This Week in London – The ‘William Charter’ on show; Donald Trump in London; and the Fourth Plinth shortlist…
January 19, 2017
• A charter granted by King William the Conqueror to the City of London in 1067 is on display at the City of London Heritage Gallery. The 950-year-old charter, known as the William Charter, was given by the king soon after his coronation at Westminster Abbey but before he had entered the City and is seen as key in his winning the support of the City as well as in how the City came to have its special autonomy. Written in Old English, the charter measures only 2 x 16 centimetres and has one of the earliest seal impressions of King William I. The oldest item in the City of London Corporation’s 100 kilometres of archives, it’s on display at the gallery until 27th April. For more, follow this link.
• Madame Tussauds in Marylebone has unveiled a wax figure of US President-elect Donald J Trump this week in the lead-up to his inauguration in Washington, DC, on Friday. The future president stands in the ‘Oval Office’ section of the display. The organisation’s team of sculptors, make-up artists and hair inserters have been working on the figure since his victory in the US election back in October. For more, see www.madametussauds.com/london/en/.
• A scoop of ice-cream with a visiting fly and micro-drone, a recreation of an ancient sculpture destroyed by the so-called Islamic State and a tower made of a VW, scaffolding, oil drums and a ladder among the possibilities to replace David Shrigley’s Really Good on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth next year. Maquettes of five short-listed sculptures are on show at the National Gallery from today until 26th March. Two of those displayed will be chosen to be featured on the plinth – one next year and the other in 2020. Admission is free. As well as Heather Phillipson’s The End, Michael Rakowitz’s The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist, and Damián Ortega’s High Way, the short-listed works include Huma Bhabha’s Untitled (a massive figure like something from a sci-fi film) and Raqs Media Collective’s The Emperor’s Old Clothes (an empty robe).
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This Week in London – New armoury display at the Tower; Margaret Thatcher’s clothes on show; and James Ensor at the RA…
December 15, 2016
• A 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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The minster – popularly named ‘west’ minster to distinguish it from St Paul’s Cathedral (the ‘east’ minster) – was rebuilt when King Edward refounded the abbey between 1042-52, ostensibly to provide himself with a royal church in which he could be buried.
An abbey had apparently originally been founded on the site in the 7th century during the time of Bishop Mellitus, first Bishop of London (see our earlier post here).
The abbey church isn’t believed to have been completed when it was consecrated – this it’s suggested didn’t take place until 1090, well after the Norman Conquest. Unfortunately Edward was too ill to attend the consecration – he died on the 5th January and was buried a week later in the church (his wife Edith followed nine years later).
King Harold Godwinson – King Harold II – was apparently crowned in the church the day after Edward’s death but the first recorded coronation is that of King William the Conqueror on Christmas Day, 1066.
Very little survives of Edward’s church – most of what was see now is the Gothic masterpiece constructed in the mid 13th century by King Henry III with later additions such as King Henry VII’s Lady Chapel.
The first great stone cathedral on the site where Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s now stands was a relative – and as yet incomplete – newcomer in 1215. Construction on it had started more than 120 years before in 1087 but it eventually took more than 200 years to finish.
It was Bishop Maurice, chaplain to William the Conqueror (he donated some Caen stone for its construction), who began the project after the previous wooden Saxon church on the site – the latest in a succession of them dating back to the 7th century – had been destroyed by fire (although it was under successor Bishop Richard de Beaumis that work began to really take shape).
The first part of the building to be completed was the quire in 1148 – its opening was delayed by another fire in 1135 caused during civil unrest following the death of King Henry I – but it wasn’t until after the Magna Carta’s advent – in 1240 – that the church was eventually consecrated by Bishop Roger Niger.
Originally designed in the Norman Romanesque-style, the architectural style changed during the building process into the Early English Gothic style.
Enlarged and renovated several times since construction began, it wasn’t fully completed until the 14th century – when it was the largest church in England and the third largest in Europe featuring the tallest steeple, built in 1221, and spire, built in 1315, ever built (that is, until 1561 when it was knocked down by lightning).
It later contained a number of important relics including the arms of Mellitus, the first bishop of London (see our earlier post on him here), St Mary Magdalene’s hair, the head of King Ethelbert and, importantly for the time, some pieces from the skull of St Thomas á Becket. Among the tombs inside the emerging church in 1215 were those of Sebba, King of the East Saxons, who had been buried in the north aisle in 695, and that of King Ethelred “The Unready”.
