What’s in a name?…Shoe Lane…

Looking south down Shoe Lane from near Charterhouse Street where it passes under the Holborn Viaduct. PICTURE: Courtesy of Google Maps.

This name of this rather long laneway, which runs from Charterhouse Street, under Holborn Viaduct, all the way south to Fleet Street, doesn’t have anything to do with footwear.

The name is actually a corruption of the Sho Well which once stood at the north end of the thoroughfare (and which itself may have been named after a tract of land known as Shoeland Farm thanks to it resembling a shoe in shape).

In the 13th century the lane was the London home of the Dominican Black Friars – after they left in the late 13th century, the property became the London home of the Earl of Lincoln and later became known as Holborn Manor.

In the 17th century, the lane was known as for its signwriters and broadsheet creators as well as for a famous cockpit which was visited by none other than diarist Samuel Pepys in 1663. It was also the location of a workhouse.

Prominent buildings which have survived also include St Andrew Holborn, designed by Sir Christopher Wren (it actually survived the Great Fire of London but was in such a bad state of repair that it was rebuilt anyway). The street these days is lined with office buildings.

Famous residents have included John de Critz, Serjeant Painter to King James I and King Charles I, preacher Praise-God Barebone who gave his name to Barebone’s Parliament held in 1653 during the English Commonwealth, and Paul Lovell, who, so the story goes, refused to leave his house during the Great Fire of 1666 and so died in his residence.

This Week in London – Stephen Lawrence and Dick Whittington remembered; Museum of London seeks Jewish-fashion items for new display; and, become a volunteer ranger at The Regent’s Park…

The Guildhall Art Gallery which contains the City of London Heritage Gallery. PICTURE: Jim Linwood (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Stephen Lawrence, a London teenager who was killed in a racially motivated murder in 1993, and four-times medieval Mayor of London, Richard Whittington, are both remembered in a new display at the City of London Heritage Gallery. Among the items on show is a report by the headteacher of John Roan School in Greenwich which was created following Lawrence’s death along with the last will and testament of Whittington and a book recording his third election as mayor in 1406 and showing his decorated coat of arms. Also on show in the gallery is a Bomb Damage Map which, produced by London County Council, shows the extent of damage to Rotherhithe and part of the Isle of Dogs following a German Luftwaffe raid in September, 1940. The display can be seen until 28th April. Admission is free but booking is recommended. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/events/heritage-gallery-exhibition.

The Museum of London is seeking information on high-profile items of clothing created by leading Jewish fashion designers ahead of an exhibition running later this year. Fashion City: How Jewish Londoners Shaped Global Style, scheduled to open in October, will explore the major contribution of Jewish designers had in making London an iconic fashion city during the 20th century. It will feature pieces from the museum’s own collections but those behind the exhibition are also looking for a range of other high profile items. These include menswear made by Mr Fish and Cecil Gee which were worn by famous names such as Sean Connery, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Muhammad Ali, Michael Caine and The Beatles, womenswear made by Rahvis in the 1930s and 1940s and worn by Hollywood film stars, hats made by Otto Lucas and worn by the likes of Greta Garbo and Wallis Simpson, a theatre costume made by Neymar for Cecil Landau’s 1949 production of Sauce Tartare, and 1930s gowns made by dressmaker Madame Isobel (Isobel Spevak Harris). Anyone who has information about the location of these objects are asked to email fashioncity@museumoflondon.org.uk with any information. More information on the exhibition will be provided closer to the date.

The Royal Parks is looking for volunteer rangers in The Regent’s Park this spring. Following the success of volunteer ranger programmes in Richmond, Bushy and Greenwich Parks, the charity is seeking “friendly and chatty people who are passionate about The Regent’s Park, and keen to inspire and educate visitors”. Volunteers, who need to commit to a minimum of three hours per month, will work in pairs and share facts about the park’s heritage as well as provide tips on the best walking and cycling routes and inform visitors on how everyone can help nature thrive in the parks. Rangers can choose from a range of 90-minute volunteering sessions across weekdays and weekends. Applications close on 26th February. Full training will be provided. To apply, visit www.royalparks.org.uk/rangers.

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10 historic London homes that are now museums…3. Keats House…

Briefly the home of Romantic poet John Keats, this Hampstead premises is a now a museum dedicated to the writer and exhibition space.

Constructed in around 1815 as a pair of semi-detached dwellings, the now Grade I-listed house was one of the first to be built in the area. The two residences were initially occupied by critic Charles Wentworth Dilke and his family, and by the writer Charles Armitage Brown.

PICTURE: It’s No Game (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Keats, a friend of Dilke and Brown, began visiting the Regency-era villa, then named Wentworth Place, soon after. He was then living with his two younger brothers nearby in Well Walk but after George married and emigrated to America and Tom died of tuberculosis and, Brown invited Keats to move in as a lodger.

