LondonLife – Buckingham Palace’s Picture Gallery empties out…

Old Masters have been removed from the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace for the first time in almost 45 years to allow for essential maintenance works. The works, which include paintings by Titian, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Dyck and Canaletto, will be featured in a landmark new exhibition – Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace – which, featuring some 65 artworks in total, opens in the palace’s Queen’s Gallery on 4th December. They have been removed from the Picture Gallery – one of the palace’s State Room where Old Master paintings have hung since the reign of King George IV in the 1820s – over a period of four weeks to allow for building improvements which will include the replacement of electrics and pipework – some of which has not been updated since the 1940s – as well as the gallery’s roof. The refurbishment is part of a £370 million, 10 year refit programme being carried out at the palace due for completion in 2027.

This Week in London – The ‘Fight for Women’s Rights’ at the British Library; ghosts at Hampton Court Palace; and, Arctic culture at the British Museum…

Banners loaned from Southall Black Sisters, Bishopsgate Institute, People’s History Museum, Sisters Uncut, Feminist Archive South (Courtesy of the British Library)

The history of the women’s rights movement and the work of contemporary feminist activists is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the British Library tomorrow. Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, the opening of which was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, features everything from personal diaries and banners to subversive literature, film, music and art. Highlights include protest poems written by Sylvia Pankhurst on toilet paper in Holloway Prison following her imprisonment for seditious activity in January 1921, a first edition of Jane Austen’s debut novel, Sense and Sensibility, published anonymously ‘By a Lady’ in 1811, and, football boots belonging to Hope Powell, a veteran player who became the first woman to manage England Women in 1998. There’s also records of surveillance carried out on Sophia Duleep Singh, one of Queen Victoria’s god-daughters and a supporter of campaigns for women’s suffrage, and a piece of fence wire cut by writer Angela Carter’s friends and sent to her as a present from RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire where they were protesting against nuclear missiles. Runs until 21st February next year. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk.

Like a good ghost story? Hampton Court Palace is launched a new self-guided ‘Creepy Stories and Ghostly Encounters’ trail on Saturday. The trail takes in sites including those where the ‘Grey Lady’ – said to be the ghost of Tudor nursemaid – has appeared since Victorian times, the locations said to be haunted by two of King Henry VIII’s queens – Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard, and the site where a spectral figure was captured on film slamming shut a door in 2003. The palace is also unveiling a new display of carved pumpkins in the Royal Kitchen Garden. Entry charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

The first major exhibition on the history of the Arctic and its Indigenous people, through the lens of climate change and weather, has opened at the British Museum. The Citi exhibition, Arctic: culture and climate, reveals how Arctic people have adapted to climate variability in the past and are facing today’s weather challenges. It features everything from rare archaeological finds, unique tools and clothing as well as artworks and contemporary photography with highlights including an eight-piece Igloolik winter costume made of caribou fur and an Inughuit (Greenlandic) sled made from narwhal and caribou bone and pieces of driftwood which was traded to Sir John Ross on his 1818 expedition as well as artworks commissioned specifically for the exhibition. These include an Arctic monument of stacked stones, known as an Inuksuk – used to mark productive harvesting locations or to assist in navigation – which was built by Piita Irniq, from the Kivalliq Region of Nunavut, Canada. Can be seen in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery until 21st February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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Treasures of London – The Diana Fountain…

No, it’s not a memorial to that Diana, but a bronze statue depicting a mythological figure which forms the centrepiece of the Great Basin in Bushy Park.

Commissioned by King Charles I for his wife Queen Henrietta Maria, the statue (and other statuary on the monument) was the work of sculptor Hubert Le Sueur (he was also the sculptor of the famous equestrian statue of King Charles I which sits at the top of Whitehall).

While the 2.38 metre tall bronze statue, which weighs some 924 kilograms, is commonly referred to as Diana – the Roman goddess of hunting, she has none of the usual attributes of Diana, such as a bow, and is believed by some to actually represent Arethusa, a nereid or sea nymph from Greek mythology.

The statue is set on a marble and stone fountain carved with depictions of shells and sea life, and is surrounded, at a lower level, by groups of bronze statues -depicting boys holding fish or dolphins and water nymphs or mermaids astride sea monsters – through which water is discharged into four bronze basins.

