And so we come to one of the most curiously named, yet perhaps most famous, of all the Thames islands in London.

First, to the name. The almost nine acre island, which was previously divided into two and perhaps even three, was previously known by other names including Twickenham Ait and Parish Ait. A place of recreation since perhaps as early as the start of the 17th century – there’s an early reference to a bowling alley being located there, since at least the mid-18th century it was also home to an inn, known variously as The Ship and The White Cross.

During the 19th century, the island became a popular destination for steamer excursions and the inn was rebuilt on a grander scale in about 1830. It became famous for the eel pies that could be bought there – so popular were they that the island’s name was apparently changed in tribute (although there’s a very dubious story that it was King Henry VIII who first made the island’s eel pies famous by stopping to sample one from a stall there – that, however, seems unlikely).

Second, to the fame. Now known as the Eel Pie Hotel, in the first half of the 20th century the inn began an association with music which would see it one day make an important contribution to the development of British pop music.

Dances were held there in the 1920s and 30s and in the mid-1950s, jazz sessions were held there. By the Sixties, the venue – under the stewardship of Arthur Chisnall – had started to attract R&B bands and among those who played here in the following years were everyone from Eric Clapton (as part of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers) and The Rolling Stones to The Who, The Moody Blues, David Bowie and Rod Stewart. In 1967, the venue was forced to close due to the cost of repairs but reopened briefly in 1969 as ‘Colonel Barefoot’s Rock Garden’, attracting bands including Black Sabbath, Hawkwind and the Edgar Broughton Band.

The new venture didn’t last. Squatters moved in and in 1971, the hotel burned down in a “mysterious” fire while it was being demolished.

The island, the centre of which was again damaged by fire in 1996, now hosts about 50 homes and a few boatyards as well as other businesses and artist’s studios. It’s also home to the Twickenham Rowing Club, which was first established in 1860 and moved to the island in 1880.

While for many years it could only be accessed by ferry, the island can these days be accessed via a footbridge (the first bridge was installed in 1957 and replaced in 1998).

Notable residents on the island have included William Hartnell, the original Dr Who, and inventor Trevor Baylis (best known for the wind-up radio). The island has appeared in several books and TV shows including the 2005 series How To Start Your Own Country in which TV personality Danny Wallace attempted to “invade” the island. He was unsuccessful.

PICTURES: Above – Eel Pie Island from Twickenham. Below – A signboard tribute to the island’s musical heritage. (David Adams).

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The final days of Anne Boleyn are being brought to life in a new play running at the Tower of London. Written and directed by Michael Fentiman, The Last Days of Anne Boleyn tells the story of the last 17 days of the Queen’s life before her execution in 1536 following her spectacular fall from grace. The performance is staged on the site of the lost Tudor palace at the Tower where Anne spent her final days and is based on contemporary sources including letters to her husband, King Henry VIII, and her final speech on the scaffold in the moments before she was beheaded. The outdoor show (suitable for all ages) runs for 35 minutes with two performances a day – 11am and 2pm, from Friday to Tuesday until 28th August (weather permitting). Admission is included in the entry price. For more information, head here. PICTURES: Courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces.

Little remains of this priory which once stood on the banks of the River Wandle in Surrey (and is now encompassed in Greater London).

The priory, which was founded as an Augustinian house in the early 12th century, rose to become one of the most influential in all of southern Britain.

The institution was created thanks to Gilbert, the Sheriff of Surrey, Huntington and Cambridge, who was granted the village of Merton by King Henry I. Gilbert came to live in Merton and there established a priory, building a church and small huts on land thought to be located just to the west of where the priory was later located.

Gilbert had been impressed with what he’d seen of the Augustinians, also known as the Austin friars, at Huntington and so gave control of the new church to their sub-prior, Robert Bayle, along with the land and a mill.

It was based on Bayle’s advice that the site of the priory was then moved to its second location and a new, larger wooden chapel built with William Gifford, Bishop of Winchester, coming to bless the cemetery. The canons – there were now 17 – moved in on 3rd May, 1117.

Among the high profile people to visit the new priory was Queen Matilda, who brought her son William with her. In the early 1100s, a certain Thomas Becket (later the ill-fated Archbishop of Canterbury) received an education here as did Nicolas Breakspeare (later the first English Pope, Adrian IV).

The priory expanded considerably over the next century and in 1217 its chapter house was the location of a peace conference between King Henry III and Louis, the Dauphin of France. The Statutes of Merton – a series of legal codes relating to wills – were formulated here in 1236.

The connection with royalty continued – in the mid-1340s, King Edward III is thought to have passed the Feast of the Epiphany here while King Henry VI apparently had a crowning ceremony here – the first outside of Westminster Abbey for more than 300 years – in 1437.

The priory remained in use until the Dissolution of King Henry VIII. The demolition of the buildings apparently started even before the priory had been formally surrendered to the commissioners – stones from its building was used in the construction of Henry’s new palace – Nonsuch – as well as, later, in the construction of local buildings.

