The Painted Hall in Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College reopens on Saturday following a two-year, £8.5 million restoration project. The hall, known as the UK’s “Sistine Chapel”, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren as a ceremonial dining room for what was then the Royal Hospital for Seamen. Completed in 1705, its 4,000 square metre interior features a decorative scheme painted by Sir James Thornhill, the first British artist to be knighted, which took 19 years to complete. The paintings celebrate English naval power as well as the then newly installed Protestant monarchy with joint monarchs King William III and Queen Mary II as well as Queen Anne and King George I all represented in the artworks along with hundreds of other mythological, allegorical, historical and contemporary figures. The restoration project has also seen the King William Undercroft, located underneath the hall, converted into a new cafe, shop and interpretation gallery. Two cellar rooms from King Henry VIII’s palace – which once stood on the site – were discovered during the restoration works and are also now on public display. Other new touches include the return of a series of carved oak benches to the hall (having been introduced when it was used as an art gallery in the 19th century they were removed 100 years ago), two ‘treasure chests’ containing objects related to the ceiling artworks which can be handled, and new tour options – not just of the hall and undercroft but of the entire Old Royal Naval College site. There’s a host of special activities over the opening weekend, including a parade and official opening ceremony from 9.30am, the chance to meet historical characters, music, food stalls, kids activities and more. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ornc.org. PICTURED: The Old Royal Naval College, home of the Painted Hall.

The V&A has announced it is extending its sell-out Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition due to unprecedented demand. The exhibition at the South Kensington museum, which had originally been scheduled to close on 14th July, will now run until 1st September with new tickets made available on 15th of each month (there’s also a limited number of tickets available to purchase daily at 10am from the V&A’s Grand Entrance on a first-come, first-served basis; V&A members, of course, attend free-of-charge with no need to book). The exhibition, which initially sold out of its five month run with 19 days of opening, is the most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in the UK on the House of Dior and the museum’s biggest fashion exhibition since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2015. For more, see vam.ac.uk.

On Now: Merchant Navy Treasures: An Introduction to the Newall Dunn Collection. This display at the City of London’s Guildhall Library delves into the Newall Dunn Collection, one of the world’s most comprehensive photographic and reference collections on merchant shipping, and showcases the achievements of shipping historian Peter Newall and artist and writer Laurence Dunn. Alongside images, press releases and newspaper cuttings, on show are company brochures, menus and other items from the ocean liners and cargo vessels of three famous lines from the golden age of shipping: the Cunard, Orient and Union-Castle. Admission is free. Runs until 24th May. For more, follow this link.

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Queen Elizabeth II posted her first Instagram photo while visiting the Science Museum in South Kensington last Thursday in a promotion for its exhibition on computers. Under the account @theroyalfamily, the Queen posted two images of a letter at the museum which comes from the Royal Archives. It was written to Prince Albert and Queen Victoria by Charles Babbage and in it, the 19th century inventor and mathematician spoke of his invention of an “Analytical Machine” upon which the first computer programs were written by Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron. Having explained the origins of the letter, the Queen added: “Today, I had the pleasure of learning about children’s computer coding initiatives and it seems fitting to me that I publish this Instagram post, at the Science Museum which has long championed technology, innovation and inspired the next generation of inventors. Elizabeth R.” The Royal Family’s Instagram account has some 4.9 million followers. For more on the Science Museum, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.

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Today, as I visit the Science Museum I was interested to discover a letter from the Royal Archives, written in 1843 to my great-great-grandfather Prince Albert.  Charles Babbage, credited as the world’s first computer pioneer, designed the “Difference Engine”, of which Prince Albert had the opportunity to see a prototype in July 1843.  In the letter, Babbage told Queen Victoria and Prince Albert about his invention the “Analytical Engine” upon which the first computer programmes were created by Ada Lovelace, a daughter of Lord Byron.  Today, I had the pleasure of learning about children’s computer coding initiatives and it seems fitting to me that I publish this Instagram post, at the Science Museum which has long championed technology, innovation and inspired the next generation of inventors. Elizabeth R. PHOTOS: Supplied by the Royal Archives © Royal Collection Trust / Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

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Long connected with the low end trade in words, Grub Street was once located on the site where the Barbican development now stands.

The street – its name possibly comes from a man called Grubbe or refers to a street infested with worms – was located in the parish of St Giles-without-Cripplegate outside the city wall. It northwards ran from Fore Street to Chiswell Street and had numerous alleys and courts leading off it.

Originally located in an area of open fields used for archery and so inhabited by bowyers and others associated with the production of bows and arrows, the relative cheapness of the land – due to its marshiness – later saw the Grub Street and its surrounds become something of a slum, an area of “poverty and vice”.

