Fifteen gnomes have taken up residence in Hampton Court Palace’s gardens for the next couple of months and they’re feeling particularly chatty. The gnomes have been specially designed by local community groups and each reflects a unique aspect of the palace landscapes. They also each have a unique tale to tell through the voice of Umbriel, a gnome who starred in Alexander Pope’s epic poem, The Rape of the Lock, which was set at Hampton Court Palace (in fact it was the first time the word gnome appeared in English). Umbriel, voiced by actor Stephen Mangan, will regale visitors with tales from the palace’s rich history – from the time a mole unhorsed King William III through to the time a periwig was left behind by its owner in the maze (the stories were all written by schools and community groups for the project as well as children’s author Francesca Simon, poet Michael Rosen, and Historic Royal Palace’s joint chief curator Lucy Worsley). The gnomes (and Umbriel) can be experienced until 2nd October. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/. PICTURES: Courtesy HRP
November 10, 2015
Facade of New Schomberg House at number 80-82 on the south side of Pall Mall. While the rest of the building dates from the 1950s, much of the facade from what is now known as Old Schomberg House (among numerous buildings in Pall Mall once occupied by the War Office) was retained and the eastern end restored. The house was originally built in the late 17th century for the Duke of Schomberg, a general in the service of King William III (hence the name), and replaced Portland House on the site. Later residents here included the painter Thomas Gainsborough, who lived here between 1774 until his death in 1788.
September 14, 2015
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the building of Hampton Court Palace in Greater London’s south-west. We speak to Sheila Dunsmore, a State Apartment warder at Hampton Court Palace (pictured above in centre on the left)…
1. It’s Hampton Court Palace’s 500th anniversary – who first built the palace and why? “In 1514, Thomas Wolsey came to survey the land at Hampton Court. He wanted to find a suitable place to build a sumptuous country retreat away from the dirt of London, but close enough to the capital to travel back for meetings. It was also to be a place to entertain the important company his position as Archbishop of York provided, of which none were more important than young King Henry VIII.”
2. Where are the oldest parts of the palace today? “The oldest part of the palace is the Tudor kitchens, more specifically the area were the great fire is. This was once part of Sir Giles Daubeney’s original kitchen, and dates back to the manor already on the site when it was acquired by Wolsey. Sir Giles Daubeney was Lord Chamberlain to Henry VII, and acquired an 80 year lease on the property from the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, the then owners. The bell in the tower above the astronomical clock is also said to have come from the Knights Hospitallers’ original manor house.”
3. Hampton Court’s 500 years of history spans a number of definable eras – from Tudor to the 21st century. Which is your favourite and why? “My favourite era is the 1660s when Charles II came back to England to take up his rightful place as king. Although visitors do not really associate Charles with the palace, he did spend time here, most famously his honeymoon!”
4. With this in mind what is your favourite part of the palace? “I love the west front façade – it just looks so imposing and mysterious. Whether you are driving or walking past it it’s guaranteed to draw you in under its spell!”
5. Do you have a favourite anecdote from the palace’s history? “I love the story of Horace Beauchamp Seymour, a dashing military hero who had fought at the Battle of Waterloo. He came to live at the palace in 1827 and, as a handsome eligible widower, he caused quite a sensation amongst the ladies, especially when he joined the Sunday services at the Chapel Royal. It was not long before a series of fainting episodes began, with the strategically placed young lady fainting into the arms of the dashing Horace, who then proceeded to carry the lady out and stay with her until she regained her composure. After a third successive Sunday of fainting’s, the epidemic was brought to a swift halt by the aunt of Mr Seymour, herself also a palace resident. The feisty old lady pinned a sign to the chapel door warning any lady feeling faint that forthcoming Sunday that Bransome the dustbin man would be carrying her out. Needless to say the fainting ceased!”
6. A complex of buildings dating back as far as 500 years obviously requires considerable upkeep. What are the greatest challenges with regard to maintaining the palace? “I think the biggest challenge would have to be generating the money to keep restoring and conserving this historic palace. To do this we have to keep making sure that people want to visit, from international tour groups to local families who might visit again and again. To do this teams right across the palace work to create exciting exhibitions, immersive events and guided tours to ensure we’re offering people a memorable experience.”
7. Are there any areas of the palace which remain unseen by the public? And any plans to open further areas up? “The palace contains over 1,000 rooms, and visitors get to discover about a quarter of these during their visit. Some years ago we held a Servants, Soldiers and Suffragettes exhibition in a suite of rooms on the top floor of Fountain Court (previously unseen). It was incredibly popular so I’d imagine that in the future we’d look for other such opportunities to share other areas of the palace with our visitors. For anyone that can’t wait that long, on one night of the year (Halloween no less), our adults-only ghost tour offers the chance to peek behind the scenes and explore some areas of the palace off the beaten track!”
8. Are there any ‘secrets’ about the palace you can reveal to us? “A palace as old and as large as Hampton Court holds its fair share of secrets…When the fire took hold in 1986 it was devastating, but in a strange twist of fate some good came from it as well. As restoration of the damaged interiors took place little secrets were revealed to us; behind wood panelling in King William’s damaged rooms hand prints were found in the plaster from the palace’s builders, and sketches were found from the architects with designs for the rooms, all worked directly onto the bare walls. Most exciting of all, however, was the object found downstairs. During work to return King William’s private dining room (which had lost its original look over the years and been used as a function room for the grace and favour residents) to its former glory, a gun was found behind some wooden panelling. The gun dated from the late 1800s, and had a regimental dinner menu was wrapped around it. This is so intriguing – what was the story behind this gun? Who did it belong to? Why did they hide the weapon?”
