The historic 39 acre garden at Buckingham Palace opened to the public for the first time last Friday as part of the palace’s summer opening. Visitors can follow a route that takes in the 156-metre Herbaceous Border, plane trees which were planted by and named for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and views of the island and its beehives across the 3.5-acre lake. There’s also the opportunity to enjoy a picnic on the lawns and guided tours of the south-west of the garden with features including the Rose Garden, summer house and wildflower meadow. The current landscape dates back to the 1820s when King George IV turned Buckingham House into a place. It features more than 1,000 trees, the National Collection of Mulberry Trees (mulberry trees were first planted by King James I in 1608), 320 different wildflowers and grasses, and, since 2008, five beehives. The Queen traditionally hosts three garden parties in the gardens annually which are each attended by 8,000 guests, who consume around 27,000 cups of tea, 20,000 sandwiches and 20,000 slices of cake. The gardens are open until 19th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rct.uk.
Next week sees the Royal Albert Hall’s 150th anniversary concert taking place, one of a number of events to mark the anniversary of the hall’s opening.
This spectacular building in South Kensington was officially opened on 29th March, 1871, as The Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences (the opening was actually brought forward from 1st May – 20th anniversary of the opening of the Great Exhibition – at the request of Queen Victoria).
The Queen had laid the foundation stone in 1867 and the work on the building, the creation of which was partly funded by profits from the Great Exhibition of 1851, was complete by the end of 1870 (at least its structure – much of the interior decoration was apparently added later).
Queen Victoria and members of the Royal Family left Buckingham Palace in a line of state carriages for the event at noon escorted by the Royal Horse Guards Blue. Large crowds lined the route of her passage and a guard of honour composed of the Grenadiers stood opposite the entrance.
On arriving, the Queen was met by the Edward, the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), members of the building committee and some of those who has served as commissioners of the Great Exhibition of 1851.
The Queen processed to a dais inside the building’ auditorium where some 8,000 dignitaries and invited guests waited in the audience. But she was apparently too overcome by memories of her late husband – Prince Albert, after whom the building as named – to give a speech. So it was the Prince who did so, although the Queen did reportedly add her own comments, saying according to an account in The Guardian: “I cannot but express my great admiration for this beautiful building, and my earnest wishes for its complete success.”
A battery of artillery performed a salute in nearby Hyde Park after which the Queen and Royal Family took their seats in the Royal Box to watch the musical program that followed. The Queen then returned to Buckingham Palace.
Interestingly, the first concert at the hall, held to test acoustics, actually took place month earlier on 25th February for an audience of some 7,000 people made up of those who had worked on the building and their families as well as officials and various invited members of the public.
This ornate triple stone entrance in the south-east corner of Hyde Park (better known as Hyde Park Corner), was designed by Decimus Burton when he was just 25-years-old.
Made of Portland stone, the gate, also known as the ‘Apsley Gate’ (after the nearby home of the Duke of Wellington) or the ‘Hyde Park Screen’, was installed in the late 1820s and replaced a former tollgate.
Several designs were proposed in the late 18th century but it was only after work started to transform Buckingham Palace from a home into the grand building we know today that Burton, who was already working on designing a series of gates, lodges and railings around Hyde Park for the Office of Woods and Forests, was asked to design the screen alongside plans for a grand memorial arch to serve as an entrance to Green Park which would be located opposite.
Burton’s designs for the Hyde Park gateway were approved by none other than King George IV and it now stands true to his original design. Decorative elements in the gate include scroll-topped columns and friezes by John Henning which were copied from the Elgin Marbles. Burton also designed the classical-style lodge house just inside the gates.
Burton’s initial plans for the Green Park arch, however, were deemed not to be grand enough – after all, this would be one of the approaches to Buckingham Palace – and so he produced a second design which is now largely embodied in what became the Wellington Arch.
While the Hyde Park gateway originally stood in line with Wellington Arch, traffic management matters saw the latter moved to its current position in the 1880s, putting it out of alignment with the gateway.
