied (at least in part), this full length portrait of King Henry VIII, his third wife and parents was the work of Hans Holbein the Younger.

Holbein, appointed the king’s painter in 1536, was commissioned to create the work following the King’s marriage to Jane Seymour on 30th May, 1536, and completed it in 1537 (there’s some speculation it may have been commissioned in celebration of the birth of King Henry’s son, King Edward VI).

The mural featured the King standing in full splendour, although without typical symbols of royalty such as a crown or sceptre, as well as his wife Jane Seymour, and his parents, King Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth of York. They were all standing around a central pillar upon which are inscribed verses in Latin extolling the Tudor dynasty.

The work is understood to have been commissioned for one of the King’s more private chambers in the Palace of Whitehall which Henry had seized after the downfall of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey.

The portrait survived the reign of King Henry VIII but was destroyed in the fire which devastated the palace in 1698.

A full-sized cartoon of the left-hand side of the work which was completed by Holbein in preparation for its creation is held in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery (pictured right).

While there are numerous copies of the figure of King Henry VIII, the only complete copy of the mural is attributed to Remigius van Leemput who created it in 1667 – it can be seen at Hampton Court Palace.

This Week in London – Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots; Ellen and William Craft honoured; and, Kehinde Wiley’s ‘Portrait of Melissa Thompson’…

Ink and pencil drawing of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots at Fotheringhay Castle, 8th February, 1587 © British Library (Additional MS 48027, f. 650r)

• The complex relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the British Library in King’s Cross tomorrow. Highlights of Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, the first major exhibition to consider both women together, include Queen Elizabeth I’s 1545 handwritten translation of her stepmother Katherine Parr’s Prayers and Meditations – a gift for her father King Henry VIII, a sonnet by Mary, Queen of Scots, which was handwritten the night before she was executed in 1587 (possibly the last thing she ever wrote), the ‘Penicuik Jewels’ which she is thought to have given away on the day of her death and Robert Beale’s eye-witness drawing depicting her entering the hall, disrobing, and placing her head on the block (pictured right). Other items on show include King Henry VIII’s Great Bible (dating from 1540, it was later inherited by Elizabeth I), Elizabeth I’s mother-of-pearl locket ring (c1575) containing miniature portraits of herself and her mother Anne Boleyn, and the warrant confining Mary, Queen of Scots, in Lochleven Castle in 1567. The exhibition is accompanied by a programme of events. Runs until 20th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk/events/elizabeth-and-mary.

Nineteenth century African-American abolitionists Ellen and William Craft have been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at their former Hammersmith home. The Crafts escaped from enslavement in Georgia in the US in December, 1848, and fled to Britain, settling in a mid-Victorian house at 26 Cambridge Grove where they raised a family and campaigned for an end to slavery. The Crafts returned to the US following the end of the American Civil War and the emancipation of enslaved people and settled in Boston with three of their children. In 1873, they established the Woodville Cooperative Farm School in Bryan County, Georgia, for the children of those who had been emancipated. Ellen died in Georgia in 1891 and William in Charleston in 1900.

Melissa Thompson standing beside Kehinde Wiley’s Portrait of Melissa Thompson, 2020, now on display at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum

American artist Kehinde Wiley’s monumental Portrait of Melissa Thompson has gone on display in the V&A’s British Galleries, alongside William Morris’s Wild Tulip designs that inspired it. The massive oil painting, which was created as part of Wiley’s series The Yellow Wallpaper and was first exhibited at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow in 2020, was acquired earlier this year and is being displayed as part of a series of initiatives marking the 125th anniversary of William Morris’s death this October. The painting will be displayed in the William Morris Room (room 125) until 2024, after which it will move to its permanent home at V&A East Museum in 2025. Admission is free. For more, head to vam.ac.uk.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Treasures of London – Traitor’s Gate…

PICTURES: David Adams

Built by King Edward I in the 13th century as a water gate to provide access from the Tower of London to the River Thames, the name ‘Traitor’s Gate’ came to be applied to this portal in Tudor times in relation to those accused of treason who were brought into the tower under its arch.

The double gateway is part of St Thomas’s Tower, which was designed by a Master James of St George, and behind it is a pool which was used to feed water to a cistern on the roof of the White Tower. While the gate was originally built to give access directly to the river, Traitor’s Gate now sits behind a wharf which runs along the river bank (and where can be seen the bricked up entrance says ‘Entry to the Traitor’s Gate’ – this was bricked up in the 19th century when embankment works were carried out)

Sir Thomas More, Sir Walter Raleigh and even the future Queen Elizabeth I (when a princess) were among those who were brought in by barge through the Traitor’s Gate (their journey would have led them under London Bridge where the heads of executed prisoners were on display). Whether Henry VIII’s disgraced Queen Anne Boleyn entered the tower through the gate remains a matter of some dispute.

