Treasures of London – Traitor’s Gate…

PICTURES: David Adams

Built by King Edward I in the 13th century as a water gate to provide access from the Tower of London to the River Thames, the name ‘Traitor’s Gate’ came to be applied to this portal in Tudor times in relation to those accused of treason who were brought into the tower under its arch.

The double gateway is part of St Thomas’s Tower, which was designed by a Master James of St George, and behind it is a pool which was used to feed water to a cistern on the roof of the White Tower. While the gate was originally built to give access directly to the river, Traitor’s Gate now sits behind a wharf which runs along the river bank (and where can be seen the bricked up entrance says ‘Entry to the Traitor’s Gate’ – this was bricked up in the 19th century when embankment works were carried out)

Sir Thomas More, Sir Walter Raleigh and even the future Queen Elizabeth I (when a princess) were among those who were brought in by barge through the Traitor’s Gate (their journey would have led them under London Bridge where the heads of executed prisoners were on display). Whether Henry VIII’s disgraced Queen Anne Boleyn entered the tower through the gate remains a matter of some dispute.

10 London memorials to foreign leaders – A recap…

Before we move on to our next Wednesday special series, here’s a recap

1. Abraham Lincoln…

2. Jawaharlal Nehru…

3. Simón Bolívar…

4. Charles de Gaulle…

5. Prince Henry the Navigator…

6. Nelson Mandela…

7. Mahatma Gandhi…

8. General Don José de San Martín…

9. Władysław Sikorski…

10. Skanderbeg…

10 London memorials commemorating foreign leaders – 10. Skanderbeg…

Des Blenkinsopp / An Albanian Hero (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Unveiled just nine years ago, this bust in Bayswater commemorates George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, a 15th century Albanian lord who led a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire (and who later became a central figure of inspiration in the Albanian National Awakening of the 19th century).

Located on the corner of Inverness Terrace and Porchester Gardens, the bronze bust was created by Kreshnik Xhiku.

An inscription on the front reads “George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, 1405 – 1468, invincible Albanian national hero, defender of western civilization.”

It was unveiled on the 100th anniversary of Albanian independence on 28th November, 2012, with Westminster City Councillor Robert Davis and  Albanian Charge d’affaires, Mal Berisha, in attendance.

The bust was installed as part of Westminster’s City of Sculpture initiative.

10 London memorials commemorating foreign leaders – 9. Władysław Sikorski…

PICTURE: Chmee2 (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)
PICTURE: Ethan Doyle White (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

This statue in Portland Place in Marylebone commemorates wartime Polish Prime Minister and military leader (and British ally) Władysław Sikorski (1881-1943).

Larger than lifesize, the bronze statue depicts Sikorski in military uniform standing on a white stone plinth. It is the work of late British artist Faith Winter (also the sculptor of a controversial statue of Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris outside the RAF church on the Strand).

Funded by public subscription, this statue of Sikorski was erected on 24th September, 2000, and unveiled by the Duke of Kent. It stands near the Polish Embassy on a traffic island near the intersection with Weymouth Street.

There’s inscriptions on each face of the plinth which commemorate Sikorski as well as the “Soldiers, Seamen and Airmen of the Polish Armed Forces and the Resistance Movement” between 1939 – 1945. The east face inscription commemorates Polish involvement in World War II through a listing of battles.

Sikorski is also commemorated with a plaque adorning the Rubens Hotel in Buckingham Palace Road which served as his headquarters between 1940 until his death in an air crash in Gibraltar in 1943 (where there is another memorial to him).

10 London memorials commemorating foreign leaders – 8. General Don José de San Martín..

PICTURE: Peter O’Connor/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Another of the many statues in Belgrave Square and surrounds, this statue depicts a giant of South American history.

Don José de San Martín was an Argentine general who was instrumental in the continent struggle for independence from the Spanish Empire and is regarded as a hero in Argentina, Chile and Peru.

