London Explained – Livery companies…

The City of London is dotted with halls for the city’s livery companies. But ever wondered what they are?

There are 110 livery companies in the City, representing ancient and more modern trade associations and guilds, including everything from grocers to saddlers, ironmongers to musicians. The newest livery company is the Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars which was created in 2014.

Members of livery companies taking part in the Lord Mayor’s Show. PICTURE: David Adams

Many of today’s livery companies have their origins in the city’s medieval guilds which were responsible for such things as regulating wages and conditions and setting industry standards (while many of these responsibilities have since passed to other bodies, some – such as the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers and the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths – still play important roles in quality control).

These days the companies are also known for their support of the industries they represent and their philanthropic work.

Livery companies – many of which also traditionally had religious links – built halls as central meeting places – about 40 companies today still own or have a share in a hall.

Members of the livery companies (known as liverymen after the distinctive clothing or uniform they wore) – who are awarded the Freedom of the City of London – have the right to vote for senior offices in the City such as the Lord Mayor of London and sheriffs.

The livery companies of the City of London are listed in an “order of precedence” which was settled in 1515 for the 48 then in existence based on their political and economic power (the Worshipful Company of Mercers comes in at number one). All the companies created since then are ranked according to their date of creation.

Hall of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers. PICTURE: David Adams

The 12 highest ranked companies are known as the Twelve Great City Livery Companies. Among them in the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors which disputes its position at number seven and so once a year at Easter swaps places with the Worshipful Company of Skinners at number six.

The oldest livery company is said to be the Worshipful Company of Weavers while the oldest livery company hall is that of the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries.

London Explained – Mudlarks…

Modern mudlarks at Queenhithe on the River Thames. PICTURE: Geoff Henson (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

Spotted along the Thames foreshore when the tide is low, the term ‘mudlark’ is used to describe someone who scavenges for lost or discarded objects in the mud along the Thames river banks.

In the 18th and 19th century, mudlarks were among London’s poorest who eked out a living by selling items – lumps of coal, pieces of rope, precious metals – found on the river’s banks. They were often the young or the elderly and the working conditions, which included navigating through the raw sewage and other noxious waste which ended up on the foreshore, were horrendous.

Victorian journalist Henry Mayhew, who writes in his seminal and expansive series of reports – London Labour and the London Poor – described how mudlarks were so-named because of their need at times to wade up to their waists in mud to retrieve items.

By the 20th century, the practice appears to have somewhat died out. But in more recent years, the term mudlark has been applied to hobbyists, including those using metal detectors, to search along the Thames foreshore during the hours when the tides allow. Since the mid-1970s, The Society of Thames Mudlarks has provided some organisational structure for those involved but membership in this body is limited.

A permit from the Port of London Authority is required for modern mudlarking. As the authority’s website states: “Anyone searching the tidal Thames foreshore from Teddington to the Thames Barrier – in any way for any reason – must hold a current and relevant foreshore permit from the Port of London Authority. This includes all searching, metal detecting, ‘beachcombing’, scraping and digging”.

Finds of potential archaeological interest must be reported to the Museum of London (and human remains, of course, to police). Mudlarks are also encourage to report finds to the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Mudlark finds. PICTURE: Neil Cummings (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Objects found include everything from clay pipes, bits of pottery, buttons, bones and pins through to more precious items such as coins, rings and even daggers and swords.

Lara Maiklem, author of the 2019 book Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames, is among the most well-known of the modern mudlarks. As detailed in his book, her finds have included everything from a Roman amphora stopper to medieval roof tiles, a bearded man from a late 16th century Bellarmine jug and an 18th century shoe pattern.

London Explained – Royal residences…

There are numerous royal palaces in London but which are royal residences?

Buckingham Palace. PICTURE: Sung Shin/Unsplash

Foremost is Buckingham Palace, the official residence and office of the monarch – Queen Elizabeth II – in London. The palace – acquired for the Crown by King George III in 1761, converted to a palace by King George IV and first lived in by Queen Victoria – is also used for State ceremonies and for official entertaining.

Clarence House. PICTURE: ChrisO (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Other royal residences include Clarence House which is the official London residence of Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

The property was built between 1825 and 1827 to the designs of John Nash for Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence (hence the name).