While the exterior was remodelled in the early 17th century – including the addition of a monumental new porch by architect Inigo Jones – the medieval building remained standing until the Great Fire of 1666.
PICTURE: Via Wikipedia
July 3, 2015
We’ve visited Rochester before but given it’s the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta we thought it would be good to take a more in-depth look at Rochester Castle and the events that took place there after the sealing of the “Great Charter”.
Rochester Castle was first built in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings as a Norman stronghold to control the Medway and the Roman road – Watling Street – which crossed it at that point. There was a Roman-era town on the site and it’s likely the first castle – surrounded by a deep ditch and featuring walls of earth topped with timber – was built within the town’s walls – possibly on the site of the existing castle.
Work on a stone castle was started in the late 1080s by Gundulf, the Bishop of Rochester (he also built the first Tower of London), and the castle precincts outer walls still largely follow the line of his original curtain walls. The keep was built by William de Corbeil, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was granted the castle by King Henry I in 1127. It remained in the custody of the archbishops until the events of 1215.
Following the sealing of the Magna Carta in May, relations between King John and the barons soured again into outright civil war with the castle declared for the rebels. In October and November, 1215, it was held for some seven weeks by a force of knights – accounts suggest between 95 and 140 – against the forces of King John. These eventually breached the south curtain wall and after the forces of the knights – who were led by William de Albini and Reginald de Cornhill – retreated to the keep, the king ordered his sappers to work.
The miners were successful in undermining the south-west tower which collapsed along with a large section of the keep (the fat of 40 pigs were apparently used to make sure the fire in the mine was hot enough). The defenders nonetheless kept fighting, retreating further into the remains of the keep, until they were eventually forced to surrender when faced with starvation. King John’s fury at their resistance was said to be great but while some of the defenders lost their hands and feet when they were apparently lopped off on his orders after surrendering, he was convinced to spare the holdouts from being hanged on the spot and merely had them imprisoned.
The tower was later rebuilt by King John’s long ruling son, King Henry III, and you can see its distinct round shape (in contrast with the earlier, square towers) when looking at the keep today. (Incidentally, King John’s siege was the castle’s second major siege – the first had taken place in 1088 when the forces of King William II (Rufus) had besieged the castle which was then held by the rebellious Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux, who was involved in an attempt to put William the Conqueror’s eldest son, Robert, Duke of Normandy, on the throne in place of William (who was the second son). Odo was forced to come to terms and exiled as a result of the siege).
In the hands of the Crown after King John’s siege, the castle was again the site of a siege in 1264 – this time unsuccessful when rebels under the command of Simon de Montfort failed to take it from those of King Henry III (although the garrison was later forced to surrender following events elsewhere).
It was rebuilt and repaired a number of times, including during the reigns of King Edward III and that of King Richard II (during whose reign it was also ransacked in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381). Other kings to visit it over the years included King Henry VII and King Henry VIII.
Already much deteriorated and neglected, in 1610, King James I gave the castle to Sir Anthony Weldon whose family sold off some of the timber and stone to local builders. It survived the Civil War without incident and was used as a public pleasure garden from the 1870s onward before, in 1884, it was sold to the City of Rochester. In 1965 responsibility for its care was given to the Ministry of Public Building and Works. Current managers, English Heritage, took over the site in 1984.
The castle remains an imposing site in Rochester and the outer walls of the keep remain intact even if it’s no more than a shell. Worth the climb to the top simply to take advantage of the spectacular views of the town and cathedral below!
WHERE: Rochester Castle, Rochester, Kent – nearest train station is Rochester (half a mile); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily (until 30th September); COST:£6.20 adults/£3.90 children (aged 5-15) and concessions (free for English Heritage members); WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/rochester-castle.
Bermondsey Abbey, which was more than 130-years-old by the time King John put his seal to the Magna Carta in 1215, has an unusual connection to the unpopular king – it is one of a number of buildings in London which has, at various times in history, been erroneously referred to as King John’s Palace.
This suggestion – that it was a palace which was later converted into an abbey – may have arisen from a site on the former abbey grounds being known at some point in its history as King John’s Court (that name was said to commemorate the fact that King John visited the abbey).