9. If someone has just one day to visit the palace, what’s your ideal itinerary? “This is a tricky one, and depends very much on the individual…and the weather! I would say on a sunny day start by enjoying a historic welcome with our costumed interpreters, which really helps to set the scene. If it’s a bit chilly pick up a cloak to wear – you can choose between dressing as a Tudor or Georgian courtier. Heading inside, I’d start in the Tudor State Apartments to discover the rich opulence of Henry VIII’s Hampton Court, then visit the recently opened Cumberland Art Gallery, which contains masterpieces by Rembrandt, Canaletto and Van Dyck. Next I’d take in the baroque splendour of the Queen’s State Apartments, then explore the maze, East Front Garden and Privy Garden (weather permitting!). After a spot of lunch I’d suggest visiting the Mantegna Gallery, then the Young Henry exhibition which explores the life of the young Henry VIII, before finishing the day in King William III’s apartments.”
10. Finally, Historic Royal Palaces has already commemorated the 500th anniversary in numerous ways – from a spectacular fireworks display to a jousting tournament. Are there any more events coming up? “The beginning of September saw our costumed interpreters back with their own inimitable brand of entertainment, while at the end of September we’re hosting a sleepover inside the palace! As the evenings draw in, our popular ghost tours return for the winter season. Even further ahead we’ve got a series of carol evenings and even an ice rink for our visitors to enjoy!”
WHERE: Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey (nearest station is Hampton Court from Waterloo); WHEN: 10am to 6pm until 24th October after which it’s open to 4.30pm); COST: Adult £19.30, Concession £16, Child under 16 £9.70 (under fives free), family tickets, garden only tickets and online booking discounts available; WEBSITE:www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/.
August 24, 2015
Best known as the “Hanging Judge” thanks to his role in the so-called Bloody Assizes of 1685, George Jeffreys climbed the heights of England’s legal profession before his ignominious downfall.
Born on 15th May, 1645, at the family home of Acton Hall in Wrexham, North Wales, Jeffreys was the sixth son in a prominent local family. In his early 20s, having been educated in Shrewsbury, Cambridge and London, he embarked on a legal career in the latter location and was admitted to the bar in 1668.
In 1671, he was made a Common Serjeant of London, and despite having his eye on the more senior role of Recorder of London, was passed over. But his star had certainly risen and, despite his Protestant faith, he was a few years later appointed to the position of solicitor general to James, brother of King Charles II and the Catholic Duke of York (later King James II), in 1677.
The same year he was knighted and became Recorder of London, a position he had long sought, the following year. Following revelations of the so-called the Popish Plot in 1678 – said to have been a Catholic plot aimed the overthrow of the government, Jeffreys – who was fast gaining a reputation for rudeness and the bullying of defendants – served as a prosecutor or judge in many of the trials and those implicated by what turned out to be the fabricated evidence of Titus Oates (Jeffreys later secured the conviction of Oates for perjury resulting in his flogging and imprisonment).
Having successfully fought against the Exclusion Bill aimed at preventing James from inheriting the throne, in 1681 King Charles II created him a baronet. In 1683 he was made Lord Chief Justice and a member of the Privy Council. Among cases he presided over was that of Algernon Sidney, implicated in the Rye House Plot to assassinate the king and his brother (he had earlier led the prosecution against Lord William Russell over the same plot). Both were executed.
It was following the accession of King James II in February, 1685, that Jeffreys earned the evil reputation that was to ensure his infamy. Following the failed attempt by James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth and illegitimate son of the late King Charles II, to overthrow King James II, Jeffreys was sent to conduct the trials of the captured rebels in West Country towns including Taunton, Wells and Dorchester – the ‘Bloody Assizes’.
Of the almost 1,400 people found guilty of treason in the trials, it’s estimated that between 150 and 200 people were executed and hundreds more sent into slavery in the colonies. Jeffreys’, meanwhile, was busy profiting financially by extorting money from the accused.
By now known for his corruption and brutality, that same year he was elevated to the peerage as Baron Jeffreys of Wem and named Lord Chancellor as well as president of the ecclesiastical commission charged with implementing James’ unpopular pro-Catholic religious policies.
His fall was to come only a couple of years later during Glorious Revolution which saw King James II overthrown by his niece, Mary, and her husband William of Orange (who become the joint monarchs Queen Mary II and King William III).
Offered the throne by a coalition of influential figures who feared the creation of a Catholic dynasty following the birth of King James II’s son, James Francis Edward Stuart, William and Mary arrived in England with a large invasion force. King James II’s rule collapsed and he eventually fled the country.
Remaining in London after the king had fled, Lord Jeffreys only attempted to flee as William’s forced approached the city. He made it as far as Wapping where, despite being disguised as a sailor, he was recognised in a pub, now The Town of Ramsgate (pictured above).
Placed in custody in the Tower of London, he died there of kidney problems on 18th April, 1689, and was buried in the Chapel Royal of Saint Peter ad Vincula (before, in 1692, his body was moved to the Church of St Mary Aldermanbury). All traces of his tomb were destroyed when the church was bombed during the Blitz (for more on the church, see our earlier post here).
Still on designs for royal palaces and today we’re looking at two designs for the same palace. Both Inigo Jones (1573-1652) and Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) drew up designs for the remodelling and expansion of Whitehall Palace.
First up was the neo-classical architect Jones who drew up plans for a vast complex of buildings (pictured left) which would replace the Tudor palace King Henry VIII had created when he transformed the grand house formerly known as York Place into a residence suitable for a king (York Place had previously been a residence of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and prior to that, the London residence of the Archbishops of York).