The bronze statue, the work of Juan Carlos Ferraro, was cast in Buenos Aires in 1993 and unveiled in the northern corner of the square’s gardens by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1994 in the presence of dignitaries including Senator Eduardo Menem of Argentina, Lord Mayor of Westminster Angela Hooper, UK Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd and Argentine Ambassador Mario Campora. It was erected by the Argentine-British community in Argentina and is dedicated to the people of London.

San Martín is depicted standing in military uniform on top of a heavy plinth. It’s inscribed on the front with the words “General Don José de San Martín, 1778-1850, founder of the Argentine independence, he also gave freedom to Chile and Peru.” There are also some further inscriptions referring to its creation and one on the right side of the plinth saying “His name represents democracy justice and liberty”.

A plaque was added on the ground in front of the statue to mark the 150th anniversary of San Martin’s death – 17th August, 2000.

It’s not the only memorial to San Martín in London – there’s also a Blue Plaque, erected by the London County Council in 1953, at 23 Park Road in Marylebone (San Martín stayed here for a few months in 1824).

Where’s London’s oldest…flyover?

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

The oldest flyover in central London was actually built well before the first automobile.

Spanning the Fleet River valley, it was built between 1863 and 1869 and, spanning Farringdon Street below (which follows the line of the Fleet (now beneath the ground), it linked the City of London with Holborn (or more specifically Holborn with Newgate Street).

Statue of commerce on the flyover. PICTURE: steve_w (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The flyover was designed by City of London surveyor William Heywood. It was part of a number of improvements designed to create better access to the City from the West End.

A number of old buildings and indeed some entire streets had to be demolished before construction could begin and thousands of bodies buried in St Andrew Holborn’s northern churchyard had to be relocated.

Made of cast iron, the flyover is about 1400 feet (425 metres) long and 80 foot (24 metres) wide and features three spans – the largest in the middle – supported on granite pillars.

Pavilions containing stairs allowing pedestrians to move between levels were built at either end on both sides of the roadway (the two northern buildings are both replacements – the previous versions were demolished after being damaged during the Blitz and have been replaced in more recent years).

The decorations include a series of four bronze statues featuring Agriculture and Commerce on the south side (the work of Henry Bursill) and Fine Arts and Science on the north side (the work of firm Farmer & Brindley).

There are also statues of winged lions and globe lamps (the current lamps are replicas with the originals thought to have been destroyed during the Blitz) as well as well as the City of London’s coat-of-arms and dragons.

The buildings containing the stairs, meanwhile, each feature a statue of a famous medieval Londoner on the facade – merchant Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579), engineer Sir Hugh Myddelton (1560-1631), and Mayors Sir William Walworth (d.1385) and Henry Fitz Ailwin (1135-1212).

The viaduct was opened by Queen Victoria on 6th November, 1869. It was listed as Grade II in 1972.

10 London memorials commemorating foreign leaders – 7. Mahatma Gandhi…

PICTURE: Alvesgaspar (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

There’s a couple of statues commemorating Mahatma Gandhi in London with the most recent one was unveiled in Parliament Square in 2015.

But this week we head Bloomsbury where we find an older one in the centre of the gardens in Tavistock Square.

The work of Fredda Brilliant, it was unveiled by then Prime Minister Harold Wilson in May, 1968. Also present was the first High Commissioner of India to the UK after independence, VK Krishna Menon, and the then-current High Commissioner of India to the United Kingdom, Shanti Swaroop Dhavan.

Menon apparently chose the location for the statue – Gandhi had studied at the nearby University College London between 1888 and 1891.

Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1948 after having playing an instrumental role in the push for India’s independence, is depicted sitting in a cross-legged in the lotus position wearing a loincloth with a shawl over his right shoulder. The statue sits atop a rounded Portland stone plinth.

The memorial was erected by the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Committee, with the support of the India League. It was Grade II-listed in 1974.

A further plaque was added beneath the statue in 1996 commemorating the 125th anniversary of the birth of Gandhi.