London Explained – The Royal Parks…

Green Park, the smallest of the eight Royal Parks. PICTURE: David Adams

One of the most beautiful features of London are its Royal Parks.

The Royal Parks signage in The Regent’s Park. PICTURE: Elliott Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The parks, which covers some 5,000 acres, are owned by the Crown and managed by a charity, The Royal Parks. They include eight of London’s largest open spaces – Hyde Park, The Green Park, Richmond Park, Greenwich Park, St James’s Park, Bushy Park, The Regent’s Park, and Kensington Gardens – as well as some other important open spaces such as Brompton Cemetery, Victoria Tower Gardens, Canning Green and Poet’s Corner.

All eight of the Royal Parks have historically been owned by the Crown with St James’s Park considered the oldest (while Greenwich Park is the oldest enclosed park).

Under an Act of Parliament passed in 1851, the Crown transferred management of the parks to the government. These powers were originally vested in the Commissioners of Works and later transferred to the Minister of Works in 1942. They now rest with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

The Royal Parks charity was created in 2017 when The Royal Parks Agency – a former executive agency of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – and the Royal Parks Foundation came together. It is governed by a board led by chairman Loyd Grossman.

Deer in Richmond Park, largest of The Royal Parks. PICTURE: David Adams

The largest of the eight Royal Parks is Richmond Park which covers some 2,500 acres in London’s south-west (it’s followed by Bushy Park which is just over 1,000 acres). The smallest of the parks is Green Park at just 40 acres.

Interestingly, Hampton Court Palace gardens, which are open to the public are not part of The Royal Parks but instead are under the care of Historic Royal Palaces.

Here’s one fact about each of the eight Royal Parks.

  1. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey gave Bushy Park to King Henry VIII in 1529 (along with Wolsey’s home, Hampton Court Palace).
  2. Green Park was initially known as Upper St James’s Park after it was enclosed by King Charles II in 1668.
  3. The Royal Observatory, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, is located in Greenwich Park.
  4. Hyde Park became the location of the first artificially lit highway in the country when King William III, who had moved his court to Kensington Palace and found his walk back to St James’s rather dangerous, had 300 oil lamps installed upon a route which later became known as Rotten Row.
  5. Queen Caroline, wife of George II, gave Kensington Gardens much of its present form when, in 1728, she oversaw the creation of the the Serpentine and the Long Water.
  6. Horse Guards Parade is considered part of St James’s Park.
  7. Architect John Nash designed a summer palace for the Prince Regent which was to be located in The Regent’s Park but was never built.
  8. Prime Minister Lord John Russell was given a home in Richmond Park (Pembroke Lodge) by Queen Victoria in 1847.

Lost London – Lesnes Abbey…

A viewpoint overlooking the the ruins of Lesnes Abbey. PICTURE: M W Pinsent (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Located in London’s south-east, Lesnes Abbey was founded in 1178 as the Abbey of St Mary and St Thomas the Martyr by Richard de Luci, a joint Chief Justiciar of England at the time.

It’s believed de Luci did so as an act of penance for his support of King Henry II in his dispute with St Thomas Becket (in fact, de Luci was ex-communicated by him twice before Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in December, 1170). De Luci retired here after resigning his office in 1179 and died soon after. He was buried in the chapter house.

The Augustinian monastery, never a large or wealthy community, had fallen into a state of disrepair and debt by the early 15th century apparently due to mismanagement but at least partly caused by the cost of maintaining the river wall and draining the marshes in which it was located.

Some rebuilding was carried out at the start of the 16th century but in 1525 it was closed or suppressed on Cardinal Thomas Wolsey’s orders and the monastic buildings were demolished with the exception of the Abbot’s lodging.

The site was subsequently sold off and passed through various hands – it spent some 300 years as a possession of Christ’s Hospital – and eventually became farmland with the abbot’s house forming the core of a farmhouse which was demolished in 1844.

The site was excavated under the direction of Sir Alfred Clapham in the early 20th century and was purchased by the London County Council in 1930. It was opened as a public park in 1931. Since 1986, it’s been owned and managed by the London Borough of Bexley.

The site today, a scheduled ancient monument, includes some impressive ruins from the abbey. The nearby woods takes its name from the abbey.