During the mid-17th century, it became known as a home for (often libellous or seditious) pamphleteers, journalists and publishers seeking to escape the attention of authorities.

And so began the association of Grub Street with writing “hacks”, paid line-by-line as they eked out a living in tawdry garrets (although how many actually worked in garrets remains a matter of debate). The word “hack”, incidentally, is derived from Hackney, and originally referred to a horse for hire but here came to refer to mediocre writers churning out copy for their daily bread rather than any sense of artistic merit.

Residents included Samuel Johnson (early in his career), who, in 1755 included a definition for it in his famous dictionary – “a street near Moorfields in London, much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries and temporary poems, whence any mean production is called grubstreet”, and 16th century historian John Foxe, author of the famous Book of Martyrs.

The street, which was also referenced by the likes of Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift as a symbol of lowbrow writing, was renamed Milton Street (apparently after a builder, not the poet) in 1830. Part of it still survives today but most of it disappeared when the Barbican complex was created between the 1960s and 1980s.

PICTURE: John Rocque’s map of 1746 showing Grub Street.


This grand Victorian hotel – originally known as the Great Western Royal Hotel – was among the first large hotels constructed in London in proximity to railway termini – in this case Paddington Station.

Located 146 Praed Street, it was constructed in the 1850s to the designs of Philip Charles Hardwick and apparently cost some £60,000. The interior was designed in the Louis XIV style and the building as a whole was built with the intention of rivalling the great hotels of Europe.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who conceived the project to provide accommodation for people travelling on the Great Western Railway to Bristol and the West Country (and so managed to convince the directors of the GWR to invest), was the hotel’s first managing director.

The now Grade II-listed hotel was officially opened on 9th June, 1854, by Prince Albert and, apparently, the King of Portugal.

The main block, which effectively forms the facade of the railway station behind it, is book-ended by two towers which are said to house two storey bedrooms.

It boasts a sculpted pediment above the main entrance which was designed by John Thomas and features allegorical figures representing peace, plenty, industry and science.

The railway company took over the hotel late in the 19th century and in 1907 it was apparently updated with electric lighting, telephones and a pneumatic messaging service.

Much of the original ornamentation was lost when it was extensively modernised and extended in the 1930s in the art deco style under the eye of architect Percy Emerson Culverhouse.

The hotel was sold off as part of the privatisation of the railways in 1983 and reopened as part of the Hilton hotel chain in 2001. It remains part of that chain today.

For more, see www.hilton.co.uk/paddington.

PICTURES: The Great Western old and new – Top – via Wikipedia; Right -Oxfordian (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0); 

 

A plan of the Deptford Pumping Station signed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette is going on display at the City of London Heritage Gallery on Saturday to mark 200 years since the Victorian engineer’s birth. Other items in the new display include the Shakespeare Deed – only one of six documents to bear the signature of William Shakespeare, and one of the City of London’s earliest charters – granted by King Richard I in 1197. Admission to the gallery, located in the Guildhall Art Gallery, is free. Runs until 16th May. For more, follow this link.

The first major retrospective of French painter Pierre Bonnard in 20 years has kicked off at the Tate Modern on South Bank. The CC Land Exhibition, Pierre Bonnard: The Colour of Memory, features about 100 of his most celebrated works from public and private collections spanning the period from 1912 to his death in 1947. Bonnard, like his friend Henri Matisse, had a profound impact on modern painting and went on to influence the likes of Mark Rothko and Patrick Heron. Works on show include Dining Room in the Country (1913), The Lane at Vernonnet (1912-14), Coffee (1915), Summer (1917), Piazza del Popolo, Rome (1922), Nude in an interior (c1935), and Studio with Mimosa (1939-46). Runs to 6th May; admission charge applies. For more, see http://www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947), Coffee (Le Café), 1915,  Oil paint on canvas (via Tate Modern)

The work of pioneering video artist Bill Viola has been brought together with drawings buy Michelangelo in a new exhibition opening at the Royal Academy on Saturday. Bill Viola/Michelangelo features 12 major video installations by Viola, an honorary Royal Academician, which span the period 1977 to 2013 as well as 15 works by Michelangelo including 14 highly finished drawings as well as the Academy’s Taddei Tondo. It proposes a “dialogue” between the two artists with Viola, who first encountered Michelangelo’s works in the 1970s in Florence, considered an heir to the long tradition of spiritual and affective art which uses emotion to connect viewers with the subject depicted. Runs until 31st March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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This sprawling London hotel in Portland Place – just past the top end of Regent Street – has spent much of its life as a hotel but was also once part of the BBC.