Putting how King John’s name came to be linked with the abbey aside, we’ll take a quick look at the history of the abbey which rose to become an important ecclesiastical institution in medieval times.
While there was a monastic institution in Bermondsey as far back as the early 8th century, the priory which was here during the reign of King John was founded in 1082, possibly on the site of the earlier institution, by a Londoner named as Aylwin Child(e), apparently a wealthy Saxon merchant who was granted the land by King William the Conqueror.
In 1089, the monastery – located about a mile back from the river between Southwark and Rotherhithe – became the Cluniac Priory of St Saviour, an order centred on the French abbey of Cluny, and was endowed by King William II (William Rufus) with the manor of Bermondsey.
It was “naturalised” – that is, became English – by the first English prior, Richard Dunton, in 1380, who paid a substantial fine for the process. It was elevated to the status of an abbey by Pope Boniface IX in 1399.
It had some important royal connections – King John’s father, King Henry II and his wife Queen Eleanor celebrated Christmas here in 1154 (their second child, the ill-fated Henry, the young King, was born here a couple of months later), and Queen Catherine (of Valois), wife of King Henry V, died here in 1437. It was also at Bermondsey Abbey that Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of King Edward IV and mother of the two “Princes in the Tower”, died in 1492 following her retirement from court.
The abbey, which grew to have an enormous income thanks to its acquisition of property in a range of counties, survived until the Dissolution when, in 1537, King Henry VIII closed its doors. It was later acquired by Sir Thomas Pope who demolished the abbey and built a mansion for himself on the site (and founded Trinity College in Oxford apparently using revenues from the property). We’ll deal more with its later history in an upcoming post.
The ruins of the abbey were extensively excavated in the past few decades and some of the remaining ruins of the abbey can still be seen buildings around Bermondsey Square and a blue plaque commemorating the abbey was unveiled in 2010. Bermondsey Street runs roughly along the line of the path which once led from the abbey gates to the Thames and the abbey had a dock there still commemorated as St Saviour’s Dock. The abbey’s name is commemorated in various streets around the area.
For more on the history of the Magna Carta, see David Starkey’s Magna Carta: The True Story Behind the Charter.
This week we’re starting a new series in honour of the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta in which we look back at the London of 1215. First up we take a look at the Tower of London which was a smaller version of the complex of buildings which today exists on the site.
By 1215, the Tower of London – the fortress first constructed on the orders of William the Conqueror – had already existed for more than 100 years, nestled into a corner of the city’s walls which had existed since Roman times.
Then, as now, the White Tower – initially itself known as the Tower of London, it was later dubbed the White Tower thanks to the whitewash used to cover the Kentish limestone to protect it from the weather (and for its visual impact) – stood at the heart of the complex. Unlike today’s building, it lacked the large windows which date from the early 18th century, and while the towers were believed to be capped with cones, the present cupolas date from the reign of King Henry VIII.
While it had long been surrounded by a palisade and ditch, in 1189, King Richard I’s chancellor William Longchamp, the Bishop of Ely, had begun to extend the castle’s defences while the king was on crusade (in fact, the first siege of the Tower took place in 1191 when the then Prince John did so in opposition to Longchamp’s regime – it only lasted three days before Longchamp surrendered).
This extension, which was completed by King John following his accession to the throne in 1199, saw the size of the bailey around the White Tower doubled and a new curtain wall and towers – including the Bell Tower – built around its outer perimeter with a ditch below (the ruins of the Wardrobe Tower, just to the east of the White Tower show where the original Roman-era wall ran).
But it wasn’t until the reign of King John’s son, King Henry III, that the royal palace which now stands on the river side of the White Tower was constructed. Until that point – and at the time of the signing of the Magna Carta – the royal apartments remained within the White Tower itself, located on the upper floor.
Like those of the garrison commander known as the constable (located on the entrance level), the king’s apartments would have consisted of a hall and a large chamber, which may have been divided into smaller chambers with wooden partitions as well as a chapel (on the upper level this was the still existing Chapel of St John the Evangelist, although it would have then been more more richly decorated). Unlike the lower levels, the king’s level was of double height with a gallery (this level now has its own full floor).
