Yes, London has an officially dated oldest door. In fact, it’s the oldest door in Britain.

The door is located in Westminster Abbey and is believed to date from the time of King Edward the Confessor, who founded the abbey which was inaugurated in 1065.

Made of five vertical oak planks – all cut from the same tree, most likely felled on abbey lands, possibly in Essex – and held in place by three horizontal iron straps, it opens from the Abbey Cloisters into the octagonal Chapter House’s outer vestibule. In 2005 it was dated, using ring-patterns in the wood, to around 1050.

The door now stands six-and-a-half feet high and four foot wide but it has been cut down. It’s believed the original door was nine foot high and slightly wider.

It’s thought to be probable that both faces were originally covered with animal hide (the iron straps are, unusually recessed into the wood on both sides to enable this, and were covered with decorative iron straps and hinges – only one of decorative straps remains today).

The door may have originally served as the door to the chapter house built for Edward the Confessor’s abbey. It is believed to have been moved into its current location in about 1250 when King Henry III’s Chapter House was built as part of extravagant reconstruction of the abbey.

WHERE: Westminster Abbey (nearest Tube stations are Westminster and St James’s Park); WHEN: Times vary – see the website for details; COST: £23 adults/£20 concession/£10 children (discounts for buying online; family rates available); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org

PICTURE: Pjposullivan1 (licensed under CC- BY-SA 2.0)

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One of the key contenders for the oldest school in London must be St Paul’s Cathedral School, originally established in the 12th century to cater for the education of choristers attending St Paul’s Cathedral (although there had apparently been a school associated with the cathedral since the 7th century).

The school, which has been described as one of the oldest educational institutions in the Western world, dates its establishment to about 1123 and started with just eight boys who were given a home and education in exchange for singing in the cathedral.

The school gradually became two separate institutions – a choir school and a grammar school – with the choristers graduating from the choir school to finish their education at the grammar school.

But in 1511, the grammar school was refounded by Dean John Colet as Saint Paul’s School. It’s now located in Barnes.

The former choristers school, now known as the St Paul’s Cathedral School, became known more for its acting in the 16th and early 17th centuries when the children performed regularly for Queen Elizabeth I at Greenwich Palace.

The original school building, which stood in St Paul’s Churchyard, was destroyed in the fire of 1666.

In 1874, the school was re-established in Carter Lane. It moved to its present location in New Change in the 1960s.

While now independent of the cathedral, the establishment now offers a preparatory school for boys and girls aged four to 13 and a residential choir school for the boy choristers of St Paul’s Cathedral. New boarding accommodation is expected to open on the site next year.

PICTURE: The concrete buildings of St Paul’s Cathedral School on the right with the surviving tower of St Augustine’s Church, Watling Street, and St Paul’s Cathedral behind (Google Maps)

The oldest existing French patisserie in London is said to be Maison Bertaux, based in Greek Street in Soho. 

The premises, where you can still indulge in delights including eclairs, croissants and delectable fruit tarts, was founded in 1871 by one Monsieur Bertaux, apparently a French communard from Paris.

It lies at the heart of what was then the city’s French community and located at number 28, stands next door to another Soho landmark, the Coach and Horses pub.

Bertaux apparently ran the business until 1909 and it’s since passed through a number of hands with current owners, sisters Michele and Tania Wade, reported as having taken over in 1988.

Famous patrons have reportedly included writers Virginia Woolf and Karl Marx,  actors Steve McQueen and Nicole Kidman, artist Grayson Perry and musician Bob Geldof. The patisserie also famously made Lily Allen’s wedding cake and hosted the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s 25th birthday party.

Bastille Day celebrations are, of course, a highlight of the year.

For more, see www.maisonbertaux.com.

PICTURE: Google Maps.


Given the heat, we thought it was a good idea to take a look at where London’s oldest public swimming pool can be found. There’s a couple of contenders but it’s the 
Dulwich Public Baths (now known as the Dulwich Leisure Centre) which we think take the title as the oldest public baths still in use.