Jones’ complex – which apparently featured seven internal courts – covered much of what is now known as Whitehall as well as neighbouring St James’s Park with a magnificent River Thames frontage.
The first part of Jones’ grand scheme – the Banqueting House (see our earlier post here) – opened in 1622. It still survives today – pictured above – and gives a taste of the grandeur of his overall scheme.
Yet, despite the eagerness of King James I for the project, it failed to materialise. English Heritage chief executive Simon Thurley told the BBC in 2012 that the hall represented only five per cent of what Jones had planned.
King James I died in 1625 and his son King Charles I was apparently keen to continue the project – so much so that Jones submitted new plans in 1638 – but he didn’t find the funds the project needed (and, of course, as we know, then became consumed by the events of the Civil War before being beheaded outside the Banqueting House in 1649).
Following the Restoration, in the 1660s King Charles II apparently had Sir Christopher Wren quietly draw up plans to redevelop the palace but these weren’t follow through on although during the reign of King James II he did work on several projects at the palace including a new range of royal riverside apartments, terrace (remains of which can still be seen) and a chapel.
In 1698, much of the bloated Whitehall Palace – then the largest palace in Europe with more than 1,500 rooms – burnt down although the Banqueting House, though damaged, survived basically intact (in fact there’s an interesting anecdote, its veracity questionable, which has it that on hearing of the fire Wren rushed to the site and had an adjacent building blown up to create a firebreak and ensure the Banqueting House was saved).
The then king, King William III, approached Wren and he again submitted plans for its rebuilding (prior to the fire, he had already worked on several aspects of the palace including a new range of royal apartments and a chapel for King James II).
But Wren’s plans – images show a grand domed building – were largely never realised (although he did convert the Banqueting House into a chapel) and the destroyed palace never rebuilt (no doubt in large part due to the fact that King William III preferred a more rural and less damp location – such as that of Kensington Palace – thanks to his asthma).
For more on the history of the Palace of Whitehall, see Simon Thurley’s Whitehall Palace: The Official Illustrated History.
April 28, 2014
The layout of the area was originally designed by Thomas Neale, an MP and entrepreneur, in the early 1690s – it was part of the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666 – and initially had the pillar standing at the centre of six streets before it was later increased to seven. The streets which radiate out from the hub include Earlham, Mercer and Monmouth Streets and Shorts Gardens.
While Neale, who designed the street layout to maximise street frontages and thus his return, had hoped the area would attract the well-to-do, it was not be and by the 19th century the area had become one of the cities most notorious slums, considered part of the infamous rookery of St Giles.
That has since changed and today the area is at the heart of a bustling commercial district, the streets which run off it housing stylish shops and offices.
The pillar itself apparently never had seven faces – there is the suggestion that the column itself was the seventh – and while the original column was removed in 1773, apparently by city authorities keen to rid the area of undesirables, it was replaced with a replica column in the late 1980s and unveiled by Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands to commemorate the tercentenary of the reign of King William III and Queen Mary II in June, 1989.
The original column, meanwhile, was apparently first acquired by an architect, James Paine, who kept it at his house in Surrey, before, in 1820, being taken to Weybridge where, in 1820, the column was re-erected as a memorial to Princess Frederica, Duchess of York (who had lived there). The dial-stone, meanwhile, was used as a mounting block before eventually being placed outside the Weybridge Library.
Once making chocolate for kings including William III, George I and George II, a special royal chocolate-making kitchen has opened at Hampton Court Palace – the only surviving example of its kind in the country. The opening – which is part of Historic Royal Palaces’ celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian accession – comes after research identified the exact location of the kitchen which, having been used as a storeroom, was found in a “remarkably well preserved” state with original fittings such as the stove and furniture intact. Among those known to have worked in the kitchen is Thomas Tosier (pictured above), personal chocolatier to King George I, and it was in here he prepared special chocolate drinks. (Interestingly, Tosier’s wife Grace apparently traded on her husband’s royal association to promote her own chocolate house in Greenwich). A new display in the kitchen explores how the chocolate was made for the king and features copper cooking equipment and bespoke chocolate serving silverware, glassware and linens from the 18th century. The Royal Chocolate Kitchen will also play host to live Georgian chocolate making sessions. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces/Richard Lea Hair.
WHERE: Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey (nearest station is Hampton Court from Waterloo); WHEN: 10am to 4.30pm until 29th March after which it’s open to 6pm); COST: Adult £18.20, Concession £15.40, Child under 16 £9.10 (under fives free), family tickets, garden only tickets and online booking discounts available; WEBSITE:www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/.
This Week In London – Kensington Palace celebrates Christmas; plant a tree at Epping; and, the Long Range Desert Group memorial unveiled at Westminster Abbey…
December 12, 2013
Apologies we didn’t post a new instalment in our Wednesday series yesterday – it will resume next week!
• Inspired by a spectacular month of partying by King William III in December, 1699, Kensington Palace is celebrating Christmas with a month of family-friendly entertainment in the Georgian State Apartments. Historic Royal Palaces has joined with games makers Hide & Seek to create Game of Crowns, transforming Kensington into a play palace with games, mummery and the chance to proclaim yourself king or queen for a day. On the weekends, there’s also the chance to join in parlour games from 1700 onward and a Christmas Day sensory room which brings to life King William III and Queen Mary II’s Christmas morning (by which time they must have been exhausted!). The palace will also play host to its largest ever Christmas tree – 30 feet tall – and on December 16th, you can join in Carols by Candlelight. Admission charge applies. Runs until 6th January. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/.