The bronze figures were originally commissioned for a fountain, designed by Inigo Jones and built in the 1630s, in the Queen’s garden at Somerset House. Oliver Cromwell had the statues moved to the Hampton Court Palace’s Privy Garden in 1656 where they were incorporated into a fountain designed by Edward Pearce the Younger in 1689-90.

In 1713 the ensemble was moved again, this time to onto a new purpose-built podium in the middle of the Great Basin, located at the end of Bushy Park’s Chestnut Avenue, a grand avenue of trees designed by Sir Christopher Wren. While most of the statuary is believed to be from the original fountain designed by Inigo Jones, it’s thought some of the statues of the boys were recast for the new fountain.

The Grade I-listed monument was restored in 2009 and and during this process a stone which uncovered on its base which had a crown and the date AR 1712 (AR for ‘Anne Regis’) which would have been added when the statue and fountain were installed in the basin.

WHERE: The park lies north of Hampton Court Palace, just west of Kingston and Hampton Wick and south of Teddington (nearest train station is Hampton Wick or Hampton Court). WHEN: 24 hours except in September and November when it’s open between 8am and dusk; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/bushy-park

PICTURE: The Diana Fountain. PICTURE: It’s No Game (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

10 London buildings that were relocated…1. Marble Arch…

It’s well known that John Rennie’s London Bridge was purchased from the City of London by American entrepreneur Robert P McCulloch and in 1967 relocated to Lake Havasu City in Arizona. But what other London buildings have been relocated from their original site, either to elsewhere in the city or further afield?

First up is Marble Arch, originally built as a grand entrance to Buckingham Palace. Designed by John Nash, the arch was constructed from 1827 and completed in 1833 (there was a break in construction as Nash was replaced by Edward Blore) on the east side of Buckingham Palace for a cost of some £10,000.

Inspired by the Arch of Constantine in Rome (and, it has to be said, some envy over the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris, built to commemorate Napoleon’s military victories), the 45 foot high structure is clad in white Carrara marble and decorated with sculptural reliefs by Sir Richard Westmacott and Edward Hodges Baily.

An equestrian statue of King George IV was designed for the top by Francis Leggatt Chantrey but it was never put there (instead, it ended up in Trafalgar Square). The bronze gates which bear the lion of England, cypher of King George IV and image of St George and the Dragon – were designed by Samuel Parker.

The arch, said to be on the initiative of Nash’s former pupil, Decimus Burton, was dismantled and rebuilt, apparently by Thomas Cubitt, in its present location on the north-east corner of Hyde Park, close to Speaker’s Corner, in 1851.

There’s a popular story that the arch was relocated after it was found to be too narrow for the wide new coaches – this seems highly unlikely as the Gold State Coach passed under it during Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1952. Actually, it was moved to create room for Buckingham Palace’s new east facade (meaning the palace’s famous balcony, where the Royal Family gather to wave, now stands where the arch once did).

Whatever the reasons, it replaced Cumberland Gate as the new ornamental entrance to Hyde Park, complementing the arch Decimus Burton had designed for Hyde Park Corner in the park’s south-east.

Subsequent roadworks left the arch in its current position on a traffic island. It stands close to where the notorious gallows known as the “Tyburn Tree” once stood.

The rebuilt, now Grade I-listed, arch contains three small rooms which, until the middle of the 20th century, housed what has been described as “one of the smallest police stations in the world”. Only senior members of the Royal family and the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery are permitted to pass through the central gates.

PICTURES: Top – Marble Arch in its current location and; Middle – and an 1837 engraving showing the arch outside Buckingham Palace.

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 56 and 55…

The next two entries in Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts countdown…

56. Treasures of London – The Great Vine at Hampton Court Palace

55. 10 sites from Mary Shelley’s London…A recap…

Our new special Wednesday series will launch next week!

This Week in London – Kensington Palace reopens with Diana’s ‘Travolta dress’; institution reopenings; the Luna Cinema at Greenwich; and, ‘British Surrealism’ online…

Kensington Palace has reopened its doors today after four months of lockdown and, to celebrate, the famous “Travolta dress” worn by Princess Diana is going on show for the first time. Designed by Victor Edelstein, the midnight blue velvet gown became the focus of world attention in 1985 when the Princess wore it to a White House Gala during which she danced with actor John Travolta. Historic Royal Palaces acquired the dress at auction in 2019. The palace will feature a new one-way route as part of coronavirus social distancing measures. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/.