It was the home of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, between 1953 and her death in 2002, and was also temporarily the home of the then-Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip following their marriage in 1947.

St James’s Palace. PALACE: Elisa.rolle (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

St James’s Palace, which was largely built by King Henry VIII and served as the residence of numerous monarchs until King William IV, also remains the home of several members of the Royal Family – including Princess Anne and Princess Alexandra – and their household offices.

The State Apartments are sometimes used for entertaining during in-coming State Visits, as well as for other ceremonial and formal occasions. Its history means diplomats are still accredited to the Court of St James.

Kensington Palace. PICTURE: Pranav Thombare/Unsplash.

Kensington Palace – childhood home of Queen Victoria and favoured residence of monarchs from King William III to King George II – is these days the official London residence of Prince William and Katherine, the Duchess of Cambridge.

It also contains the London residences and offices of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.

While Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, Kew Palace and the remnant of the Palace of Whitehall known as the Banqueting House are all royal palaces, they ceased being used regularly for royal court purposes in the 18th century and are now in the care of Historic Royal Palaces (along with parts of Kensington Palace).

London Explained – The DLR…

The DLR at Pontoon Dock. PICTURE: Robert Pittman (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

The DLR, or Docklands Light Rail, is a driverless train network connected to the Tube system.

The DLR, which is located at the eastern end of the city, connects to the Tube network at numerous stations including Bank, Tower Gateway and Canary Wharf. It reaches as far south as Lewisham, east to Beckton and Woolwich Arsenal and north to Stratford International.

The 24 mile-long network, which first opened on 31st August 1987 and has since been extended numerous times, has 45 stations. It also provides connections to the Emirates Air Line and London City Airport.

The DLR trains run from around 5.30am to around 12.30am from Monday to Saturday with Sunday services starting later and finishing earlier.

The fares are the same as the Tube and you can use Oyster cards.

In the 2019/2020, the line hosted more than 115 million passenger journeys.

For a route map, head to https://content.tfl.gov.uk/dlr-route-map.pdf

London Explained – Historic Royal Palaces…

The Tower of London is one of the palaces under the care of Historic Royal Palaces. PICTURE: Nick Fewings/Unsplash

Visitors to several of London’s landmark royal properties will across an organisation known as Historic Royal Palaces.

HRP, as its sometimes shortened to, is a self-funding charity charged with the management of palaces which are owned by the Crown (technically by Queen Elizabeth II ‘in Right of Crown’ meaning she holds them in trust for the next monarch and by law cannot sell or lease them). The palaces are generally no longer used as royal residences.

These include the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and the Banqueting House (once part of the Palace of Whitehall). Buckingham Palace, which remains the official London residence of Queen Elizabeth II and a working royal palace, is not one of them nor is St James’s Palace, home to several members of the Royal Family and their households.

All five of the properties in London which are under the care of Historic Royal Palaces ceased being regularly used by the Royal Court in the 19th century and were opened up to the public. The government became responsible for their care under the Crown Lands Act 1851.

In 1989, the government established Historic Royal Palaces as part of the Department of the Environment to oversee care of the five palaces. Six years later it became part of the Department of National Heritage (now known as the Department for Culture, Media & Sport).

In April, 1998, Historic Royal Palaces became an independent charity by Royal Charter. It is governed by a board of trustees who include the director of the Royal Collection Trust and the Keeper of the Privy Purse from the Royal Household as well as the Constable of the Tower of London.

Historic Royal Palaces now oversees management of the palaces under a contract with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport (as well as the five London properties, since 2014, it has also been responsible for the care of Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland).

Perhaps the most well-known faces of Historic Royal Palaces are joint curators – Tudor historian Tracy Borman, and architectural and social historian Lucy Worsley.

HRP collects revenues through entries to the palaces but also offer an annual membership through which you can have unlimited entry.

For more, head to www.hrp.org.uk.

London Explained – Pearly Kings and Queens…

Pearly Kings and Queens at a Harvest celebration outside Guildhall in September, 2014. PICTURE: Maureen Barlin (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Often simply called ‘Pearlies’, Pearly Kings and Queens are easily identified through their tradition of wearing clothes decorated with mother-of-pearl buttons.