The ruins of Lesnes Abbey. PICTURE: Axel Drainville (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This Week in London – Marking the 500th anniversary of the Field of the Cloth of Gold; and, a new sculpture trail in Greenwich…

The 18 day meeting between King Henry VIII and King Francois I of France in 1520, known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold, is the subject of an exhibition at Hampton Court Palace. Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King, which is being held to mark the 500th anniversary of the event (having been rescheduled from last year), is being held in rooms in Hampton Court Palace that were once used by the architect of the summit, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, and features objects from the actual meeting as well as treasures from the courts of the two kings. They include the spectacular Stonyhurst vestments – woven from cloth of gold and chosen by Henry for use at the religious services held near Calais, Wolsey’s Book of Hours, and a unique tapestry which, manufactured in Tournai in the 1520s, depicts a bout of wrestling at the event with a black trumpeter shown among the brace of royal musicians. The display can be seen until 5th September. Admission charge applies. For more information and tickets – prebooking is essential, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

A free sculpture trail, featuring works by artist Josie Spencer, has opened on the King William Lawns at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Fragments in Time features life-sized bodies captured in dramatic positions, including fractured figures, which demonstrate the beauty and resilience of the human spirit while highlighting the fragility of life. The artist says the works have been chosen from a group of pieces that treated the figures as if they were the “archaeology of our time found in another century, in the future, when those then looking at them can see the fragility of our life now”. The trail can be seen until 6th August.

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

10 London hills – 5. Primrose Hill…

View from the top of Primrose Hill. PICTURE: Steve Cadman (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Standing in a park located just to the north of Regent’s Park in the city’s inner north-west, Primrose Hill stands 63 metres above sea level and, like Parliament Hill, provides panoramic views of the city skyline.

The hill, which features one of six protected views in London, was once part of a chase (unenclosed hunting land) owned by King Henry VIII and was Crown property until 1842 when it became part of a public park through an Act of Parliament.

The name has been in use for at least 500 years and is thought to refer to the flowers that grew here profusely (which it means it can’t have been named for Archibald Primrose, Prime Minister between 1894 and 1895).

The hill forms part of one of Mother Shipton’s “prophecies” – she apparently proclaimed that when London surrounded the hill, its streets would run with blood.

It was for a time known as Greenberry Hill after three labourers – Robert Green, Henry Berry and Lawrence Hill – were found guilty of the murder of magistrate Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey (he had heard Titus Oates’ evidence in the so-called Popish Plot). Sir Edmund was found impaled on his own sword on the hill in October, 1678 – convicted of his murder the three men were hanged on its summit in 1679 (they were later exonerated and the death of Sir Edmund remains something of a mystery).

The hill, which has also apparently been known as Battle Hill, was also the location where the poet and antiquarian Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams) founded the Gorsedd, a community of Welsh bards, on 21st June in 1792.

In 1838, a railway tunnel under the hill was completed by the North Western Railway – it was the first in London and connected Chalk Farm and Swiss Cottage. In the 1840s, a proposal to create a cemetery here was put to Parliament but never went ahead. There were also plans to develop the entire hill as a housing estate but nothing came of it.

On top of the hill is York stone edging with an inscription by William Blake: “I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill.” There’s also the remains of an anti-aircraft battery from World War II.

On the hill’s slope, meanwhile, is a tree planted in 1964 to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth (it replaced once planted 100 years earlier in honour of the Bard’s 300th).

Primrose Hill gives its name to part of the surrounding area, which remains a sought-after residential district.

For details on when to visit, head to www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/the-regents-park/things-to-see-and-do/primrose-hill.

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 9. St Thomas’ Hospital…

Following Thomas Becket’s brutal murder in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, King Henry II is ordered by Pope Alexander III to perform acts of penance for his death, going on a public pilgrimage to Canterbury where he spent a night in prayer at Becket’s tomb and was whipped by monks.

The Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garrett Museum now resides in the former St Thomas’ Church which probably started life (in a previous version) as the chapel for the medieval hospital. PICTURE: Calstanhope (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0).

Becket’s renown, meanwhile, quickly grew in the aftermath of his death and miracles soon began to be attributed to him. And then, little over two years after he was killed, the Pope declared him a saint. It’s believed that soon after that, in 1173, St Thomas’ Hospital in Southwark- which had been founded a couple of years earlier – was named in commemoration of him.

The hospital was run by a mixed-gendered order of Augustinian canons and canonesses, believed to be of the Priory of St Mary Overie, and provided shelter and treatment for the poor, sick, and homeless. Following a fire in the early 13th century, the hospital was relocated to a site on what is now St Thomas Street.

In the 15th century, Dick Whittington endowed a ward for expectant unmarried mothers at the hospital and in 1537, it was the location for the printing of one of the first English Bibles – which is commemorated in a plaque at the former site of the hospital.

