This Soho square was laid out in the late 17th century, possibly by Sir Christopher Wren, and by the early 1700s most of the buildings surrounding the square were complete.

The name of the square is said to be a corruption of ‘gelding’ – the area, once apparently known as Gelding Close, was previously used for the grazing of geldings (there’s also a story that the gelding was featured on a nearby inn sign which locals objected to, renaming it ‘golden’).

It was, at first, the place to be among the well-to-do – among early residents were Barbara Villiers, the Duchess of Cleveland and mistress of King Charles II, James Bridges, who became the 1st Duke of Chandos, and Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke, a favourite of Queen Anne.

By the mid 18th century, however, the trendy crowd had moved to developments further west and the square subsequently became noted for the high number of foreign delegations which made their base here, including those of Bavaria, Russia, Genoa and Portugal, as well as foreign artists including Swiss painter Angelica Kauffmann – the first female member of the Royal Academy, and Anglo-Irish painter (and later Royal Academy president) Martin Archer Shee.

Other famous residents have included dancer Elizabeth Gamberini, singer Caterina Gabrielli and Scottish anatomist John Hunter (his former home is one of two marked with English Heritage Blue Plaques in the square). Thomas Jefferson, later a US president, stayed in Golden Square during March and April, 1786, in his only visit to London.

A couple of houses in the square – then occupied by the Bavarian minister Count Haslang – were attacked during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots. These properties were bought by James Talbot, the Roman Catholic Bishop for London, in 1788, so the Roman Catholic Church in Warwick Street could be build in the gardens behind.

The square had deteriorated somewhat by the time Charles Dickens placed it in his late 1830s story Nicholas Nickleby as the home of Ralph Nickleby, and it become the location of numerous boarding houses and small hotels as well as various professionals.

By 1900 the square had become closely connected with the wool trade with as many as 70 firms connected with it located here. Several such firms are apparently still located here but the square is better known these days for companies associated with the movie business.

The middle of the square was dug up for an air raid shelter in World War II but it was paved afterwards and the statue of King George II, attributed to John Van Nost and erected here in 1753 as part of beautification project (it has been suggested the statue actually represents King Charles II but that remains a matter of conjecture), returned to its place in the middle.

None of the original houses now remain but there are a number of residences which still have at least elements dating from late 18th century rebuilds including numbers 11, 21, 23 and 24.

PICTURE: Top – David Iliff (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0); Right – David Adams; Below – RozSheffield (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Yes, the name of this inner north-west London district – which sits between Hampstead and Kentish Town – does originate with an oak.

Up until the early 19th century, the tree was apparently used as a marker between the parish boundaries of Hampstead and St Pancras. So that’s the oak part.

The gospel part comes from the use of the term to describe the medieval custom of ‘beating the bounds’ – an annual event in which residents would walk around their parish boundary and literally beat prominent boundary markers as a way of conveying to a then largely illiterate people where the borders were located. The oak, said to have stood on the corner of Southampton and Mansfield Roads, was one such marker.

As well as the beating part, the event would also involve the singing of hymns and, yes, the reading of sections of the gospels while standing under the oak. Hence Gospel Oak.

The oak was also apparently used as a site for open-air preaching at other times and it’s said that St Augustine, 14th century Bible translator John Wycliffe, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and fellow evangelist George Whitefield are among the many who preached under the oak (although many of these claims can be taken with a grain of salt).

The area was predominantly rural until the mid-1800s when local landowners  Lord Mansfield, Lord Southampton and Lord Lismore began selling off the land for development. The houses built here were apparently at the more affordable end of the market, perhaps not surprising given the area became criss-crossed with railroad lines. Devastated by bombing during World War II, large parts of Gospel Oak were rebuilt in the mid-20th century.

The (now) London Overground station which bears the name Gospel Oak (pictured below) was opened in 1860, originally with the name Kentish Town (but quickly renamed Gospel Oak when Kentish Town was used elsewhere). Other landmarks include St Martin’s Church in Vicars Road (pictured above), which has been described as one of the “craziest” of London’s Victorian churches, and All Hallows Church in Shirlock Road.

One of the area’s more famous residents, Michael Palin, has lived in the area since the 1960s and reportedly planted a new oak in Lismore Circus in 1998 but the tree has apparently not survived.

PICTURES: Google Maps

Before we launch a new Wednesday series, we pause to recap our recent look at significant sites in Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s London, a series we ran in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of both the royal couple’s births…

1. Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace…

2. Buckingham Palace…

3. Constitution Hill…

4. Hyde Park…

5. West End theatres…

6. The South Kensington Museum…

7. The Palace of Westminster…

8. Paddington Railway Station…

9. Prince Consort’s Model Lodge, Kennington

10. Mount Street busts…

 

Architect Nicholas Hawksmoor was a key figure in the creation of the fabric of London as we know it, working alongside Sir Christopher Wren as well as alone, and responsible for numerous works with can still be seen in London today.