The royal apartments had a variety of uses – as well as a residence and refuge for the king, they were also at times a place to keep high profile prisoners such as the Bishop of Durham, Ranulf Flambard, who was imprisoned on the orders of King Henry I (and who escaped from an upper window on a rope which had been smuggled in to him and fled to Normandy).
It is also worth noting that while King John apparently kept exotic animals at the Tower, it is his son, King Henry III who is usually credited with founding the Royal Menagerie there.
And it was his son, King Edward I, who expanded the Tower to its current size of about 18 acres by rebuilding the western section of the inner ward and adding the outer ward.
WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £24.50 adults; £11 children under 15; £18.70 concessions; £60.70 for a family (discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.
July 18, 2014
Baynard’s Castle actually refers to two buildings – a Norman fortification demolished in the early 13th century and a later medieval palace located to the east of the original structure. This week we’re looking at the first of those buildings – the Norman fortification.
The first Baynard’s Castle was built in the late 11th century by Ralph Baynard (Baignard) and is believed to have replaced an earlier fortification at the site at the junction of the Thames and the Fleet rivers (the river now emerges into the Thames under Blackfriars Bridge).
Baynard (his name may be the origin of the name for Bayswater – Baynard’s Watering place – see our earlier post here), was the sheriff of Essex and a supporter of William the Conqueror.
The castle – which is said to have featured walls and parapets and which is generally said to have been on the waterfront (although some have said it was located inland) – remained in Baynard’s family until the reign of King Henry I when in 1111, his grandson William Baynard apparently forfeited his lands for supporting Henry’s eldest brother and would-be king, Robert Curthose.
It was later passed to the King’s steward Robert Fitz Richard, son of the Earl of Clare, and is known to have been inherited by his grandson, Robert Fitzwalter.
Fitzwalter, however, was a key opponent of King John and as early as 1212 he was in hot water for his part in a conspiracy against the king, although he stated it was because the king tried to seduce his daughter, Matilda the Fair. Either way, he escaped trial by heading to France and John seized the opportunity to raze the castle which he did on 14th January, 1213.
Fitzwalter was later forgiven under an amnesty and went on to play a leading role among the baronial opposition to Kong John – he was among 25 barons charged with enforcing the promises of the Magna Carta of 1215.
The name Baynard’s Castle is remembered in the London ward of Castle Baynard (pictured) which covers the area in which it once stood.
June 7, 2013
A relatively short-lived Norman fortification located on Ludgate Hill, this tower or ‘castle’ was probably built in the late 11th century and was one of several new fortress located in the city post 1066.
Believed to have been built by Gilbert de Monfichet – a relative of King William the Conqueror who hailed from Rouen (and is believed to have been connected with Monfichet family of Stansted Monfichet in Essex), the tower apparently comprised a stone keep on a motte surrounded by ditches. It was located on Ludgate Hill near the city wall, to the north of Carter Lane, on what was then the western edge of the walled city.
First appearing in documents in the 1130s, it was apparently strengthened during a revolt against King Henry II in 1173-1174 but was eventually demolished in the 13th century (some accounts suggest it was King John who ordered its demolition in 1213, after Gilbert’s successor Richard was banished).
The site was given to the Dominican priory of Blackfriars in 1275 (there’s a suggestion that the tower was already in ruins by 1278 meaning it must have been at least partially demolished some time prior). Apparently some of the masonry from the tower was used in the priory’s construction.
Excavations in the 1980s revealed the remains of a ‘V’ shaped defensive ditch – interpreted as one of three defensive ditches which protected the tower – and rubbish and cess pits – interpreted as standing within what was the tower’s bailey.
May 3, 2013
At roughly 56,000 hectares (about half of which is woodland), the New Forest National Park is the smallest national park in the UK. But it packs a lot into a small space and makes for great daytrip destination from London now that the sun (hopefully) is coming out.
The ‘Nova Foresta’, encompassing a coastal swathe of land located about 65 miles south-west of London, was first designated as a new hunting forest by William the Conqueror in 1079 – indeed, his won, King William II (William Rufus), died there in an apparent hunting accident in 110o (his death is marked by a memorial stone, just off the A31 near Stoney Cross, which tells the story although this is apparently not the site where he actually died).