• A social reformer, a former slave turned campaigner and the “people’s princess” are among six women who will be commemorated with new English Heritage Blue Plaques this year. The first of the new plaques – dedicated to crystallographer and peace campaigner Kathleen Lonsdale – was unveiled last week at the home in Seven Kings, Redbridge, where she lived from 1911 to 1927 during her early days at UCL and the Royal Institute. Lonsdale went on to carry out ground-breaking work on crystal structures and played what’s described as a “fundamental role” in progressing x-ray crystallography. Other plaques will commemorate social reformer Caroline Norton, designer Jean Muir, former slave and campaigner Ellen Craft, barrister Helena Normanton, and, Diana, Princess of Wales. For more on English Heritage’s Blue Plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.
• The garden at Buckingham Palace will open to the public this summer, allowing visitors to explore the 39 acre grounds on a self-guided tour for the first time. The route will encompass the 156-metre herbaceous border, plane trees planted by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and take in views of the garden’s 3.5 acre lake and island with its beehives. Visitors will also have the chance to enjoy a picnic on the lawns and explore the south-west of the garden – which includes the Rose Garden, summer house and wildflower meadow – on guided tours. Meantime, during April and May enthusiasts are able to enjoy the garden in springtime on guided tours. And for those unable to make it in person, a series of digital talks, A Warden’s Welcome, which explore Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse kick off online next Wednesday. Charges apply for all – for more information and tickets, see www.rct.uk.
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• World renowned artworks from Buckingham Palace’s Picture Gallery go on show at the Queen’s Gallery from tomorrow. Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace features 65 works by the likes of Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Vermeer, Van Dyck and Canaletto and, unlike in the tours of the State Rooms, visitors to the Queen’s Gallery will face the chance to enjoy the works close-up. The paintings on show include Johannes Vermeer’s The Music Lesson (early 1660s), Sir Peter Paul Rubens Milkmaids with Cattle in a Landscape, (c1617–18), Rembrandt’s The Shipbuilder and his Wife (1633), Canaletto’s The Bacino di San Marco on Ascension Day (c1733–4), Titian’s Madonna and Child in a Landscape with Tobias and the Angel (c1537) and Gerrit Dou’s The Grocer’s Shop (1672). The exhibition runs until January 2022. Advance booking is essential and admission charge applies. For more, see www.rct.uk.
• The Museum of London is seeking to record the dreams of Londoners during the coronavirus pandemic in a new project with the Museum of Dreams at Western University in Canada. Guardians of Sleep represents the first time dreams as raw encounters and personal testimonies will be collected by a museum. Londoners are being asked to register their interest to take part by 15th January with conversations with members of the Dreams network – an international team of trained scholars from the psychosocial community, slated to be held over Zoom in February. Contributions will be considered for acquisition by the Museum of London as part of its ‘Collecting COVID’ project. To volunteer to participate in the study, or to find out more details, members of the public should contact email@example.com.
• Abdus Salam, a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist, has been honoured with a Blue Plaque at his former property in Putney. The red brick Edwardian house was the Pakistani scientist’s London base from 1957 until his death in 1996. It features a study where Salam would write while listening to long-playing records of Quranic verses and music by composers ranging from Strauss to Gilbert and Sullivan. Salam’s work on electroweak theory contributed to the discovery of the Higgs boson particle – the ‘God particle’ which gives everything mass, and he was also involved in improving the status of science in developing countries.The unveiling comes as English Heritage issues a call for the public to nominate more notable scientists from history for its Blue Plaque scheme in London with only around 15 per cent of the 950 plus blue plaques across the capital dedicated to scientists. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.
• A self-portrait series by late Gambian-British artist Khadija Saye can be seen at the British Library’s entrance hall from today. Khadija Saye: in this space we breathe features nine silk-screen prints and demonstrates Saye’s deep concern with “how trauma is embodied in the black experience” as well as her Gambian heritage and mixed-faith background. Saye, who died in 2017, photographed herself with cultural, religious and spiritual objects of significance both to her Christian mother and Muslim father and in African traditions of spirituality. The free display is on show until 2nd May. For more, see www.bl.uk.
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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.
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.
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.
• 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.
• 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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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 photographer/© IWM 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.
