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

 

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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


The oldest extant public toilets in London can be found Wesley’s Chapel in City Road.

The gentlemen’s facilities, located off to the side of the chapel, were designed by the famous Thomas Crapper & Co and consist of enclosed wooden-walled cubicles, a series of urinals and wash basins.

The well-appointed toilets were installed in 1899 – more than 100 years after John Wesley’s death and long after many other parts of the Georgian and Victorian complex of buildings (including Wesley’s house) were built – but remain in working order even today.

Crapper, who had founded his company in the 1860s, championed the concept of the flushing toilet (although the idea had already been invented) and was responsible for the invention of the ballcock system. And contrary to common belief, Crapper – who received several royal warrants for his work – did not lend his name to a slang word for excrement – its origins go back much further.

WHERE: Wesley’s Chapel (with The Museum of Methodism and John Wesley’s House), 49 City Road (nearest Tube stations are Old Street and Moorgate; WHEN: 10am to 4pm Monday to Saturday/ 12:30pm to 1:45pm Sunday; COST: free (donations appreciated); WEBSITE: www.wesleyschapel.org.uk

PICTURES: Top – Ra Boe/Wikipedia/CC-BY-SA-3.0; Right – James O’Gorman/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 (images cropped)

 

tavistock_street_londonNow located on a street of another name, London’s oldest street sign is generally believed to be that of Yorke Street and dates from 1636.

The rather small sign, which is located on a building dating from the 1730s, is now located high up at 34-36 Tavistock Street in Covent Garden (above a blue plaque commemorating author Thomas de Quincey (1785-1859), writer of Confessions of an English Opium Eater).

Another of the oldest signs can be found at the corner of Chigwell Hill and The Highway – it refers to ‘Chigwell Streate’ and bears the date 1678.

PICTURE: The Yorke Street sign is the white oblong at the top right under which can be seen the blue plaque (Via Spudgun67/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)

hamleysThis Regent Street establishment – the oldest and largest toy store in the world – dates back to 1760 when Cornishman William Hamley came to London and founded his toy store – then called ‘Noah’s Ark’ – on High Holborn.

Selling everything from wooden hoops to tin soldiers and rag dolls, the business aimed to capture the trade of affluent Bloomsbury families and proved rather successful, attracting a clientele in the early 19th century which included not only wealthy families but royalty.

Such was its success that in 1881, Hamley’s descendants opened a new branch of the shop at 200 Regent Street. The Holborn store, meanwhile, burned down in 1901 and was subsequently relocated to a larger premises at numbers 86-87 in the same street.

Faced with the Depression in the 1920s, the shop closed briefly in 1931 but was soon reopened by Walter Lines, chairman of Tri-ang Toys, and in 1938 was given a Royal Warrant by Queen Mary, consort of King George V.

The premises at 188-196 Regent Street was bombed five times during the Blitz but the shop (and its tin hat-wearing staff survived). In 1955, having presented a Grand Doll’s Salon and sizeable model railway at the 1951 Festival of Britain, the shop was given a second Royal Warrant – this time by Queen Elizabeth II, who has been given Hamleys toys as a child – as a ‘toys and sports merchant’.

The business, which has passed through several owners since the early 2000s, is now owned by Chinese-based footwear retailer C.banner.  The flagship store is spread over seven floors and tens of thousands of toys on sale, located in various departments.

As well as the Regent Street premises (it moved into the current premises at number 188-196 Regent Street in 1981), Hamlets has some 89 branches located in 23 countries, from India to South Africa. A City of Westminster Green Plaque was placed on the store in February 2010, in honour of the business’s 250th anniversary.

The toy store holds an annual Christmas parade in Regent Street which this year featured a cast of 400 and attracted an estimated 750,000 spectators.

www.hamleys.com

PICTURED: Hamleys during its 250th birthday celebrations.

st-dunstans-clock

We reintroduce an old favourite this month with our first ‘Where’s London’s oldest’ in a few years. And to kick it off, we’re looking at one of London’s oldest public clocks.