Other reopenings this week include: the Imperial War Museum, Churchill War Rooms, Wellington Arch, the Ranger’s House in Greenwich and the Jewel Tower in Westminster (Saturday, 1st July); the Royal Observatory in Greenwich (Monday, 3rd August); and, the Natural History Museum in South Kensington (Wednesday, 5th August).

The Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich will host Luna Cinema’s open-air cinema from Tuesday 4th to Thursday, 6th August. Audiences will be able to sing and dance along to blockbuster hits RocketmanJudy and Dirty Dancing with the college as the backdrop. Meanwhile the Old Royal Naval College is launching new smartphone tours with the first, available for free on any smartphone using the Smartify app, a family tour aimed at those visiting with children aged five to 12 years. For more, see www.ornc.org.

The Dulwich Picture Gallery’s British Surrealism exhibition will be available for anyone to view online from Friday. The exhibition, which celebrates the British artists that contributed to the iconic surrealist movement, features more than 70 artworks from 42 artists, including Leonora Carrington, Francis Bacon, Henry Moore, Paul Nash, Ithell Colquhoun, and Conroy Maddox. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

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LondonLife – Marking 72 years of the NHS…

The Royal Parks have created two flowerbeds outside Buckingham Palace which spell out the letters ‘NHS’ in honour of the service’s 72nd birthday. The two 12 metre long flowerbeds, located in the Memorial Gardens – officially part of St James’s Park – contain some 45,000 flowers including scarlet geraniums, especially selected to match The Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace, as well as white begonias on a blue background of drought resistant succulents which, together replicate the colours of the NHS. The floral display – an appropriate tribute in this year of pandemic – can be seen until mid-September. PICTURES: Courtesy of The Royal Parks.

This Week in London – Tower of London lowers drawbridge; other openings include Westminster Abbey and The Queen’s Gallery…

The Tower of London will officially lower the drawbridge in a symbolic ceremony this Friday morning to announce its reopening after a 16 week closure, the longest since World War II. A new one-way route has been introduced to allow for social distancing and while the Yeoman Warders, known as Beefeaters, won’t be restarting their tour immediately, they will be able to answer visitor questions. The Crown Jewels exhibition will also be reopening. Online bookings are essential. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/.

• Westminster Abbey reopens its doors to visitors on Saturday after the longest closure since it did so to prepare for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The abbey will initially be open to visitors on Saturdays and on Wednesday evenings, with a limited number of timed entry tickets available solely through advance booking online.

The Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace as well as Royal Collection Trust shops reopened to the public this week. The Queen’s Gallery exhibition George IV: Art & Spectacle has been extended until 1st November while Japan: Courts and Culture, which had been originally due to open in June this year, is now expected to open in spring 2022. Tickets must be booked in advance at www.rct.uk/tickets.

• Other reopenings include Kew Gardens’ famous glasshouses (from last weekend) and the Painted Hall, King William Undercroft and interpretation gallery at Greenwich (from Monday 13th July).

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PICTURE: Nick Fewings/Unsplash.

 

This Week in London – National Gallery – and other landmarks – to reopen while National Portrait Gallery remains closed to 2023…

Plans are afoot for the reopening of London’s iconic historic and cultural institutions with The National Gallery becoming the first national museum in the UK the first to do so when it reopens its doors on 8th July. Special exhibitions include Titian: Love, Desire, Death which had to close after just three days and has now been extended to 17th January, 2021, and Nicolaes Maes: Dutch Master of the Golden Age which has been extended until 20 September. Meanwhile, Room 32 – one of the gallery’s largest rooms displaying 17th-century Italian paintings by artists including Caravaggio, Artemisia and Orazio Gentileschi, Guido Reni and Guercino – will reopen as the Julia and Hans Rausing Room after a 21 month refurbishment project while the Equestrian Portrait of Charles I by Van Dyck (about 1637/8) will be back on show in Room 21 after a more than two year restoration. There are also number of newly-acquired paintings on show including Liotard’s The Lavergne Family Breakfast (1754), Gainsborough’s Portrait of Margaret Gainsborough holding a Theorbo (about 1777) and Sorolla’s The Drunkard, Zaraúz, (1910). All visits must be booked online in advance and, of course, social distancing measures will be in place. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

Tower Bridge is among landmarks reopening its doors in London. PICTURE: Javier Martinez/Unsplash 

Other landmarks opening include Tower Bridge (with a new one way route from 4th July), Eltham Palace (from 4th July) and the Tower of London (from 10th July). Openings later this month include interiors at Hampton Court Palace (from 17th July) the British Library Reading Rooms (from 22nd July), and Kensington Palace (30th July). We’ll keep you informed as more sites open.