When the monastery at Southwark, which oversaw the hospital – also referred to as the Hospital of St Thomas the Martyr, was closed in 1539 during the Dissolution, the hospital too was closed. It did reopen a decade later but was dedicated to St Thomas the Apostle instead of St Thomas Becket (and has remained so since). The name change was political – King Henry VIII had ‘decanonised” St Thomas Becket as part of his reform of the church in England.

The hospital was rebuilt from the end of the 17th century (the long-deconsecrated Church of St Thomas in St Thomas Street, home to the Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garrett, is the oldest surviving part of this rebuild) but it left Southwark in 1862 when the site was compulsorily acquired to make way for the construction of the Charing Cross railway viaduct from London Bridge Station.

Following a temporary relocation to Royal Surrey Gardens in Newington, it moved into new premises at Lambeth – across the river from the Houses of Parliament – in 1871. It has since been rebuilt and merged with Guy’s Hospital.

Correction: Apologies – we had typo in the copy – the date Becket was made a saint was, of course, 1173!

Four unusual London Christmas traditions…4. The Boy Bishop of St Paul’s…

Inside St Paul’s Cathedral. PICTURE: It’s No Game (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

This tradition is actually one which is no longer observed – but we thought it worth a mention to finish this short series.

The creation of temporary of ‘boy bishops’ was relatively widespread at greater churches in Middle Ages (and several other churches in London also observed the tradition apparently including Westminster Abbey).

At St Paul’s, it involved one of the choir boys being elected to be the ‘boy bishop’, usually on 6th December, for a role that would run through until Holy Innocents Day on 28th December.

Dressed in child-sized bishop’s robes, the ‘boy bishop’ performed various ceremonial duties throughout the season, culminating with them delivering a sermon and leading a procession through the city.

The tradition apparently became more raucous as time went on, so much so that eventually it was abolished during the Reformation by King Henry VIII, revived by his successor Queen Mary I, and then abolished again by Queen Elizabeth I.

Since then, the idea of a ‘boy bishop’ or ‘youth bishop’ has been revived in a somewhat updated form in certain cathedrals including those in Salisbury and Hereford.

We’ll start a new Wednesday series next week.

This Week in London – The ‘Fight for Women’s Rights’ at the British Library; ghosts at Hampton Court Palace; and, Arctic culture at the British Museum…

Banners loaned from Southall Black Sisters, Bishopsgate Institute, People’s History Museum, Sisters Uncut, Feminist Archive South (Courtesy of the British Library)

The history of the women’s rights movement and the work of contemporary feminist activists is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the British Library tomorrow. Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, the opening of which was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, features everything from personal diaries and banners to subversive literature, film, music and art. Highlights include protest poems written by Sylvia Pankhurst on toilet paper in Holloway Prison following her imprisonment for seditious activity in January 1921, a first edition of Jane Austen’s debut novel, Sense and Sensibility, published anonymously ‘By a Lady’ in 1811, and, football boots belonging to Hope Powell, a veteran player who became the first woman to manage England Women in 1998. There’s also records of surveillance carried out on Sophia Duleep Singh, one of Queen Victoria’s god-daughters and a supporter of campaigns for women’s suffrage, and a piece of fence wire cut by writer Angela Carter’s friends and sent to her as a present from RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire where they were protesting against nuclear missiles. Runs until 21st February next year. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk.

Like a good ghost story? Hampton Court Palace is launched a new self-guided ‘Creepy Stories and Ghostly Encounters’ trail on Saturday. The trail takes in sites including those where the ‘Grey Lady’ – said to be the ghost of Tudor nursemaid – has appeared since Victorian times, the locations said to be haunted by two of King Henry VIII’s queens – Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard, and the site where a spectral figure was captured on film slamming shut a door in 2003. The palace is also unveiling a new display of carved pumpkins in the Royal Kitchen Garden. Entry charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

The first major exhibition on the history of the Arctic and its Indigenous people, through the lens of climate change and weather, has opened at the British Museum. The Citi exhibition, Arctic: culture and climate, reveals how Arctic people have adapted to climate variability in the past and are facing today’s weather challenges. It features everything from rare archaeological finds, unique tools and clothing as well as artworks and contemporary photography with highlights including an eight-piece Igloolik winter costume made of caribou fur and an Inughuit (Greenlandic) sled made from narwhal and caribou bone and pieces of driftwood which was traded to Sir John Ross on his 1818 expedition as well as artworks commissioned specifically for the exhibition. These include an Arctic monument of stacked stones, known as an Inuksuk – used to mark productive harvesting locations or to assist in navigation – which was built by Piita Irniq, from the Kivalliq Region of Nunavut, Canada. Can be seen in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery until 21st February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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

Lost London – St Giles hospital for lepers…

Partly located on a site now occupied by the church of St Giles-in-the-Fields in central London  was a leprosy hospital founded by Queen Matilda, wife of King Henry I, in 1101.