• Epping Forest is expanding and this weekend, you have a chance to help by planting some new saplings. The City of London Corporation, which runs the forest, is creating a new area of woodland, named Gifford Wood in honour of former Lord Mayor Roger Gifford, after purchasing 30 acres of land at Upshire last year. Members of the public are invited to join City of London staff and the Friends of Epping Forest at Upshire Village Hall, Horseshoe Hill (EN9 3SP) between 11am and 1pm on Saturday to plant 2,000 new oaks and hornbeam as well as a mix of alder, birch, beech, cherry, field maple, rowan, small lime, wild apple, wild service, holly and yew. Bring your spade. For more, phone 0208 532 1010 or email email@example.com.
• A memorial to the Long Range Desert Group was dedicated in Westminster Abbey this week. The LRDG was formed in 1940 by Major Ralph Bagnold to act as the forward intelligence arm of the British army in North Africa. The group later shared their expertise in desert navigation with the fledgling SAS (Special Air Service) who also carried out offensives in the desert from 1941. The memorial is located in the west cloister below that of the SAS. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org.
November 29, 2013
Currently on display in the British Museum in an exhibition coinciding with the 300th anniversary of Mostyn’s death, the clock – which shows the hours and minutes as well as the days of the week – continues to keep good time and runs for more than a year on a single wind.
Noted as much for being a work of art as for its mechanical works, the case features an ebony veneer, silver and gilt brass mounts and is crowned with a statuette of Britannia and a shield combining the crosses of St George and St Andrew while decorations on the four corners commemorate the union of the United Kingdom and depict a rose, thistle, lion and unicorn.
The clock was kept in the Royal Bedchamber until the death of King William III in 1702 after which it passed to Henry Sydney, the Earl of Romney and Gentleman of the Bedchamber and Groom of the Stole. It was later inherited by Lord Mostyn (hence the ‘Mostyn’ Tompion) and remained in that family until acquired by the British Museum in 1982.
Keep an eye out for upcoming famous Londoners on Thomas Tompion.
The clock, featured in the The Asahi Shimbun Display, is on display in Room 3 of the British Museum until 2nd February, 2014. Entry is free.
WHERE: British Museum, Great Russell Street (nearest Tube stations are Russell Square, Tottenham Court Road, Goodge Street and Holborn); WHEN: 10am to 5.30pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.britishmuseum.org.
PICTURE: © The Trustees of the British Museum
June 26, 2013
This rectangular-shaped square in Bloomsbury, known for its association with the medical profession, was first laid out in the early 1700s and was named for Queen Anne.
Originally known as Devonshire Square, the space was largely laid out between 1716 and 1725 on land owned by Sir Nathaniel Curzon of Kedlestone and, as with so many of London’s squares, attracted it’s fair share of the well-to-do. Among early residents were several bishops and members of the aristocracy.
One of the most interesting early associations with Queen Square is that of King George III and his consort Queen Charlotte. The king – better known to many as ‘Mad King George’ – was treated for mental illness in a house on the square and there’s a tradition that Queen Charlotte, stored some of the food to be consumed by the king during his treatment in the base of what is now the pub known as the Queen’s Larder (see our previous entry on the pub here).
There’s a statue of a queen in the central gardens which was thought to be of Queen Charlotte. Since it was erected in 1775, there has been some confusion over the statue’s identity – it has been thought at different stages to be of Queen Anne, Queen Mary (co-ruler with King William III), and Queen Caroline (consort of King George II) – a fact which has led to some confusion as to which queen the square was named after (although general consensus now seems to be that it was indeed Queen Anne whom the square was named after).
The houses in Queen Square – which was later associated with artists and literary types – were gradually replaced by institutional buildings relating to, among other things, education and the practice of medicine and today it remains a hub for the medical establishment – the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery and the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine (formerly known as the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital) are both located on the east side of the square and there are several other medical-related buildings located around it including the former Italian Hospital (Ospedale Italiano) which was founded by Italian businessman Giovanni Battista Ortelli in 1884 for poor Italian immigrants and since about 1990 has been part of the Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Other prominent buildings located on the square include the Church of St George the Martyr Holborn (number 44) which, built in 1706, predates the square’s formation. The church is known as the ‘sweep’s church’ due to the practice of a parishioner who provided Christmas dinners for 100 chimney sweep apprentices each year.
The gardens themselves are protected by an Act of Parliament passed in the 1830s and the gardens are to this day maintained by trustees appointed under that act. Aside from the statue of the queen, monuments in the gardens include a small plaque commemorating the bomb which landed in the square during a Zeppelin raid in World War I (no one was killed), benches commemorating 16 doctors from the homeopathic hospital who died in the Trident air disaster of 1972, and some lines of poetry on a flower bowl and surrounds by Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes in honor of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee of 1977. Statues include a 2001 bronze of Mother and Child and, (this one we love), a sculpture of Sam the cat, apparently a local resident (pictured)!
March 15, 2013
Well done to Jameson, this is indeed located in St James’s Square. Called – rather aptly – Stag, the sculpture dates from 2001 and is the work of Marcus Cornish. The larger-than-life bronze sculpture is located in the south-west corner of the West End square. For more on the work of Mr Cornish, see www.marcuscornish.com. Other statues in the square include an equestrian statue of King William III, the work of John Bacon Senior and Junior, which was installed in 1808.