With thanks to the Imperial War Museum, London.
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.
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…
• King George IV’s public image and his taste for the theatrical and exotic as well as his passion for collecting are all the subject of a new exhibition opening at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, on Friday. Set against the tumultuous backdrop of his times (which included the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars as well as a period of unprecedented global exploration), George IV: Art & Spectacle shows the contrasts of his character – on the one hand “a recklessly profligate showman” and, on the other, a “connoisseur with intellectual interests whose endless acquisitions made him one of the most important figures in the formation of the Royal Collection”. The display features artworks including Rembrandt’s The Shipbuilder and his Wife (1633) – at 5,000 guineas it was the most expensive artwork he ever purchased (pictured), as well as works by the likes of Jan Steen, Aelbert Cuyp and David Teniers. There’s also portraits the King commissioned from Sir Thomas Gainsborough, a Louis XVI service created by Sevres (1783-92) and the great Shield of Achilles (1821) – designed by John Flaxman, it was on display at his Coronation banquet. Other items include diplomatic gifts sent to the King – such as a red and yellow feather cape (‘ahu’ula) from King Kamehameha II and Queen Kamamalu of the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) and a Maori club brought from Hawaii by Captain Cook’s ship Resolution – and a copy of Emma sent to him by Jane Austen’s publisher. Runs until 4th May. Admission charge applies. For more, head to www.rct.uk/visit/the-queens-gallery-buckingham-palace. PICTURE: Sir Thomas Lawrence, George IV (1762-1830), 1821 (Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019)
• A new exhibition commemorating the release of The Clash’s third album, London Calling, 40 years ago opens at Museum of London tomorrow. The display features items from the group’s personal archive such as Paul Simonon’s broken Fender Precision Bass, which Simonon smashed while on stage in New York City on 21st September, 1979, a handwritten album sequence by Mick Jones showing the final order for the four sides of the double album London Calling, one of Joe Strummer’s notebooks from 1979 and the typewriter he used to document his ideas, lyrics and other writing, and Topper Headon’s drumsticks. To coincide with the opening, Sony Music is releasing the London Calling Scrapbook, a hardback companion to the display which comes with the album, on CD. The free display can be seen until next spring. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• Skate at Somerset House with Fortnum & Mason is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The ice-skating rink, which opened this week, is being accompanied by the major exhibition 24/7 exploring the non-stop nature of modern life, as well as a programme of events including Somerset’s first skating ‘all-nighter’ on 7th December and special ‘Skate Lates’. There’s also Fortnum’s Christmas Arcade which, along with dining venue Fortnum’s Lodge has been created in Somerset House’s West Wing, as well as the rinkside Skate Lounge – home to the Bailey’s Treat Bar, and the Museum of Architecture’s Gingerbread City, now in its fourth year. Until 12th January. Admission charges apply. Head here for more.
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Queen Victoria was a monarch known for breaking records and, thanks to her rule being in an age when technology was advancing at an incredible pace, performing royal-related “firsts”.
Among the latter is the fact that the Queen was the first British monarch to travel by train – a feat she performed with Prince Albert by her side on 13th June, 1842. It was he, who having first travelled on a train in 1839, had encouraged the rather nervous 23-year-old to make the journey (which she apparently agreed to undertake only two days before she actually did).
Travelling in a specially adapted “royal saloon” decorated with flowers, the royal couple travelled on the Great Western Railway, leaving Slough, which they had travelled to from Windsor Castle, at noon and arriving at London’s Paddington Station some 25 minutes later. Queen Victoria later wrote that there was no dust or great heat during the journey which, in fact, was “delightful and so quick”.
The train – which was pulled by the Firefly-class steam engine Phlegethon – was driven by Sir Daniel Gooch who was assisted by engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, builder of the railway. The Queen’s carriage was sandwiched in between six other carriages and trucks to act as a buffer in case of an accident.
On arriving at Paddington (at a temporary building which had been opened in 1838 and which would be replaced in 1854), the Queen was greeted by railway officials and their families along with a detachment of hussars on a platform covered with a red carpet. Crowds quickly grew and the royal couple were then escorted to Buckingham Palace.