Hawksmoor was born into a yeoman farming family in Nottinghamshire in around 1661-62 but little else is known of his early life. He probably received a fairly basic education but is believed to have been taken on a clerk to a justice in Yorkshire before, thanks to encountering a decorative plasterer by the name of Edward Gouge, travelling to London.

There, Hawksmoor was introduced to Wren who, agreed to take on the young man as his personal clerk at just the age of 18. He moved through a number of junior positions in Wren’s household before becoming deputy surveyor at Winchester Palace – between 1683 and 1685 – under Wren.

He went on to work with his mentor on numerous further projects; these included Chelsea Hospital, St Paul’s Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace and Greenwich Hospital as well as Kensington Palace where, thanks to Wren’s support, he was named clerk of works in 1689 (as well as deputy surveyor of works at Greenwich). He remained in these posts for some 25 years before he was removed thanks to political machinations (although he later returned to the secretaryship).

Hawksmoor also worked with Sir John Vanbrugh, assisting him in building Blenheim Palace, taking over command of the job in 1705. Vanbrugh made him his deputy and Hawksmoor later succeeded him as architect at Castle Howard in Yorkshire, designing a number of monuments in the gardens, including the great mausoleum.

Hawksmoor is described as one of the masters of the English Baroque style – Easton Nelson in Northamptonshire, which he designed for Sir William Fermor, is an exemplar of his work (and the only country house for which he was sole architect, although it remain uncompleted).

Hawksmoor also worked on buildings for the university at Oxford and while All Soul’s College was among buildings he completed, many of his proposed designs were not implemented for various reasons (as were grand plans he had for the redesign of central Oxford).

From 1711, Hawksmoor was busy again in London where, following the passing of an Act of Parliament, he was appointed as one of the surveyors to a commission charged with overseeing the building of 50 new churches in London.

The commission only completed 12 churches, but half of them were designed by Hawksmoor (and he collaborated with fellow surveyor John James on two more). Hawksmoor’s completed churches include St Alfege in Greenwich, St George’s, Bloomsbury, Christ Church in Spitalfields, St George in the East in Wapping, St Mary Woolnoth, and St Anne’s Limehouse (the churches he collaborated on include James are St Luke Old Street and the now demolished St John Horsleydown).

In 1723, following Wren’s death, he was appointed Surveyor to Westminster Abbey and, as well as aspects of the interior (some of which still survive to this day) designed the landmark west towers (although they weren’t completed until after his death).

Hawksmoor died at his home in Millbank on 25th March, 1736, from what was described as “gout of the stomach”, having struggled with his health for a couple of decades previously. He was buried at the now deconsecrated church in Shenley, Hertsfordshire.

Hawksmoor was survived by his wife Hester by a year, and a daughter, Elizabeth.

PICTURES: Top – The West Towers of Westminster Abbey; Right – St Anne’s, Limehouse. (David Adams)

More than 17,500 photographs, prints and private and official papers relating to Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, have been published online. Launched last week, the new website Prince Albert: His Life and Legacy sheds fresh light on Albert’s role as Queen Victoria’s unofficial private secretary and as guide and mentor to some of the greatest national projects of his day as well as his various roles as a university chancellor, art historian, collector, and art and architecture patron. The website is part of the Prince Albert Digitisation Project which, by the end of 2020, will see some 23,500 items from the Royal Archives, the Royal Collection and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 published online. PICTURE: After Roger Fenton, Prince Albert, May, 1854, 1889 copy of the original (Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019).

Sheep have returned to Hampstead Heath for a week-long trial of an initiative aimed at replacing mowing with more natural grazing. The pilot project, which is being managed by the City of London Corporation in partnership with Heath & Hampstead Society, Heath Hands, Historic England, Mudchute Park & Farm and Rare Breeds Survival Trust, involves five sheep and will focus on The Tumulus on the Heath, an ancient Roman monument. If successful, the sheep – which include Oxford Down and Norfolk Horn – will take their grazing talents to other areas.

Staff from the Tate galleries are showcasing their own artworks in a new free exhibition at the Tate Modern. The first Tate Staff Biennale, which can be seen for free in Tate Exchange on level five of the Blavatnik Building, features the work of 133 staff members from all four Tate Galleries – Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives – and has been curated by the Inside Job Collective – a group of Tate staff dedicated to championing the work of colleagues who are also practicing artists. The biennale is inspired by ‘movement’, the theme of this year’s Tate Exchange, an experimental platform at the Tate Modern and Tate Liverpool which brings together the public, artists and associate partner organisations. Can be seen until 3rd September. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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

There are numerous monuments commemorating Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in London, including the well-known Albert Memorial and Queen Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace

But for this series, we’re finishing with a look at a couple of much lesser – and certainly less grand – surviving monuments which adorn a Mayfair building. But it is one of the rare memorials in London which feature both the Queen and the Prince (albeit looking in different directions).