10 London memorials commemorating foreign leaders – 6. Nelson Mandela…

Back to Parliament Square this week where we look at a bronze statue of anti-apartheid activist and former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.

PICTURE: Prioryman (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Unveiled on 29th August, 2007, this larger-than-life statue is the work of English sculpture Ian Walters (he completed a clay sculpture of the Parliament Square statue before his death in 2006 but sadly didn’t live to see it cast in bronze in London.)

The statue was proposed by South African journalist and anti-apartheid activist Donald Woods but after his death in 2001, the fundraising effort, officially launched in 2003, was led by his wife Wendy and Sir Richard Attenborough.

It depicts Mandela standing on a low plinth with his arms outstretched as though making a speech. He is shown wearing a flowery shirt.

It was originally proposed the statue be located outside of the South African High Commission in Trafalgar Square but after planning approval was refused, the alternative site of Parliament Square was eventually decided upon.

The unveiling in the south-west corner of the square was attended by Mandela himself along with his wife Graça Machel and then Mayor of London Ken Livingstone while then PM Gordon Brown did the official duties.

Interestingly it’s not the only work of Walters depicting Mandela – he was also the sculptor behind the bust of Mandela which stands outside Royal Festival Hall in South Bank.

It’s also not the only South African who has a statue in Parliament Square – there’s also one of Jan Smuts, twice Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa in the early 20th century (in fact Mandela recalled at the unveiling that he and his friend Oliver Tambo, who went on to become president of the ANC, had once joked about seeing the statue of a Black man one day erected in the square – Tambo never lived to see it, but Mandela, at age 89, did).

10 London memorials commemorating foreign leaders – 5. Prince Henry the Navigator…

Prince Henry the Navigator. PICTURE: David Adams

We go back to Belgrave Square this week to its westernmost corner where there is a bronze statue of 15th century Portuguese aristocrat and explorer, Prince Henry the Navigator.

Prince Henry (1394-1460) was the son of King John I of Portugal and Philippa, the daughter of English nobleman John of Gaunt and sister of King Henry IV.

As well as being appointed the Governor of the Algarve in 1419, Henry became famous for his scientific and exploratory endeavours – he was instrumental in opening the navigational route to India (although his nickname “The Navigator” apparently was applied to him until centuries later5)

The statue, which has the prince wearing robes seated on a rocky outcrop with a rolled map in his hand, is attributed to Simoes de Almeida (who died in 1950) and it’s been claimed it was made as far back as 1915. There is a duplicate of the statue located in the US – at Fall River, Massachusetts – but this is credited to the sculptor, Aristide Berto Cianfarani.

While it’s origins remain somewhat unclear, we do know the statue was unveiled by the President of Portugal in February, 2002, with the Duke of Westminster present.

There are some verses from Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa on the side of the plinth.

10 London memorials to foreign leaders…4. Charles de Gaulle…

PICTURE: Metro Centric (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Unveiled in the early 1990s, this statue of the French leader Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) is located in St James’s, close to the headquarters where de Gaulle headed the government-in-exile following the fall of France in 1940.

The life-sized statue is the work of sculptor Angela Conner and architect Bernard Wiehahn and was erected in Carlton Gardens following a campaign by Lady Soames, daughter of Winston Churchill. De Gaulle is depicted standing in the uniform of a General de Brigade.

The was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, in June 1993. Nearby are an English Heritage Blue Plaque as well as another plaque, both commemorating the location of the headquarters.

A commemorative ceremony takes place each year at the statue organised by the French Embassy.

De Gaulle flew to England in June, 1940, and was subsequently recognised by Britain as the leader of the Free French. He established his headquarter at 4 Carlton Gardens on 22nd July that year, initially living at the Connaught Hotel and, from 1942 to 1944, in Hampstead. He returned to France following the D-Day invasion in 1944.