Around London – Of foundling tokens; a French field marshal’s grave marker; behind the scenes at Royal Albert Hall; Tom Daley’s swimming trunks; and, crime fiction at the British Library…
January 24, 2013
• A new exhibition opens at the Foundling Museum tomorrow (25th January) which tells the often heart-breaking stories behind the tokens left by mothers with their babies at the Foundling Hospital between 1741-1760. While hundreds of tokens were removed from the hospital’s admission files in the 1860s, Fate, Hope & Charity reunites the tokens – which range from coins and jewellery to playing cards, poems and even a nut – with the foundlings to whom they were given. A moving exhibition. Museum admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.
• The Duc and Duchesse de La Rochefoucauld-Doudeauville were among those who attended the dedication of a ledger stone marking the grave of their kinsman, Field Marshal Francois de La Rochefoucauld, the Marquis de Montendre, at Westminster Abbey last week. Born in 1672, de La Rochefoucauld served in the British Army during the reign of King William III and Queen Mary II after fleeing France as a Huguenot refugee (he had also succeeded his brother as marquis). He was promoted to field marshal in 1739 but died later that year and was buried in the abbey. The floor stone which was replaced by the new ledger stone will be sent to France for inscription and installation at Montendre. For more on the abbey, see www.westminster-abbey.org.
• One we should have mentioned with our piece on Royal Albert Hall last week. The Royal Albert Hall is running behind the scenes tours of the venue every Monday until 11th February as well as Tuesday 29th January (so you’ll have to be quick!). The tour – which runs as an extension of the front of house tour – takes in the loading bay located under the hall and one of the many dressing rooms (currently in use by Cirque de Soleil who are in residency with their new show KOOZA. The 90 minute Behind the Scenes tours cost £16. Booking in advance is strongly recommended. For more, see www.royalalberthall.com.
• A pair of swimming trunks worn by diver Tom Daley during the 2012 Olympic Games has been donated to the Museum of London. The trunks join an ever increasing collection of Olympics and Paralympics-related outfits in the museum with others including a leotard worn by bronze-medal winning gymnast Beth Tweddle. A display featuring the Olympic kit is being planned for spring. Meanwhile, still aty the museum and an exhibition featuring a series of photographs exploring the city’s major arterial roadways opens on Saturday. The free exhibition, Highways: Photographs by John Davies, features six specially commissioned photographs taken by Davies in 2001-02 – just prior to the introduction of the Congestion Charge in 2003. Routes featured include the Elephant and Castle roundabout, the Hammersmith Flyover, Marble Arch and Hyde Park, St Pancras Station Midland Grand Hotel and the A501, the junction of Poultry and Queen Victoria Street and the Blackwall Tunnel entrance. Runs until 16th June. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.
• On Now: Murder in the Library: An A-Z of Crime Fiction. This exhibition at the British Library looks at the history of crime fiction and features never-before-seen manuscripts, printed books, rare audio recordings, artworks and artefacts. Highlights include Arthur Conan Doyle’s manuscript of the Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of the Retired Colourman (1926); the first appearance in print of Miss Marple (in Royal Magazine in 1929); John Gielgud’s annotated script for the film Murder on the Orient Express, crime novels from unlikely authors including Pele and burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee and the 1933 book, the Jigsaw Puzzle Murders in which readers had to complete a jigsaw puzzle to solve the crime. A series of events will be taking place alongside the exhibition. Entry to the library’s Folio Society Gallery is free. Runs until 12th May. For more see www.bl.uk.
September 17, 2012
A late 17th and early 18th century wood carver and sculptor, the curiously named Grinling Gibbons is remembered for his magnificent carvings in numerous English buildings including such London icons as St Paul’s Cathedral and Hampton Court Palace.
Not much is known about Gibbons’ early life. The son of English parents (his father was apparently a draper), he was born in Rotterdam in The Netherlands on 4th April, 1648, and, as a young man, is believed to have undertaken an apprenticeship as a sculptor in that country.
Around the age of 19, he moved to England – first to York and to Deptford in the south. It was the quality of his work which led diarist John Evelyn, having discovered Gibbons working on a limewood relief of Tintoretto’s Crucifixion in a small cottage near Deptford in early 1671, that led him to introduce him to Christopher Wren, the architect of the age, and fellow diarist Samuel Pepys and to eventually present him (and his relief) to King Charles II at Whitehall Palace on 1st March the same year.
But Gibbons’ work apparently failed to initially impress at court and it was only following his ‘discovery’ later that year by the court artist Sir Peter Lely that he began to receive major commissions.
It’s apparently not known when Gibbons married his wife Elizabeth and moved to London they were living there by 1672 and were having the first of their at least 12 children (while at least five of their daughters survived into adulthood, none of their sons did).
In 1672, they were living in an inn, called La Belle Sauvage or The Bell Savage, located on Ludgate Hill near St Paul’s, and, while Gibbons continued to maintain a workshop here into the 1680s, the family moved to Bow Street in Covent Garden around the end of the 1670s (the house here apparently collapsed in 1702 and was subsequently rebuilt in brick).
Gibbons, who was admitted to the Draper’s Company in 1672 and held various posts within it over ensuing years, reached the pinnacle of his success when he was made master sculptor and carver in wood to King William III in 1693, and was later made master carpenter to the king, then King George I, in 1719.
Having worked mostly in limewood, Gibbons, recently called the “British Bernini”, is known for his distinct and exuberant style which features cascading foliage, fruit, animals and cherubs. While he worked on numerous important buildings outside of London – including carvings in the Chapel Royal and king’s dining room at Windsor Castle, in a chapel at Trinity College in Oxford, at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and a famous ‘carved room’ at Petworth House in Sussex – and beyond (he also created two presentation panels – known as the ‘Cosimo’ and ‘Modena’ panels which were sent to Italy as royal gifts), Gibbons is also noted for his work on a number of prominent buildings in London.