Hanging off the facade of the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West in Fleet Street is a clock which is believed to have been the first public clock to be erected in London which bears a minute hand.

The work of clockmaker Thomas Harris, the clock was first installed on the medieval church in 1671 – it has been suggested it was commissioned to celebrate the church’s survival during the Great Fire of London and was installed to replace an earlier clock which had been scorched in the fire. Its design was apparently inspired by a clock which had once been on Old St Paul’s Cathedral and was destroyed in the fire.

Like the clock it replaced, this clock sat in brackets and projected out into Fleet Street which meant it was able to be seen from a fair distance away (and being double-sided meant the black dials could be seen from both the east and the west). Like the Roman numerals that decorate it, the two hands, including the famous minute hand, are gold.

To the rear and above the clock dials are located the bells and striking mechanism. The bells are struck on the hours and the quarters by ‘automata’ – Herculean figures, perhaps representing Gog and Magog (although to most they were traditionally simply known as the ‘Giants of St Dunstan’s’), who do so using clubs and turn their heads.

Such was the attention these figures attracted that when the clock was first installed the area became notorious for pick-pockets who apparently went to work on unsuspecting passersby who had stopped to watch the giants at work.

This church was demolished in the early 1800s to allow the widening of Fleet Street and when it was rebuilt in 1830, the clock was absent. Having decided it couldn’t be accommodated in the new design, it had been auctioned off with the art collector, Francis Seymour-Conway, the 3rd Marquess of Hertford, the successful bidder.

He had it installed on his Decimus Burton-designed villa in Regent’s Park and there it remained until 1935 when Lord Rothermere, who had bought the villa in 1930, returned it to the church to mark the Silver Jubilee of King George V.

There are numerous literary references to the clock including in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Oliver Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield and a William Cowper poem.

Now a Piccadilly institution, Fortnum and Mason’s origins (which we dealt with in 2011 in a London’s oldest post but couldn’t resist looking at again) famously go back the early 17th century when Hugh Mason rented out a spare room to William Fortnum, a Footman in the household of Queen Anne.

fortnum-masonThe entrepreneurial Fortnum decided to supplement his income by selling Queen Anne’s half-used candle wax (new candles were required every night) for a small profit. It was he who convinced his landlord, who also had a small shop in St James’s Market, to join with him in a joint venture – the first Fortnum & Mason – in Duke Street in 1707.

Initially founded as a grocery store, Fortnum & Mason, which moved to its current site at 181 Piccadilly in 1756, become known for its high quality and rare goods – in particular tea – and during the 18th and 19th centuries supplied the gentry who were in London for the ‘season’. Departments inside the store have included a rather bizarre ‘Expeditions Department’ which apparently supplied King Tut’s finder Howard Carter and a 1922 expedition to Mount Everest.

It has held numerous Royal Warrants since the mid 1800s with the first granted in 1863 when the firm was appointed as grocers to the then Prince of Wales.

A supplier of British officers during the Napoleonic Wars, Fortnums was also active during the Crimean War when Queen Victoria had shipments of “concentrated beef tea” sent to Florence Nightingale for use in her hospitals there.

Other claims to fame include the creation of the first Scotch egg in 1738 as a food for travellers and that in 1886, it became the first store in Britain to stock tins of Heinz baked beans. It also operated a post office between 1794 and 1839 when the General Post Office was founded.

The iconic clock which hangs on the facade of the building was commissioned in 1964 by Canadian businessman Garfield Weston who bought the business in 1951. Every hour models of Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason come forth and bow to each other. Other features on the building itself include four colonies of bees which have lived on the roof since 2008 in uniquely-designed hives.

The store, now famous for its luxury food hampers, underwent a £24 million restoration in the lead-up to its 300th anniversary in 2007. As well as the flagship store, it also now operates stores in St Pancras (2013) and Heathrow Airport (2015) as well as, since last year, in Dubai (it did open a store on Madison Avenue in New York in the 1930s but the business was short-lived thanks to the Depression). Fortnum & Mason products can also be found in a growing number of department stores around the world.