The site was located outside the City walls making it ideal for such an establishment (given lepers had to isolate from the rest of the population) and the hospital, one of the first such establishments in England, was dedicated to St Giles, the patron saint of outcasts.

As well as an oratory or chapel, the hospital, initially founded on eight acres of farmland, is believed to have included houses for lepers, a master’s house, and quarters for a chaplain, clerk and servant. A chapter house was added in the early 14th century.

The hospital was under the care of the crown and in 1299, King Edward I ordered that the hospital be run by and its revenues given to the military Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem (also known as the Leper Brothers of Jerusalem or Lazarists).

By the 15th century leprosy (now known as Hansen’s disease) was on the decline in England but this hospital continued to be used for lepers until at least 1500 after which it is recorded that it had opened it doors to the poor who needed care.

In 1539, the hospital was closed under King Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the monasteries. While the chapel remained in use as a parish church (it was at this time that “in-the-fields” was added to the church’s name), the hospital’s other buildings were given by King Henry VIII to John Dudley, Lord Lisle (and later Duke of Northumberland and Protector of Edward VI, the king’s eventual heir).

The church, meanwhile, had fallen into a poor state of repair by the early 1600s and was demolished. Construction of a Gothic replacement started in 1623 in a project largely funded by Alice, Duchess Dudley, daughter-in-law of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite Robert Dudley. The new church was consecrated by William Laud, Bishop of London in 1631. The current building dates from 1733 (but more about that at another time).

PICTURE: The church of St Giles-in-the-Fields as it appears now. (Prioryman/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

This Week in London – Rare Hebrew manuscripts at British Library; British Museum to reopen; and art at the Old Royal Naval College…

The launch of a new exhibition looking at Hebrew manuscripts marks the next phase of the British Library reopening. Hebrew Manuscripts: Journeys of the Written Word explores the history, culture and traditions of the Jewish people around the world and features rarely seen treasures including a letter to King Henry VIII written by an Italian rabbi in 1530 regarding Biblical laws that could support Henry VIII’s claim to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon as well as the earliest dated copy – 1380 – of Moses Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed, a rare uncensored copy of the Babylonian Talmud dating from the 13th century, and a 15th century illustrated copy of Abraham bar Hiyya’s Shape of the Earth, one of the first Jewish scientific works written in the Hebrew language. Also reopening is the library’s free permanent gallery – the Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library – with a new one-way route taking in treasures including Leonardo da Vinci’s sketchbooks and handwritten manuscripts by the Brontë sisters, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath. For more on the exhibition and the library’s reopening, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: David Jensen.

The British Museum reopens to visitors from today after the longest closure in its 261 year history. Tickets must be pre-booked online or over the phone and visitors will be able to access the ground floor galleries through a new one-way route. The museum has also announced that Grayson Perry’s work, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman – an elaborate, cast-iron coffin-ship originally created for his British Museum exhibition of the same name in 2011 – is returning to the museum. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

A “celestial choir of spinning sound machines” can be seen at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich this weekend. Positioned in Lower Grand Square, Chorus is the monumental work of award-winning artist and British Composer of the Year Ray Lee. It features a series of giant metal tripods supporting rotating arms, at the end of which are loudspeakers which emit finely turned musical pitches. It can be viewed from Friday through to Monday. Meanwhile, the Painted Hall is hosting Luke Jerram’s artwork Gaia which features NASA imagery in creating a virtual, 3D small scale Earth. Gaia can be seen from tomorrow until 6th September (admission charge applies).  For more, see www.ornc.org.

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

Treasures of London – King Henry’s Mound…

Having recently been granted protection as a scheduled monument, the landscape feature known as King Henry’s Mound is located in Richmond Park in south-west London.

It is believed to be a prehistoric round barrow, possibly dating from between 2,400 and 1,500 BC – a period spanning the Late Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age.

Its name, however, comes from the legend that King Henry VIII waited on top of the mound on 19th May, 1536, watching for a rocket to be launched from the Tower of London that would confirm his wife Anne Boleyn had been executed for treason (and so allow him to marry Jane Seymour).

The truth of that is unlikely – although it is possible to see St Paul’s Cathedral from the mound (it’s a view that is protected, as well as, to the west Windsor Castle and the Thames Valley), King Henry VIII was apparently in Wiltshire at the time.

The mound, however, was linked to kings as far back as 1630 when a map was published listing it as ‘Kings Standinge’, ‘standinge’ being a reference to a platform on which those not involved in a hunt could stand and watch.