He did so in December, 1818, and it was while living at the property that he composed La Belle Dame sans Mercians, completed The Eve of St Agnes and write his famous odes, including Ode to a Nightingale.

The Dilkes family moved out in April, 1819, and Mrs Brawne and her daughter moved in. Keats developed an intimate relationship with the daughter, Fanny, and the couple were secretly engaged but owing to his premature death, never married.

In September, 1820, with his health failing, Keats left the property and headed to Rome (the trip was funded by friends who hoped the warm climate would help improve his health). He died in the eternal city on 23rd February, 1821, and was buried in the city’s Protestant cemetery.

Brown, meanwhile, left the property in June, 1822 (he also left for Italy) and Keats’ sister Fanny – who had become friends with Fanny Brawne – moved into Brown’s half of the house with her husband Valentin Llanos between 1828 and 1831. The Brawnes left in early 1830.

Subsequent occupants included actor Eliza Chester who converted the two residences into one.

The property was threatened with demolition in the early 20th century but saved by public subscription. It opened to the Keats Memorial House on 9th May, 1925. In 1931, a new building was erected nearby house artefacts related to Keats.

Since 1998 the property has been under the management of the City of London Corporation. It underwent a restoration project in the mid-1970s and again between 2007 and 2009. The Keats Foundation was established in November, 2010, and is involved in educational initiatives, both at Keats House and elsewhere.

Visitors to the house today are taken on a journey through Keats’ short life and legacy. Among the artefacts which can be seen there are items related to his time as a medical student, portraits of some of the famous people Keats met while living at the property including the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Percy Bysshe Shelley as well as Shelley’s wife Mary (author of Frankenstein), a bust of Keats which stands at his actual height – just over five feet tall, and a mask of Keats’ face made by his artist friend Benjamin Haydon. 

There’s also portraits of both Keats and Fanny, Fanny’s engagement ring, and a volume of Shakespeare’s plays Keats gave her before leaving for Rome as well as busts of Charles Brown and editor Leigh Hunt (it was through Hunt that Keats met Dilke and Brown).

The garden features a 200-year-old mulberry tree and a plum tree which was planted to commemorate Ode to A Nightingale.

A Blue Plaque (although it’s actually brown) was unveiled at the house at 10 Keats Grove by representatives of the Royal Society of Arts on the property as far back as 1896 to commemorate Keats.

WHERE: Keats House, 10 Keats Grove, Hampstead (nearest Overground station is Hampstead Heath; nearest Tube stations are Hampstead and Belsize Park); WHEN: 11am to 1pm and 2pm to 4pm, Thursday, Friday and Sunday; COST: £8 adults/£4.75 concession; 18 and under free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/attractions-museums-entertainment/keats-house/visit-keats-house.

10 historic London homes that are now museums…2. Carlyle’s House…

Carlyle’s House frontage. PICTURE: Kotomi_ (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This Chelsea terraced house, now owned by the National Trust, was once the home of the Victorian literary couple, essayist and historian Thomas Carlyle and his wife (and skilled letter writer) Jane.

The Carlyles moved into the red brick property at 24 Cheyne Row (formerly number 5) in 1834, having left rural Scotland to see what they could make of themselves in London.

As their stars rose – by mid 19th century Thomas, the “sage of Chelsea”, had become an influential social commentator, the home became something of a hub for Victorian literati with the likes of Charles Dickens, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, George Eliot and William Thackeray all visiting them here.

When Thomas died at the property on 5th February, 1881 (Jane had died in 1866), the home reverted to the landlord but a group of admirers decided it needed to be preserved as a memorial to their friend. They raised funds through a public subscription and in 1895 opened it as a shrine to the writer.

The National Trust took over the running of the house, which was built in around 1708, in 1936 with the enthusiastic support of founder Octavia Hill who herself was a Carlyle fan.

The property, which still retains many of its original fixtures and fittings, features a recreation of the couple’s parlour based on Robert Tait’s painting A Chelsea Interior which depicts the Carlyles in the room in 1857.

The property also boasts the attic study that Thomas had constructed in August, 1853, and where he wrote The French Revolution, Latter Day Pamphlets and Fredrick the Great. His attempts at sound-proofing it had failed.

Meanwhile, Jane’s dressing room features a pair of original chintz curtains which she made in the late 1840s.

Inside the parlour at Carlyle’s House. PICTURE: Kotomi_ (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Among the items on show in the property is a necklace given to Jane by German writer and stateman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe which features a pendant containing a portrait of him. There’s also a a decoupage screen made by Jane using prints in 1849 and wallpapers by William Morris.

The property, which also features a small walled garden and a bust of Thomas Carlyle on the facade, is currently undergoing restoration work and will reopen in March.