Built in 1863-65 to the plans of John Giles and James Murray, the £300,000 Langham Hotel – claimed as Europe’s first “grand hotel” – was deliberately designed to be on a scale and with a level of magnificence the city had not yet seen.

Spread over 10 floors – including those below ground – and designed in the style of an Italian palace, it boasted 600 rooms including numerous suites and featured mod-cons including the city’s first hydraulic lifts (electric lighting and air-conditioning would follow).

Features included its celebrated Palm Court, said to be the birthplace of the traditional afternoon tea.

It opened in a rather spectacular celebration on 10th June, 1865, with more than 2,000 guests including the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).

It soon gained a reputation among the rich and influential. Along with exiled members of European royal families including the Emperor Napoleon III of France and exiled Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, those who stayed here included the likes of American writer Mark Twain, Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, explorer Henry Morton Stanley and romantic novelist Ouida.

Charles Dickens believed there was no better place for dinner parties and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, another guest, used it as a setting in his Sherlock Holmes novels.

Its proximity to All Soul’s in Langham Place – the scene of many a fashionable wedding – saw it host many wedding receptions and the servants at Langham were led in prayers each morning by a clergyman from the church.

It was also popular with international musicians and artists thanks to the location of Queen’s Hall nearby.

The Langham declined in popularity during the two World Wars as the social centre of London moved west. Having served as a first aid and military post during World War II, it was badly damaged during the Blitz with much destruction caused when its massive water tank ruptured.

After the war, the BBC bought the hotel and used it for offices, studios and the BBC Club.

The BBC sold the building in the mid-Eighties and in 1991 after a £100 million renovation, it reopened as the Langham Hilton Hotel with Diana, Princess of Wales, a regular visitor.

It was sold again in 1995 and extended and refurbished. It again underwent a five year, £80 million, refurbishment in the mid 2000s, reopening in 2009.

The five star Langham – now the flagship of a group of hotels, celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2015 with the opening of the Regent Wing as well as The Sterling Suite, a luxurious six bedroom suite, and a new Langham Club Lounge.

Now a Grade II-listed building, it contains some 380 suites and rooms as well as The Grand Ballroom, the aforementioned Palm Court, restaurants including Roux at The Landau and Artesian, a British tavern, The Wigmore, and a spa.

It has appeared in numerous films, including the 1995 James Bond film, GoldenEye, in which it doubled for a hotel in St Petersburg. It also features a City of Westminster Green Plaque commemorating a meeting there between Oscar Wilde, Conan Doyle and Joseph Marshall Stoddart who commissioned the two writers to write stories for his magazine.

For more, see www.langhamhotels.com/en/the-langham/london.

PICTURE: Top – Sheep”R”Us (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – David Adams

Correction – this is actually number four in our special series, not three!

This five star Mayfair establishment owes its origins and name to William Claridge, possibly a former butler, and his wife Marianne, who took over management of a small hotel at 51 Brook Street in 1853.

In 1854, they purchased the adjoining Mivart’s Hotel, first established in 1812, and substantially expanded the premises. It apparently combined the two names – Mivart’s and Claridge’s – for a short time before the reference to Mivart’s was dropped.

The hotel, which stands on the corner with Davies Street, was bought by Richard D’Oyly Carte (owner of The Savoy) in 1893 and subsequently rebuilt in red brick to the designs of CW Stephens (of Harrods fame) with interiors by Sir Ernest George and the inclusion of modern amenities including en suite bathrooms and lifts. The hotel, which is now Grade II-listed, reopened in 1898, with some 203 rooms and suites.

It was extended in the late 1920s with the addition of 80 new rooms and a ballroom while the lobby was redesigned by art deco pioneer Oswald Milne (much of that decoration, including work by Basil Ionides, remains).

The hotel’s reputation as a place to stay among the well-to-do was given a significant boost when Empress Eugenie, wife of French Emperor Napoleon III stayed in 1860 and entertained Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

It was also favoured by exiled royals during World War II including King Peter II and Queen Alexandria of Yugoslavia all staying here. In fact, their son, Crown Prince Alexander II, was born in suite 212 in 1945 (now named the Prince Alexander Suite).

The story goes that Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared the suite Yugoslav territory for a day (although evidence supporting the story about Churchill’s involvement is apparently scarce). It’s also said that a spadeful of dirt from Yugoslavia was placed under the bed so the Crown Prince could literally be born on Yugoslav soil (but there’s no mention of this aspect of the story on Crown Prince Alexander II’s official website).

Churchill and Clementine stayed in a suite here on the sixth floor after the wartime PM’s unexpected defeat in the general election of 1945.