Located in Dulwich in the city’s south, the baths opened on 25th June, 1892, and was the first of seven designed by Spalding & Cross. There were two pools for most of the bath’s history but one was covered in the early 1980s and now serves as the main gym area.

The baths were closed and used for as a hospital and refugee housing in World War I and the water in the pools were used to put out fires caused by air raid damage in World War II. The baths have also hosted dances and various sports events over the years.

The pools have been refurbished a couple of times, most recently having undergone a five year redevelopment ahead of its reopening in June, 2011.

The Grade II-listed baths located in Crystal Palace Road were opened just a couple of months before the Camberwell Public Baths, which were also designed by Spalding & Cross, opened on 1st October of the same year (again, one of the two original pools there has now been boarded over).

PICTURE: Top – Dr Neil Clifton (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0); Below –  (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

London’s oldest chophouse, Simpson’s, can be found in the City of London, just off Cornhill, and dates from the mid-18th century.

Thomas Simpson had opened his first ‘Fish Ordinary Restaurant’ in Bell Alley, Billingsgate, in 1723, catering to a clientele made up largely of those working at the Billingsgate (Fish) Market.

When that was demolished, he retired briefly before purchasing the Queen’s Arms in Bird in Hand Court off Cheapside.

Located in Ball Court Alley, Simpson opened the current establishment in 1757 (although the Grade II-listed building itself dates from the late 1600s or possibly early 1700s). It was a gift from his father.

Customs at the restaurant included having meals were presided over a chairman who would ensure lunch started promptly as one (their job also included introducing notable guests and measuring the cheese – a task related to a tradition of placing bets on the height, weight and girth of the cheese).

Seating is arranged in stalls and the layout is apparently consistent with that of the 19th century (although some things, thankfully, have changed – ladies were finally admitted in 1916).

For more, see www.simpsonstavern.co.uk.

PICTURES: Elisa.rolle (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Savoy Theatre, located next to the Savoy Hotel just off the Strand in the West End, was the first public building in London to feature electric lighting.

Built to the designs of CJ Phipps and decorated by Collinson and Locke, its construction was instigated and financed by Richard D’Oyly Carte with the specific intention of hosting WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan‘s operas.

Opening on 10th October, 1881, the first show at the new premises was Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, which had been previously playing at the Opera Comique. It continued to solely show Gilbert and Sullivan’s works until 1886 when a falling out led to the end of the partnership between Gilbert and Sullivan.

The theatre subsequently hosted comedic operas by other composers as well as productions of Shakespeare (Henry Irving was among those who trod the boards here in the early 20th century).

It was rebuilt in just 135 days in 1929 and the new premises featured an exterior designed by Frank Tugwell and interior designed by Art Deco expert Basil Ionides.

A fire caused considerable damage in 1990 after which the theatre was again renovated, this time under the guidance of the theatre’s then chairman Sir Hugh Wontner and architect Sir William Whitfield, with the public areas returned to how they had looked under Tugwell and Ionides’ scheme from the 1920s. It reopened in July, 1993, with a Royal Gala performance by the English National Ballet (Diana, Princess of Wales, was among those in attendance).

Now owned by the The Ambassador Theatre Group, the Savoy these days it shows a range of different productions. It’s currently hosting Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5: The Musical. For more, see www.thesavoytheatre.com.

PICTURES: Above – Neon sign for The Savoy Theatre advertising a previous production with the hotel and theatre entrance (Loren Javier/image cropped/licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0); The Savoy Theatre with a Westminster City Council Green Plaque commemorating it being the first public building with electric lighting in London (David Adams).

The next two on our countdown of most popular (new) posts for 2018…

8. 10 islands in the Thames – 1. Chiswick Eyot…

7. Where’s London’s oldest…umbrella shop?

The ice skating season is upon us so we thought it timely to take a look at where the oldest rink is located.