The Queen would go on to regularly use railways as she travelled about Britain and even had a special signal installed on the roof of the royal carriage so the driver could be instructed to slow down as required.
Interestingly, the current Queen – Elizabeth II – and Prince Philip re-enacted the journey in 2017 to mark its 175th anniversary. They were accompanied by Isambard Thomas, the great, great, great grandson of Brunel and Gillian White, great, great grand-daughter of Gooch.
• The impact of Queen Victoria on Buckingham Palace, transforming what was empty residence into “the most glittering court in Europe”, is a special focus of this year’s summer opening of Buckingham Palace. Marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Queen, the exhibition Queen Victoria’s Palace recreates the music, dancing and entertaining that characterised the early part of the Queen’s reign using special effects and displays. Highlights include the Queen’s costume (pictured) for the Stuart Ball of 13th July, 1851, where attendees dressed in the style of King Charles II’s court. There’s also a recreation of a ball held in the palace’s newly completed Ballroom and Ball Supper Room on 17th June, 1856, to mark the end of the Crimean War and honour returning soldiers which uses a Victorian illusion technique known as Pepper’s Ghost to bring to life Louis Haghe’s watercolour, The Ball of 1856. The table in the State Dining Room, meanwhile, has been dressed with items from the ‘Victoria’ pattern dessert service, purchased by the Queen at the 1851 Great Exhibition, and the room also features the Alhambra table fountain, a silver-gilt and enamel centrepiece commissioned by Victoria and Albert in the same year, and silver-gilt pieces from the Grand Service, commissioned by the Queen’s uncle, King George IV, on which sit replica desserts based on a design by Queen Victoria’s chief cook, Charles Elme Francatelli. The summer opening runs until 29th September. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.rct.uk/visit/the-state-rooms-buckingham-palace. PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019
• The Victorian reign is also the subject of a new exhibition at the British Museum where rare etchings by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert have gone on display. At home: Royal etchings by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert features 20 artworks that they created during the early years of their marriage and depict scenes of their domestic lives at Windsor Castle and Claremont including images of their children and pets. The display includes three works donated to the museum by King George V, Queen Victoria’s grandson, in 1926, and it’s the first time they’ve gone on public display. Prince Albert introduced the Queen to the practice of etching soon after their wedding and under the guidance of Sir George Hayter they made their first works on 28th August, 1840. They would go on to collaborate on numerous works together. The display can be seen in Room 90a until mid-September. Admission is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org. PICTURE: The Princess Royal and Prince of Wales, 1843, by Albert, Prince Consort (after Queen Victoria) © The Trustees of the British Museum.
• American artist Ed Ruscha is the subject of the latest “Artist Rooms” annual free display in the Tate Modern’s Blavatnik building on South Bank. The display features works spanning Ruscha’s six-decade career, including large, text-based paintings and his iconic photographic series. There is also a display of Ruscha’s artist’s books – including Various Small Fires 1964 and Every Building on the Sunset Strip 1966 – as well as some 40 works on paper gifted to Tate by the artist. Highlights include his series of photographs of LA’s swimming pools and parking lots, paintings inspired by classic Hollywood cinema, and works such as DANCE? (1973), Pay Nothing Until April (2003) and Our Flag (2017). Runs until spring 2020. Admission is free. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.
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As well as being a location for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s carriage rides, Hyde Park was the scene of what the Queen described as “the greatest day in our history” – the opening of the Great Exhibition in 1851.
Designed by Joseph Paxton, the vast Crystal Palace had been constructed on the south side of the park and it was at noon on 1st May, 1851 (having already celebrated their son Arthur’s first birthday), that the Queen and Prince arrived in a closed carriage to officially open the exhibition, encountering, as they did so, the biggest crowd they’d ever seen.
They were greeted by massed choirs as they entered the Crystal Palace after which Prince Albert delivered an address to the Queen and she made a short reply before the choir then sang the Hallelujah Chorus. The Royal Family – the Queen holding the hand of Bertie, the Prince of Wales, and the Prince holding that of Princess Victoria “Vicky” – then toured the building, cheered on by thousands of onlookers.