Other luminaries to have stayed here include American actors Cary Grant, Katharine (and Audrey) Hepburn, Yul Brynner and Bing Crosby (Spencer Tracey famously said he didn’t want to go to heaven when he died but to Claridge’s) as well as director Alfred Hitchcock, Aristotle and Jackie Onassis, and, more recently, everyone from Mick Jagger and Madonna to Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. Kate Moss celebrated her 30th birthday here.

And, of course, royals including the late Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip have all been regular diners.

The hotel, which underwent a major restoration from 1996 and saw 25 new suites designed by David Linley opened in 2012, is now part of the Maybourne Hotel Group, having parted ways with the Savoy Hotel in the mid-noughties.

Current facilities include the restaurant Fera at Claridge’s (this opened in 2014 after the closure of Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s in 2013) as well as The Foyer & Reading Room (where afternoon tea is served), The Fumoir cocktail bar, Claridge’s Bar and a health club and spa.

The Claridge’s Christmas Tree is a much anticipated part of London’s festive season, with recent years seeing a different world-renowned designer taking on the task of decorating it, including the likes of John Galliano, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, and Christopher Bailey of Burberry.

The hotel was the subject of a three part documentary, Inside Claridges, in December, 2012.

For more, see www.claridges.co.uk.

PICTURE: Tim Westcott (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

This Piccadilly institution was constructed from 1904 to 1906 and takes its name from Swiss hotelier César Ritz.

It was constructed on the site of a former coaching inn for the Blackpool Building and Vendor Company – it was the first steel-framed building in London – and designed by Mewés and Davis, the architects of the Paris Ritz. And even though Ritz himself was apparently actually retired at the time, it was built according to his specifications.

The exterior facade features Norwegian granite and Portland stone and boasts an arcade on Piccadilly which deliberately evokes the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. The interior, the work of Waring and Gillow, is designed in the style of Louis XVI and was designed to be opulent with all rooms featuring a working fireplace.

Public spaces include the Palm Court – famous for its traditional afternoon teas –  and a Michelin-starred restaurant with floor to ceiling windows overlooking Green Park. Other features include the Rivoli Bar, designed in 2001 by Tessa Kennedy to resemble the bar in the Orient Express, and the basement Ritz Club, a private casino.

The now Grade II*-listed hotel was officially opened by Ritz himself on 24th May, 1906, and was soon adopted by the rich and famous – the patronage of the Prince of Wales (future King Edward VIII) after the death of King Edward VII was one key reason for its success.

Actor Charlie Chaplin, who apparently had to have 40 police hold back the crowd to enter the hotel, is also a name famously associated with it as is that of Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova who performed here.

The Aga Khan and Paul Getty both had suites, and playwright Noel Coward and Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, regularly dined here while Tallulah Bankhead famously sipped champagne from a slipper in the bar. The Marie Antoinette Suite was also famously the location of a conference between Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower and Charles de Gaulle during World War II.

The hotel also featured in 1999 film Notting Hill, starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, and in the more recent TV drama Downton Abbey.

The five star hotel underwent a major 10 year refurbishment after it was acquired by the Barclay brothers in 1995. The complex these days includes the adjoining 18th century property William Kent House (designed, of course, by William Kent).

In 2001, the hotel was awarded the first Royal Warrant for Banqueting and Catering Services. Other boasts these days include being the only UK hotel to have a certified tea sommelier (among teas served is the hotel’s own Ritz Royal Blend).

For more, see www.theritzlondon.com.

This important Kensington thoroughfare runs through the heart of South Kensington’s world-famous museum precinct from Thurloe Place, just south of Cromwell Road, all the way to Hyde Park.

Along its length, it takes in such important institutions as the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Imperial College London while Royal Albert Hall is only a stone’s throw to the west.

It was, as might be expected given the name, indeed laid out as part of Prince Albert’s grand scheme surrounding the Great Exhibition of 1851 as a means of accessing the vast Crystal Palace which was located in Hyde Park (before moving out to south London).

It wasn’t the only road in the area built specifically for that purpose – the transecting Cromwell Road and Queen’s Gate, which runs in parallel and, yes, is named for Queen Victoria, were also built for to provide access to the Great Exhibition.

After the exhibition was over, Exhibition Road formed part of the precinct known as “Albertopolis” in which, inspired by the Great Exhibition, became something of a knowledge and cultural centre featuring various museums and the great concert hall which sadly Albert didn’t live long enough to see.

In the 2000s, a scheme to give pedestrians greater priority along the road was realised (in time for the 2012 Olympics).

PICTURE: Looking north along Exhibition Road from the intersection with Cromwell Road (the Natural History Museum is on the left; the Victoria & Albert Museum – and the Aston Webb Screen – on the right)/Google Maps.

