Sure, it’s quite obvious that this well-known thoroughfare through Chelsea and Fulham in west London was named for a king but which king and why?

kings-roadIt was the Stuart king Charles II who first starting using the road’s course as part of his route to Hampton Court which meant it was closed to the public.

Access was granted only to those whom the monarch permitted – initially via ticket and from the 1720s via a copper pass stamped with the king’s monogram. Entry was controlled by a series of gates located along its length.

King George III was also known to use the route to travel to his palace at Kew and it was only in 1830 that it was finally opened to the public.

The road, which now runs west from Sloane Square for two miles through Chelsea, transforming into the New King’s Road after entering Fulham, is now known for its shopping (not to mention the site of the UK’s first Starbucks in 1999) although in the 1960s and 1970s it served as something of a hub for London’s counter-culture.

The road has been associated with many famous figures over the years – the king aside. Composer Thomas Arne lived at number 215 and apparently composed Rule Britannia while he did, actress Ellen Terry lived in the same property from 1904-1920 and bon vivant Peter Ustinov after her.

Other famous associations include one with Mary Quant, who opened her ground-breaking boutique Bazaar at number 138a in 1955 and Thomas Crapper, toilet entrepreneur, who had a premises at number 120.

PICTURE: Secret Pilgrim/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

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This year marks 300 years since the birth of Lancelot “Capability” Brown, the most famed landscape designer of the Georgian age and a man who has been described as the “father of landscape architecture”.

Capability-BrownBrown is understood to have been born in 1716 in the village of Kirkharle in Northumberland, the fifth of six children of a land agent and a chambermaid (he was baptised in on 30th August so it is believed his birth happened sometime earlier that same year).

He attended the village school before he worked as apprentice or assistant to the head gardener in Sir William Loraine’s kitchen garden at Kirkharle Hall.

Having left home in 1741 he joined the gardening staff of Lord Cobham, as one of the gardeners at his property in Stowe, Buckinghamshire.

There he worked with William Kent, another famed landscape architect of the Georgian age and one of the founders of the new English style of gardens, until, at the age of 26, he was appointed head gardener.

He remained in Stowe until 1750 and while there, in 1744, married Bridget Wayet (with whom he went on to have nine children). During his time there, he also created the Grecian Valley and also took on freelance work from Lord Cobham’s noble friends, a fact which allowed him to produce a body of work that would start to make his reputation.

Having struck out on his own from Stowe, he settled with his family in Hammersmith, London, in the early 1750s, already widely known and considered by some the finest gardener in the kingdom.

The work continued to flow in and it’s believed that, over the span of his career, Brown was responsible for designing or contributing to the design of as many as 250 gardens at locations across the UK, – many of which can still be seen today. As well as Stowe, these included gardens at Blenheim Palace, Appuldurcombe House on the Isle of Wight, Warwick Castle, Harewood House and Petworth House in West Sussex.

Following on from the work of Kent, Brown was known for his naturalistic undulating landscapes, in particular their immense scale, flowing waterways and a feature known as a ‘ha-ha’, a ditch which blended seamlessly into the landscape but which was aimed at keeping animals away from the main house of the estate.

His style, which contrasted sharply with the more formalised, geometric gardens epitomised in the French style of gardening, did not, however, meet with universal praise. Criticisms levelled against him including that he had often erased the works of gardeners of previous generations to complete gardens which were, in the end, described by some as looking no different to “common fields”.

It’s worth noting that Brown also dabbled in architecture itself – his first country house project was the remodelling of Croome Court in Worcestershire and he went on to design and contribute to the design of several houses including Burghley House Northamptonshire as well as outbuildings including stable blocks.

The nickname ‘Capability’ apparently came from his habit of informing his client that their estates had great “capability” for improvement. It’s wasn’t apparently a name he used himself.

So established became his reputation that in 1764 Brown was appointed King George III’s Master Gardener at Hampton Court Palace (as well as Richmond and St James’ Palaces), taking up residence with his family at Wilderness House. He also worked on the gardens at Kew Palace.

Brown died on 6th February, 1783, in Hertford Street in London at the door of his daughter Bridget’s house (she had married architect Henry Holland with whom he Brown had, at times, collaborated). He was buried in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul, the parish church of a small estate Brown owned at Fenstanton Manor in Cambridgeshire.