Lost London – The Maharajah’s Fountain…

Former site of The Maharajah’s Fountain, looking into Hyde Park from Bayswater Road (you can see the plaque to the left of the path). PICTURE: Google Maps.

Once located in Hyde Park, this drinking fountain was a gift from Maharajah Meerza Vijiaram Gajapati Raj Manea Sooltan Bahadoor of Vijianagram (a small princely state once located in what is now the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh).

Installed in 1867 by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association, the towering structure in the neo-Gothic style was apparently designed by the architect Robert Keirle (also the designer of the Readymoney Fountain in The Regent’s Park).

It was installed close to the park’s north-east corner (between North Carriage Drive and Bayswater Road, not far west of Marble Arch).

The fountain was eventually removed in 1964 (apparently due to the prohibitive cost of repairing it). A plaque these days marks its location.

10 London memorials to foreign leaders…3. Simón Bolívar…

PICTURE: Rept0n1x (licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0/image cropped)
PICTURE: Another Believer (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

One of a cluster of statues depicting foreign leaders around Belgravia Square (thanks to the presence of so many foreign embassies in the area), this work depicting Simón Bolívar, a towering figure in the early 19th century liberation of South America from colonial powers, was erected in 1974.

The bronze, by Hugo Daini, shows Bolívar standing as though about to make a speech

The inscription describes Bolívar as the liberator of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama and the founder of Bolivia and also mentions the details of his birth – Caracas, Venezuela, 24th July, 1783 – and death – Santa Maria, Colombia, 17th December, 1830.

It is accompanied by a quote on the side of the pedestal, featuring words attributed to Bolívar: “I am convinced that England alone is capable of protecting the world’s precious rights as she is great, glorious and wise”.

The statue was erected by the aforementioned nations (the coats-of-arms of which are on the plinth) and unveiled in by James Callaghan, then Foreign Secretary (and later PM).

10 London memorials to foreign leaders…2. Jawaharlal Nehru…

PICTURE: Ham (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0/Image cropped)

Located on the west side of India House – location of the High Commission of India – is a bust of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India.

The bust, which stands in India Place between Aldwych and The Strand, is the work of Latika Katt and stands on a granite plinth. It was unveiled in 1990 by the High Commissioner of India LM Singhvi and the Mayor of London.

In 2009, the bronze bust was temporarily dislodged from the plinth but was subsequently returned to its home.

10 London memorials to foreign leaders…1. Abraham Lincoln…

PICTURE: JR P (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Standing on the edge of Parliament Square opposite the UK’s home of government, this statue of the 16th US President was erected to mark the friendship between Britain and the United States of America.

The statue was proposed by the American Committee for the Celebration of the Hundredth Anniversary of Peace Among English Speaking Peoples to commemorate the centenary of the end of conflict between the two nations in 1915.

But World War I broke out and so it wasn’t until July, 1920 that this statue, a replica of a statue Auguste Saint-Gauden made for the city of Chicago and now Grade II-listed in its own right, was formally presented to then UK Prime Minister David Lloyd George by the US Ambassador and subsequently unveiled by Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught.

The 12 foot high, larger than life, monument – which includes a granite plinth – depicts Lincoln wearing a frock coat standing in front of his Grecian chair and about to give a speech. The original was completed in 1887 and was unveiled in Chicago’s Lincoln Park with Abraham Lincoln II, grandson of the President, in attendance as well as a crowd of some 10,000.

Interestingly, the UK wasn’t the only nation given a copy of the statue – a replica was also given to Mexico in 1964 and now stands in the Parque Lincoln in Mexico City.

There is also a replica at Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Illinois and in 2016, a newly cast replica of the statue was installed at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site – the former home and studio of the sculptor – in Cornish, New Hampshire. There are also numerous smaller replicas including a bust which is sometimes displayed in the Oval Office in the White House.

Lost London – The Reformers’ Tree…

A mosaic commemorating the former Reformers’ Tree in Hyde Park. PICTURE: Courtesy of Royal Parks.