QUEENS: Skate, Dine, Bowl at 17 Queensway in Bayswater houses what’s generally said to be the oldest surviving ice skating rink in London, having opened its doors as QUEENS Ice Club on 3rd October, 1930.

It was the work of architect and entrepreneur Alfred Octavius Edwards who apparently had a passion for ice skating.

It was apparently the first rink used by the BBC for televised ice skating and a number of world and Olympic champions have skated here.

The establishment underwent a revamp a couple of years ago (although bowling lanes were added as far back as 1994) and now features a wide range of amenities including, as well as the ice rink, bowling lanes, a vintage games arcade and bars and a diner. For more on Queens, see https://queens.london.

Ice-skating. PICTURE: rawpixel/Unsplash

 

London’s oldest bus route is commonly cited as Route 24 which runs over seven miles from Hampstead to Pimlico.

The route was first launched in 1910 but initially stopped at Victoria Station. It was extended to Pimlico just two years later in 1912 and has largely unchanged ever since (apparently with the exception of some minor adjustments due to one-way traffic schemes).

The route, which operates 24 hours a day, does take in some key landmarks of London – among them Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards Parade and Parliament Square. In 2013, Transport for London, said some 28,000 people used the route each day.

In 1965, the double-decker buses on the route – which have always been powered by motors rather than horses – became the first to have front entry. In 1988, it became the first route through central London to be privatised when purchased by Grey-Green (the line is now operated by Metroline).

Mostly recently, in 2013, it became the first route to fully implement the curvaceous new ‘Routemasters’ (while they’ve commonly been called that, the new buses are actually just called the ‘new bus for London’).

PICTURE: One of the new buses on the route in 2014 (Aubrey Morandarte (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0))

 

The ‘Fish House’ at ZSL London Zoo in The Regent’s Park opened to the public in May, 1853, and featured large plate glass tanks through which visitors could see life under the water.

Claimed to be not just London’s but the world’s first aquarium, it owed its origins to the development of techniques which enabled sea life to be kept in a tank, including the realisation that plants could rebalance the water’s make-up by dealing with the carbolic acid produced by fish when they absorbed oxygen from the water.

The council of Zoological Society of London had agreed on 18th February, 1852, to build the facility, initially described as an ‘Aquatic Vivarium’ (the original term used to describe a fish tank). But it was soon after it was opened that renowned Victorian marine biologist Philip Henry Gosse first coined the term ‘aquarium’, a truncation of the phrase.

Some of the first specimens exhibited in the Fish House – described as “a small collection of the Zoophytes and Annelides” – were actually brought by Gosse from Ilfracombe to London and became the “nucleus” of a collection which, when it was opened, included some 300 marine species.

Increasing demand to see underwater life saw the current three-halled Aquarium built on a different site – under the Mappin Terraces – in 1921. It was opened by King George V and his wife Queen Mary in April 1924.

Water for the saltwater section was apparently originally taken from the Bay of Biscay and delivered on barges via Regent’s Canal to the zoo. The barges were later replaced with road tankers which brought the water from the North Sea.

Species in the Aquarium these days include the tomato clownfish, the red piranha, Banggai cardinal fish, seahorses and the Amazon giant river turtle.

WHERE: The Aquarium, ZSL London Zoo, Regent’s Park (nearest Tube stations are Camden Town and Regent’s Park); WHEN: (Zoo entry) 10am to 5.30pm (last entry 4.30pm) everyday until 19th October; COST: Various (check the website for details); WEBSITE: www.zsl.org/zsl-london-zoo/exhibits/aquarium.

PICTURES: The former Fish House (Courtesy ZSL London Zoo/© ZSL London Zoo).