Located at 121 Mount Street (on the corner with Mount Street Mews), is a Victoria-era building now housing the Delfino Pizzeria. The facade, on the first floor, features a bust of Queen Victoria looking down on Mount Street and a bust of Prince Albert looking down on Mount Street Mews.

The Grade II-listed building on which the busts are located is part of a development constructed in the mid-1880s by James Trant Smith. The sculptor is apparently unknown.

Obviously, Prince Albert died in late 1861, well before the building was constructed, but Queen Victoria lived until 1901.

PICTURES: Google Maps.

That’s it for the current series – we’ll be launching a new Wednesday series in a couple of weeks.

The Crystal Palace was the most famous remnant of the 1851 Great Exhibition but there is another less grand monument – and both Prince Albert and Queen Victoria had a connection to it.

Originally constructed for display at the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, the Prince Consort Model Lodge, also known as Prince Albert’s Model Cottage, was designed by architect Henry Roberts for the Society for Improving the Conditions of the Labouring Classes.

Prince Albert was president of the society which turned to him for support when it was initially refused permission to build the model home in the exhibition’s grounds and, as a result, it was eventually agreed it could be build close to them at the Knightsbridge Cavalry Barracks.

The two storey red brick cottage (the bricks were hollow, an innovation aimed at making the homes sound-proof and fire-proof as well as cheaper to build) actually contained homes for four families – each with a living room, a scullery, a parent’s bedroom and two other bedrooms as well as a water closet.

Among the estimated 250,000 people who visited the homes were Queen Victoria – who did so on 12th July, 1851, lavishing praise on her husband’s project – as well as writer Charles Dickens and philanthropist Angela Burdett Coutts.

Following the closure of the exhibition, the home was dismantled and rebuilt on the edge of Kennington Park in 1853 (the park became a public recreation ground the following year and was subsequently the first public park in south London). It can still be seen on the Kennington Park Road side of the park today with improvements including the addition of a porch on the rear.

Interestingly, the cottage is decorated with mosaic tiles featuring intertwined ‘V’s’ and ‘A’s’ – the initials of the royal couple, a motif which is repeated in brickwork on the cottage’s sides. There’s also an inscription on the front which reads ‘Model houses for families • Erected by HRH Prince Albert’.

The model cottage, which has previously served as a home for the park’s superintendent, has been the headquarters of Trees for Cities since 2003. It’s also been featured on a new British stamp this year, among a series marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Prince.

And, yes, the design was adopted for homes built in several other locations including Stepney and Kensington in London and Hertfordshire as well as in locations overseas including The Hague, St Petersburg and Brussels.

PICTURE: Google Maps

 

Queen Victoria was a monarch known for breaking records and, thanks to her rule being in an age when technology was advancing at an incredible pace, performing royal-related “firsts”.

Among the latter is the fact that the Queen was the first British monarch to travel by train – a feat she performed with Prince Albert by her side on 13th June, 1842. It was he, who having first travelled on a train in 1839, had encouraged the rather nervous 23-year-old to make the journey (which she apparently agreed to undertake only two days before she actually did).

Travelling in a specially adapted “royal saloon” decorated with flowers, the royal couple travelled on the Great Western Railway, leaving Slough, which they had travelled to from Windsor Castle, at noon and arriving at London’s Paddington Station some 25 minutes later. Queen Victoria later wrote that there was no dust or great heat during the journey which, in fact, was “delightful and so quick”.

The train – which was pulled by the Firefly-class steam engine Phlegethon – was driven by Sir Daniel Gooch who was assisted by engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, builder of the railway. The Queen’s carriage was sandwiched in between six other carriages and trucks to act as a buffer in case of an accident.

On arriving at Paddington (at a temporary building which had been opened in 1838 and which would be replaced in 1854), the Queen was greeted by railway officials and their families along with a detachment of hussars on a platform covered with a red carpet. Crowds quickly grew and the royal couple were then escorted to Buckingham Palace.

The Queen would go on to regularly use railways as she travelled about Britain and even had a special signal installed on the roof of the royal carriage so the driver could be instructed to slow down as required.

Interestingly, the current Queen – Elizabeth II – and Prince Philip re-enacted the journey in 2017 to mark its 175th anniversary. They were accompanied by Isambard Thomas, the great, great, great grandson of Brunel and Gillian White, great, great grand-daughter of Gooch.

PICTURE: Inside Paddington Station today (Jimmy Harris/licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Imogen Pasley-Tyler, program manager and guide at Context Travel, explains why she’s fascinated with the City of London’s contradictions…

Born a Londoner, I’ve been through several incarnations in this city, lived in all corners and cycled most of the bits in-between. It’s a seemingly limitless source of discoveries, surprises and contradictions. From the river to the canals, the relentless urbanity to the abundance of parks and green spaces, the juxtaposition of ancient and modern, London is somehow simultaneously disarming and a little abrupt.

However, nowhere encapsulates this contradiction with quite the intensity that the ancient City does. As with much of this island, and its inhabitants, its charm might not be immediately apparent, however, penetrate beneath the surface of the surly urban throng and you’ll be rewarded with palpable layers of history and curious, unexpected encounters.