Both King Henry VIII and his daughter Queen Elizabeth I are known to have hunted here – in fact, it was King Henry VIII’s father, King Henry VII, who built a royal palace at Richmond and named it after his estate in Yorkshire.

The mound was later incorporated into the gardens of Pembroke Lodge in the 19th century, during much of the latter half of which the property was home to Prime Minister Lord John Russell.

Today the Grade I-listed Richmond Park is managed by the Royal Parks.

For more on Richmond Park, head to www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park.

PICTURES: The Royal Parks

10 (lesser known) National Trust properties in London…5. Sutton House…

We decided to continue with our Wednesday series. While the properties are all currently closed, we hope you’ll still enjoy exploring them with us online until the day they reopen…

Hackney property Sutton House –  originally known simply as ‘the bryk place’ – was built by Ralph Sadleir (or Sadler), a courtier  who started out in the service of Thomas Cromwell but rose to become Principal Secretary of State to King Henry VIII. Sadleir, who had married a cousin of Cromwell, had the property constructed in 1535 as his family home.

Sadleir – who makes an appearance in Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels and who, as well as being of service to King Henry VIII, also served King Edward VI, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I – sold the property just 15 years later. The red brick house – now said to be the oldest surviving domestic building in Hackney – subsequently passed through numerous hands with its owners apparently including merchants, a sea captain and French Huguenot refugees. In 1751, it was divided into two residences – Ivy House and Milford House.

The property housed a boy’s school in the early 1800s – novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton was among those who attended – and later became a girl’s school. The rector of Hackney bought the premises in 1891 and used it as a base for the St John at Hackney Church Institute, a social and recreational centre for young men.  His modifications included turning part of the cellars into a chapel.

Mistakenly named after the founder of the Charterhouse School, Thomas Sutton (he actually lived in a now demolished adjacent property), Sutton House was bought by the National Trust in the 1930s using the proceeds of a bequest made in memory of two men killed in World War I.

Among its various roles, the building served as a centre for fire wardens during World War II and, from the 1960s, serving as the offices of a trade union. After the union left in the 1980s, the house fell into disrepair and in 1982 squatters moved in and it was renamed ‘the Blue House’. Several murals from this period – when rock concerts were held in the barn – are preserved into the house.

The squatters were evicted and in the late Eighties, a society was formed with the aim of saving the house. Following renovations, the house opened to the public in 1994. These days the Grade II*-listed home is used as a museum and art gallery. There’s also a shop and cafe.

While the facade of the house underwent some changes during the Georgian era, the property’s interior remains essentially Tudor. Highlights include the kitchen, oak panelled chambers, carved fireplaces and, of course, the cellars.

The National Trust reclaimed some adjacent land to create an award winning garden known as the Breaker’s Yard. The name comes from the fact the land was once occupied by a car breaker’s yard.

There’s said to be a couple of ghosts who reside in the house including wailing dogs and a mysterious ‘blue lady’.

The property, which stands in Homerton High Street, is temporarily closed but for more information, check the website at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sutton-house-and-breakers-yard.

ALL PICTURES: Kotomi_ (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Lost London – The Holbein Gate…

The most grand of the entrances to the now demolished Whitehall Palace, this monumental gateway – located in what is now Whitehall, at the south end of and on the other side of the road to the Banqueting House – was built in 1531-32 on the orders of King Henry VIII.

The name apparently comes from the tradition that the three story gate was designed by Hans Holbein but there is apparently some doubt that was the case.

The gate had rooms on the first and second floor with small flanking turrets to either side. It boasted a Royal Coat of Arms over the archway under the gate along with other royal emblems including the Tudor rose. There were also several busts set into roundels on the black and white chequerboard facade, possibly by Giovanni da Maiano.

King Henry VIII apparently used the chambers as a study and library (and later, it’s said, to store the wheelchairs he required late in life). Most famously, the upper room is also believed to have been the location where he secretly married Anne Boleyn on 25th January, 1533.

The upper floor was used as the Paper Office between 1672 until 1756 while the lower floor was used as lodgings with residents including the Ludovic Stewart, 2nd Duke of Lennox and Barbara Villiers, Lady Castlemaine, famed as one of the mistresses of King Charles II.

Remarkably, the building, along with the Banqueting House, survived the fire of January 1698 which destroyed most of the palace. Proposals were subsequently put forward to demolish the gate to allow better flow of traffic but these were fended off until August, 1759, when it was destroyed along with an adjacent house.

PICTURE: Whitehall Showing Holbein’s Gate and Banqueting Hall by Thomas Sandby, c1760 (now at the Yale Center for British Art)

Treasures of London – “Graffito” in the Tower of London’s Beauchamp Tower…

Part of the inner defensive wall built around the White Tower during the reign of King Edward I, the Tower of London’s Beauchamp Tower was used to house prisoners at various times in its history (in fact, it’s name comes from one of them – Thomas Beauchamp, the Earl of Warwick, who was imprisoned here by King Richard II at the end of the 14th century). 