 

The Lord’s Mayor’s Show is coming up soon (10th November) so we thought it a good time to take a quick look at the life of one of the city’s most memorable Lord Mayors – Sir John Lawrence, who served in the office in 1664-65.

Sir John, a merchant and member of the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers (and Master of the company in 1677), is remembered for the role he played during the Great Plague of 1665 which preceded the Great Fire of London the following year.

Following the arrival of the plaque in London, those with the means took to their heels and left the city for safer climes. But Sir John assured the public that he and the City officers would remain at their posts to keep law and order among the frightened populace.

He oversaw the issuing of a series of plague-related orders designed to stem the spread of disease and appointed people to oversee and attend to the needs of households affected by the disease and search out the bodies to be taken away as well as doctors to tend to the sick and help prevent infection.

His efforts in ensuring the food supply remained steady have been particularly praised as has his opening of his own home in St Helen’s Bishopsgate to those servants who were discharged when the households in which they worked fled the city.

His tenure as mayor is often favourably contrasted with that of his successor, Sir Thomas Bludworth but Sir John also had numerous other positions during his lifetime, including as president of St Thomas’ Hospital, a committee member of the East India Company and a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Sir John was married and had two children. He died on 26th January, 1692, and was buried at the Church of St Helen’s Bishopsgate.

He is remembered on a plaque at Bunhill Fields for being mayor when, at the City’s expense, the burial ground was enclosed with a wall.

PICTURE: Part of the inscription at the gates of Bunhill Fields commemorating Sir John’s role in enclosing the burial ground. (Edwardx; licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0).

 

Following their sojourn at Lake Geneva where, in September, 1816, Mary Shelley (then Godwin) first started writing Frankenstein, Shelley and her lover – the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley – returned to England and then to London where on 30th December, 1816, they were married at St Mildred’s Church, Bread Street.

The marriage followed the suicide of Percy Shelley’s wife, Harriet, who was found drowned in the Serpentine in Hyde Park on 10th December that year. Harriet’s family had apparently resisted the poet taking custody of the couple’s two children and it has been reported that Percy was advised by lawyers that marrying Mary, pregnant to him again at this stage, would improve his chances of his winning custody of them.

Mary’s father William Godwin and step-mother Mary Jane Claremont Godwin attended the wedding and the rift which had divided the family due to the couple’s earlier elopement was apparently at least partly mended as a result. Others in attendance were the publisher and poet Leigh Hunt.

The church in which they were married once stood on the east side of the south end of Bread Street in the City of London (and is not to be confused with the Church of St Mildred, Poultry, which once stood near Mansion House).

Originally dating at least as far back as the early 13th century, it had been destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and then rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren in the years following.

In good condition and retaining many of Wren’s original fittings into the 20th century, the building was sadly destroyed by bombing in 1941 (and the parish subsequently united with that of St Mary le Bow). The site is now covered by the Grade II-listed Seventies office building, 30 Cannon Street.

A memorial to Admiral Arthur Philip, which now stands just off New Change, was once located in this church.

PICTURE: Interior of St Mildred, Bread Street from The Churches of London by George Godwin (1839). (Via Wikipedia)

An English author who originally hailed from the west of England (possibly Wales), William Baldwin wrote and published a number of works in the mid-1500s while living in London and has been credited, thanks to his satirical work, Beware the Cat, as being the author of the first English novel.

Baldwin is believed to have studied at Oxford prior to coming to London where, from 1547, he worked with the printer Edward Whitchurch – who had apparently set up shop at Wynkyn de Worde’s former printworks at the Sign of the Sun (now at the Stationer’s Hall, just off Ludgate Hill – pictured) – as a corrector.

Whitchurch also published Baldwin’s works including the popular Treatise of Moral Philosophy (1547) and Canticles or Balades of Salomon (1549), which was dedicated to a young King Edward VI and was a translation of the Biblical book, Song of Songs.

His other works included being the editor and key contributor to the hugely popular and influential Mirror for Magistrates (1554) which was something of a cautionary tale for public officials, and the Marvelous History Entitled Beware the Cat, Concerning Diverse Wonderful and Incredible Matters (aka Beware the Cat).

The latter book, which is an attack on Catholicism, tells the story of a priest who uses alchemy to talk to cats and finds that, despite his low opinion of them, they actually live according to strict rules (reflecting on the arbitrary nature of the “rules” which govern everyday life).

While Baldwin is believed to have finished the work during the last months of the reign of King Edward VI (he died on 6th July, 1553), the subsequent accession of Queen Mary I and her tougher line on the press freedoms led Baldwin to postpone publication until 1561 by which time Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne.