WHERE: Carlyle’s House, 24 Cheyne Row, Chelsea (nearest Tube stations are Sloane Square and South Kensington); WHEN: Check website when it reopens; COST: £9 adults/£4.50 children; WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carlyles-house.

Five locations located to Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’…

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is forever linked to Christmas in London. So, with Christmas almost upon us, here’s a quick look at five locations mentioned or alluded to in the famous book…

1. 16 Bayham Street, Camden Town. Bob Cratchit’s house is described as being in Camden Town but what’s interesting is that as a child Dickins’ himself lived here at this property. So whether or not it’s the actual address Dickens had in mind for Cratchit’s property, it’s certainly in the vicinity.

The Royal Exchange today. PICTURE: Klaudia Piaskowska/Unsplash

2. The Royal Exchange. Referenced in regard to Ebenezer Scrooge who did business there. The current building was still being completed when Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843 following a fire at the premises several years before. It was opened in 1844.

3. Simpsons Tavern. Scrooge is said to have taken his “melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern” which has been suggested could refers to Simpsons. Located in Ball Court, the current premises opened in 1757. The George & Vulture in Michael’s Alley is also mentioned as a possibility.

4. Newman’s Court. Located near Cornhill (which is mentioned in the book as the site where Bob Cratchit goes on a slide after leaving Scrooge’s office), it’s been suggested more than once that while the location of Scrooge’s counting house is not specified in the text, a location in Newman’s Court would fit the bill.

5. Leadenhall Market. Following Scrooge’s transformation, he sends a boy out to buy a turkey- commentators suggest the poulterer the boy attends was located in Leadenhall Market which would have been a predecessor to the current building which dates from 1881.

Treasures of London – The first (commercial) Christmas card…

Christmas cards have been a staple of Christmases (although a declining one these days) since at least as far back as 1843.

It was then that Sir Henry Cole, a civil servant, inventor and the first director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, came up with the idea of sending out a card bearing Christmas greetings to a large number of people as a means of coping with the substantial volume of correspondence he was receiving (and would have to send to greet family and friends at Christmas).

Sir Henry commissioned his friend, painter John Callcott Horsley, to design the card and an initial run of 1,000 cards were printed by Jobbins of Warwick Court in Holborn (a further thousands cards were printed in a second run).

Having sent the cards he required, Sir Henry sold the rest for a shilling each under his literary pseudonym of Felix Summerly from the premises of his publisher Joseph Cundall in Old Bond Street (the introduction of the uniform Penny Post in 1840 having made sending them affordable – Cole had been an important figure in its establishment as assistant to the idea’s main instigator Rowland Hill).

The card, which were hand-coloured by professional colourer Mason, depicts a family gathered for Christmas and imbibing wine with side panels depicting two acts of charity – “feeding the hungry” and “clothing the naked”. On it were printed the words “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You”.

The card was apparently controversial for its depiction of drinking wine (temperance advocates argued it promoted drunkenness) and particularly for its images of children drinking wine.

The idea didn’t also catch on immediately – the cost of a shilling was rather steep. But new designs soon began to appear in the following years and by the mid-1850s, the idea had finally taken hold.

WHERE: The Postal Museum, 15-20 Phoenix Place (nearest Tube stations are Farringdon, Russell Square, King’s Cross St Pancras and Chancery Lane); WHEN: 10am to 5pm Wednesday to Sunday (booking in advance suggested); COST: Adult £17/Young person (16-24) £12/Child (3-15) £10 (discounts apply for booking online/other ticket types available; WEBSITE: www.postalmuseum.org

This Week in London – 12 Days of Christmas at the Tower; Museum of London celebrates its London Wall closing; and, William Beatty at the Old Royal Naval College…

The Tower of London is getting into the festive spirit with a celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Twelve installations have been installed at the Tower, each representing as different aspect of the fortress’s unique history – from nine wreaths representing “nine rowdy ravens” to five gold coins representing the Mint once housed there. There’s also the six Queens of King Henry VIII and three “lordly lions” – a reference to a gift presented to King Henry III and housed in a Lion Pit at the tower. Visitors will have the chance to collect a map at the start of their visit and follow a trail to find the installations at they explore the Tower. Christmas at the Tower of London runs daily until 3rd January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/.

The Museum of London is preparing to close its doors at its London Wall site as it moves to its new location in Smithfield and to celebrate it’s holding two free weekend festivals. The first, to be held this weekend, will feature family-friendly activities including arts and crafts, dance, face painting and theatrical performances while the second, to be held on the weekend of 3rd and 4th December (after which the museum will close), will feature a celebration of London’s music scene from the 70s to the present day with a DJ sets, a late night film festival and museum’s first ever 24 hour opening. Visitors on both weekends can also take part in London Biggest Table Football competition for a chance to win an England shirt signed by Harry Kane and to see the museum’s collection in a new light thanks to an illuminated display. For more on the festivals, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london.