To provide a brief historical context, the physical ‘square mile’ known as the City of London is built on the site of the original capital, the Roman Londinium. Fast forward to the late 17th century and the medieval evolution of the city was largely decimated by the Great Fire of 1666. Christopher Wren was commissioned to rebuild the city, as part of a flamboyant  propaganda scheme for the recently ‘revived’ monarchy. The project lacked funds and was consequently built on the existing medieval foundations, hence the bizarre and entirely illogical network of streets and alleys. The resulting Roman ruins, medieval ‘patterns’ and baroque playfulness that sit alongside the contemporary metropolis of Norman Foster’s Gherkin and Richard Roger’s ‘Bowellist’ Lloyd’s building can leave any visitor initially discombobulated.

City of London, city of contrasts. PICTURE: Jaanus Jagomagi/Unsplash

It’s in the seeking out of the city churches of Wren and his protégé, Nicholas Hawksmoor, that the beauty and mystery of this district starts to reveal itself. Each of Wren’s churches has its own unique character, spire, weathervane and architectural vocabulary, thanks to the liberated flamboyance of the baroque vernacular. St Stephen Walbrook, thus named for the stream that ran under this site in Roman times, has an unprepossessing exterior, bar a relatively intricate tower that’s the only indication of the delight within. The interior, by contrast, is a luminous domed structure that has a sense of timelessness, an almost modern quality, that feels like it could happily accommodate any and all religions and was allegedly Wren’s ‘practice run’ for St Paul’s Cathedral. The nearby St Bride’s, of Fleet Street, has a spire that is claimed to be the inspiration for the evolution of the tiered wedding cake. And then there’s the elegant symmetry of Hawksmoor’s Christ Church, Spitalfields, that dominates the eastern reaches of the city, the monumental scale of which is a marked contrast to the delicate playfulness of Wren’s constructions.

Every churchyard is a lush jungle, where nature seems to be overruling the interruption of modernist architecture and the sheer intensity of this financial hub. A bronze likeness of William Shakespeare is hidden amongst the foliage at St Mary Aldermanbury on Love Lane. The war-bombed remnants of St Dunstan in the East is a tragic testament to the impact of World War II but also a moving memorial to this period; an extraordinary skeleton of a Neo-gothic structure, now tangled with wisteria and general verdant abundance.

This square mile has been witness to every great event in London’s history and bears the mark of most of these, in some shape or form. It is this palpable sense of buildings that have endured  and lives lived that makes it so compelling and enigmatic. To truly explore you must either know precisely where you’re going or surrender to this haphazard maze and relish the subsequent surprises. Most importantly, and ultimately the real function of these churches, is the reminder to look up!

 


Following the destruction of much of the Palace of Westminster in a fire which broke out on 16th October, 1834, work was launched on a new building to house both the House of Commons and the House of Lords – a building to which both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had strong connections.

Rebuilding commenced in earnest for the new building 27th August, 1840, when Sarah Barry, wife of architect Charles Barry (his plans for a new Perpendicular Gothic-style Parliament building had been selected from some 97 submissions), laid the foundation stone of the new complex.

Work, to the designs of Barry with the aid of Augustus Pugin, progressed (although a lot slower than was originally envisaged – and a lot more expensively) and the new House of Lords was opened in 1847 followed by the new House of Commons in 1852 (when Barry received a knighthood).

The Clock Tower, meanwhile, now renamed the Elizabeth Tower, was not completed until 1858, but when the Victoria Tower was roofed in 1860, the work was largely complete (although construction wasn’t officially completed until 10 years later – Barry died in 1860 and the work was continued by his son, Edward Middleton Barry).

In 1852, Queen Victoria became the first monarch to take the route since used by all sovereigns at the State Opening of Parliament – arriving in the Irish State Coach (still used by Queen Elizabeth II today) she entered the entrance at the base of the Victoria Tower (now known as the Sovereign’s Entrance) and proceeded to the Robing Room where she was dressed in the Imperial State Crown and the Robe of State before processing through the Royal Gallery to the chamber of the House of Lords where she took her seat on the Throne (located opposite the door leading to the House of Commons).

Prince Albert, known for his passion for the arts, chief connection came when he was appointed chair of the Royal Fine Arts Commission in 1835. It oversaw the placement of paintings and sculptures in the building, including five vast frescoes by William Dyce depicting the Arthurian legend which can be seen in the Robing Room.

The prince tragically died on 14th December, 1861, and while the structural work had largely been completed, much of the decorative schemes the commission had envisaged for the palace hadn’t been finished. As a result, many of the decorative aspects Prince Albert had overseen the planning of were never completed.

Portrayals of the Queen and Prince in the building today include a white marble statue of Queen Victoria holding a sceptre and laurel crown in the Prince’s Chamber and portraits of the Queen and Prince Albert by Franz Xaver Winterhalter which flank the Chair of State in the Robing Room.