Among the buildings he worked on or in around London are the churches of St James’s in Piccadilly, St Mary Abchurch, St Michael Paternoster Royal and, famously, St Paul’s Cathedral (where he carved choir stalls, the bishop’s thrones and choir screen) as well as Hampton Court and Kensington Palaces.
While he is primarily remembered for his limewood carvings, Gibbons’ workshop was also responsible for sculpting statues, memorials and decorative stonework. A couple of the workshop’s statues can still be seen in London – one of King Charles II in Roman dress at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea and another of King James II outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square – while the magnificent Westminster Abbey memorial to Admiral Sir Clowdisley Shovell is also attributed to him.
Gibbons died at his Bow Street home on 3rd August, 1721, and was buried in St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden (his wife had been buried there several years before).
For more on Grinling Gibbons, check out David Esterly’s Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving.
June 11, 2012
While it may not be the oldest (that remains a matter of some dispute), we can say that one of London’s oldest banks stands at 1 Fleet Street.
Child & Co’s origins go back to the mid-1600s when Francis Child entered into a partnership with Robert Blanchard to run a goldsmith’s business. In 1673, the business, now known as Blanchard & Child moved to the premises it now occupies.
Child later married Blanchard’s step-daughter and on Blanchard’s death in 1681, he inherited the entire company, renaming it Child & Co (knighted in 1689, Child later served as a Lord Mayor of London and as an MP) and in 1698 was appointed “jeweller in ordinary” to King William III.
Following Child’s death in 1713, his sons continued the business, transforming it into a bank. It’s first banknote was issued in 1729.
The bank passed into the ownership of the Earls of Jersey in the mid-1800s and in 1880, following the removal of the Temple Bar gate, rebuilt its premises.
The bank, which at one stage had a branch in Oxford, was later sold to London-based commercial bank Glyn, Mills, Currie, Holt & Co and this in turn was acquired by the Royal Bank of Scotland. They remain the current owners.
Interestingly, the bank is said to be the model for Tellson’s Bank in Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities.
For a book on the financial history of the City of London, check out David Kynaston’s City of London: The History: 1815-2000.
May 18, 2012
Given we’re marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a look at sites of significance to her story located in London, it’s perhaps only fitting that we take a look at the nearest royal residence outside the city.
Windsor, located as close as half an hour by train from London’s Paddington station (or around 50 minutes to an hour from Waterloo), boasts plenty to see including the historic town centre, nearby Eton, great river and country walks and, of course, Legoland. But today our attention will remain on Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world.
There has been a fortress on this site since shortly after the Norman invasion when in about 1080 King William the Conqueror ordered it constructed on a ridge above the river bank as part of a series of defensive fortifications around London. The earth and timber Norman castle was gradually added to over the years – King Henry I (reigned 1100-1135), the first king to live here, added domestic quarters while King Henry II (reigned 1154-1189) built substantial royal apartments transforming the castle into a palace and began replacing the outer timber walls with stone fortifications as well as rebuilding the Norman Keep as the Round Tower (parts of which still date from this period). King Henry III (reigned 1216-1272) built upon and expanded his work.
But it was in the reign of King Edward III (1307-1327) that the castle was expanded enormously. This included the reconstruction of the lower ward including the rebuilding of the chapel, naming it St George’s (although the current chapel dates from the reign of King Edward IV – 1461-1470), and the reconstruction of the upper ward complete with apartments for him and his wife, Queen Phillipa, arranged around courtyards (although some of the work wasn’t completed until the reign of his successor, King Richard II – 1377-1399). It was also during King Edward III’s reign that the castle became the base for the Order of the Garter (which he created in 1348), a role it still fulfills.
Other works were ordered by successive Tudor monarchs including King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, and Queen Mary I. Parliamentary forces seized the castle during the Civil War (Oliver Cromwell did use it as his headquarters for a time) and Royalists were imprisoned here (King Charles I was in fact buried in a vault beneath St George’s Chapel after his execution having been previously imprisoned here).
The next major additions came in the reign of King Charles II (1660-1685) when the Upper Ward and State Apartments were reconstructed in baroque splendor, the latter complete with splendid murals ceiling paintings by Italian artist Antonio Verro (the murals were later destroyed but some of the ceiling paintings survive).
From the time of King William III (1689-1702), monarchs began spending more time at Hampton Court Palace but the focus returned to Windsor with King George III. He ordered a range of improvements and updates including modernising Frogmore House in the Home Park for his wife Queen Caroline (the property was subsequently used by various royals but no-one currently lives there), but many of these were stopped prematurely due to his illness. His son, King George IV, picked up where his father left off.
In the reign of Queen Victoria, Windsor became the royal family’s principal residence and was visited by heads of state including King Louis Philippe in 1844 and Emperor Napoleon III in 1855. The Queen’s husband, Prince Albert, died here on 14th December, 1861.
King Edward VII (1901-1910) and King George V (1910-1936) both had a hand in redecorating the palace and the Queen’s father, King George VI (1936-1952), was living in the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park when he succeeded to the throne.
In more recent times, the castle was the home to the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret, for much of World War II. The castle suffered its greatest setback in recent times in 1992 when a serious fire broke out in the Queen’s Private Chapel which destroyed several rooms including the ceiling of St George’s Hall which dated from the reign of King George IV. Restoration works took five years to complete.
Today the Queen spends many private weekends at the castle while the court is officially in residence here for a month over the Easter period and during Ascot Week in June – it’s at this time that the Garter Day celebrations take place with the installation of new knights.