The exhibition, with its thousands of displays from around the world, was then officially declared open by the Lord Chamberlain and 100 cannons were fired outside.
The royal couple returned to Buckingham Palace where, for the first time, they walked out onto the balcony to greet the thousands of people massed outside.
Victoria described the day as one to “live for ever” in her journal. Paul Thomas Murphy, in his book Shooting Victoria, records that she went on to write: “God bless my dearest Albert, God bless my dearest country, which has shown itself so great to-day. One felt so grateful to the great God, who seemed to pervade all and to bless all.”
Interestingly, the park was also where Queen Victoria, in the presence of Prince Albert and other members of the Royal Family, presented 62 men with the first Victoria Crosses on 26th June, 1857. It was also where, sadly without the Prince, the Queen made a surprise appearance on 22nd June, 1887, as thousands of school children ate a free meal given as a gift to celebrate her Golden Jubilee.
PICTURE: ‘Her Majesty and the Princes passing through the Crystal Palace’, 1851 Sharles, H (artist) ; Ackermann & Co. (printer and publisher)/© Victoria and Albert Museum London.
WHERE: Hyde Park (nearest Tube stations are Lancaster Gate, Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge); WHEN: 5am to midnight; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park
It was on this road connecting the western end of The Mall outside Buckingham Palace with Hyde Park Corner that an infamous incident took place during Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s early years together.
For it was from a footpath on Constitution Hill that the first of eight assassination attempts were made on the Queen as the couple – the Queen then pregnant – rode out from the palace in a low slung carriage headed for Hyde Park as was their custom.
Edward Oxford was just 18-years-old when at on 10th June, 1840, he took up a position on a footpath on Constitution Hill where he stood for a couple of hours before, at about 6pm, as the royal couple’s carriage sailed past, he fired two pistols at them.
Both shots missed (in fact, no bullets were ever found) and Queen Victoria was quick to order the carriage to drive on (she and Albert would also ride out along the same route the next day despite the scare – this time there was a sizeable crowd of well-wishers eager to convey their good sentiments to the Queen and a procession of these followed their carriage up the hill to Hyde Park).
Oxford, meanwhile, was immediately seized by onlookers and stripped of his guns. He immediately admitted his crime, was subsequently arrested, charged with treason and later acquitted on grounds of insanity before being detained in an asylum at Her Majesty’s pleasure (he was eventually discharged with the proviso that he head to one of England’s overseas colonies and ended up living out his days in Melbourne, Australia).
An interesting footnote is that future artist John Everett Millais, then aged just 11-years-old, was among those standing on Constitution Hill watching the Queen drive past on the day of the assassination attempt.
There were another seven assassination attempts on Queen Victoria over the ensuing years. For more on them, check out Paul Thomas Murray’s detailed book Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem and the Modernisation of the Monarchy.
PICTURE: A view down Constitution Hill towards Buckingham Palace fro, the top of Wellington Arch.
You may have noticed that last week we kicked off a new Wednesday series on 10 (more) London garden squares, only having kicked off a new series on 10 sites from Victoria and Albert’s London the week before. To clarify, we are currently running the Victoria and Albert series, the garden squares entry snuck in by accident (but we’ll be returning to the garden squares down the track)! Apologies for any confusion...
Queen Victoria, the first British monarch to use Buckingham Palace as an official residence, moved her household into the palace just three weeks after ascending to the throne on 20th June, 1837.
The palace, which had been empty for seven years following the death of her uncle King George IV, had been undergoing a grand repurposing under architect John Nash, transforming it from a house into a palace.
Originally built in 1703 as a London residence for John Sheffield, the 3rd Earl of Mulgrave, in 1761 the property had been purchased by King George III as a family home for his wife Queen Charlotte (14 of the couple’s 15 children were born here).
Remodelling of the property began the following year and had been continued by King George IV following his accession to the throne in 1820. As a result of the ongoing work, George IV never lived in the palace nor did his successor, King William IV, who preferred Clarence House.