To be held from 4pm today on the River Thames, Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race is a London institution. The race originated in 1715, and sees up to six apprentice watermen (this year there are two – Alfie Anderson and George McCarthy – rowing the four mile, seven furlong course stretching from London Bridge upriver to Cadogan Pier in Chelsea (these days under 11 bridges) as they compete for the prize of a coat and badge (pictured above). The race came about thanks to Thomas Doggett, a Dublin-born actor and noted Whig, who founded it in honour of the accession of the House of Hanover – in the form of King George I – on 1st August, 1714. Doggett himself personally organised the race for the first few years before leaving provisions in his will for it to be continued. It’s been run almost every year since – there was apparently a break during World War II. While it was initially rowed against the tide, since 1873 competitors have had the luxury of rowing with it, meaning race times have dropped from what sometimes stretched to as long as two hours to between 25 and 30 minutes. This year, the event is being held as part of the Totally Thames festival which, among its packed programme of events, also features a series of exhibitions about the race – titled ‘The World’s Oldest Boat Race’, being held at various locations. PICTURES: From The World’s Oldest Boat Race exhibitions. Top – Doggett’s Coat and Badge (© Hydar Dewachi); Below – ‘Doggett’s Coat and Badge’, a coloured lithograph commissioned to mark the first publication of Guinness Book of World Records.

OK, well, they’re not there any more but the first traffic lights erected anywhere in the world were placed on the north-east corner of Parliament Square in Westminster on 9th December, 1868.

The location at the intersection of Great George, Parliament and Bridge Streets outside the Houses of Parliament wasn’t chosen by random – there had been several traffic accidents at the congested site.

The seven metre tall lights, which were operated by a police constable, were based on railway signals – in fact they had been invented by a railway engineer, John Peake Knight of Nottingham. A City of Westminster plaque commemorates him close to the site.

The structure (pictured above in a police notice of which apparently some 10,000 copies were made) featured three semaphore arms which were lowered to an angle (signalling go or caution) or raised to horizontal (signalling stop). There was also gas-powered light for use at night – it changed from green (go or caution) and red (stop).

They didn’t last too long – many drivers didn’t recognise what the signals meant, others ignored them and there were frequent problems including a gas leak at the base which led to an explosion injuring the policeman operating them at the time. They were removed the following year.

The first electric lights, meanwhile, didn’t arrive in the capital until after their invention in the US where the first were  installed in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1914. In London it wasn’t until 1926 that the first electric lights were installed, this time at the intersection of Piccadilly and St James’s Street.

The first vehicle-activated lights came some seven years later and were installed at the corner of Gracechurch Street and Cornhill in the City.

PICTURE: Leonard Bentley/Creative Commons

 

News recently that Parliament Square has its first female statue (more about that in an upcoming post) so we thought it timely to consider London’s oldest statue of a female.

It’s actually of a queen – Elizabeth I – and can be found on the facade of the Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West on Fleet Street in the City of London (also home to a rather famous clock).

Believed to have been made in 1586, the statue is said to be the work of one William Kerwin and originally adorned Ludgate.

It was moved to its current position over the church’s vestry door in 1760 when Ludgate was demolished due to road widening. Along with other statues from the gate, it had been given to Sir Francis Gosling who had it placed at the church.

The statue features a rather regal looking Queen, standing formally in royal robes with sceptre and orb.

 


There’s several candidates for this title – NatWest Tower, built in 1980, has been described as London’s first “genuine” skyscraper (we’ll deal with that in our current special) but we’re looking back to earlier times (after all, the term first started to be used in the 1880s) when candidates included 55 Broadway in Westminster.

Once the tallest office building in London, 55 Broadway was constructed in 1927-29 as the headquarters of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (which later became London Transport and then Transport for London). The building contains the St James’s Park Underground Station which is one of the most intact of the early underground stations.

Designed by Charles Holden (also noted for his design of the University of London’s Senate House and war cemeteries in Belgium and France) , the 14 storey Art Deco building is cruciform in plan to maximise street views and the amount of light entering each office as well as to ensure that the bulk of the building’s tower didn’t overwhelm the surrounding streetscapes (and to ensure the building complied with the then current building height restrictions).

The building, the design of which was influenced by US architecture, is made from a steel frame encased on concrete and faced in Portland stone. Based on a two storey pedestal which covers the entire site, the spur wings around the tower rise a further five storeys above the base while the tower itself rises 53.3 metres (175 foot).