The site came to be referred to as ‘Merton Abbey’ and, passing through various hands, was used to garrison Parliamentarian troops during the Civil War. It later became a manufacturing facility, works for the dying and printing of textiles, one of which became the workshops of William Morris.

Some of the priory buildings survived for some years after but the only remains now left as sections of the perimeter wall (the arch which now stands over the entrance to Merton parish church is reconstructed – there’s another ornamental gateway in the outer court wall which was also replaced with a replica in the 1980s).

The foundations of the unusually large chapter house, meanwhile, have been excavated and are now preserved in a specially constructed enclosure under a roadway. Construction is now underway to build better public access to the remains.

PICTURE: A ceiling boss from Merton Priory which still bears traces of its original red paint and guilding. It was found during excavations at Nonsuch Palace in 1959-60 is now on display in the Museum of London. Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net) (licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0).

Hampton Court Palace will on Saturday launch a major representation of its Tudor kitchens with a new display designed to give visitors a ringside seat to preparations for a royal feast. Visitors will be immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of King Henry VIII’s kitchens as they explore the stories of everyone from cooks to liveried pages who made the great court feasts possible and meet the likes of Thomas Cromwell, right-hand man to the king, master cook John Dale and Michael Wentworth, clerk of the kitchen. A specially commissioned play will be launched for the summer and during holiday periods there will be workshops, games and competitions. Admission to the kitchens is included in the palace admission. For more information, head to www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

Kew’s iconic Temperate House – the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse – will reopen on Saturday after the biggest renovation project in its history. The five year restoration project has seen its entire framework repaired and thousands of panes of glass replaced. Some 500 plants were taken out and housed in a temporary nursery and some 10,000 plants, consisting of 1,500 species, have gone back in. A programme of events will take place involving the Temperate House, which dates from 1863, over the summer and there are special preview openings on Friday and Saturday night. For more, see www.kew.org. PICTURE: Gareth Gardner/Kew.

The City of London Corporation is marking the centenary of the end of World War I with a new open-air exhibition highlighting the global nature of conflict. Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace: 1918-2018, which opened on Monday, is the third and final display by photographer Michael St Maur Sheil to go on show in Guildhall Yard. The display can be seen until 28th May. Accompanying the exhibition is a free guided walk – The City’s Great War Heroes – which enables people to walk in the footsteps of City men and women who went off to the Great War. It departs from Bishopsgate every Monday and Saturday at 11am and 2pm until 28th May with an extra walk at 1.30pm on the final day. For more, follow this link.

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Located in the basement of a modern office building (and visible through glass) are the remains of a 700-year-old crypt that once lay beneath Whitefriars Priory.

Reached via Magpie Alley (off Bouverie Street which runs south from Fleet Street), the remains are all that is visibly left of the priory, founded here in the 13th century.

Known as ‘White Friars’ because of the white mantle they wore over their brown habits, the Carmelites (their proper name) were founded in what is now Israel in the mid-12th century. After the region fell to the Saracens in the mid-13th century, some members of the order made their way to England with the aid of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, brother of King Henry III. In  1241, Sir Richard Grey of Codnor founded the Priory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on this site.

The priory – which counted towering medieval figure John of Gaunt among its patrons – once stretched from Fleet Street to the Thames and to the Temple in the west and what is now Whitefriars Street in the east. It included a church – enlarged in the 14th century – as well as cloisters, a garden and cemetery.

The priory survived until the Dissolution after which King Henry VIII granted various buildings to the King’s Physician and the King’s Armourer and the great hall become the famous Whitefriars Playhouse.

Whitefriars became part of the rather infamous slum known as Alsatia, a ‘liberty’ seen as a place of sanctuary for those fleeing the law. The priory was gradually subsumed into the slum – there’s a suggestion that the crypt may have been used as a coal cellar.

The remains of the 14th century vaulted crypt, which had been located beneath the prior’s house on the east side of the former priory site, were apparently found in the late 19th century and restored in the 1920s when the now defunct newspaper News of the World was expanding. During a redevelopment in the 1980s (which came after News International moved out to Wapping), the remains were moved to their current location.

WHERE: Whitefriars Crypt, Ashentree Court, City of London (nearest Tube stations are Temple and Blackfriars); WHEN: Daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: None.

PICTURE: The crypt at seen at this year’s Open House London event. (Andrea Vail licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.)

Commonly known as Beefeaters (more on that in a moment), the Yeoman Warders have long been a presence at the Tower of London.

The Yeomen Warders, more properly known as the ‘Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Queen’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary’, are a distinct detachment of the Yeomen of the Guard.

With a history stretching back to at least the reign of King Edward IV (1461-83), they have formed the Royal Bodyguard since at least 1509.

The Warders are nicknamed ‘Beefeaters’, it is thought, due to the fact their privileged position meant they could eat as much beef as they liked from the King’s table.

These days, Yeoman Warders, most of whom live in the Tower with their families (part of their job has always been to guard the Tower at night), must have served in the armed forces for at least 22 years, have reached the rank of warrant officer, and been awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (the current warders have served in Northern Ireland, during the Falklands War, in Bosnia, in the first and second Gulf conflicts and in Afghanistan).