The habit of wearing clothes decorated with mother-of-pearl buttons was adopted by London’s costermongers (street vendors) in the 19th century. The costermongers had a tradition of helping each other out during tough times and costermongers later elected “Coster Kings” to organise and represent them.

It was this tradition that street sweeper Henry Croft, who was raised in a workhouse orphanage in Somers Town, north-west of the City of London, is said to have drawn on when he created a suit completely covered in mother-of-pearl buttons in a bid to help his efforts to raise funds for the orphanage he grew up in (although some say he was inspired by the costumes of music hall ‘coster-singers’ who entertained crowds in music halls with cockney songs).

Such was Croft’s success at raising funds that hospitals and other charities subsequently asked him to fundraise on their behalf as well. The work soon grew beyond what Croft, who is often referred to as the first ‘Pearly King’, could personally handle and so many costermongers and others joined in his efforts giving birth to the broader movement.

By the early 20th century there were 28 ‘Pearly families’ in London, one for each borough. Pearly titles are pass down through families, a tradition which continues to this day (although there have been cases of Pearly families leaving their title behind as they left London which case it it awarded to someone new). There are a number of “pearly” organisations in London these days which engage in a range of charitable activities.

It’s also worth noting that the symbols, patterns and images on the pearly costumes have various meanings – a heart, for example, means charity. One of the key events the Pearlies take part in each year are Harvest festivals.

London Explained – The Lord Mayor of London…

Not to be confused with the Mayor of London (a position currently held by Sadiq Khan, the Mayor is the head of the Greater London Authority – more on that in a later post), the Lord Mayor of London serves as the head of the City of London Corporation which governs the Square Mile.

Lord Mayor of London William Russell in February, 2020. PICTURE: Bank of England (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/image cropped)

The Lord Mayor of London is generally elected annually (last year was an exception due to the coronavirus pandemic) by members of the City’s livery companies who are summoned by the previous Mayor to meet at at Guildhall on Michaelmas Day (29th September) or on the closest weekday

The Lord Mayor is subsequently sworn into office in November in an event known as the ‘Silent Ceremony’ because, aside from a short declaration from the incoming mayor, no speeches are made. The following day, the Lord Mayor participates in a procession from the City of London to the Royal Courts of Justice in the City of Westminster, where they swear allegiance to the Crown. The event is known as the Lord Mayor’s Show (this year it’s being held on 13th November).

Lord Mayors must be one of the City of London’s 25 alderman (elected to represent the City’s wards) and must first served as one of the City’s two sheriffs prior to taking on the position – the sheriffs support the Lord Mayor in their role as advisors. They also host dinners for visiting dignitaries, accompany the Lord Mayor in their business travels and look after the judges at the Old Bailey.

The first Lord Mayor is said to have been Henry FitzAilwin, who served between 1189 and 1212. The current Lord Mayor, William Russell, is the 692nd to hold the post. Until 1354, the title was simply Mayor of London.

The role of the Lord Mayor these days is to serve as an international ambassador for the UK’s financial and professional services sector.

The official residence of the Lord Mayor is called the Mansion House. It is used for some of the City’s official events.

London Explained – The West End…

Piccadilly Circus lies at the heart of London’s West End. PICTURE: Sheep purple (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

This term is used to describe what was traditionally the western end of London as it developed beyond the City of London boundaries and has since became a word synonymous with the city’s theatre district.

The term’s origins are lost to history although it’s said it first started being used in earnest to describe fashionable areas to the west of Charing Cross in the late 17th or early 18th centuries. The term as it’s used today covers an area which contains the commercial and entertainment heart of London.

While the eastern boundary of the West End can be easily defined as where the City of London ends (Temple Bar on the Strand marks the City of London’s boundaries), thanks to its not being a formally designated geographic area, exactly where the West End finishes is a matter of considerable debate.

While the some see the West End only including Theatreland itself – an area stretching from Aldwych across to Piccadilly Circus and north from Trafalgar Square to Oxford Circus, others have adapted a broader definition which sees include not only Aldwych, Soho and Covent Garden but also Mayfair, Fitzrovia and Marylebone with Oxford Circus at the centre (some even go further and include districts such as Bloomsbury and Knightsbridge in their definition of the West End).