Internally, the building features bronze and marble decoration and what was a state-of-the-art system known as a Cutler mailing chute to send letters around the building.

Of special note are the many sculptures which adorn the building, described as a “showcase of pre-Second World War British sculpture”.

Among them are two Jacob Epstein sculptures representing ‘Day’ and ‘Night’ and eight figurative reliefs representing the winds for each cardinal point, the work of sculptors led by Eric Gill and also including Eric Aumonier, Alfred Gerrard, Samuel Rabonovitch, Allan Wyon and Henry Moore (it was his first public commission).

The sculptures proved somewhat controversial at time particularly due to Epstein’s depiction of ‘Day’ featuring a nude male – Ezra Pound famously said Epstein was contributing to a “cult of ugliness”. And while this sculpture eventually had his manhood truncated slightly following the outcry, the sculptures were otherwise left untouched.

Holden won the RIBA London Architecture Medal for the building which received Grade I-listing in 2011 (it had earlier been Grade II listed), partly due to its being London’s first ‘skyscraper’ and a building which “heralded the epoch of tall steel-framed office buildings”.

The building was damaged during the Blitz but remains largely intact. There are now plans to convert the building to luxury apartments although at present Transport for London continue to use the building.

PICTURES: Top – Epstein’s ‘Night’ – One of the less controversial sculptures adorning the building (Loz Pycock (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0))/Right – The mass of 55 Broadway with the controversial (and altered) sculpture of ‘Day’ (David Adams).

Note: The original article said 55 Broadway was once the tallest building but should have, of course, said tallest office building. St Paul’s Cathedral was the tallest building until 1967. The building was also damaged during the Blitz but apparently not by a flying bomb.

Established back in the early nineteenth century, James Smith & Sons Umbrellas is a West End institution in London and is certainly among the oldest, if not the oldest, surviving business established to sell umbrellas.

The original shop was founded by James Smith in Foubert’s Place, off Regent Street, in 1830 with the umbrellas made in a rear workshop and then sold at the front. The shop then moved to Saville Place but when this building had to be knocked down to make way for road widening, it moved to Burlington Street near Piccadilly Circus.

Business boomed following the invention of Samuel Fox’s lightweight steel frame umbrellas in 1851 and in 1867, a second shop was opened at 53 New Oxford Street (in Hazelwood House, where it remains today). The Burlington Street branch, meanwhile, continued to be operational until it was destroyed by a bomb in World War II, leaving just the shop in New Oxford Street.

The New Oxford Street shop still sells a plethora of types of umbrellas as well as made-to-measure walking sticks. Some of the umbrellas – which include antique and more contemporary models – are reportedly assembled on site.

In the shop you’ll also find a portrait of Jonas Hanway, said to be the first man who owned an umbrella in London. Being an early adopter of this imported fashion trend from France, he apparently attracted the ridicule of London society as well as that of coach drivers who saw the threat to their trade he represented. But history was on Hanway’s side and while the umbrella has survived the past couple of centuries, the coach as a means of transportation has not.

PICTURE: Top –  Jorge Royan/licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0/ Right – Ewan Munro/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The countdown continues…

4. Lost London – Pasqua Rosee’s Coffee House…

3. Where’s London’s oldest…street sign?

Come back tomorrow for the two most popular posts…

Christmas is looming so we thought we’d take a look at which street in London’s West End has had Christmas lights for the longest. And, no surprises, it’s Regent Street which first lit up in 1954.

Apparently prompted by a newspaper article decrying the drabness of London’s streets at Christmas, local traders got together and, via the Regent Street Association, financed the first display. Oxford Street followed in 1959.

An economic downturn meant Regent Street’s lights (and those of Oxford Street) were turned off for almost a decade but the display was resumed in 1979 and have been a part of London’s Christmases ever since.