And amid the openings, comes a closure with the National Portrait Gallery shutting its doors until spring 2023 to allow for a massive redevelopment project known as ‘Inspiring People’. The redevelopment project – the gallery’s biggest since the building in St Martin’s Place opened in 1896 – includes a comprehensive re-presentation of the gallery’s collection, spanning a period stretching from the Tudors to now, across 40 refurbished galleries along with a complete refurbishment of the building including the restoration of historic features, a new and more welcoming visitor entrance and public forecourt on the building’s north facade. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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This Week in London – RHS Chelsea Flower Show goes virtual; National Gallery art on the streets; and, no summer opening at Buckingham Palace…

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is on this week but, due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year it’s a virtual affair. That’s good news for those who might not have been able to attend in person thanks to the stream of video content that’s being posted on the RHS website including garden design tips and planting ideas, virtual garden tours, ‘how to’ demonstrations and meet the growers sessions. Among highlights are a video featuring Sarah Eberle, the most decorated female designer in Chelsea history showing you around her woodland garden, a “lockdown tour” of some of London’s public parks, BBC presenter and multi-gold medal winning designer Adam Frost showing you around his Lincolnshire garden, florist Nikki Tibbles showing you how to create a seasonal bouquet and an update on what the Chelsea Pensioners have been up to on their allotment. The show runs until 23rd May. To see what’s on offer, head to www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/virtual-chelsea. PICTURE: The Florence Nightingale Garden – A Celebration of Modern Day Nursing/© Robert Myers.

The National Gallery has taken some of its most famous works out onto the streets thanks to a partnership with digital outdoor screen provider, Ocean Outdoor. Seven of the gallery’s most well-known images – Van Gogh’s Sunflowers (1888) and A Wheatfield, with Cypresses (1889), Monet’s The Water-Lily Pond (1899), van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait (1434), Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières (1884), Vigée Le Brun’s Self Portrait in a Straw Hat (1782) and Rousseau’s Surprised! (1891) – are being shown on Ocean Outdoor’s giant screens for two weeks in cities around the UK including London. Head to www.nationalgallery.org.uk for more free art, films, stories and activities.

The Royal Collection Trust has announced it will not open the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace to the public this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the collection and palaces can be explored online at www.rct.uk.

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LondonLife – New life at the Tower during lockdown…

The future of the Kingdom – which legend says will fall should the resident ravens leave the Tower of London – seems secure for now. Three new raven chicks have been born since the country went into lockdown, securing their presence at the Tower for years to come.

The offspring of Huginn and Muninn, who were named after the ravens of the Norse God Odin, the chicks have yet to be named. Born in secrecy, they spent the first couple of weeks with their parents but are now under the care of the Tower’s Ravenmaster, Yeoman Warder Chris Skaife.

The Tower is usually home to six ravens but with eight ravens already in residence, the new chicks will apparently be moving on from the Tower to live with raven breeders in the country, ensuring the future of the Tower ravens bloodline.

They’re not the first chicks to be hatched by Huginn and Muninn – they’re already the parents of Poppy, named for the Tower’s famous 2014 display commemorating the centenary of World War I, and George, who was born on St George’s day at the Tower last year.

The tradition surrounding the special place of the ravens at the Tower is generally attributed to King Charles II following a warning he received that the Kingdom and Crown would fall should they leave.

PICTURES: Top – One of the new chicks; Below – Ravenmaster Chris Skate attends to the birds (© Historic Royal Palaces)

A Moment in London’s History – London celebrates VE Day…

It was 75 years ago this month – 8th May, 1945 – that Londoners poured out onto the city’s streets in celebration of the end of World War II.

Some celebrations had already started in London on 7th May as news of the unconditional surrender of all German troops to the Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower in the French city of Reims on 7th May became known.

But Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared 8th May a national holiday and, in response, vast crowds turned out on the streets to celebrate with bunting, flags and fireworks. Church bells were rung and services of thanksgiving held including at St Paul’s Cathedral where 10 consecutive services, each attended by thousands, took place.

British girls, of the Picture Division of the London Office of War Information dance in the street with American soldiers during the “VE Day” celebration in London. This scene took place outside the building of the US Army Pictorial Division has its offices. PICTURE: © IWM EA 65796

At 3pm, Churchill made a national radio broadcast from 10 Downing Street. He told listeners that while “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing”, they should “not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead” a reference to the ongoing war with Japan (the radio broadcast, incidentally, is being re-run on the BBC on 8th May this year to mark the anniversary).

Churchill then proceeded to Parliament where he formally reported the end of the war in Europe to Parliament before leading a procession of members to St Margaret’s Church for a service of thanksgiving. He later appeared on the balcony of the Ministry of Health building in Whitehall to address the teeming crowds below, telling them “This is your victory” to which they roared back that it was his.

Churchill waves to crowds in Whitehall on the day he broadcast to the nation that the war with Germany had been won, 8 May 1945. PICTURE: Horton W G (Major) (Photographer),
War Office official photographer/© IWM H 41849

Meanwhile, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, initially accompanied by their two daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace several times to wave to the cheering crowds. The King and Queen, who were at one point joined by Churchill, were still waving when their daughters secretly – and now rather famously – left the palace and joined the crowds outside in what Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, described as “one of the most memorable moments” of her life. The King also gave a radio address from the palace during which he paid tribute to all those who had died in the conflict.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret joined by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, London on VE Day. PICTURE: © IWM MH 21835

While celebrations took place across London, hotspots included Whitehall, outside Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square and Piccadilly Circus, where by midnight there were an estimated 50,000 people singing and dancing. Licensing hours were extended in pubs and dance halls staying open to midnight.

A mass of civilians and servicemen crowding around Piccadilly Circus, London. PICTURE: Poznak Murray, United States Army Signal Corps official photographerIWM EA 65879

One of the most iconic images of the day was a photograph of two sailors standing in one of the fountains at Trafalgar Square with two women, revealed, thanks to research by the Imperial War Museum to be Cynthia Covello and Joyce Digney who had travelled to join the celebrations from Surrey.

Two British sailors and their girlfriends wading in the fountains in Trafalgar Square on VE Day. PICTURE: Massecar T G, United States Army Signal Corps photographer/© IWM EA 65799

With thanks to the Imperial War Museum, London.

 

LondonLife – A scaled down birthday celebration…

There will be no gun salutes to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday today thanks to the coronavirus outbreak. So here’s a gun salute from 2012 as we wish her Majesty a happy 94th birthday…

The Royal Gibraltar Regiment perform a 62 Gun Salute at The Tower of London on the 21st April, 2012, to celebrate the Queen’s 86th birthday. PICTURE: SAC Neil Chapman/Defence Images (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0).

This Week in London – Treasures of Osterley and, a Summer Opening remembered…

With the closures of properties around London thanks to the COVID-19 emergency, we’ll be highlighting some online exhibitions instead. Here’s a couple to get you started…

Osterley House in Isleworth in London’s west was purchased by the Child banking family in 1713 who then set about transforming the property and filling it with treasures sourced from around the world. An exhibition, which was held at the house between November and February but which can now be viewed online, tells the story of the family who developed the banking business Child & Co during Britain’s Financial Revolution between 1660 and 1750. While the property, which is now looked after by the National Trust, is rightfully famous for the interiors Robert Adam created in the later 18th century, Treasures of Osterley: Rise of a Banking Family, features treasures from this earlier era. Among the items featured are a receipt for money signed by King Charles II’s mistress, Nell Gwynn, a lacquered screen from China decorated with the arms of the Child family (c1715-20), and the oil painting Saint Agatha by Carlo Dolci (1616–1687), which was purchased by Sir Robert Child. To view the exhibition (which was open to the public at the house between November and February), head to www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/exhibition/treasures-of-osterley. PICTURE: Maxwell Hamilton (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Visitors to the Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace in 2018 were able to see a special display of artworks selected by the Prince of Wales to mark his 70th birthday. The exhibition, Prince and Patron, featured Prince Charles’ favourite works from both the Royal Collection and his private collection. They include a cedar wood pavilion created by classical Afghan-born carver Nasser Mansouri, a red felt cloak which, believed to have been worn by Napoleon, was seized from Napoleon’s baggage train at Waterloo following his defeat, and, various portraits of the Prince and other members of the Royal Family. The display can be viewed on the Google Arts and Culture website.