WHERE: Houses of Parliament (nearest Tube stations are Westminster, St James’s Park and Embankment); WHEN: Tours are held on Saturdays until 25th January 2020 and Monday to Friday between until 30th August 2019 (except 26th August); COST: £26.50 adults/£22 concessions/£11.50 children five to 15 years (children under five are free); WEBSITE: www.parliament.uk.

Better known today as the Victoria and Albert Museum following its renaming in 1899, the South Kensington Museum was created in the aftermath of the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Initially located in Marlborough House on the Mall, it moved to its South Kensington site in 1857, opening to the public on 22nd June that year. Recorded among the visitors in the initial couple of years was Queen Victoria – who visited twice in February, 1858, and then again open 14th April when she was accompanied by Prince Albert.

The purpose of the later visit was to open the Art Rooms on the ground floor of Sheepshanks Gallery, a building which had been specifically constructed to house paintings given by John Sheepshanks (the building, located on the eastern side of the John Madejski Garden now contains sculptures on the ground floor and silver and stained glass on the first floor).

One interesting connection between the Queen and the museum can be found in a six metre tall plaster cast of Michelangelo’s David. The cast was given to Queen Victoria as a gift from the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1857 but she didn’t want the trouble of housing the giant figure (and she was apparently shocked by its nudity – more on that in a moment). So the Queen gave the statue to the museum where it was installed in a prominent position (and can today be seen in Room 46b).

But ah, yes, the nudity. The story goes that in response to the Queen’s shock, a proportionally accurate plaster fig leaf was commissioned to cover David‘s nether regions whenever the Queen visited (apparently by being hung on two small hooks on the cast). The fig leaf, like the statue, can still be seen – it’s housed in a small case on the back of the plinth David‘s standing on.

David is one of only a few items in the V&A’s collection today which once belonged to the Queen or Prince Albert. Others include the Raphael cartoons which she loaned to the museum in 1865 (and are still on loan from the current Queen).

As part of the redevelopment of the museum in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (when it was also renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum despite the Queen’s wishes it be called the Albert Museum), statues of the royal couple were installed above the museum’s main entrance in Cromwell Road with Prince Albert positioned just below the Queen who is flanked  by St George and St Michael (see above).

PICTURES: Courtesy V&A

WHERE: Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Gloucester Road); WHEN: 10am to 5.45pm daily (Fridays to 10pm); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.vam.ac.uk

The impact of Queen Victoria on Buckingham Palace, transforming what was empty residence into “the most glittering court in Europe”, is a special focus of this year’s summer opening of Buckingham Palace. Marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Queen, the exhibition Queen Victoria’s Palace recreates the music, dancing and entertaining that characterised the early part of the Queen’s reign using special effects and displays. Highlights include the Queen’s costume (pictured) for the Stuart Ball of 13th July, 1851, where attendees dressed in the style of King Charles II’s court. There’s also a recreation of a ball held in the palace’s newly completed Ballroom and Ball Supper Room on 17th June, 1856, to mark the end of the Crimean War and honour returning soldiers which uses a Victorian illusion technique known as Pepper’s Ghost to bring to life Louis Haghe’s watercolour, The Ball of 1856. The table in the State Dining Room, meanwhile, has been dressed with items from the ‘Victoria’ pattern dessert service, purchased by the Queen at the 1851 Great Exhibition, and the room also features the Alhambra table fountain, a silver-gilt and enamel centrepiece commissioned by Victoria and Albert in the same year, and silver-gilt pieces from the Grand Service, commissioned by the Queen’s uncle, King George IV, on which sit replica desserts based on a design by Queen Victoria’s chief cook, Charles Elme Francatelli. The summer opening runs until 29th September. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.rct.uk/visit/the-state-rooms-buckingham-palace. PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

 The Victorian reign is also the subject of a new exhibition at the British Museum where rare etchings by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert have gone on display. At home: Royal etchings by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert features 20 artworks that they created during the early years of their marriage and depict scenes of their domestic lives at Windsor Castle and Claremont including images of their children and pets. The display includes three works donated to the museum by King George V, Queen Victoria’s grandson, in 1926, and it’s the first time they’ve gone on public display. Prince Albert introduced the Queen to the practice of etching soon after their wedding and under the guidance of Sir George Hayter they made their first works on 28th August, 1840. They would go on to collaborate on numerous works together. The display can be seen in Room 90a until mid-September. Admission is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org. PICTURE: The Princess Royal and Prince of Wales, 1843, by Albert, Prince Consort (after Queen Victoria) © The Trustees of the British Museum.