Now On: Blood and Battle: Dissecting the life of William Beatty. The life and work of renowned 19th-century naval surgeon and physician, Sir William Beatty, is explored in this exhibition at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. The display – which marks 200 years since Beatty, who had served as ship’s surgeon on HMS Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar (and who wore the musket ball that killed Nelson in a locket on his watch chain for the rest of his life afterwards) – took up the post of Physician to the Royal Hospital for Seamen – explores Beatty’s work as a ship’s surgeon, his time at Greenwich Hospital and how he was honoured by being knighted and appointed Physician Extraordinary to George IV and the Duke of Clarence (later William IV) as well as his outside interests including his involvement in developing the London – Greenwich Railway. Admission charge applies. For more, see https://ornc.org.

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8 locations for royal burials in London…4. Christ Church Greyfriars…

We’ll return to Westminster Abbey shortly but first we’re heading into the City of London.

Christ Church Greyfriars, also known as Christ Church Newgate Street, was the burial site of several queens in the medieval era.

Christ Church Greyfriars. PICTURE: Karmakolle (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0).

These include the second wife of King Edward I, Queen Marguerite, who partly financed construction of the church which commenced in the 1290s and finished well after her death in the 1360s.

Marguerite, who was the first uncrowned queen since the Norman Conquest (apparently due to the expense), was only 26 when she was widowed in 1307 (having married the king in 1299 when he was at least 40 years her senior).

She died on 14th February, 1318, while at her castle at Marlborough but her remains were brought to London where she was buried in Greyfriars wearing a Francisan habit. Her tomb, sadly, was destroyed during the Reformation.

Also buried in Greyfriars was Queen Isabella, the widow (and adversary) of the ill-fated King Edward II. Isabella, who was also known as the ‘She-wolf of France’, is said to have been buried in the clothes she wore at her wedding to the King 50 years earlier. Despite rumours to the contrary, her lover, Roger Mortimer, was not buried with her (although Isabella’s daughter – Joan of the Tower, who was the wife of King David II of Scotland – was).

While their predecessor as Queen, Eleanor of Provence, wife of King Henry III, was buried at Amesbury Priory in Wiltshire where she had died (the grave is unmarked), her heart was brought to London and buried in Greyfriars.

Others buried in the church include King Henry III and Eleanor’s daughter, Beatrice of England, and King Edward III’s daughter Isabella, Countess of Bedford.

There’s not much left of Greyfriars these days – the medieval church, one of the largest then in London, burned in the Great Fire of London of 1666 and following a rebuild under Sir Christopher Wren’s supervision, it was again all but destroyed during the Blitz in World War II.

It was decided not to rebuild and what remained of the church – some of the outer walls and tower – were designated a Grade I-listed building in 1950. Plantings inside are laid out to resemble the pews of the church in plan.

WHERE: Christ Church Greyfriars, King Edward Street (nearest Tube station is St Paul’s); WHEN: Anytime; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/city-gardens/find-a-garden/christchurch-greyfriars-church-garden

Moment(s) in London’s History – Three (more) short-term PMs…

As the nation awaits the announcement of new Prime Minister following the 48 day tenure of Liz Truss – the shortest of any British Prime Minister, we take a quick look at the circumstances surrounding the next three shortest serving PMs…

1. George Canning. Canning, a Tory, had twice served as Foreign Secretary – between 1807-1809 and 1822-1827 (a period during which he also served as Leader of the House of Commons) when, following the resignation of Prime Minister Lord Liverpool in April, 1827, he was chosen to succeed him in the office. But Canning’s health took a turn for the worse soon after and he died in office on 8th August, 1827, having served just 119 days as Prime Minister.

2. The Viscount Goderich. FJ Robinson, 1st Viscount Goderich, succeeded George Canning as Prime Minister in 1827. But he was unable to hold together Canning’s coalition of Tories and Whigs and so resigned himself after just 144 days in office. He nonetheless went on to serve in the cabinets of both Earl Grey and Sir Robert Peel.

3. Andrew Bonar Law. The only Canadian to have served as British Prime Minister, Law was a Conservative Party leader who became Prime Minister after the fall of David Lloyd George’s Coalition Government on 23rd October, 1922. The party then won a clear majority in a general election on 15th November of that year. But ill with throat cancer he resigned on 20th May the following year, having served just 211 days in office. He died soon after on 30th October that year.

This Week in London – Hieroglyphs explored at the British Museum; King Charles III coronation date announced; ‘The Admiral’s Revenge’ in Greenwich’; and, Dickens and ghosts…

The Rosetta Stone. Granodiorite; Rasid, Egypt; Ptolemaic, 196 BC © The Trustees of the British Museum.