The Piccadilly store houses a number of eateries including The Parlour, The Gallery and The Wine Bar as well as, since it was opened by Queen Elizabeth II herself in 2012, the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon – already famous for its afternoon teas.

See www.fortnumandmason.com.

PICTURE: Gryffindor/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0

While the designation of London’s oldest public library depends on your definition, for the purposes of this article we’re awarding the title to the Guildhall Library.

Its origins go back to about 1425 when town clerk John Carpenter and John Coventry founded a library – believed to initially consist of theological books for students, according to the terms of the will of former Lord Mayor, Richard (Dick) Whittington (for more on him, see our previous post here).

Guildhall2Housed in Guildhall (pictured above), this library apparently came to an end in the mid-1500s when Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector for the young King Edward VI, apparently had the entire collection loaded onto carts and taken to Somerset House. They were not returned and only one of the library’s original texts, a 13th century metrical Latin version of the Bible, is in the library today.

Some 300 years passed until the library was re-established by the City of London Corporation. Reopened in  1828, it was initially reserved for members of the Corporation but the membership was soon expanded to include”literary men”.

By the 1870s, when the collection included some 60,000 books related to London, the library moved into a new purpose-built building, located to the east of Guildhall. Designed by City architect Horace Jones, it opened to the public in 1873.

The library lost some 25,000 books during World War II when some of the library’s storerooms were destroyed and after the war, it was decided to build a new library. It opened in 1974 in the west wing of the Guildhall where it remains (entered via Aldermanbury).

Today, the 200,000 item collection includes books, pamphlets, periodicals including the complete London Gazette from 1665 to the present, trade directories and poll books as well as the archive collections such as those of the livery companies, the Stock Exchange and St Paul’s Cathedral and special collections related to the likes of Samuel Pepys, Sir Thomas More, and the Charles Lamb Society.

The library also holds an ongoing series of exhibitions.

Where: Guildhall Library, Aldermanbury; WHEN: 9.30am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday; COST: Entry is free and no membership of registration is required but ID may be required to access rarer books; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visiting-the-city/archives-and-city-history/guildhall-library/Pages/default.aspx.

Power-House

London’s oldest museum is not the British Museum or any of the Kensington museums but is actually contained within one of the city’s iconic structures.

Located within the Tower of London, the Royal Armouries Museum takes the prize of being not only the city’s oldest museum but oldest museum in the whole of Britain.

It’s origins go back to medieval times when the tower housed the main royal arsenal and was a working armoury and, by the time of the Restoration, there was a permanent public display in the White Tower with the star attractions being the Spanish Armoury, a collection of weapons and torture instruments claimed to have been taken from the Spanish Armada of 1588, and the Line of Kings (see our earlier post on this here).

Other displays – including one focused on artillery and another on horses – were subsequently added in various buildings within the tower precincts including in the Grand Storehouse which, located to the north of the White Tower, destroyed by fire in 1841. Over the ensuing years, the displays were moved back into the White Tower.

As well as the revamped Line of Kings and the Power House exhibition looking at the people, institutions and history of the Tower, the current display includes a dragon made of more than 2,600 items of weaponry, following a long-standing tradition in the museum of creating displays out of masses of weapons.

As well as continuing its presence at the Tower of London, the museum is now also housed at Fort Nelson at Portsmouth – this opened in 1995 when it became home to the museum’s artillery collection – and in Leeds, which opened in 1996. There’s also some weapons on display in Louisville, Kentucky, in the US, under a  cooperative agreement with the Frazier International History Museum.

PICTURE: ‘Keeper’, the Dragon trophy – part of the Power House display in the Royal  Armouries Museum at the Tower of London. HRP newsteam.

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: £21.45 adults; £10.75 children under 15; £18.15 concessions; £57.20 for a family; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.