These days the Regent Street lights are generally geared around a theme and the ceremony at which they are officially turned on has become quite an affair with celebrities performing the honours. This year singer Paloma Faith was the special guest at the ceremony with the aid of Clean Bandit.

The decorations, switched on in mid-November and featuring 300,000 LED lights, are based around “The Spirit of Christmas” theme for the second year in a row.

PICTURED: Last year’s light display/Ungry Young Man (licensed under CC BY 2.0).

Hatters they are, but mad they most definitely are not (more on that connection later). Lock & Co Hatters, which describes itself not only as London’s oldest hat shop but the world’s oldest, has been serving the city’s hat needs since James Lock first opened the doors at number six, St James’s Street, in 1765.

Lock took over the premises after completing an apprenticeship as a hatter with Charles Davis, son of Robert Davis who had opened a hatters in St James’s Street in 1676. Lock had married Charles’ sister Mary in 1759 and, along with his new bride, had inherited his father-in-law’s business. In 1765, they and their growing family moved across the road from that premises to No 6, previously a coffee house.

The shop soon established itself with the city’s elite and its client list grew to include the likes of Lord Grenville, Prime Minister between 1806-07, and, most famously, Admiral Lord Nelson, who first visited the shop in 1800 to order his signature bicorne – a “cocked hat and cockade” – with a specially built-in eye shade (Nelson had lost his eye at the Battle of Calvi). Nelson’s final visit, incidentally, would take place in September, 1805, when he settled his bill before setting sailing to Spain where, wearing one of Lock’s hats, he would lose his life – and become part of a legend – in the Battle of Trafalgar.

But back to the Locks. James Lock died in 1806 and it was his illegitimate son, George James Lock (aka James Lock II), who inherited the business which continued to flourish (clients around this time include the Georgian dandy Beau Brummell). George’s son, James Lock III and his younger brother George took over in 1821, and in 1849, they were commissioned by Edward Coke to create a hard-domed hat for his gamekeepers – the result was the iconic Coke hat (known to some as the Bowler hat, a name which came from Southwark-based Thomas and William Bowler whom Lock had commissioned to make the hat) .

The Lock & Co hat business continued to pass down through the family and the list of the famous who purchased hats in the store continued to grow – Oscar Wilde bought a black fedora there to wear on his US lecture tour (and due to his later incarceration was unable to pay his bill which was settled more than 100 years later by one of his fans after this news was included in an article in The Times) while Sir Winston Churchill wore a Lock silk top hat on his wedding day and also purchased his trademark Cambridge and Homburg hats there.

In 1932, film star Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, moved in above the shop (and naturally bought some monogrammed hats which were sold in 2011 as part of his estate) while Charlie Chaplin purchased hats there in the 1950s and, impressively, in 1953, Lock worked with jewellers Garrard and Co to design the “fitments” for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation crown.

A warrant from the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, followed (in 1993, Lock & Co received its second Royal Warrant, this time from the Prince of Wales.

Others among Lock’s more high profile clientele over the years have included Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of US President John F Kennedy, and Lock’s Coke hat even made a famed appearance on the silver screen as the headwear of the Bond villain Oddjob in Goldfinger.

The firm, meanwhile, has continued to grow, acquiring Piccadilly hatters Scott & Co in the 1970s.

Lock’s association with Lord Nelson was remembered in 2012 when it designed a hat for his statue atop Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square which featured a full-sized Olympic torch and which, due to popular demand, was left on the admiral for the duration of the Olympics.

Interestingly, it is also claimed that James Benning, a member of the Lock family and a servant of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) – writer of Alice in Wonderland, was the inspiration behind the ‘Mad Hatter’.

PICTURES: Top – Jeremy T. Hetzel; Right – Matt Brown – both licensed under CC BY 2.0.

 


The Dulwich Picture Gallery in London’s south celebrates the 200th anniversary of its public opening this year. It is the oldest public picture gallery in all of England.