This large oak tree, planted in Hyde Park, was a focal point for protests in 1866 by the Reform League, a group which campaigned for all men to have the right to vote.

The tree was set alight during one protest (on what date and whether it was as an act of protest or simply an act of mischief by some boys during an otherwise orderly rally apparently remains a matter of debate).

The blackened stump was subsequently used a site for people to post notices, as a podium at meetings (including by the Reform League) and, more broadly, as a symbol of the right for people to assemble.

The tree was something of a precursor to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. That owes its formal establishment to an Act of Parliament, passed in 1872, that designated the north-east corner of Hyde Park as a site for public speaking and is now known – and emulated across the world – as Speaker’s Corner.

A circular mosaic depicting the blackened tree – the work of sculptor Harry Gray – now stands at the junction of numerous pathways close to the eastern end of Hyde Park. It was unveiled in the year 2000 by politician Tony Benn.

Whether it stands on the actual site of the original tree is also a matter of debate. The inscription on the memorial mentions that on 7th November, 1977, then Prime Minister James Callaghan planted a new oak tree on the spot where the Reformers’ Tree was thought to have stood. But there’s obviously no oak now where the mosaic is laid.

10 London hills – 6. Shooter’s Hill…

Sunset from Shooters Hill. PICTURE: matbickle (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The highest point in the Borough of Greenwich in London’s south-east, Shooter’s Hill rises to 433 feet (132 metres) above sea level and provides views over the Thames to the north and London to the west as well as Kent and Essex.

Severndroog Castle. PICTURE: Public Domain

The name, which is also that of the surrounding district, apparently comes from the fact that archery was practiced there in the Middle Ages.

But the area – which still is reasonably well wooded – was also the haunt of highwaymen (in response, there was a gallows at the crossroads at the bottom of the hill and a gibbet on the summit where bodies were displayed).

The modern road known as Shooters Hill Road, part of the A2 and later the A207, follows part of the route of the ancient roadway known as Watling Street.

Landmarks on the hill include a Gothic revival water tower dating from 1910 and a rather impressive folly known as Severndroog Castle which was built in in 1784 by Lady James in honour of her husband, Commodore Sir William James, who captured a pirate fortress at Suvarnadurg on India’s west coast in 1755.

Other landmarks include Christ Church Shooters Hill which features a Grade II-listed milestone and a Bronze Age mound known as Shrewsbury Barrow.

Literary mentions include one in Samuel Pepys’ famous diary – he rode past a body on the gibbet in 1661 – and in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

LondonLife – A Blue Plaque for John Osborne…

Blue Plaque to John Osborne at 53 Caithness Road in Hammersmith. PICTURE: Courtesy of English Heritage.
Blue Plaque to John Osborne. PICTURE: Courtesy of English Heritage.

Post-war playwright John Osborne (1929-1994) was honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque last week at his former Hammersmith home. The announcement came 65 years after his seminal play, Look Back in Anger, was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre on 8th May, 1956. The terraced red brick property at 53 Caithness Road was his London base when he wrote Look Back in Anger, arguably his best known work. Playwright and director Sir David Hare said Osborne “had the most sensational London debut of any playwright in the English language in the 20th century”. “It was John’s brilliance and originality which led so many to help relocate the theatre at the centre of Britain’s cultural and intellectual life. Everyone who followed owes him a debt.” For more on Blue Plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.

10 London hills – 3. Tower Hill…

The site of scaffold on Tower Hill. PICTURE: Bryan MacKinnon (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The last of the three hills at least partly within the walls of the old City of London is Tower Hill, located at the City’s eastern end.

Famed as a site of public execution, Tower Hill – which rises to almost 14 metres above sea level – was traditionally where traitors who had been imprisoned in the nearby Tower of London met their final moments.

More than 120 people have been executed on the site, everyone from Sir Simon de Burley, tutor to King Richard II, in 1388, through to Thomas Cromwell in in 1540 and a soldier arrested during the Gordon Riots of 1780.