The Queen also hosts State Visits here with banquets held in St George’s Hall as well as what are known as a ‘sleep and dine’ in which high profile figures are invited to dinner with the Queen before being shown a special display of items from the Royal Library and then spending the night. The Royal Standard flies from the Round Tower when the Queen is in residence.
As well as touring the State Apartments, the Gallery, Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House (completed in the 1920s for Queen Mary, wife of King George V), and St George’s Chapel, visitors to the castle can experience the Changing of the Guard at 11am every day but Sundays between May and early August (and every second day after that).
WHERE: Windsor (a short walk from either Windsor Central Station or Windsor & Eton Riverside Station); WHEN: 9.45am to 5.15pm until 27th July (times vary after this date – check the website); COST: £17 an adult/£10.20 a child (under 17s – under fives free)/£15.50 concession/£44.75 family (price includes an audio tour); WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/windsorcastle.
March 23, 2012
While we’ve looked at some of the history of the Banqueting House during last year’s special on King James I’s London, we thought we’d take a more in-depth look as part of our Treasures of London series…
The building replaced an earlier banqueting hall built on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I and another, shorter-lived hall, built by King James I, which was destroyed by fire in 1619.
Following its destruction, King James had Inigo Jones design a new hall to provide, as the previous hall had, a location for state occasions, plays and masques – something of a cross between an organised dance, an amateur theatrical performance and just a chance to dress up.
Jones, who partnered with Ben Jonson to produce masques, designed the hall – which has a length double the width – with these performances specifically in mind. The first one – Jones and Jonson’s Masque of Augurs – was performed on Twelfth Night, 1622, even before the building was completed (the last masque was performed here, incidentally, in 1635, after which, thanks they were moved to a purpose built structure nearby, ostensibly to save the newly installed paintings from being damaged by the smoke of torches – see below).
The incredible paintings on the ceilings, which celebrate the reign of King James I and will be the subject of their own Treasures of London article at a later date, were installed by March 1636. Produced by Flemish artist Sir Peter Paul Rubens, they had been commissioned by King Charles I, King James’ son, in commemoration of his father. Ironically, it was outside the building where the monarchy was so celebrated that King Charles I was beheaded in 1649 (this is marked in a ceremony held at the Banqueting House on 30th January each year).
Following the king’s execution, Whitehall Palace wasn’t used for several years until Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell took up residence there in 1654, using the Banqueting House as a hall if audience. It stood empty after Cromwell’s death in 1658 until the Restoration in 1660 when King Charles II again used it as a grand ceremonial hall for receiving foreign embassies and conducting court ceremonies (these including the ancient custom of what is known as ‘Touching for the King’s Evil’ to cure those afflicted with the disease of scrofula as well as the washing of the feet of the poor by the sovereign on Maundy Thursday.)
King James II was the last king to live at Whitehall Palace and during his reign, from 1685-88, it was used as a royal storehouse. But it was revived for formal use following his reign – it was here that King William III and Queen Mary II were officially offered the crown on 13th February, 1689.
During their reign, the court’s focus shifted to Kensington but the Banqueting House was used for Queen Mary to lay in state after her death in 1694.
Following the destruction of the remainder of Whitehall Palace in 1698 – the origins of this fire are apparently owed to a maid who had put some linen by a charcoal fire to dry – the Banqueting Hall was used briefly as a Chapel Royal and, following a renovation in the late 1700s, it was used for concerts and, from 1808, as a place of worship for the Horse Guards.
Further renovation works followed and in 1837, it was re-opened as a Chapel Royal and used as such until 1890 when this practice was formally discontinued. In 1893, Queen Victoria gave the Royal United Services Institute the use of the building as a museum – among the things displayed there were the skeleton of Napoleon’s horse, Marengo. In 1962, the exhibits were dispersed and the Banqueting House today is used for a range of royal, corporate and social events.
There is an undercroft underneath, designed as a place where King James I could enjoy drinking with his friends. It was later used for storage.
WHERE: Corner of Whitehall and Horse Guards Avenue (nearest Tube stations are Westminster and Embankment); WHEN: Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm; COST: £5 adults/£4 concessions/children under 16 free (Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/BanquetingHouse/.
PICTURE: Courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam.co.uk
September 28, 2011
The origins of the gardens go back to 1689 when King William III and Queen Mary II decided to make Kensington Palace (which, as we mentioned last week, was formerly known as Nottingham House) their home. Queen Mary oversaw the creation of a formal, Dutch-style garden featuring hedges and flower beds.
Queen Anne expanded the gardens after King William III’s death and commissioned landscape designers Henry Wise and George Loudon to create an English-style garden. She also ordered the construction of the Orangery which still stands to the north of the palace complex today (and houses a fine restaurant).
But it’s to Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, to whom Kensington Gardens owe its current form for it was she who in 1728, scythed off 300 acres of Hyde Park and employed Charles Bridgeman to create a new garden. His designs included damming the Westbourne stream to create the Long Water and the adjoining Serpentine in Hyde Park. He was also responsible for the creation of the Round Pond in front of the palace and, a landscape-history making move, used a ditch known as a ha-ha to separate the gardens from Hyde Park.
By the reign of King Charles II, the gardens had become fashionable for the elite to stroll in with the Broad Walk a popular promenade. But the gardens gradually fell from favour – a move exacerbated when Queen Victoria, who was born in Kensington Palace, moved to live at Buckingham Palace.
There were some changes made during the era, however. They included the creation of the ornamental Italian water gardens at the northern end of the Long Water and the Albert Memorial (see our previous story here) on the southern edge of the gardens.