• Marking 200 years since French Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832) was able to decipher hieroglyphs using the Rosetta Stone, a new exhibition opening at the British Museum explores how the stone and other inscriptions and objects helped scholars unlock one of the world’s oldest civilisations. Hieroglyphs: unlocking ancient Egypt centres on the Rosetta Stone but also features more than 240 other objects, many of which are shown for the first time. Alongside the Rosetta Stone itself, highlights include: “the Enchanted Basin”, a large black granite sarcophagus from about 600 BCE which is covered with hieroglyphs and images of gods; the richly illustrated, more than 3000-year-old Book of the Dead papyrus of Queen Nedjmet which measures more than four metres long; and the mummy bandage of Aberuait, a souvenir from one of the earliest ‘mummy unwrapping events’ in the 1600s where attendees each received a piece of the linen, preferably inscribed with hieroglyphs. There’s also the personal notes of key figures in the race to decipher hieroglyphs including those of Champollion which come from the Bibliothèque nationale de France as well as those of England’s Thomas Young (1773 – 1829) from the British Library. The exhibition can be seen in the Sainsbury Exhibition Gallery until 19th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see britishmuseum.org/hieroglyphs.

• King Charles III will be crowned at Westminster Abbey on 6th May next year, Buckingham Palace has announced this week. The Queen Consort, Camilla, will be crowned alongside him in the first such coronation since 12th May, 1937, when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were crowned in the abbey. The ceremony, which will be conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, will, according to the palace, “reflect the monarch’s role today and look towards the future, while being rooted in longstanding traditions and pageantry”. King Charles III is expected to sign a Proclamation formally declaring the coronation date at a meeting of the Privy Council later this year. The first documented coronation at Westminster Abbey was that of King William the Conqueror on 25th December, 1066, and there have been 37 since, the most recent being that of Queen Elizabeth II on 2nd June, 1953.

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A new dark comedy, The Admiral’s Revenge, has opened in The Admiral’s House in the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich. The play, set in 1797, features sea shanties, puppetry and follows a crew of shipmates in the wake of the ill-fated Battle of Tenerife. Audiences have the chance to explore the Admiral’s House before the show and enjoy a complimentary rum cocktail. Runs until 12th November. For ticket prices, head to https://ornc.org/whats-on/1797-the-mariners-revenge/.

A new exhibition exploring Charles Dickens’ interest in the paranormal has opened at the Charles Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury. To Be Read At Dusk: Dickens, Ghosts and the Supernatural explores Dickens’ famous ghost stories, including A Christmas Carol, and reveals his influence on the genre. Highlights include a copy of The Chimes which Dickens gifted to fellow author Hans Christian Anderson, original John Leech sketches of Dickens’ ghosts of the past, present and future and original tickets and playbills relating to the author’s public performances of his ghost stories. The display will also look into Dickens’ own views on the supernatural as a fascinated sceptic and includes  correspondence in which he was asking about the location of a supposedly haunted house. Runs until 5th March. Admission charge applies. For more, see https://dickensmuseum.com/blogs/all-events/to-be-read-at-dusk-dickens-ghosts-and-the-supernatural.

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Lost London – The Painted Chamber, Palace of Westminster…

Part of the medieval Palace of Westminster, the Painted Chamber took its name from a series of large paintings which decorated the walls.

A watercolour of the Painted Chamber in Westminster Palace by William Capon made in 1799.

The long and narrow chamber, which stood parallel to St Stephen’s Chapel, was constructed in the 13th century during the reign of King Henry III and was apparently initially intended as a private apartment for the king as well as a reception room.

It featured a state bed at one end positioned under a painting of King Edward the Confessor and also had a “squint” – a small opening at eye level – through which the monarch could view religious services in a chapel located next door.

The chamber was apparently originally known as the King’s Chamber but came to be known as the Painted Chamber when the walls were decorated with paintings depicting vices and virtues and Biblical figures.

These paintings, which were completed over an almost 60 year period from 1226 and which were repaired a couple of times during that period, were added to with commissions by successive monarchs.

The painted chamber was the location for the State Opening of Parliament in the Middle Ages and was where Oliver Cromwell and the others signed King Charles I death warrant in 1649. The body of King Charles II rested here overnight before he was interred in Westminster Abbey.

A ceiling panel from the Painted Chamber depicting a prophet, created between 1263-1266 PICTURE: © The Trustees of the British Museum (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Later neglected, the walls of the chamber were whitewashed and hung with tapestries and in the early 19th century restoration work was done to reveal the paintings again with artist and antiquarian Charles Stothard commissioned by the Society of Antiquarians in 1819 to make watercolour copies (further copies were also made by the clerk of works at Westminster, Thomas Crofton Croker).

By 1820, the chamber was being used for the Court of Requests, a civil claims court.