There are usually around 40 Yeoman Warders at any one time under the command of four Yeoman Serjeants and a Chief Yeoman Warder (currently Alan Kingshott). They wear age dark blue and red undress uniform for everyday duties but also have a state dress uniform featuring the familiar heavy red coat (pictured above).

The first female to be appointed to the role of Yeoman Warder was Moira Cameron in 2007. The most recent person to join the Yeoman Warders is Gary Burridge who did so in August following 32 years in the Royal Navy.

One of the Yeoman Warders – currently Chris Skaife – serves in the role of Ravenmaster of the Tower of London and has the responsibility of caring for the tower’s famous ravens (important because, so they story goes, should the ravens ever leave the tower, the White Tower will fall and disaster will befall the kingdom). Other specialist roles include that of Yeoman Clerk.

Upon joining the Yeoman Warders, the new warders take an oath of allegiance (believed to date back to 1337) after which they drink a toast of port served in an 18th century pewter bowl.

Tradition holds that the Chief Yeoman Warder toasts all new recruits with the words “May you never die a Yeoman Warder”. The origins of this apparently lie in the fact that the positions of Yeoman Warder were in the past purchased from the Constable of the Tower for 250 guineas with most of the money returned to the warder when they retired and the Constable keeping the rest. But if the Yeoman Warder died in office, the Constable would keep all the money – hence the toast. The practice was apparently abolished by the Duke of Wellington in 1826.

Yeoman Warders, as well as participating in ceremonial duties like the daily Ceremony of the Keys and the annual Ceremony of the Constable’s Dues, they also take tours of the Tower of London.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube is Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm Tuesday to Saturday/10am to 4.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £21.50 adult/£9.70 child (Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/

PICTURE: Yeoman Warders at the Ceremony of the Constable’s Dues, 2014 (Peter Rowley/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Only the remains of this once mighty tree can now be seen in Greenwich Park. Thought to have been planted in the 12th century, the tree died in the late 1800s but, thanks to the support of the ivy that clung to it, remained standing until it finally collapsed in June, 1991. 

The tree, located to the east of the Royal Observatory, has several links to the Tudors – tradition says King Henry VIII danced around it with Anne Boleyn while their daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, is said to have picnicked beneath its leafy canopy. The proximity of Greenwich Palace may explain the connection.

There was apparently in Victorian times, a large seat placed around the tree and there has been a suggestion that the hollow truck was big enough to make a small prison where people who misbehaved in the park were locked up.

Planted alongside is another English Oak – it was officially dug into the soil on 3rd December, 1992, by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, to mark 40 years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

WHERE: Queen Elizabeth’s Oak, Greenwich Park (nearest DLR is Cutty Sark Station and Greenwich Station); WHEN: 6am to 7pm (6pm from end of British Summer Time) daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/greenwich-park

PICTURE: Clem Rutter, Rochester, Kent/www.clemrutter.net/CC BY-SA 3.0

 


The remains of two rooms, which once formed part of the splendid Greenwich Palace – birthplace of King Henry VIII and his daughters Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I, were discovered during works being undertaken ahead of the construction of a new visitor centre under the Old Royal Naval College’s famed Painted Hall, it was revealed last week.

The rooms, set well back from the river Thames, are believed to have formed part of the service range, believed to be the location of kitchens, a bakehouse, brewhouse and laundry.

As well as the discovery of a lead-glazed tiled floor, one of the rooms, which was clearly subterranean, featured a series of unusual niches where archaeologists believe may have been ‘bee boles’ – where ‘skeps’  (hive baskets) were stored during winter when the bee colonies were hibernating and where, when the bees were outside during summer, food and drink may have been stored to keep cool.

Discussions are reportedly now underway over the possibility of displaying the Tudor finds in situ. Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, hailed the find as “remarkable”.

“To find a trace of Greenwich Palace, arguably the most important of all the Tudor palaces, is hugely exciting,” he said. “The unusual and enigmatic nature of the structure has given us something to scratch our heads over and research, but it does seem to shine a light on a very poorly known function of the gardens and the royal bees. The most exciting aspect is that the Old Royal Naval College is able and willing to incorporate this into the new visitor centre, so everyone can see a small part of the palace, for the first time in hundreds of years.”

Greenwich Palace was built by King Henry V’s brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in 1426 and rebuilt by King Henry VII between about 1500 and 1506.

Substantially demolished at the end of the 17th century (and with plans to build a new Stuart palace on the site never realised), it was replaced with the Greenwich Hospital which became the Royal Naval College designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor between 1692 and 1728.

The Painted Hall, located in the Old Royal Naval College, is currently undergoing an 18 month transformation which includes the creation of a new visitor centre, Sackler Gallery and café. Visitors to the hall currently have the unique opportunity to get up close to the famous ceiling of the hall, described as the “Sistine Chapel of the UK”, on special tours. Visit www.ornc.org/painted-hall-ceiling-tours-tickets for more.

PICTURES: © Old Royal Naval College

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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