Brown impact on garden design in England is now undisputed although it wasn’t always the case – his contribution was largely dismissed in the 18th century and it was only in the later 20th century that he had become firmly established as a giant figure in the gardening world.

A celebrated portrait of Brown (pictured above) – painted by Nathaniel Dance in about 1773 – is in the collection of National Portrait Gallery.

For more on events surrounding the 300th anniversary of Brown’s birth, see www.capabilitybrown.org.

PICTURE: Capability Brown by Nathaniel Dance, circa 1773. © National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Kew-Palace-2 The education of the daughters of King George III and Queen Charlotte is the subject of a new display which has opened at Kew Palace in Kew Gardens. The queen’s progressive approach to learning meant the princesses received a “thoroughly modern” schooling covering everything from geography to art, upholstery to tackling brain-teasers as well as botany and music. The latter, in particular the harpsichord, was a particular passion of Princess Augusta, and to instruct her and the other girls, JC Bach, son of world-renowned composer JS Bach, was employed as music master (the display features a hand-written copy of his father’s Well-Tempered Clavier – designed to train and test the skills of harpsichord players). Other items on show include a copy of Queen Charlotte’s own tortoiseshell notebook embellished with gold and diamonds, a letter the queen wrote to the princesses’ governess – reputedly the first letter she wrote in English, and a series of newly acquired satirical prints from the Baker Collection depicting Queen Charlotte and her daughters. The new display can be seen from today. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kew-palace/. PICTURE: Newsteam/Historic Royal Palaces.

The lives of servants working in middle-class houses in London over the last 400 years are the subject of an exhibition which opened at the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch earlier this month. Swept Under The Carpet? Servants in London Households, 1600-2000 illustrates the dynamic nature of the relationship between servants and their employers – from the intimacy of a maid checking her master’s hair for nits in the late 17th century to an ayah caring for an Anglo-Indian family’s children in the late 19th century and an au-pair picking up after the children in the middle of the 20th century. It explores their story through an examination of the places in which they worked – the middle class parlour, drawing room and living room. Entry to the exhibition, which runs until 4th September, is free. For more, www.geffrye-museum.org.uk.

On Now – Vogue 100: A Century of Style. This exhibition currently running at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square features iconic images of some of the 20th century’s most famous faces. Included are rarely seen images of the Beatles and Jude Law as well as portraits of everyone from artists Henri Matisse and Francis Bacon, actors Marlene Dietrich and Gwyneth Paltrow, Lady Diana Spencer and soccer player David Beckham. There’s also complete set of prints from Corinne Day’s controversial Kate Moss 1993 underwear shoot, Peter Lindbergh’s famous 1990 cover shot – said to define the ‘supermodel era’, a series of World War II photographs by Vogue‘s official war correspondent Lee Miller and vintage prints from the first professional fashion photographer, Baron de Meyer. The display can be seen until 22nd May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

What’s in a name?…Kew…

September 21, 2015

Kew-PalaceFamed as the location of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a Thames-side suburb in London’s west.

It’s the riverside location which gives the area its name – Kew is apparently a corrupted form of Cayho, a word first recorded in the early 14th century which is itself made of two words referring to a landing place (the ‘Cay’ part) and a spur of land (the ‘ho’ part). The latter may refer in this case to the large “spur” of land upon which Kew is located, created by a dramatic bend in the Thames. The former may refer to a ford which crossed the river here (explaining the name of Brentford on the other side).

While the area had long been the home of a small hamlet for the local farming and fishing community, more substantial houses began to be developed in Kew in the late 15th and early 16th centuries thanks to the demand for homes for courtiers attending the King Henry VII and his successors at nearby Richmond Palace (the royal connections of the area in fact go back much further to the early Middle Ages).

But it was during the Georgian era, when the Royal Botanic Gardens were founded and Kew Palace, formerly known as the Dutch House, became a royal residence (it is pictured above), that Kew really kicked off (and by the way, Kew Palace is not the only surviving 17th century building in the area – West Hall, once home of painter William Harriot, is also still here).

While King George II and his wife Queen Caroline used Richmond Lodge, now demolished but then located at the south end of what is now the gardens, as their summer residence, they thought Kew Palace would make a good home for their three daughters (their heir, Frederick, Prince of Wales, lived opposite his sisters at the now long-gone White House). Kew Palace, meanwhile, would later be a residence of other members of the Royal Family as well, including King George III during his bouts of madness.