The Painted Chamber was gutted when fire devastated much of the Palace of Westminster on the night of 16th October, 1834. It was reroofed and refurnished and used by the House of Lords until 1847 – as well as for the State Opening of Parliament in February, 1835. It was finally demolished in 1851.

Two ceiling paintings which were removed in 1816 during repairs are now at the British Museum (pictured right).

LondonLife – Lonely vigil…

PICTURE: Laura Chouette/Unsplash

Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square.

10 (lesser known) statues of English monarchs in London…7. Three Stuart Kings and a Queen… 

King Charles I (left) and his son King Charles II on what is now the south side of the gateway. PICTURE: haluk ermis (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The equestrian statue of King Charles I at the top of Whitehall is one of London’s most well-known. But less well-known is the statue of the ill-fated King which can be found standing in a niche on the Temple Bar gateway, located at the entrance to Paternoster Square just outside of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Charles is not alone. Part of the gateway’s purpose was as a dynastic statement in support of the Stuarts so the grand portal also features statues of Charles’ father King James I, his mother Queen Anne of Denmark, and his son King Charles II. King James and Queen Anne can be found on the north side of the gateway (originally the east side) and the two Charles’ on the south side (originally the west side).

The design of the gateway, which originally stood at the intersection of Fleet Street and the Strand as a ceremonial entrance into the City of London, is believed to be the work of Sir Christopher Wren who was acting on the orders of King Charles II after the Great Fire of London.

Queen Anne of Denmark and King James I on the north side of the gateway. PICTURE: lizsmith (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The statues, which cost a third of the total £1,500 spent on the gateway, are said to have been sculpted by one John Bushnell. They are depicted in Roman attire rather than the dress they would have worn during the period.

They were removed when the gateway was dismantled in 1878 and stored in a yard of Farringdon Road and when the gateway was re-erected at Lady Meux’s Hertfordshire estate at Theobold’s Park, they were placed back in their original locations. And they also accompanied the gateway back to the city when it was positioned its current location in 2004.

Famous Londoners – Jumbo…

Jumbo greets some visitors as they pass by his den in London Zoo. PICTURE: From ‘Jumbo: This Being the True Story of the Greatest Elephant in the World’ by Paul Chambers

With his name a byword for things of a large size, Jumbo was an African bush elephant who was once one of London Zoo’s most popular residents (but whose life makes for sad reading).

Born in Sudan in about 1860, Jumbo – whose name is apparently a corruption of ‘jumbe’, the Swahili word for chieftain – was captured by hunters after his mother was killed and transported north to Europe. There he was apparently first exhibited in Germany before being sold to the Jardin des Plantes, a zoo in Paris.

In 1865, he was transferred to London Zoo in England where his keeper was Matthew Scott who went on to detail his care of Jumbo in his 1885 autobiography.

Jumbo quickly became a popular exhibit and was trained to give rides to children, including those of Queen Victoria (Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill were apparently also among those who rode the elephant).

But out of public view, Jumbo, particularly as he matured, was growing increasingly destructive, smashing his den and breaking his tusks (it’s said Matthew Scott would pacify him with large quantities of alcohol).

In 1882, protests broke out when, apparently concerned over Jumbo’s growing aggression, then zoo superintendent Abraham Bartlett announced plans to sell Jumbo to American circus founder PT Barnum for £2,000. Some 100,000 school students wrote to Queen Victoria begging her to stop the transaction and a lawsuit was launched to stop the sale. It was unsuccessful.

Despite the protests, the sale went ahead and in March, 1882, Jumbo and Matthew Scott, who had decided to go with the elephant, went to America. In New York, Jumbo was exhibited at Madison Square Garden in a 31 week season. In 1884, he was one of 21 elephants who crossed the Brooklyn Bridge to prove it was safe following the death of 12 people during a collapse caused by a stampede few years earlier.

Jumbo with his keeper Matthew Scott, pictured in June, 1882. PICTURE: From Bierstadt, E ‘Jumbo and trainer.’

Jumbo died on 15th September, 1885, when he was hit by a train as he and other elephants were being led back to their boxcar. According to Barnum, Jumbo was attempting to lead a young elephant Tom Thumb to safety.

Following Jumbo’s death, a postmortem revealed his stomach contents included five English pennies, keys, rivets, and a police whistle.

Sadly, PT Barnum had the body parts separated for display before Jumbo’s skeleton was eventually donated to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The elephant’s heart was sold to Cornell University and its hide stuffed and eventually donated to Tufts University where it was destroyed in a fire in 1975 (Jumbo remains the university mascot).

There is a statue of Jumbo near where he died in St Thomas, Ontario, and a six-storey, elephant-shaped building in Margate City, New Jersey, which was built in 1881 is said to be inspired by him. He is also said to have inspired the Disney film, Dumbo.

Where’s London’s oldest…synagogue?