Carved into the walls of the tower’s chambers are a series of inscriptions, known as ‘graffito’ (known to you and I as graffiti), which were carved by some of the prisoners, mostly between the years 1532 and 1672.

The include an elaborate family memorial carved for John Dudley, eldest son of the Duke of Northumberland. He and his three brothers (including a young Robert Dudley, later the Earl of Leicester) were imprisoned by Queen Mary I for their father’s attempt to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne.

Interestingly there’s a simple inscription which just says ‘Jane’ nearby, one of a couple in the tower, although its not generally believed she carved this.

The name ‘Arundell’ is another of the inscriptions – it refers to Philip Howard, the Earl of Arundel, who was imprisoned here by Queen Elizabeth I for 10 years. Along with his name are the words “The more affliction we endure for Christ in this world, the more glory we shall get with Christ in the world to come”.

The name Thomas can be seen carved above a bell bearing the letter ‘A’. It’s believed to refer to Thomas Abel, chaplain to Katherine of Aragon, the ill-fated first wife of King Henry VIII. The king has Abel imprisoned here after he declared the King’s divorce of the Katherine unlawful.

The Beauchamp Tower isn’t the only location of graffiti in the Tower of London – in the Salt Tower, for example, can be found the image of a wounded foot, a Catholic symbol representing the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £24.70 adults; £11.70 children 5 to 15; £19.30 concessions (family tickets available; discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.

PICTURES:  Above – some of the graffiti seen on the Beauchamp Tower walls (David Adams); Middle – An ‘A’ carved on a bell with the word ‘Thomas’, said to refer to Thomas Abel, chaplain to Queen Katherine of Aragon (dvdbramhall – licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0); Below – The name Arundel (Pjposullivan1 – licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/imaged cropped)

What’s in a name?…Blackheath…


Lying just to the south of Greenwich Park, this famous common apparently derives its name from the colour of the soil (although some suggest it was the colour of the bracken or even the “bleakness” of the location).

On the route from Canterbury and Dover to London, the sometimes windswept locale has seen its share of historical events over the centuries. As well as hosting remains dating to both the Saxon and Roman eras, Blackheath was where the Danes set up camp in 1011-13 (it was during this time that they murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury, Alfege, probably on the site where St Alfege’s Church in Greenwich now stands).

It’s also where Wat Tyler assembled his peasant army during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, where Jack Cade and his followers camped in 1450 during the Kentish Rebellion, and where King Henry VII defeated Michael Joseph and his Cornish rebels in 1497.

As well as uprisings, the heath has also seen its share of more joyous events. King Henry IV apparently met Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos here in 1400 before taking him back to Eltham Palace, King Henry V was welcomed by the Lord Mayor of London and aldermen here after his momentous victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, and King Charles II was welcomed here on his return to London during the Restoration. Less happily, in 1540 King Henry VIII met Anne of Cleves here for the first time.

During the 18th century, both John Wesley and George Whitefield preached to crowds on Blackheath. Meanwhile, legend has it that King James I founded England’s first golf club here in 1600s (the club joined with the Eltham Golf Club in the 1920s).

The heath, which also had a notorious reputation for highwaymen prior to residential development of the area in the late 18th century, has also been the site of fairs since at least the late 17th century.

But it wasn’t until the early 1800s that the “village” of Blackheath really formed, attracting the moderately well-to-do. The area received a significant boost as a residential locale close to London when the railway opened in 1849.

Significant buildings include All Saints’ Church which dates from 1857 and the entertainment venue known as the Blackheath Halls, built in 1895. The Georgian mansion known as the Ranger’s House – which parks on to Greenwich Park – is just to the north.

Notable residents have included early 20th century mathematician and astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington, 19th century philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill, seaside cartoonist Donald McGill and polar explorer Sir James Clark Ross. American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne lived at 4 Pond Road in 1856.

Correction: Wesley and Whitefield  preached in the 18th century, not the 19th as originally stated. Apologies for any confusion!