Other buildings of note from the Georgian era in Kew include Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, a thatched property built between 1754 and 1771 and granted to Queen Charlotte by her husband, King George III (like the palace, it now lies within the grounds of Kew Gardens). St Anne’s Church, located on Kew Green, dates from 1714 and hosts the tombs of artists Johann Zoffany and Thomas Gainsborough.

In 1840, the gardens which surrounded the palace were opened to the public as a national botanic garden and the area further developed with the opening of the railway station in 1869, transforming what was formerly a small village into the leafy largely residential suburb which we find there today (although you can still find the village at its heart).

As well as Kew Gardens (and Kew Palace), Kew is today also the home of the National Archives, featuring government records dating back as far as 1086.

Fringe-LoomThe fringe loom of Queen Charlotte – wife of King George III – is among the objects on display at Kew Palace this year. Historic Royal Palaces is exploring some of the untold stories of the king’s daughters who once called the palace, which was originally built in 1631 for a Flemish merchant before it was acquired by King George II, home. Under examination are the pastimes of the royal women – from drawing and painting to weaving, paper cutting and even the decoration of a ‘Baby House’ created by the princesses as a showcase of their talents. Along with Kew Palace – located inside Kew Gardens in London’s west, also opened is the nearby rustic retreat built in 1770 known as Queen Charlotte’s cottage. Inside is the “Print Room”, hung with more than 150 satirical engravings, and the “Picnic Room”, decorated paintings of trailing nasturtiums and convolvulus – the work of Princess Elizabeth, an acclaimed artist. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/KewPalace/.
PICTURE: Historic Royal Palaces

GeorgesThis year marks the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian accession and to celebrate, Historic Royal Palaces are running a range of events at Hampton Court, Kensington and Kew Palaces. The ‘Glorious Georges’ season opens on Easter weekend – we’ll be bringing more details closer to the time.In the meantime, see which of the Georges and associated figures you can identify in this image. For more, check out www.hrp.org.uk.

 

Given this week’s release of English Heritage’s The London List 2011 – which lists all properties given a new or upgraded heritage listing last year, we thought it was only appropriate to look at one of the properties listed, in this case the Royal Kitchens in Kew Gardens.

Upgraded to a Grade I listing in 2011, the kitchens were opened to the public for the first time in May this year following a £1 million restoration. The origins of the kitchens go back to the 1730s when they were built to the designs of William Kent to serve the White House, the grand mansion of Frederick, Prince of Wales (eldest son and heir of King George II).

While the White House was demolished in 1802, the Georgian kitchens – built in a separate building to mitigate the risk of fire – were kept to serve the nearby premises of Kew Palace (formerly known as the “Dutch House”, it had been originally built in 1631 for a Flemish merchant).

But after the death of Queen Charlotte (wife of King George III) in 1818, members of the Royal family only stayed occasionally and so the kitchen fell into disuse. While the upper floors were given over to accommodation, the lower floor remained untouched, allowing it to survive in a considerable degree of intactness.

The kitchens centre on the double storey ‘Great Kitchen’ featuring three charcoal stoves as well as a rare cooking range with “smoke jack” and fan. Other rooms include a scullery, a bakery, larders and stores for silver and spices while among the surviving furnishings is a preparation table or dresser, cupboards, shelves and baking ovens. Upstairs, the office of the clerk who oversaw the feeding of the Royal Household has been restored.

Historic Royal Palaces, who look after the kitchens, have installed a new permanent exhibition at the site which focuses life on the 6th February, 1789, the date when King George III, having suffered his first bout of ‘madness’ (believed to be porphyria), was given back his knife and fork. William Wybrow was the Master Cook at this time and William Gorton the Clerk of the Kitchen.

WHERE: The Royal Kitchens, Kew Gardens, Kew (nearest Tube Station is Kew Gardens); WHEN: 11am to 5pm daily until 30th September, then Thursday to Sunday until 28th October, then daily again until 4th November; COST: Kew Gardens tickets must be purchased – £16 adults/£14 concessions/children under 16 free – and then tickets to Kew Palace – £6 adults/£4.50 concessions/children under 16 free (or free with annual Historic Royal Palaces membership); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/kewpalace/stories/palacehighlights/royalkewkitchens.

PICTURE: Forster/HRP

For more on Kew Palace, check out Kew Palace: The Official Illustrated History.