Later a source of wood for the Royal Navy, the forest gained government protection with the passing of the New Forest Act in 1877. Most the of land is still owned by the Crown whose assets here have been managed by the Forestry Commission since 1923. The forest was designated a national park in 2005.
The journey from London takes about an hour and a half by train – Waterloo to the town of Brockenhurst (buses travel around the forest area including an open top tourist bus). While a car is useful if you want to visit several sites in a single day, traffic can get heavy, particularly if the sun is out.
A good place to start is the New Forest Visitor Centre, located in main town of Lyndhurst, which has plenty of information about the region (including a small museum) and on some terrific walks (included guided walks if you so desire).
A good short walk, starting only a couple of miles out of Lyndhurst, takes in the Knightwood Oak – reputed to be more than 600 year, it’s the largest oak in the forest and boasts a girth of more than 7.5 metres – and the Reptile Centre (inhabitants include adders, the only poisonous snake in the UK) and a walk through some stunning conifers.
One of the highlights of New Forest are the 3,000 free-roaming wild ponies – they can get rather friendly, particularly if you’re having a picnic, and you’re advised not to feed or touch them. They can be seen all over the forest including wandering through some of the villages.
Other attractions in the New Forest include the 26 miles of coastline from where you can get terrific views of the Isle of Wight across the Solent – the coastal village of Buckler’s Hard is also worth stopping by for its maritime history, and car buffs will love the Beaulieu National Motor Museum (complete with the remains of Beaulieu Abbey and the intact Palace House, built in the Abbey gatehouse and home to the Montagu family since 1538), located on land which once housed Beaulieu Abbey (really a day in itself).
There’s also plenty of outdoor activities you can take part in – everything from walking and cycling to horseriding to kayaking.
And if you do decide to stay overnight, there’s plenty of accommodation and the option of camping (designated places only) if you so wish.
For a novel about the forest and its history, check out Edward Rutherfurd’s The Forest.
July 9, 2012
Located at 20 Devereux Court, just off the Strand in the area of London known as Temple, The Devereux takes its name from Elizabethan Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex, whose mansion, Essex House, once occupied the site on which it stands.
Devereux, a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, inherited the mansion from his step-father, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, in 1588 (the house was originally called Leicester House). A spectacular fall from favor which culminated in an abortive coup, however, led to Devereux’s beheading in 1601 (interestingly, he was the last person to be executed inside the Tower of London – the tower where he is held was named after him).
Used by other members of Devereux’s family following his death, a plaque outside the pub explains that the property was sold to property developer, Nicholas Barbon (also noted as the founder of fire insurance), in 1674, and that he had it demolished soon after.
The present building is said to date from 1676 and was originally two houses. Soon after its construction, it became the premises of the famous Grecian Coffee House which had moved from Wapping Old Stairs.
Noted as a meeting place for prominent Whigs, it was also frequented by members of the Royal Society such as Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Hans Sloane and Dr Edmund Halley as well as writer, poet and politician Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, editor of The Tatler (who gave the coffee house as the magazine’s postal address).
The early 1840s, the premises was into lawyers’ chambers and then later into the public house which now occupies it.
There’s a bust of Essex on the facade beneath which is written the inscription, “Devereux Court, 1676”. The pub is these days part of the Taylor-Walker group. For more, see www.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub-food/devereux-temple/pid-C7177.
For a great book on London’s pubs, take a look at London’s Best Pubs: A Guide to London’s Most Interesting & Unusual Pubs.
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.
December 7, 2011
We’ve already touched on the history of St Mary-le-Bow in our earlier series on Sir Christopher Wren but thought it was worth revisiting in a bit more detail.
Another of Wren’s churches (after all, remember he designed more than 50 in the city), St Mary-le-Bow, on the corner of Cheapside and Bow Lane, has a history dating back at least to the Norman Conquest (although it is thought it may stand on the site of an earlier Saxon church) when it was constructed of Caen stone on the orders of Lanfranc, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, and was perhaps seen as a symbol of Norman oppression.
The name ‘le Bow’ is said to come from the Norman arches (it was apparently initially known as St Mary de Arcubus) which stand in what is now the crypt – this would have only been partially underground when built. From 1251, it hosted one of the church’s most important courts, which, thanks to its location, was known as the Court of the Arches. There is now a cafe in the crypt.