Around the same time as he completed this work, Baldwin is said to have assisted the Royal Master of Revels, George Ferrers, in preparing Christmas festivities at the Royal Court – this was an occasional role he would perform beside his work with Whitchurch.

Baldwin’s last known work was The Funerals of King Edward the Sixth (1560). In 1563, he is believed to have been ordained a deacon and stepped away from the printing trade. He served in various clerical roles (there is an account of him preaching at Paul’s Cross) before dying some time prior to 1st November, 1563.

(With thanks to John N King’s 2004 article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).

 

Adorned with giant beasts and topped with a statue of King George I, the steeple of this 18th century Nicholas Hawksmoor-designed English Baroque church is a sight to behold.

The unusual spire, which has topped the church since it was completed in 1731, is stepped like a pyramid and was apparently inspired by Pliny’s description of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World).

At its base can be seen four heraldic creatures – two 10 foot tall lions and two similarly-sized unicorns. They’re actually recreations of the originals by sculptor Tim Crawley based on drawings by Hawksmoor. The originals were removed – and subsequently lost – in 1870 amid fears they were about to topple off.

It’s suggested that lions and unicorns – which look as if they are in conflict over the crown in the middle – symbolise the tussle for the Crown as seen in the several Jacobite risings which took place in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

The statue on top has King George I dressed in Roman attire and standing on an altar as a symbol of St George – as clear a PR exercise as you’ll find on a steeple. It even featured in a verse by Horace Walpole:

“When Henry VIII left the Pope in the lurch,
The Protestants made him the head of the church,
But George’s good subjects, the Bloomsbury people
Instead of the church, made him head of the steeple.”

The steeple did prove controversial when it was completed – the church commissioners initially refused to pay Hawksmoor, apparently deeming the spire too frivolous for such a serious building. But it was soon recognised as an important part of the landscape – it can be seen in the background of William Hogarth’s 1751 engraving Gin Lane.

In the mid-Noughties, the church and steeple, which had fallen into a state of dishevelment and was apparently on the verge of closure, underwent a major renovation. Funded by American Paul Mellon and the Heritage Lottery Fund, it saw the long-lost (albeit recreated) beasts returned to their place on the steeple (the project was recorded in detail by Harris Digital).

PICTURE: Right – Amanda Slater (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 – image cropped and straightened); Below – Londres Avanzado (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 – image cropped and lightened).

 

Located in Tavistock Square in Bloomsbury, this bronze bust of writer and literary pioneer Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was erected in 2004.

Commissioned by the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, it is a copy of a bust of Woolf sculpted by Stephen Tomlin in 1931 (there is a 1953 version of the work, apparently the only 3D representation of Woolf taken from life, in the National Portrait Gallery) and was set on a Portland stone plinth designed by Stephen Barkway.

A plate on the plinth explains that Woolf, a central figure in the Bloomsbury group of writers and artists, lived from 1924 to 1939 in a house which once stood on the south side of Tavistock Square, the period when her greatest novels were written.

It also features a quote from Woolf concerning the writing of her novel To the Lighthouse – “Then one day walking round Tavistock Square I made up, as I sometimes make up my books, To the Lighthouse; in a great, apparently involuntary, rush.”

There are, incidentally, plans to erect a new life-sized, seated statue of Woolf at Richmond on the bank of the River Thames. Woolf and her husband Leonard lived for a time the riverside borough at Hogarth House (where they also ran their publishing company).

Mock-ups have been created by artist Laury Dizengremel and there is a funding appeal to raise £50,000 currently underway.

PICTURE: Maureen Barlin (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Pontack’s was a City of London eating house specialising in French cuisine that took its name from owner Pontack.

Pontack (his Christian name is apparently unknown) was said by some to have been the son of the president of the Parliament of Bordeaux, Arnaud de Pontac although this claim has been disputed by Brian Cowen, writing in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Regardless, Pontack used a portrait of Arnaud as his sign and as a result, the establishment – which he opened on the former site of the White Bear Tavern at 16-17 Lombard Street after the Great Fire of 1666 – was popularly known as “Pontack’s Head”.

Arnaud de Pontac owned French vineyards which produced renowned wine and Pontack also capitalised on this connection in selling fine French wines to his clientele.

Cowen records that Pontack’s was relocated to the east side of Abchurch Lane in 1688-90 (his old premises were occupied by Edward Lloyd, founder of the famous Lloyd’s Coffee House).

The eating house was favourite of the elite, patronised by everyone from Jonathan Swift to Sir Christopher Wren and John Evelyn and was the location of the Royal Society’s annual dinners following its relocation until 1746 (when the society moved the dinners to the Devil Tavern).