PICTURES: Top – Aerial view of Blackheath (foshie; licensed under CC BY 2.0; image cropped); Below – Looking towards All Saints (Herry Lawford; licensed under CC BY 2.0)

This (Year) in London – Five exhibitions you won’t want to miss in 2020…

It’s our first ‘This Week in London’ for 2020 so instead of our usual programming, we thought we’d briefly look at five key exhibitions that you won’t want to miss this year…

1. Thomas Becket at the British Museum. Marking the 850th anniversary of the murder of the medieval Archbishop of Canterbury on 29th December, 1170, the museum will host the first ever major exhibition on the life, death and legacy of the archbishop as part of a year-long programme of events which also includes performances, pageants, talks, film screenings and religious services. The exhibition will run from 15th October to 14th February, 2021. PICTURE: Alabaster sculpture, c 1450–1550, England. Here, Becket is shown kneeling at an altar, his eyes closed and his hands clasped in prayer, all the while four knights draw their swords behind him. To Becket’s right is the monk Edward Grim, whose arm was injured by one of the knight’s swords. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

2. Elizabeth and Mary at the British Library. This exhibition draws on original historic documents to  take a fresh look at what’s described as the “extraordinary and fascinating story of two powerful queens, both with a right to the English throne: Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots”. Letters and other 16th century documents will show how their struggle for supremacy in the isles played out. Runs from 23rd October to 21st February, 2021.

3. Tudors to Windsors at the National Maritime Museum. This major exhibition promises to give visitors “the opportunity to come face-to-face with the kings, queens and their heirs who have shaped British history and were so central to Greenwich”.  Including more than 150 works covering five royal dynasties, it will consider the development of royal portraiture over a period spanning 500 years and how they were impacted by the personalities of individual monarchs as well as wider historical changes. Will be held from April.

4. Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King at Hampton Court Palace. Marking the 500th anniversary of the Field of Cloth of Gold – King Henry VIII’s landmark meeting with his great rival, the French King François I, the exhibition will feature a treasure trove of precious objects from the English and French courts as well as a never-before-seen tapestry, manufactured in the 1520s, which depicts a bout of wrestling at the meeting presided over by François and which also shows a black trumpeter among the many musicians depicted. Opens on 10th April. The palace will also play host this year to Henry VIII vs François I: The Rematch, a nine day festival of jousting, wrestling and foot combat complete with feasting, drinking and courtly entertainment. Runs from 23rd to 31st May.

5. Faces of a Queen: The Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I at the Queen’s House in Greenwich. This display brings together, for the first time, the three surviving versions of the iconic ‘Armada Portrait’ of Elizabeth I. The portrait commemorates the Spanish Armada’s failed attempt to invade England and the display will include the Royal Museums Greenwich’s own version of the painting along with that from the National Portrait Gallery and that which normally hangs in Woburn Abbey. Runs from 13th February to 31st August.

We’ll feature more details in stories throughout the coming year. But, of course, this is just a sample of what’s coming up this year – keep an eye on Exploring London for more…

Exploring London marks 10 years!

Did you know that 2020 marks 10 years since Exploring London first began…well…exploring London?

We’ll be celebrating our anniversary across the year in a number of ways including counting down our 100 most read stories ever…

So let’s kick off the countdown with numbers 100 and 99…

100. LondonLife – A new crown for King Henry VIII…

99. 10 sites of significance in Jane Austen’s London…1. 10 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden…

PICTURE: Adi Goldstein/Unsplash

What’s in a name?…St Martin’s-le-Grand…

This City of London street is named for a church which once stood to the east of the thoroughfare.

The church was founded as part of a monastery the 11th century by brothers Ingelric and Girard – the former was apparently a man of some influence in the courts of King Edward the Confessor and King William the Conqueror (although there is apparently a tradition that the church was founded earlier, by the Saxon King Wihtred of Kent, in the 7th or 8th century).

The collegiate church, which had the job of sounding the curfew bell in the evenings to announce the closing of the city gates during the reign of King Edward I (the right later moved to another church), gave special rights to the precinct in which it stood including that of sanctuary for certain types of criminals. Indeed, by the 14th century, it was the largest area of sanctuary in England.

This was particularly useful for those making what was supposed to be their final journey from Newgate to their execution at Tower Hill – the precinct lay along the route and, yes, some were said to have escaped into the district as they passed by. But perhaps the most famous said to have sought sanctuary in the precinct were Miles Forrest, one of those accused of murdering the so called “Princes in the Tower” – King Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York.

The institution was dissolved during the reign of King Henry VIII and demolished in the mid-16th century but the name lived on in the precinct where it once stood – during the Elizabethan era it was apparently famous for its lace.

The site of the church was later the site of the General Post Office, built in 1829, which was eventually demolished in 1911 and replaced by a premises located to the west.

The street, which becomes Aldersgate Street in the north and runs into Cheapside in the south, was also once home to the The Bull and Mouth Inn, destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, and a French Protestant Church. The latter was built in 1842 but demolished in 1888 to make way for more Post Office buildings.

PICTURES: Looking south (top) and north (below) from St Martin-le-Grand (Google Maps).