These days the gallows and scaffold – and the crowds which accompanied them – are long gone, marked by a stone set in the pavement at the western end of Trinity Square.

The hill, which is just to the north of the Tower of London and takes its name from it, was historically part of the tower liberties – meaning authorities could ensure nothing was developed on it which would affect the defences of the fortress.

It is the site of one of the remaining sections of the Roman and medieval wall which once surrounded the City of London (the hill is located on both sides of the wall).

A Tube station, Tower Hill, which opened in 1884 (it was originally named Mark Lane and the name changed to Tower Hill in 1946; it relocated to the current site in 1967).

The hill is also home to the Tower Hill Memorial – a pair of memorials dedicated to the mercantile marines who died in World War I and World War II – set inside the public park known as Trinity Square Gardens.

10 London hills – 1. Ludgate Hill…

Rome has its seven hills, Athens has the Acropolis and Paris – well, who can go past Montmatre? Yet, while hills may not be the first thing which come to mind when thinking of London, the city is home to numerous (low) peaks which have shaped the urban environment since ancient times (and some of which provide magnificent viewing points).

Looking up Ludgate Hill (the street) to where St Paul’s sits on top of Ludgate Hill. PICTURE: Google Maps.

First up, we’re looking at Ludgate Hill, located in the western end of the City of London. One of the three ancient hills within the City walls, Ludgate Hill, which is now the site of St Paul’s Cathedral, is believed in Roman times to have been the site of a temple dedicated to Diana.

The hill, which today rises just 17.6 metres above sea level (the highest point lying apparently just to the north of the cathedral), is named after the former city gateway of Ludgate which is, in turn, named after the mythical King Lud.

These days the hill’s name is also commemorated in a street – Ludgate Hill – which runs from Ludgate Circus at its western end to St Paul’s Churchyard at its eastern end. It was also formerly the name of a railway station which opened in the late 1860s but was closed in 1923.

This Week in London – Gold bunnies at Hampton Court; ‘The Adoration of the Kings’ on a phone; and last two trees for London Blossom Garden…

Despite the ongoing impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, we hope you have a happy Easter break!

A screenshot from ‘Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’, mobile edition’

The National Gallery’s first exhibition aimed at mobile phone users – exploring Jan Gossaert’s masterpiece, The Adoration of the Kings – goes live from Friday. Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’, mobile edition features six poems in the voice of King Balthasar, a character depicted in the painting, who interprets six scenes shown in the work while interactive sound brings them to life, all in an effort to guide people to details they may have missed in the work. Users can use their zoom function to explore the masterpiece’s minutiae and share their favourite finds on Instagram. The mobile phone offering is a pre-cursor to the planned reopening of the physical exhibition Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’ – forced to close just a week after opening last December – on 17th May. To see the mobile display, head to nationalgallery.org.uk/visiting/virtual-tours.

Hampton Court Palace is once again holding its Lindt Gold Bunny hunt for Easter. Families are invited to join in the search for the famous Lindt Gold Bunnies which have been hidden around the palace, enjoying the gardens along the way. Using a trail map, children will be able to learn about various lesser known Hampton Court residents including John Dale, Henry VIII’s master cook, and John Blanke, the King’s royal trumpeter. Successful treasure hunters can then claim a chocolate reward and a pair of gold bunny ears. Included in admission, the trail is designed for children aged three to 12-years-old and takes about one-and-a-half hours to complete. Runs until 18th April. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/whats-on/easter-lindt-gold-bunny-hunt/.

The final two blossom trees have been planted in the new London Blossom Garden. The public garden, which is being created as a lasting, living memorial to Londoners who have lost their lives to COVID-19 and the city’s shared experience of the pandemic, is located in the northern part of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Newham. Scheduled to open later this spring, it has been created in partnership with the National Trust and with the support of Bloomberg, and features 33 blossoming trees representing London’s boroughs and the City of London.

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