 

A Moment in London’s History…The escape of Ranulf Flambard…

There’s been about 40 successful escapes from the Tower of London over the centuries but the first recorded one was of Ranulf Flambard. 

Flambard, the bishop of Durham, was the chief minister of King Willam Rufus (William II) (and, among other things, oversaw the construction of the inner wall around the White Tower at the Tower of London, the first stone bridge in London and Westminster Hall).

When William died in 1100, William’s younger brother Henry became king. William’s rule had been increasingly harsh and characterised by corruption and when Henry assumed the throne, Flambard was made a scapegoat for the previous administration’s failings. He was arrested on 15th August, 1100, and imprisoned on charges of embezzlement in the White Tower.

Flambard managed to escape on 3rd February, 1101. The story goes that he had lulled his guards into getting drunk by bringing in a barrel of wine for them to drink and then climbed out of a window and down a rope, which he’d had smuggled into the tower in the wine. It’s also said that the man charged with his care, William de Mandeville, allowed the escape.

Flambard subsequently escaped England to Normandy where he incited Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy (and elder brother of Henry), to attempt an invasion of England.

The invasion was unsuccessful but the warring brothers reconciled and Flambard was restored to royal favour. He regained his bishopric, although he never again served as chief minister.

PICTURE: Amy-Leigh Barnard/Unsplash

LondonLife – “Secret” door rediscovered in the Houses of Parliament…

A forgotten door built for festivities surrounding the coronation of King Charles II in 1661 has been rediscovered in the Houses of Parliament. 

The door, hidden behind panelling in cloister formerly used as offices by the Parliamentary Labour Party, was originally constructed to allow guests at the coronation to make their way to his celebratory banquet in Westminster Hall.

It was subsequently used by the likes of Robert Walpole, often referred to as the first Prime Minister as well as architect-led rivals Charles James Fox and William Pitt the Younger, and diarist Samuel Pepys.

The door and passageway behind it survived the fire which destroyed much of the Palace of Westminster in 1834 but it was thought the passage had been filled in during restoration works after the Palace of Westminster was bombed in World War II.

Liz Hallam Smith, an historical consultant from the University of York who is working with the team undertaking the renovations, said they were trawling through “10,000 uncatalogued documents relating to the palace at the Historic England Archives in Swindon, when we found plans for the doorway in the cloister behind Westminster Hall”.

“As we looked at the paneling closely, we realised there was a tiny brass key-hole that no-one had really noticed before, believing it might just be an electricity cupboard,” she said. “Once a key was made for it, the paneling opened up like a door into this secret entrance.”

In the small room behind the door, the team discovered the original hinges for two wooden doors some three-and-a-half meters high that would have opened into Westminster Hall. They also found graffiti, scribbled in pencil by bricklayers who worked on the restoration of the palace in 1851 following the 1834 fire.

One section reads “This room was enclosed by Tom Porter who was very fond of Ould Ale” and another, “These masons were employed refacing these groines…[ie repairing the cloister] August 11th 1851 Real Democrats”, the latter a reference suggesting the men were part of the working class male suffrage Chartist movement.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the House of Commons Speaker, described the find as “part of our parliamentary history”: “To think that this walkway has been used by so many important people over the centuries is incredible.”

PICTURE: Sir Lindsay Hoyle and the door (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

 

This Week in London – British surrealism; The Prince of Wales’ coronet; and, David Hockney’s drawings…

An exhibition which traces the history of surrealist art in Britain has opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Featuring more than 70 works, British Surrealism marks the official centenary of surrealism – which dates from when founder André Breton began his experiments in surrealist writing in 1920 – and features paintings, sculpture, photography, etchings and prints. Among the 40 artists represented are Leonora Carrington, Edward Burra, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Ithell Colquhoun, John Armstrong, Paul Nash and Reuben Mednikoff as well as lesser known but innovative artists like Marion Adnams, John Banting, Sam Haile, Conroy Maddox and Grace Pailthorpe. Highlights include Armstrong’s Heaviness of Sleep (1938), Burra’s Dancing Skeletons (1934), Adnams’ Aftermath (1946), Nash’s We Are Making a New World (1918), Colquhoun’s The Pine Family (1940), Pailthorpe’s Abstract with Eye and Breast (1938) and Bacon’s Figures in Garden (c1935). Also featured are works and books by some of the so-called ‘ancestors of surrealism’ including a notebook containing Coleridge’s 1806 draft of poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and a playscript for Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1859). Admission charge applies. Runs until 7th May. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Edward Burra, Dancing Skeletons,1934, (1905-1976). Photo © Tate