PICTURE: John Salmon (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Actually the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the entire UK, the Bevis Marks Synagogue in the City of London was built in 1701.


The synagogue entrance. PICTURE: Edwardx (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The synagogue has historical ties to the city’s Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community, known as Sephardic Jews, which first started meeting together in a small synagogue in Creechurch Lane in 1657 after it become possible for Jews to openly practice their religion under the rule of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.

Increasing numbers in the community soon meant a larger premises was required and a committee was formed which signed a contract with Quaker builder Joseph Avis in February, 1699, to build a larger premises (tradition holds that Avis returned the money he made on the job to the community, saying he would not profit from building a house of God). In June that same year, the community leased a tract of land at Plough Yard, Bevis Marks, on which the new building would be built. Construction commenced soon after.

The property’s design is said to emulate, at least in part, that of the 1675 Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam (it’s also thought the design was influenced by the works of Sir Christopher Wren). There’s also a story that the building included an oak beam from one of the Royal Navy’s ships presented by Queen Anne.

The rectangular building, which features three galleries inside, was eventually completed and dedicated in September, 1701.

The roof of the now Grade 1-listed building was replaced following a fire in 1738 and the synagogue only suffered minor damage during the Blitz. It also suffered some collateral damage from the IRA bombing in 1992 and the 1993 Bishopsgate bombing but remains mostly intact.

Sermons at Bevis Marks were in Portuguese until 1833 when they changed to English.

Features inside include an oak Renaissance-style ark containing the Torah scroll which, painted to resemble coloured Italian marble, is located at the centre of the eastern wall. There are also seven hanging brass candelabra which symbolise the seven days of the week. The largest, which hangs in the centre of the synagogue – represents the Sabbath and was donated by the community of the Great Synagogue of Amsterdam. There are also 10 large brass candlesticks representing the Ten Commandments. While the upright oak seats are said to “reflect the Puritanism of 17th century England”, the backless oak benches at the back are the original seats which were brought from the Creechurch Lane premises.

Twice Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s 1804 birth is recorded in the register but after his father had a falling out with the synagogue officials, Disraeli was in 1817 baptised at St Andrew’s Holborn.

The synagogue is temporarily closed to visitors and tour groups. For more information, head to www.sephardi.org.uk/bevis-marks/visit-bevis-marks/.

London Pub Signs – The Admiralty…

PICTURE: Ewan Munro (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

With a claim to be the most central pub in London, this Trafalgar Square pub takes its name from its proximity to…well, all things naval.

This includes Trafalgar Square itself, of course, and its centrepiece of Nelson’s Column (commemorating the victory at the Battle of Trafalgar and Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson) as well as the the location of Admiralty Arch behind the building and the Old Admiralty Building just down Whitehall.

The Grade II-listed Italianate building, which was designed by FW Porter and dates from 1871, has only been a pub since 2014 when it was acquired by Fullers.

It was originally constructed for the Union Bank and later became a branch of the National Westminster Bank. In 2005, the building became home to Scottish restaurant Albannach before becoming a pub almost 10 years later.

Fittingly, the pub – officially located at 66 Trafalgar Square – features an interior inspired by HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar.

It was opened on 23rd October, 2014, just two days after Trafalgar Day by former First Sea Lord Admiral Lord West of Spithead and Fuller’s chief executive Simon Emeny. A magnum of beer was reportedly ceremonially smashed on the pub’s exterior in keeping with naval tradition.

For more, see www.admiraltytrafalgar.co.uk.

Famous Londoners – Hannah Dadds…

Hannah Dadds, seen in a London Underground poster in 2016. PICTURE: Kake (licensed under CC-BY-NC_SA 2.0)

As the first female driver on London’s Tube, Hannah Dadds broke new ground for working women.

Born on 16th October, 1941, Dadds grew up in the Forest Gate area of Newham. She left school when just 15 and worked in various jobs – including as a shop assistant and at the Bryant and May match factory – before in 1969 joining the London Underground to work as a “railwoman” at the Upton Park Underground Station, earning just over £13 a week.

Dadds went on to become a ticket collector at Tower Hill station and in 1976 became a train guard.

Following the passing of the 1975 the Sex Discrimination Act which opened up new jobs to women, in October, 1978, Dadds completed a seven week training course and, amid considerable fanfare, became the first female train driver on the Tube, driving her first train out of the Acton Depot to Ealing Broadway.

Initially assigned to the District line, she would go on to also drive trains on the Bakerloo and Jubilee lines. Dadds was also sometimes was paired with her sister, Edna, who joined the Underground after her sister and worked as a guard (they became the first all-female crew on the Underground).

Dadds, who retired in 1993, subsequently split her time between London and Spain. She died in 2011.

A plaque commemorating Dadds’ pioneering efforts was unveiled at Upton Park station in May, 2019, with her family and friends in attendance.