Like many other churches in the City, St Mary-le-Bow has been repeatedly repaired and rebuilt – following damage in a tornado in the late 11th century, the collapse of its tower in 1271, and, of course, the Great Fire of London in 1666 – Wren’s subsequent rebuilding included the construction of the fine great tower (pictured here against the backdrop of more modern City buildings, it was his second tallest structure after St Paul’s and was built to accommodate the Bow bells ). The church’s most recent remodelling was in 1964 after it was almost completely destroyed during bombing in May, 1941.
One of the church’s most important claims to fame is its bells. These included the city’s principal curfew bell, rung at 9pm each day since at least as far back as 1363. It is said that ‘true Londoners’ or ‘Cockneys’ must be born within hearing of the Bow bells and it was the pealing of the Bow bells (or what may have only been one bell at the time) which, of course, caused thrice-mayor Dick Whittington to turn back when leaving London. The church (in particular, its curfew bell) is also among a number of City churches mentioned in various versions of the rhyming song, Oranges and Lemons.
Features inside include a memorial to the first British Governor of New South Wales in Australia, Admiral Arthur Phillip, who was born nearby, and a bronze relief of St George and the Dragon given by Norway in commemoration of the work of the Norwegian Resistance during World War II. The churchyard outside contains a statue of Captain John Smith, founder of Virginia, and former parishioner.
For an indepth history of the church, you can’t go past the rather comprehensive St Mary-le-Bow: A History.
WHERE: Cheapside (nearest Tube station is St Paul’s). WHEN: 7.30am to 6pm Monday to Wednesday (closes 6.30pm Thursday and 4pm Friday and not usually open on weekends or bank holidays); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.stmarylebow.co.uk.
July 8, 2011
It’s one of London’s most famous landmarks and, having just undergone a three year, £2 million restoration, we thought it was time to take a look at the origins of the White Tower.
Now the keep of the Tower of London, the White Tower was first built by the Norman King William the Conqueror following his defeat of Saxon King Harold Godwinson and the cream of the Saxon army at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Following his coronation at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, King William then withdrew to Barking Abbey while his men built several temporary strongholds in the city to ensure it wouldn’t cause any trouble – this included an earth and timber keep standing on an artificial mound in the south-east corner of the city’s Roman-era walls.
The White Tower, a permanent structure, replaced this and although the exact date its construction started is unknown, building – under the watchful eye of Gundulf, the Bishop of Rochester, was well underway by the mid-1070s. While the labourers were English, the masons in charge of the building were Norman and then even used some Caen stone imported from William’s homeland (along with Kentish ragstone). By 1097 the tower was complete.
Primarily built as a fortress rather than for comfort, the size of the Tower was intimidating and, at 27.5 metres tall, it would have dominated the skyline for miles. Initial defences surrounding the White Tower included the Roman walls and two ditches although in later years outer walls were added to create the massive fortifications and series of towers one encounters at the site today.
The tower earned its moniker, the White Tower, from the whitewash used on its walls during the reign of King Henry II. The caps on the four turrets which stand at each corner of the tower were originally conical but were replaced with the current onion-shaped domes in the 1500s (the round tower was once home to the Royal Observatory before it moved out to Greenwich). The White Tower’s large external windows are also more modern innovations, these were added in the 1600s by Sir Christopher Wren.
The original entrance to the White Tower was on the first floor, reached by a wooden staircase (that could be removed if necessary), much as it is today while, for security reasons, the internal stone spiral staircase was placed as far from this entry as possible in the north-east turret. A stone forebuilding was later added during the reign of King Henry II but was later demolished.
Inside, accommodation for the king was provided on the second floor – it originally had a gallery above but an extra floor – still there today – was later added. Accommodation for the Tower’s constable was probably on the first floor. Both floors were divided in two – with a large hall on one side and smaller apartments on the other. These rooms now house displays on the Tower’s history – at the present these include the Royal Armouries’ exhibition ‘Power House’.
The White Tower is also home to the Chapel of St John the Evangelist which, made from Caen stone, still looks much the same as it did in Norman times. It was used by the royal family when in residence at the tower but by the reign of King Charles II had become a store for state records. These were removed in 1857. Among some of the events which took place here was the lying in state of Queen Elizabeth of York, wife to King Henry VII, after her death in 1503, and the betrothal of Queen Mary I to Philip of Spain in 1554 (by proxy, Philip was not present). Prince Charles received communion here on his 21st birthday.