The origins of the gallery back owe their existence to an art dealership run by a Frenchman, Noël Desenfans, and his Swiss friend, painter Sir Francis Bourgeois. In 1790, the men were commissioned by King Stanislaus II Augustus of Poland to form a royal collection of art for him.

They spent five years doing so but in 1795, the king was forced to abdicate and the two dealers were left with the collection. They began searching for a new home for it but failed to find one and following Desenfans’ death in 1807, Sir Francis decided to leave the collection to Dulwich College (apparently on the advice of his friend, actor John Philip Kemble). The college had been founded in the early 17th century as the ‘College of God’s Gift’ by Edward Alleyn, actor and theatre entrepreneur, who had left it his estate.

Sir Francis died in 1811 and, under the terms of his will, the paintings left to Dulwich had to be made available to the public to view. There was an existing gallery at Dulwich College (the collection had originally been formed around Alleyn’s collection which included portraits or kings and queens) but, conscious that it might not be ideal for displaying the collection, Sir Francis had left £2,000 in his will to refurbish it and made it clear that should this be required, he wanted his friend, Sir John Soane to oversee the work.

Sir John, visiting the college the day after Sir Francis’ death, inspects the existing building but decides that an entirely new wing will need to be built to house the collection. He submitted numerous designs but the cost – more than £11,000 – was considerably more than the college could afford despite Sir John’s efforts to cut costs and simplify. Eventually, after Margaret Desenfans agreed to donate £4,000 of her own money, the college officials agreed to begin construction.

In 1814, the collection was moved into the building and the following year, the now completed building was opened to Royal Academicians and students.  The public opening came two years later, in 1817, and the same year the Desenfanses and Francis Bourgeois were buried in the gallery’s mausoleum as its founders.

Several additions and renovations have since followed (including works after bombing during World War II). The last major works were carried out in the 1990s after which the gallery was formally reopened on 25th May, 2000, by Queen Elizabeth II.

Those who visited the gallery, many as students, have included some big names in the art world – John Constable, JMW Turner and Vincent Van Gogh. Charles Dickens referenced the gallery in his work, The Pickwick Papers, in which he had Samuel Pickwick visit the gallery following his retirement.

The Dulwich Picture Gallery is now an independent registered charity. Its more than 600 works include one of the finest collections of Old Master paintings in the world by artists such as Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Poussin, Watteau, Canaletto, Rubens, Veronese and Murillo. Collection highlights include Rembrandt’s Girl at a Window (1645), Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s The Flower Girl (1665-70), Thomas Gainsborough’s Elizabeth and Mary Linley (c 1772) and Sir Peter Lely’s Nymphs by a Fountain (early 1650s).

WHERE: Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, Dulwich (nearest rail is West Dulwich or North Dulwich); WHEN: 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday; COST: £7 adults/£6 seniors/under 18s free (additional cost for special exhibitions); WEBSITE: www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

PICTURES: Courtesy Dulwich Picture Gallery.


There are several 19th century bandstands in London but we believe the oldest still standing is in Hyde Park.

This octagonal, Grade II-listed, bandstand was originally located in the adjoining Kensington Gardens (near Mount Gate),  having been built in 1869, only eight years after the first ever bandstand in London had been installed in the nearby Royal Horticultural Gardens in Kensington.

It was moved to Hyde Park in 1886 – it can now be found on the north side of Serpentine Road, just to the north-west of Hyde Park Corner – and concerts were apparently held here three times a week in the 1890s. (Another bandstand was erected in Kensington Gardens in the 1930s).

Featuring cast iron decorative columns and a tent roof, the Hyde Park bandstand appeared in the 1935 film, Top Hat, which starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (although the building in the film was actually a replica located on a Hollywood soundstage). Others who have ‘played’ the bandstand include the famous trumpeter Harry Mortimer.

The bandstand, which is now one of the oldest in Britain, is still used for concerts on occasion as well as being part of the annual Winter Wonderland event. Check The Royal Parks website for details of when events are scheduled here.

PICTURE: Claire Ward/Geograph/CC BY-SA 2.0