Other highlights there today include the Peter Pan statue (see our earlier story on this), the Serpentine Gallery (with, in summer, a temporary pavilion), the Peter Pan-themed Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground (opened in 2000), and the Elfin Oak, a stump which originally came from Richmond Park and is carved with tiny figures of woodland animals and fairies.
There’s also a statue of Queen Victoria directly outside of Kensington Palace which, interestingly, was sculpted by her daughter Princess Louise in celebration 50 years of her reign, as well as statues of Edward Jenner, creator of the small pox vaccine, and John Hanning Speke, discoverer of the Nile.
Other facilities include a cafe and, next to the magazine, an allotment.
WHERE: Kensington Gardens (nearest tube stations are that of Queensway, Bayswater, Lancaster Gate, South Kensington, Gloucester Road and Kensington High Street); WHEN: 6am to dusk; COST: Free; WEBSITE: http://www.royalparks.gov.uk/Kensington-Gardens.aspx
PICTURE: Courtesy of Royal Parks. © Giles Barnard
September 5, 2011
Founded in 1689, Ede & Ravenscroft is thought to be not only the oldest tailor in London but the world.
The origins of the business can be traced back to William and Martha Shudall, tailors who set up shop in Aldwych in London that year. Their work had soon caught the eye of royalty with the company winning the contract to create robes for the coronation of King William III and Queen Mary II after what is known as the Glorious Revolution.
As well as making robes for the clergy, government officials and those working in the legal and academic professions, the company’s relationship with the Royal Family continued and they have provided robes and tailoring for as many as 12 coronations including that of King George III.
Wig-making was added to the business in the 1800s when Joseph Ede (robe maker to Queen Victoria) married into the Ravenscroft family – already known for their wig-making (the business was renamed from Ede & Son to include the Ravenscroft name in 1902).
The company, headquartered at 93 Chancery Lane (they also have several other shopfronts including one at Burlington Gardens near Savile Row – see picture), currently holds three Royal Warrants, being official robe-makers to the Queen, Prince Philip and Prince Charles.
September 2, 2011
The favoured place to dispatch pirates, Execution Dock was located on the north bank of the River Thames just off Wapping High Street.
Among the most famous to be executed here was Kidd himself who, having been found to have turned pirate while operating as a privateer under the authority of King William III, was hanged here on 23rd May, 1701.
The site, near where a cannon foundry operated supplying the fleet of King Henry VIII, was in-use as an execution ground for more than 400 years, from the 15th century until the last hanging in 1830 (that of pirates George Davis and William Watts).
Those convicted of piracy in the High Court of Admiralty were typically brought to Execution Dock from Marshalsea Prison (or in some cases from Newgate) in a procession across London Bridge and past the Tower of London which was led by the Admiralty Marshal or his deputy who carried a silver oar as a symbol of their authority.
In a public spectacle, the pirates were then hanged on a wooden scaffold built at low tide but unlike at other sites of execution where they were cut down after death, the victims were left hanging to allow three tides to wash over them.
The most notorious of the pirates would then be tarred and put in a gibbet to be exhibited on one of the banks of the Thames as a warning to others (Kidd’s remains were apparently left in such a state for more than 20 years at Tilbury).
The exact location of Execution Dock remains a matter of dispute with favoured locations including a spot near the Town of Ramsgate pub (where a noose still hangs today), just along from The Captain Kidd pub near what are now known as King Henry’s Stairs and, between the two locations, a warehouse which stands on the waterfront and is prominently marked with an E (for Execution Dock). Some even suggest the site was outside the Prospect of Whitby pub further east along Wapping High Street.
There’s currently an exhibition on Captain Kidd at the Museum of London Docklands, Pirates: The Captain Kidd Story. See here for more information.
June 22, 2011
It’s fitting given the important role Hampton Court Palace played in the creation of the King James Bible that we include it in this series. But Hampton Court Palace is also notable for some other events during King James I’s reign. First, however, we turn to the Hampton Court Conference…
It was in 1604 that King James I meet at Hampton Court with representatives of the Church of England, including one party led by Archbishop John Whitgift (representing the church hierarchy) and another party led by John Rainolds (representing the Puritans), to discuss complaints made by the Puritans concerning a range of matters. While a new Bible wasn’t initially on the agenda, the three days of discussions did eventually lead to King James I commissioning the creation of a new Bible which eventually became known as the King James Version.
King James I was already familiar with Hampton Court Palace – it was in the palace that he had celebrated his first Christmas as king the previous year. Notably, it was during this Christmas and New Year period that Shakespeare’s acting company, the King’s Men, performed in the palace’s Great Hall for the king and his court.
At that stage, the palace hadn’t been dramatically updated since Tudor times – in fact, it wasn’t until after the accession of King William III and Queen Mary II following the “Glorious Revolution” in 1689 that the Tudor palace was given a major overhaul.
King James I continued to visit Hampton Court during the remainder of his reign and his visits, which were generally proceeded by a program of repairs, were noted for the lavish entertainment that took place when they occurred.
It was also at Hampton Court Palace that James’ wife, Queen Anne, died of dropsy in 1619. And where his son King Charles I, who had commissioned some improvements to the palace, was imprisoned for a period during the Civil War. But more of that another time…
WHERE: Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey (nearest station is Hampton Court from Waterloo); WHEN: 10am to 6pm everyday (winter hours 10am to 4.30pm from 31st October to 26th March); COST: Adult £15.40, Concession £12.65, Child under 16 £7.70 (under fives free), family tickets, garden only tickets and online booking discounts available; WEBSITE:www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/