The Prince of Wales’ investiture coronet has gone on show in the Jewel House at the Tower of London for the first time. Made of 24 carat Welsh gold and platinum and set with diamonds and emeralds with a purple velvet and ermine cap of estate, the coronet – which was designed by architect and goldsmith Louis Osman – features four crosses patee, four fleurs-de-lys and an orb engraved with the Prince of Wales’ insignia. The coronet was presented to Queen Elizabeth II by the Goldsmiths’ Company for the Prince of Wales’ investiture at Caernarfon Castle on 1st July, 1969. It’s being displayed alongside two other coronets made for previous Princes of Wales as well as the ceremonial rod used in the 1969 investiture which, designed by Welsh sculptor Sir William Goscombe John (1860-1952), is made of gold and is decorated with the Prince of Wales’ feathers and motto Ich Dien. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/.

The first major exhibition devoted to David Hockney’s drawings in more than 20 years opens at the National Portrait Gallery today. David Hockney: Drawing from Life features more than 150 works with a focus on self portraits and his depictions of a small group of sitters including muse Celia Birtwell, his mother, Laura Hockney, and friends, curator Gregory Evans and master printer Maurice Payne. Previously unseen works on show include working drawings for Hockney’s pivotal A Rake’s Progress etching suite (1961-63) – inspired by the identically named series of prints by William Hogarth, and sketchbooks from Hockney’s art school days in Bradford in the 1950s. Other highlights include a series of new portraits, coloured pencil drawings created in Paris in the early 1970s, composite Polaroid portraits from the 1980s, and a selection of drawings from the 1980s when the artist created a self-portrait every day over a period of two months. Runs until 28th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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Lost London – The Holbein Gate…

The most grand of the entrances to the now demolished Whitehall Palace, this monumental gateway – located in what is now Whitehall, at the south end of and on the other side of the road to the Banqueting House – was built in 1531-32 on the orders of King Henry VIII.

The name apparently comes from the tradition that the three story gate was designed by Hans Holbein but there is apparently some doubt that was the case.

The gate had rooms on the first and second floor with small flanking turrets to either side. It boasted a Royal Coat of Arms over the archway under the gate along with other royal emblems including the Tudor rose. There were also several busts set into roundels on the black and white chequerboard facade, possibly by Giovanni da Maiano.

King Henry VIII apparently used the chambers as a study and library (and later, it’s said, to store the wheelchairs he required late in life). Most famously, the upper room is also believed to have been the location where he secretly married Anne Boleyn on 25th January, 1533.

The upper floor was used as the Paper Office between 1672 until 1756 while the lower floor was used as lodgings with residents including the Ludovic Stewart, 2nd Duke of Lennox and Barbara Villiers, Lady Castlemaine, famed as one of the mistresses of King Charles II.

Remarkably, the building, along with the Banqueting House, survived the fire of January 1698 which destroyed most of the palace. Proposals were subsequently put forward to demolish the gate to allow better flow of traffic but these were fended off until August, 1759, when it was destroyed along with an adjacent house.

PICTURE: Whitehall Showing Holbein’s Gate and Banqueting Hall by Thomas Sandby, c1760 (now at the Yale Center for British Art)

Treasures of London – “Graffito” in the Tower of London’s Beauchamp Tower…

Part of the inner defensive wall built around the White Tower during the reign of King Edward I, the Tower of London’s Beauchamp Tower was used to house prisoners at various times in its history (in fact, it’s name comes from one of them – Thomas Beauchamp, the Earl of Warwick, who was imprisoned here by King Richard II at the end of the 14th century). 

Carved into the walls of the tower’s chambers are a series of inscriptions, known as ‘graffito’ (known to you and I as graffiti), which were carved by some of the prisoners, mostly between the years 1532 and 1672.