Other historic events associated with the White Tower include the apparent murder in 1483 of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ – King Edward V and his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York – while legend says they were killed in the Bloody Tower, the discovery of two skeletons under stairs leading to the chapel during building works in 1674 has led some to believe that they may have been buried here.
It was also in the White Tower that King Richard II was forced to sign away his throne to King Henry IV in 1399 and it was from the White Tower that Gruffydd ap Llywelyn Fawr, the illegitimate son of Welsh Prince Llywelyn the Great, apparently fell to his death while attempting to escape captivity in 1244.
There are tours of the White Tower daily at 10.45am, 12.45pm, and 2.15pm.
WHERE: Tower of London (nearest tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Sunday to Monday (until 31st October); COST: Included in Tower of London admission – £19.80 adults; £10.45 children under 15; £17.05 concessions; £55 for a family (prices include a voluntary donation); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.
Around London – See museums after hours; the White Tower is white again; and, foundation stone for Bomber Command is laid…
May 12, 2011
• The annual Museums at Night event returns to London (and Britain) this weekend with hundreds of museums and galleries across the country opening their doors for special after hours events. Among those places in London taking part is the Churchill War Rooms, which is hosting a 1940s evening on Friday night, the London Canal Museum which is hosting”candle-lit tours, atmospheric lighting, and exhibits of art and film in dark places”, and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology which is hosting a double hill of Hammer films and a “Gothic Egypt” trail. Other institutions taking part include the Sir John Soane Museum, the National Gallery, the Bank of England Museum, and Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham. For more information about what’s on see www.museumsatnight.org.uk
• King William the Conqueror celebrated at the Tower of London this week following the completion of a £2 million, three year project to clean the White Tower. First built shortly after the Norman Conquest of 1066, the tower had become blackened by pollution but has now been restored to its original color. For more information on visiting the Tower, see www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.
• A foundation stone has reportedly been laid for a Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park. The memorial, which is due to be completed for the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations in 2012, will be constructed of Portland stone and will feature a nine foot tall statue of a bomber command aircrew. Bomber Command lost more than 55,000 airmen during World War II. The foundation stone was laid by the Duke of Gloucester. Supporters of the monument’s construction have included former Bee Gee Robin Gibb, Sir Michael Beetham, Marshal of the RAF, and The Daily Telegraph newspaper which is running an appeal to help raise funds for the memorial.
December 13, 2010
The oldest intact building in London is generally believed to be the White Tower, which stands in the heart of the Tower of London.
Construction on the White Tower (which stands to the right in the picture) was started on the orders of William the Conqueror some time prior to 1070 and was completed by 1100. The newly appointed Bishop of Rochester, Gundulf, was placed in charge of the project which used stone imported from Normandy (much of this was replaced in later centuries).
Built as a towering stronghold and fortress for the English kings, the walls of the tower at 15 feet (4.5 metres) thick and 90 feet (27 metres) high. It was later enclosed by a curtain wall and moat, taking the shape of the Tower of London as we now know it by about 1350.
The White Tower, also known as the Great Tower, has been the scene of many dramatic events in British history – from the deposition of Richard II in 1399 to the disappearance (and possible murder) or the Princes in the Tower – Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York, around 1483 (two skeletons, which some believed to be theirs, were unearthed here in 1674).
The White Tower, which is now part of a World Heritage Site, contains the splendid 11th century Chapel of St John the Evangelist. While three of the turrets at the corners of the tower are square, the fourth – the north-east turret, is round and once contained the first royal observatory.
The onion-shaped domes and weathervanes on the turrets were added in the 1520s.
These days the tower contains an exhibition of royal armour – including that worn by King Henry VIII – as well as exhibits on the tower’s history.
WHERE: Tower of London (nearest tube station is Tower Hill); WHEN: Tuesday to Saturday 9am to 4.30pm; Sunday to Monday 10pm to 4.30pm (closing times are 5.30pm between March and October); COST £18.70 an adult/£15.95 concessions/£10.45 a child (children under five free)/£51.70 for a family of two adults and up to six children; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/
PICTURE: Stephen Pond/Historic Royal Palaces