American artist Ed Ruscha is the subject of the latest “Artist Rooms” annual free display in the Tate Modern’s Blavatnik building on South Bank. The display features works spanning Ruscha’s six-decade career, including large, text-based paintings and his iconic photographic series. There is also a display of Ruscha’s artist’s books – including Various Small Fires 1964 and Every Building on the Sunset Strip 1966 – as well as some 40 works on paper gifted to Tate by the artist. Highlights include his series of photographs of LA’s swimming pools and parking lots, paintings inspired by classic Hollywood cinema, and works such as DANCE? (1973), Pay Nothing Until April (2003) and Our Flag (2017). Runs until spring 2020. Admission is free. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert both had an abiding love of performance and were avid theatre-goers (the Queen first attended the theatre as monarch to watch The Siege of Rochelle and Simpson & Co at the Drury Lane Theatre just a few months after ascending the throne in 1837).

Until Prince Albert’s death in 1861, they were regularly seen at various theatres with the Queen attending both ‘in state’ (that is, formally as monarch with all the pomp and ceremony that entails) as well as in private (despite Prince Albert’s concerns over her security). The royal couple’s visits to the theatre generally took place from February to June when the Queen was principally in residence at Buckingham Palace.

As well as the Drury Lane Theatre (more formally, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane – pictured above in 2018), other theatres they attended include the Theatre Royal Haymarket and the Covent Garden Theatre, now the Royal Opera House.

They also attended the now demolished Princess’s Theatre in Oxford Street, most notably to see Charles Kean’s production of The Corsican Brothers in February, 1852. Keen not only directed but played both brothers mentioned in the title. So enamoured was the Queen of it, that she would see it four times.

The royal couple were such great admirers of Kean that they even had him stage private theatrical performances at Windsor Castle and when he died, Queen Victoria sent a letter of condolence to his wife.

PICTURE: Marco Verch (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

 

This year marks 350 years since London’s now famous diarist, Samuel Pepys, wrote the final entry in what was his private diary.

The final entry was written on 31st May, 1669, and mentions a liaison with one Betty Mitchell, a trip on the Thames to Whitehall where he met with the Duke of York, and an outing with his wife Elizabeth and friends to the The World’s End, a drinking house at the western end of Hyde Park in Knightsbridge.

Pepys had started writing the diary on 1st January, 1660, at the age of just 26, and over the next nine years, its more than a million words covered some of the critical events including the coronation of King Charles II, the Great Plague of 1665 and The Great Fire of 1666.

Many believe that the diary was never intended for a mass readership (although some scholars disagree with this opinion), but, if that was the case, Pepys did take some precautions just in case, using codes for the mistresses he met, for example.

He stopped writing the diary because he assumed he was going blind – he asks in the final sentence for God to help him “prepare all the discomforts that will accompany my being blind”.

You can read Pepys’ final entry and the the complete diary of Pepys online at www.pepysdiary.com.

PICTURE: Samuel Pepys by John Hayls, 1666 © National Portrait Gallery, London (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

It was on this road connecting the western end of The Mall outside Buckingham Palace with Hyde Park Corner that an infamous incident took place during Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s early years together.

For it was from a footpath on Constitution Hill that the first of eight assassination attempts were made on the Queen as the couple – the Queen then pregnant – rode out from the palace in a low slung carriage headed for Hyde Park as was their custom.

Edward Oxford was just 18-years-old when at on 10th June, 1840, he took up a position on a footpath on Constitution Hill where he stood for a couple of hours before, at about 6pm, as the royal couple’s carriage sailed past, he fired two pistols at them.

Both shots missed (in fact, no bullets were ever found) and Queen Victoria was quick to order the carriage to drive on (she and Albert would also ride out along the same route the next day despite the scare – this time there was a sizeable crowd of well-wishers eager to convey their good sentiments to the Queen and a procession of these followed their carriage up the hill to Hyde Park).

Oxford, meanwhile, was immediately seized by onlookers and stripped of his guns. He immediately admitted his crime, was subsequently arrested, charged with treason and later acquitted on grounds of insanity before being detained in an asylum at Her Majesty’s pleasure (he was eventually discharged with the proviso that he head to one of England’s overseas colonies and ended up living out his days in Melbourne, Australia).

An interesting footnote is that future artist John Everett Millais, then aged just 11-years-old, was among those standing on Constitution Hill watching the Queen drive past on the day of the assassination attempt.

There were another seven assassination attempts on Queen Victoria over the ensuing years. For more on them, check out Paul Thomas Murray’s detailed book Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem and the Modernisation of the Monarchy.

PICTURE: A view down Constitution Hill towards Buckingham Palace fro, the top of Wellington Arch.

You may have noticed that last week we kicked off a new Wednesday series on 10 (more) London garden squares, only having kicked off a new series on 10 sites from Victoria and Albert’s London the week before. To clarify, we are currently running the Victoria and Albert series, the garden squares entry snuck in by accident (but we’ll be returning to the garden squares down the track)! Apologies for any confusion...


Queen Victoria, the first British monarch to use Buckingham Palace as an official residence, moved her household into the palace just three weeks after ascending to the throne on 20th June, 1837.

The palace, which had been empty for seven years following the death of her uncle King George IV, had been undergoing a grand repurposing under architect John Nash, transforming it from a house into a palace.