The include an elaborate family memorial carved for John Dudley, eldest son of the Duke of Northumberland. He and his three brothers (including a young Robert Dudley, later the Earl of Leicester) were imprisoned by Queen Mary I for their father’s attempt to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne.

Interestingly there’s a simple inscription which just says ‘Jane’ nearby, one of a couple in the tower, although its not generally believed she carved this.

The name ‘Arundell’ is another of the inscriptions – it refers to Philip Howard, the Earl of Arundel, who was imprisoned here by Queen Elizabeth I for 10 years. Along with his name are the words “The more affliction we endure for Christ in this world, the more glory we shall get with Christ in the world to come”.

The name Thomas can be seen carved above a bell bearing the letter ‘A’. It’s believed to refer to Thomas Abel, chaplain to Katherine of Aragon, the ill-fated first wife of King Henry VIII. The king has Abel imprisoned here after he declared the King’s divorce of the Katherine unlawful.

The Beauchamp Tower isn’t the only location of graffiti in the Tower of London – in the Salt Tower, for example, can be found the image of a wounded foot, a Catholic symbol representing the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £24.70 adults; £11.70 children 5 to 15; £19.30 concessions (family tickets available; discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.

PICTURES:  Above – some of the graffiti seen on the Beauchamp Tower walls (David Adams); Middle – An ‘A’ carved on a bell with the word ‘Thomas’, said to refer to Thomas Abel, chaplain to Queen Katherine of Aragon (dvdbramhall – licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0); Below – The name Arundel (Pjposullivan1 – licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/imaged cropped)

This (Year) in London – Five exhibitions you won’t want to miss in 2020…

It’s our first ‘This Week in London’ for 2020 so instead of our usual programming, we thought we’d briefly look at five key exhibitions that you won’t want to miss this year…

1. Thomas Becket at the British Museum. Marking the 850th anniversary of the murder of the medieval Archbishop of Canterbury on 29th December, 1170, the museum will host the first ever major exhibition on the life, death and legacy of the archbishop as part of a year-long programme of events which also includes performances, pageants, talks, film screenings and religious services. The exhibition will run from 15th October to 14th February, 2021. PICTURE: Alabaster sculpture, c 1450–1550, England. Here, Becket is shown kneeling at an altar, his eyes closed and his hands clasped in prayer, all the while four knights draw their swords behind him. To Becket’s right is the monk Edward Grim, whose arm was injured by one of the knight’s swords. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

2. Elizabeth and Mary at the British Library. This exhibition draws on original historic documents to  take a fresh look at what’s described as the “extraordinary and fascinating story of two powerful queens, both with a right to the English throne: Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots”. Letters and other 16th century documents will show how their struggle for supremacy in the isles played out. Runs from 23rd October to 21st February, 2021.

3. Tudors to Windsors at the National Maritime Museum. This major exhibition promises to give visitors “the opportunity to come face-to-face with the kings, queens and their heirs who have shaped British history and were so central to Greenwich”.  Including more than 150 works covering five royal dynasties, it will consider the development of royal portraiture over a period spanning 500 years and how they were impacted by the personalities of individual monarchs as well as wider historical changes. Will be held from April.

4. Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King at Hampton Court Palace. Marking the 500th anniversary of the Field of Cloth of Gold – King Henry VIII’s landmark meeting with his great rival, the French King François I, the exhibition will feature a treasure trove of precious objects from the English and French courts as well as a never-before-seen tapestry, manufactured in the 1520s, which depicts a bout of wrestling at the meeting presided over by François and which also shows a black trumpeter among the many musicians depicted. Opens on 10th April. The palace will also play host this year to Henry VIII vs François I: The Rematch, a nine day festival of jousting, wrestling and foot combat complete with feasting, drinking and courtly entertainment. Runs from 23rd to 31st May.

5. Faces of a Queen: The Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I at the Queen’s House in Greenwich. This display brings together, for the first time, the three surviving versions of the iconic ‘Armada Portrait’ of Elizabeth I. The portrait commemorates the Spanish Armada’s failed attempt to invade England and the display will include the Royal Museums Greenwich’s own version of the painting along with that from the National Portrait Gallery and that which normally hangs in Woburn Abbey. Runs from 13th February to 31st August.

We’ll feature more details in stories throughout the coming year. But, of course, this is just a sample of what’s coming up this year – keep an eye on Exploring London for more…