The building works still weren’t finished when Victoria moved in. Her ministers had advised her to remain at Kensington Palace, her childhood home, until the works were finished but Victoria wasn’t having any of that – the move would help her escape the overbearing care of her mother Victoria, Duchess of Kent, the ambitious Sir John Conroy, and the so-called (and stifling) ‘Kensington System’ of rules under which she’d been brought up.
When Victoria married Albert (see the previous entry) on 10th February, 1840, the newly weds made the palace their London home. It was here that, over the next 17 years, Victoria would give birth to eight of their nine children (starting with Victoria ‘Vicky’, in 1840), and where the couple would work, controversially at side-by-side desks.
The couple’s growing family was soon stretching the palace accommodations and following a request from Queen Victoria, in 1846 some £20,000 was granted by Parliament on 13th August to complete and extend the grand property with an additional £50,000 for the works raised from the sale of the Royal Pavilion to the Brighton Corporation.
Under the direction of architect Edward Blore and builder Thomas Cubitt, the East Wing was added at the front of the palace, enclosing what had previously been a horseshoe-shaped courtyard and creating the famous central balcony where the Royal Family now gather on special occasions. Queen Victoria made the first public appearance on the balcony in 1851 during the Great Exhibition (pictured above are members of the Royal Family at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton).
A new ballroom – designed by Nash’s student James Pennethorne – was added to the State Rooms shortly after. This was inaugurated in May, 1856, with a ball held there the following month to mark the end of the Crimean War.
The ball was one of several held at the palace during those years along with official royal ceremonies and other entertainments including musical performances by the likes of Felix Mendelssohn and Johann Strauss II.
A new exhibition, Queen Victoria’s Palace, opens at Buckingham Palace next month.
WHERE: State Rooms, Buckingham Palace (nearest Tube stations are Victoria, Green Park and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: 20th July to 29th September (opening at 9am, closing times vary – see website for details); COST: £25 an adult/£14 a child (under 17s/under fives free)/£22.80 concession/£64 family; WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/buckinghampalace.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the births of both Queen Victoria (24th May) and Prince Albert (26th August) and, in celebration, we’re running a special series on London locations that played a key role in their joint lives.
First up is the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace where the royal couple were married on 10th February, 1840. It was the first marriage of a reigning queen since Queen Mary I in 1554.
The chapel, which hosted the christening of Prince George in 2013 and Prince Louis in 2018, was built in about 1540 and substantially altered since, including under the eye of Sir Robert Smirke in 1837. It was built on a north-south axis rather than the more usual east-west (a sizeable window on its northern wall can be seen to the right of the palace’s main gatehouse – see picture).
The chapel, which features a richly decorate ceiling said to have been painted by Holbein, has been used regularly by the Chapel Royal – a department of Royal Household – since 1702.
At the wedding, the Queen wore a white satin gown with a deep flounce of handmade Honiton lace, designed by William Dyce, which featured a long veil and an 18 foot long train (she had 12 train bearers). Her jewellery included a sapphire broach given to her by Albert and she wore a headress of orange blossoms. Victoria’s dress is said by some to have popularised the idea of the white wedding dress among the English (although there is apparently some debate over this).
Among those in attendance was Victoria’s mother, the Dowager Duchess of Kent and Strathearn, Albert’s father and brother, the Duke and Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha respectively, and various other royals including Queen Adelaide, the widow of King William IV, as well as the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne (who, in fact, carried the Sword of State). Given the fact Victoria’s father was dead, it was her uncle, the Duke of Sussex, who walked her up the aisle.
It was a big affair in the city – people lined the roads between Buckingham and St James’s palaces and some reportedly even climbed trees for a better view. Victoria wrote in her diary that she’d never seen such crowds “and they cheered most enthusiastically”.
The wedding breakfast, which featured a 300lb cake which was nine foot in circumference, was held at Buckingham Palace after which the newly weds headed off to Windsor for a two day honeymoon.
Famously, before the wedding, the Archbishop of Canterbury had apparently asked Victoria whether, given she was Queen, she wanted to remove the word “obey” from her wedding vows. Victoria had refused.
There are limited opportunities for the public to attend services in the Chapel Royal at certain times of the year.