Originally built in 1703 as a London residence for John Sheffield, the 3rd Earl of Mulgrave, in 1761 the property had been purchased by King George III as a family home for his wife Queen Charlotte (14 of the couple’s 15 children were born here).

Remodelling of the property began the following year and had been continued by King George IV following his accession to the throne in 1820. As a result of the ongoing work, George IV never lived in the palace nor did his successor, King William IV, who preferred Clarence House.

The building works still weren’t finished when Victoria moved in. Her ministers had advised her to remain at Kensington Palace, her childhood home, until the works were finished but Victoria wasn’t having any of that – the move would help her escape the overbearing care of her mother Victoria, Duchess of Kent, the ambitious Sir John Conroy, and the so-called (and stifling) ‘Kensington System’ of rules under which she’d been brought up.

When Victoria married Albert (see the previous entry) on 10th February, 1840, the newly weds made the palace their London home. It was here that, over the next 17 years, Victoria would give birth to eight of their nine children (starting with Victoria ‘Vicky’, in 1840), and where the couple would work, controversially at side-by-side desks.

The couple’s growing family was soon stretching the palace accommodations and following a request from Queen Victoria, in 1846 some £20,000 was granted by Parliament on 13th August to complete and extend the grand property with an additional £50,000 for the works raised from the sale of the Royal Pavilion to the Brighton Corporation.

Under the direction of architect Edward Blore and builder Thomas Cubitt, the East Wing was added at the front of the palace, enclosing what had previously been a horseshoe-shaped courtyard and creating the famous central balcony where the Royal Family now gather on special occasions. Queen Victoria made the first public appearance on the balcony in 1851 during the Great Exhibition (pictured above are members of the Royal Family at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton).

A new ballroom – designed by Nash’s student James Pennethorne – was added to the State Rooms shortly after. This was inaugurated in May, 1856, with a ball held there the following month to mark the end of the Crimean War.

The ball was one of several held at the palace during those years along with official royal ceremonies and other entertainments including musical performances by the likes of Felix Mendelssohn and Johann Strauss II.

A new exhibition, Queen Victoria’s Palace, opens at Buckingham Palace next month. 

WHERE: State Rooms, Buckingham Palace (nearest Tube stations are Victoria, Green Park and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: 20th July to 29th September (opening at 9am, closing times vary – see website for details); COST: £25 an adult/£14 a child (under 17s/under fives free)/£22.80 concession/£64 family; WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/buckinghampalace.

PICTURES: Top – Diliff (licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0); Lower – David Adams.


No more than the name of a Tube terminus (the north-east end of the Piccadilly Line) to many Londoners, Cockfosters has an interesting origin story.

The area in north London, which lies partly in the London Borough of Enfield and partly in the London Borough of Barnet, owes its name to its location on the edge of what was the royal forest of Enfield Chase.

In the 15th century, the forest was protected by foresters housed in three lodges – one of which was located where the West Lodge Park hotel, built in 1838, now stands.

(An interesting side note is that after the foresters stopped using the original lodge, it became, at one stage, the home of King Charles II’s Secretary of State, Henry Coventry. Diarist John Evelyn is among those who visited him.)

The ‘fosters’ part of the name is apparently derived from an Elizabethan-era variant of the word forester while ‘cock’ is a old word for leader or chief. Cockfosters, then, literally means the home of the chief or head forester.

The modernist Tube station, designed by Charles Holden and opened in 1933, is a key landmark as is the stately, Grade II-listed property Trent Park which is located on a remnant of Enfield Chase.

Other notable buildings include Christ Church Cockfosters, founded in 1839, and The Cock Inn, which opened in Chalk Lane in 1798.

PICTURED: Top – Trent Park House (© Christine Matthews/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0; below – Cockfosters Tube Station (Steve Cadman/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

British printmaking between World War I and II is under the spotlight in a new exhibition which opened at Dulwich Picture Gallery this week. Cutting Edge: Modernist British Printmaking, which marks 90 years since the inaugural exhibition on British linocuts was held at the Redfern Gallery, features 120 prints, drawings and posters and spotlights the work of artists of the Grosvenor School including those of teacher Claude Flight and nine of his leading students – Cyril Power, Sybil Andrews, Lill Tschudi, William Greengrass and Leonard Beaumont among them. A number of the works are being displayed publicly for the first tome and several international loans – including prints by the Australian students Dorrit Black, Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme – are making their debut as part of a major UK showing. The display can be seen until 8th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Claude Flight, Speed, 1922, © The Estate of Claude Flight. All Rights Reserved, [2019] / Bridgeman Images/ photo Photo © Elijah Taylor (Brick City Projects)

Food festival, the Taste of London, is on again in The Regent’s Park across this weekend. Opened last night, the festival features the chance to sample food from London’s best restaurants as well as learn from world-class chefs, and visit gourmet food and artisan producer markets. For more, including tickets, see https://london.tastefestivals.com.