London Explained – The Royal Parks…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London Explained – The Square Mile…

Office towers in the City of London, known as the Square Mile (as pictured in April, 2021). PICTURE: sunnie

Commonly used as an alternative for the City of London, the term ‘Square Mile’ comes from the amount of land in the heart of the city which is under the jurisdiction of the City of London Corporation.

The City (with a capital ‘c’, it’s another commonly used term for the City of London) contains the core of the ancient city which has stood here since Roman times and is still the financial centre of the city. While called the ‘Square Mile’, it actually encompasses 1.12 square miles (equivalent to 716.80 acres or 2.90 square kilometres).

While the City has been roughly that size since medieval times (the City has long included land both within the medieval city walls as well as some without), the term ‘Square Mile’ is understood to have been a relatively recent invention, created in the Victorian era.

It’s interesting to note that the Square Mile was slightly smaller – just 1.05 square miles – up until the mid-1990s when some boundary changes increased it to its current size.

Below is a map showing the outline of the ‘Square Mile’ today…

London Explained – Beefeaters…

A nickname for the Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London, its origins are somewhat obscure but apparently related to a penchant for beef and was presumably meant as an insult (hence they prefer being called by their proper title). It was apparently first used of the English population in general and is said to have first been applied to the Yeoman Warders in the second half of the 17th century.

A Yeoman Warder in everyday “undress” uniform. PICTURE: PRA (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0/image cropped)

The Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London (not to be confused with the Yeomen Warders of The Guard, the Sovereign’s Bodyguard, who are also referred to as “beefeaters”), are charged with guarding of the Tower of London and its contents including the prisoners of state who were formerly held within its walls (the last was during World War II).

With a history dating back to the reign of King Henry VII and first present at the Tower during the reign of King Henry VIII, they were made extraordinary members of the Sovereign’s Bodyguard during the reign of King Edward VI in 1552 (meaning they wear scarlet livery and carry partizans on state occasions).

The Chief Yeoman Warder is their commander and second-in-command is a Yeomen Gaoler (who still carries an axe on state occasions). There are also three Sergeant Yeoman and a Yeoman Ravenmaster. A Yeoman Warder (along with a detachment of soldiers) carries out the Ceremony of the Keys every night – formally locking the Tower.

These days (drawing on innovations introduced by the Duke of Wellington when he was Constable of the Tower between 1826 and 1852), the Yeoman Warders must be warrant officers who have served at least 22 years (and have been awarded the long service and good conduct medal) in the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Marines.

The Yeoman Warders – and there were 38 (although we’re not sure how cutbacks due to COVID may affect this) – live within the Tower under the authority of the Resident Governor. They wear the red state dress uniform on state occasions and a dark blue “undress” uniform for everyday use. Moira Cameron became the first female Yeoman Warder in 2007.

As well as carrying out state duties, since Victorian times the Yeoman Warders have conducted towers of the Tower and assisted visitors with their inquiries.

London Explained – The Tube…

Commonly used as a nickname to describe the London Underground, the “Tube” is an obvious reference to shape of the tunnels themselves.

Construction of the Tube at Mile End (c1946). PICTURE: The National Archives UK (London Transport Museum © Transport for London)

The word is believed to have been first popularised around 1890. Underground lines had previously been constructed using the ‘cut and cover’ method – that is, digging out the trench for the Underground line, lining the tunnel with iron and them covering it.

Thanks to its depth (due to the fact it had to pass under the Thames), City and South London Railway’s line from King William Street (a now disused station) to Stockwell was the first to be created by boring a tunnel through the earth and then lining it to create a tube. The line, a forerunner of what is now the Northern Line, opened in December, 1890. It was the first true ‘tube’ of the Underground system.

The construction of the line was followed in 1900 by the opening of the Central London Railway’s line from Shepherd’s Bush to Bank (now part of the Central Line) which was given the nickname the “Twopenny Tube”.

The name stayed and was soon applied to the entire network of Underground lines (and interestingly, it wasn’t until 1908 that the word “Underground” first appeared in stations).