It’s apparently not known when Pontack died – a date of about 1711 is suggested – but after his death, the establishment was taken over by one Susannah Austin who was married to a Lombard Street banker. It is not known when the establishment ceased trading.

PICTURE: Looking northward along Abchurch Lane today (Google Maps).

This City of London pub – a sizeable establishment to say the least, takes its name from a building that no longer exists. 

Located at 9 Gracechurch Street, The Crosse Keys is located in a former purpose-built bank – that of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. Designed by W Campbell Jones, the Grade II-listed building opened in 1913 and featured the largest banking floor in the City at the time.

The bank moved out in the latter part of the 20th century and JD Wetherspoon moved in, opening it as The Crosse Keys and keeping much of the original opulent interior, including marble pillars and fireplaces and a magnificent glass dome above the stairwell.

Oh, and the name? That comes from The Crosskeys Inn, a famous coaching inn which once stood on the site and took its name from the keys of heaven, held by St Peter (the crossed keys form part of the Holy See’s coat of arms).

The origins of the inn go back to before the Great Fire of London in 1666 (the inn’s yard also served as a playhouse during the Elizabethan era – the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, of which Shakespeare himself was a member, were said to be among those who performed here).

It was destroyed in the Great Fire, rebuilt and burnt down again in 1734. Rebuilt again, by the late 1800s, it had become a well known coaching inn, said to cater for some 40 or more coaches a day.

There’s a City of London blue plaque marking the site and inside, plenty of historical facts and figures in a series of prints on the walls.

For more, see www.jdwetherspoon.com/pubs/all-pubs/england/london/the-crosse-keys-city-of-london.

PICTURE: The rather grand facade of The Crosse Keys (Ewan Munro; licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)


We’re kicking off a new Wednesday series this week and in honour of the fact that a statue of Millicent Fawcett became the first commemorating a female to be erected in Parliament Square earlier this year, we’re looking at 10 other memorials – lesser known ones – to women in London. 

First up, it’s a Grade II-listed monument in Tavistock Square Gardens commemorating Louisa Brandreth Aldrich-Blake (1865-1925), the first female surgeon in Britain and pioneer of new surgical methods treating cancers of the cervix and rectum. She was also dean of the London School Of Medicine For Women.

This double-sided monument, which sits above a curved seat, features two busts of Dame Aldrich-Blake, both holding a book. On the sides of the monument are the depictions of the Rod of Asclepius – an intertwined staff and serpent long used as a symbol for the medical profession.

The base and seat were designed by Edwin Lutyens – the man behind the Cenotaph – and the identical bronze busts were the work of Arthur George Walker.

The monument was apparently erected in 1926, a year after Dame Aldrich-Blake’s death, in a rather fitting location, Tavistock Square is the location of the headquarters of the British Medical Association in BMA House.

As well as listing her achievements in the world of medicine, the monument bears the rather uplifting inscription: “The path of the just is as the shining light”.

PICTURE: Top – Stu’s Images (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0); Right – Robin Sones (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)  

Part of Clerkenwell, located to the north of the City of London, the central district of Finsbury – as well as associated landmarks like Finsbury Square,  Finsbury Circus, and the more northerly district of Finsbury Park – take their name from a manor which once stood here.

Dating from at least as far back 13th century, the manor apparently took its name from a man named Finn about whom we know nothing other than his name.

The area, which was once fenland, was long a place of recreation for Londoners – there are reports of apprentices skating on the frozen fens in winter and when Moorgate was built in 1414, Lord Mayor Thomas Falconer commented that it would allow access to the fields beyond for the various recreational activities.

A late 16th century map depicts the area being used for drying sheets, for archery, cattle grazing, for windmills and for the Lord Mayor’s kennels.

In 1641, the Honourable Artillery Company moved there and for a time there was a cannon foundry there. In 1665, Bunhill Fields, a burial ground for dissenters, opened in the area. The fields of Finsbury were also where many Londoners camped temporarily after the destructive power of the Great Fire in 1666 razed much of the old City.

The parish church, St Luke Old Street, was built in the early 1730s and just a few years later, John Wesley, founder of Methodism, took over the former cannon foundry and converted it into a chapel as well as a home and school.

Around 1800, George Dance laid out a new residential development centred on Finsbury Square, fashionable among medicos until they migrated to the area around Harley Street at the end of the 19th century. Finsbury Park was created in the mid-1850s some three miles to the north as a place of recreation for Finsbury’s residents.

A parliamentary borough named Finsbury was created in 1832 (among the claims to fame of this politically progressive borough was that Dadabhai Naoroji, the “Grand Old Man of India”, became Britain’s first Asian MP when he was elected the Liberal member in 1892).

The Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury was created in 1900 (in a similar vein to the parliamentary borough, among the metropolitan borough’s claims to fame was that Dr Chuni Lal Katial become the first Asian mayor in the entire UK when he was elected in 1938). The metropolitan borough was abolished in 1965 when the area was absorbed into the Borough of Islington.

Famous residents of Finsbury have included Vladimir Lenin, who lived here in exile, and the Victorian illustrator George Cruikshank.

PICTURE: Finsbury Town Hall, officially opened on 14th June, 1895, by then Prime Minister Lord Rosebery (Lionel Allorge licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

And so we come to the final entry in our Wednesday special series on River Thames islands. 

Garrick’s Ait, which was previously known as Shank’s Eyot, lies only a few hundred metres upstream from Taggs Island and is said to be the only island in Britain named after an actor – in this case, 18th century star David Garrick.

Similarly to other Thames islands, it was traditionally used to grow and harvest willow osiers but was later popular for picnics and camping. There were apparently no permanent buildings until the 1920s and 1930s when wooden cabins begin to appear on the island and it’s now home to about 20 houses (three were reportedly destroyed in a 2003 fire).

The island took on the name of Garrick’s Ait (ait, like eyot, we recall, being a name for a river island) after the actor bought a property on the Hampton bank in 1754 which he named Garrick’s Villa. In its grounds he famously built a garden folly known as the Temple to Shakespeare.

The ait, which can only be accessed by boat and which sits closer to the Molesey bank than the Hampton bank, was apparently one of three Thames islands that Garrick bought in the area (along with several properties).

PICTURE: © David Kemp (licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0)

 

The new Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries at Westminster Abbey open to the public on Monday. The museum galleries, located more than 50 feet above the abbey’s floor in the medieval Triforium, tell the 1,000 year history of the abbey through some of its greatest treasures. Entry to the Triforium – never before open to the public – is via the new Weston Tower, the first major addition to the abbey since 1745 which comes with previously unseen views of the neighbouring Palace of Westminster. The exhibition in the galleries, meanwhile, features some 300 objects and tells the abbey’s story around four major themes – building the abbey, worship and daily life, the abbey’s relationship to the monarchy and its role as a national place of commemoration and remembrance. Among the items on show are a column capital from the cloister of St Edward the Confessor’s Church (built around 1100), a scale model of the abbey commissioned by Sir Christopher Wren which features a never built massive central spire, The Westminster Retable (1259-69) – the oldest surviving altarpiece in England, the Litlyngton Missal – an illuminated 14th century service book, Queen Mary II’s Coronation Chair dating from 1689, the 2011 marriage licence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and early abbey guidebooks for visitors. The new galleries and tower were completed in a £22.9 million project funded through private donors and trusts. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org/visit-us/plan-your-visit/the-queens-diamond-jubilee-galleries/.  PICTURES: Top – The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries; Right – The Weston Tower (Images courtesy of Westminster Abbey/Alan Williams).

The Royal Collection’s South Asian art goes on show at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace from tomorrow. Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India 1875-6 centres on the historic four month visit made by Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) to the subcontinent prior to his mother, Queen Victoria, being formally declared Empress of India. It brings together some of the finest examples of Indian design and craftsmanship in the Royal Collection including some of the 2,000 gifts presented to the Prince on his tour. Highlights include an enamelled gold and diamond perfume holder given by Ram Singh II, Maharajah of Jaipur, a 10 piece gold service given by the Maharaja of Mysore, and a jewelled walking stick featuring a concealed gun, thought to have been the gift of Maharao Ram Singh of Bundi. There are also enamelled peacock feather fans, a gold and emerald turban ornament, and a brooch and necklace featuring a depiction of the Prince and Princess of Wales. The display can be seen until 14th October. Admission charge applies. The exhibition is being shown alongside Splendours of the Subcontinent: Four Centuries of South Asian Paintings and Manuscripts, which features highlights from the Royal Collection’s world-class holding of paintings and manuscripts from the region. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.

British-born artist Thomas Cole’s depictions of the unspoiled American wilderness form the centre of a new exhibition at The National Gallery. Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire includes 58 works, mostly on loan from North American collections, including his iconic painting cycle The Course of Empire (1834-6), and the masterpiece that secured his reputation (and which has never been seen in the UK before), View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm – The Oxbow (1836). Cole’s paintings will be shown alongside those of artists who had the greatest influence on him including JMW Turner and John Constable. Opens on 11th June and runs until 7th October. Admission charge applies. As a bonus, The National Gallery is also hosting a free exhibition of a series of 10 works created by Ed Ruscha in response to Cole’s The Course of Empire. These can be seen in Room 1. Admission is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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