10 historic stairways in London – 10. Nancy’s Steps…

PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed CC-BY-2.0)

We close our series of historic London stairs with a stairway that has raised its share of controversy in recent years, largely due to the plaques associated with it.

The steps, which are located in Southwark at the southern end of London Bridge and which lead down to Montague Close, are a remnant of the John Rennie-designed London Bridge which was completed in 1831 and which was replaced in the mid-20th century (and which was sold off and relocated to Lake Havasu in the US).

The plaque at the base of the steps. PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed CC-BY-2.0)

The controversy arises through the plaques associated with the steps which state that the steps where the scene of the murder of Nancy in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. There’s a couple of problems with that claim.

The first is that Nancy wasn’t murdered here in the book – it is in their lodgings that Bill Sikes kills Nancy believing she has betrayed him. The confusion probably comes about because the musical Oliver! did set Nancy’s murder on the steps.

The bridge does, however, play a role in the book and have a connection to Nancy and its probably due to this connection that it has its name, Nancy’s Steps.

Because it was on steps located here – “on the Surrey bank, and on the same side of the bridge as Saint Saviour’s Church [now known as Southwark Cathedral]” that Nancy talks to Oliver’s benefactors while Noah Claypole eavesdropped on the conversation (which leads him reporting back to Sikes and eventually to her murder).

The second error made in the plaque is that Rennie’s bridge (and hence the steps) was completed in 1831 and with Oliver Twist published in serial form just a few years later can’t be the “ancient” bridge referred to in the text. The reference can only relate to the medieval bridge which occupied the site for hundreds of years until it was demolished following the completion of Rennie’s bridge.

10 historic stairways in London – 8. The King’s Staircase, Kensington Palace… 

PICTURE: Tuomo Lindfors (licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This staircase, a grand entrance to the King’s State Apartments at Kensington Palace, are famous for the paintings on the walls and ceiling which depict an 18th century court looking down on those who ascend.

The work of William Kent, the staircase paintings were complete in 1724 and replaced earlier wooden panelling.

The stairs were originally constructed as part of Sir Christopher Wren’s remodelling Nottingham House into Kensington Palace for King William III and Queen Mary II. Following a fire in 1691, they were rebuilt in marble.

There are 45 people in Kent’s painting and only about a dozen have been identified. As well as members of the Yeomen of the Guard, the images depict King George I’s Polish page Ulric, his Turkish servants Mahomet and Mustapha, Peter the ‘wild boy’, a child found in the woods in Germany, and Dr John Arbuthnot, a medical doctor and satirist who tried to teach Peter to speak.

Interestingly, Kent included a selfie on the ceiling – a depiction of himself, wearing a brown turban and carrying an artist’s palette, standing with his mistress by his side.

The trompe l’oeil (a technique which creates the optical illusion of 3D) work features architecture inspired by Rome where Kent had trained while there’s also a painted figure of Diana on the top landing which is based on an antique statue at Holkham Hall in Norfolk.

In 1734, Queen Caroline commissioned Kent to rework the stairs to the Queen’s State Apartments. His work there features a Roman-inspired scene again created as a trompe l’oeil. There is also a homage to Queen who is compared to Britannia. The staircase’s balustrade was another by Huguenot ironworker Jean Tijou.

WHERE: The Broad Walk, Kensington Gardens, Kensington (nearest tube stations are High Street Kensington or Queensway); WHEN: Daily 10am to 6pm (last admission 5pm); COST: £16 adult/£12.80 concession/£8 child (Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace.

10 historic stairways in London – 6. The Geometric Staircase, St Paul’s Cathedral…

PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Known more formally as the Dean’s Staircase, this spiral staircase was designed by none other than Sir Christopher Wren and provides access to the triforium in St Paul’s Cathedral.

The staircase – each step of which is embedded into the wall – was built between 1675 and 1710 in the cathedral’s south-west tower by William Kempster. The ironwork is by famed French metal worker Jean Tijou.

Located in the south-west bell tower, the stair’s 88 Portland stone steps rise some 50 feet.

The staircase, which can be seen on the cathedral’s guided tours including triforium tours, has become famous in recent years thanks to its appearance in the 2004 Harry Potter film, The Prisoner of Azkaban, as well as Guy Ritchie’s 2009 film Sherlock Holmes.

The staircase has also been the site of art installations including Antony Gormley’s Flare II – which featured a falling figure within a cloud of wire.

WHERE: St Paul’s Cathedral (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s, Mansion House and Blackfriars); WHEN: 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Saturday; COST: £21 adults/£18.50 concessions/£9 children/£36 family (these are walk-up rates – online advanced and group rates are discounted); WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk (for tours, head to www.stpauls.co.uk/visits/visits/guided-tours)