On Now: Global Dickens: For Every Nation Upon Earth. This exhibition at the Charles Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury paints a global picture of one of London’s favourite sons, starting with his trips to Europe and North America and going on to consider how his influence spread across the world. On display is his leather travelling bag, a Manga edition of A Christmas Carol,  and a copy of David Copperfield that went to the Antarctic on the 1910 Scott expedition. Can be seen until 3rd November. Included in admission charge. For more, see www.dickensmuseum.com.

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

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the births of both Queen Victoria (24th May) and Prince Albert (26th August) and, in celebration, we’re running a special series on London locations that played a key role in their joint lives.

First up is the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace where the royal couple were married on 10th February, 1840. It was the first marriage of a reigning queen since Queen Mary I in 1554.

The chapel, which hosted the christening of Prince George in 2013 and Prince Louis in 2018, was built in about 1540 and substantially altered since, including under the eye of Sir Robert Smirke in 1837.  It was built on a north-south axis rather than the more usual east-west (a sizeable window on its northern wall can be seen to the right of the palace’s main gatehouse – see picture).

The chapel, which features a richly decorate ceiling said to have been painted by Holbein, has been used regularly by the Chapel Royal – a department of Royal Household – since 1702.

At the wedding, the Queen wore a white satin gown with a deep flounce of handmade Honiton lace, designed by William Dyce, which featured a long veil and an 18 foot long train (she had 12 train bearers). Her jewellery included a sapphire broach given to her by Albert and she wore a headress of orange blossoms. Victoria’s dress is said by some to have popularised the idea of the white wedding dress among the English (although there is apparently some debate over this).

Among those in attendance was Victoria’s mother, the Dowager Duchess of Kent and Strathearn, Albert’s father and brother, the Duke and Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha respectively, and various other royals including Queen Adelaide, the widow of King William IV, as well as the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne (who, in fact, carried the Sword of State). Given the fact Victoria’s father was dead, it was her uncle, the Duke of Sussex, who walked her up the aisle.

It was a big affair in the city – people lined the roads between Buckingham and St James’s palaces and some reportedly even climbed trees for a better view. Victoria wrote in her diary that she’d never seen such crowds “and they cheered most enthusiastically”.

The wedding breakfast, which featured a 300lb cake which was nine foot in circumference, was held at Buckingham Palace after which the newly weds headed off to Windsor for a two day honeymoon.

Famously, before the wedding, the Archbishop of Canterbury had apparently asked Victoria whether, given she was Queen, she wanted to remove the word “obey” from her wedding vows. Victoria had refused.

There are limited opportunities for the public to attend services in the Chapel Royal at certain times of the year.

PICTURE: Johan Bilien (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

One of the star sites in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, the tomb of Horatio, Lord Nelson, is certainly grand.

Located in what is known as the Nelson Chamber, it centres on a polished back sarcophagus which sits on a stone plinth surrounded by columns with a mosaic floor featuring nautical motifs underneath.

But what makes this tomb unusual is that the sarcophagus actually predates the cathedral itself – and it wasn’t originally made for Nelson.

The sarcophagus was initially commissioned by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of King Henry VIII, and made by Florentine sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano in about 1524. But when Wolsey fell out of favour – and eventually died in disgrace – the then unfinished sarcophagus was seized by King Henry VIII.

King Henry intended to use it for himself and commissioned Benedetto to rework it but it wasn’t complete when he died and while his children – King Edward VI, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I – had intended to complete it after his death, none did so.

It was Queen Elizabeth I who moved the unfinished work out of Westminster to Windsor but during the Commonwealth various pieces designed to accompany the completed tomb were dispersed.

They included four large bronze angels that Benedetto had completed in 1529 which were intended to stand on the tomb’s four corners – for many years these were used as decorative features on gate pillars at Harrowden Hall in Northampshire but were finally recovered by the V&A in 2015 after a national appeal and can now be seen there.

The sarcophagus itself remained at Windsor until King George III presented it to the Admiralty in tribute to Lord Nelson.

Suitably fitted out, his remains were enclosed within when he was buried in St Paul’s crypt on 9th January, 1806.

Nelson’s body, which had been preserved in a keg of brandy on its journey aboard the HMS Victory back from the Battle of Trafalgar where he was killed in 1805, is actually held inside a wooden coffin which sits inside the sarcophagus. This coffin was made from the mainmast of the French ship L’Orient which was presented to Nelson following victory at the Battle of the Nile.

Meanwhile, the sarcophagus itself, which would have been topped with Wolsey’s cardinal’s hat had it fulfilled its original intention, is now topped with a coronet – a symbol of Nelson’s title of viscount.

A monument to Nelson, the work of John Flaxman, can also be seen inside the cathedral.

WHERE: Nelson Chamber, The Crypt, 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: £20 adults/£17.50 concessions/£8.50 children (online and group discounts; family tickets available); WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk.

PICTURE: Above – Michael Broad  (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Below – reverendlukewarm (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).