St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street was among the hundreds of historic sites removed from Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register this year. Published last month, the register is an annual inventory of historic sites “most at risk of being lost forever as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development”. It shows that while some 310 items have been removed from the list over the past year, some 247 were added, meaning there were 5,073 entries on the list this year, 87 less than the previous year. The Grade I-listed St Bride’s, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666, had needed repairs to both its famous steeple – said to have inspired the tiered wedding cake design – and the body of the church itself. Historic England spent almost £8.5 million on grants to help restore some of the country’s most historic sites over the past year. Among London sites still on the list are the Grade II*-listed Crystal Palace Park, the Grade I-listed St Pancras Church and sections of what remains of London’s Roman and medieval wall. For more, see www.historicengland.org.uk/advice/heritage-at-risk/.

Advertisements

This Bloomsbury pub, not surprisingly, takes its name from its proximity to the British Museum (it’s directly opposite).

Located at 49 Great Russell Street, the Grade II-listed, four storey building was refurbished under the eye of theatre and music hall architect William Finch Hill (and possibly Edward Lewis Paraire) in the mid-1850s in modified French Renaissance style. Along with the exterior, the interior also contains some elements dating from this period.

There has apparently been a pub on the site since the 1720s – it was previously called the Dog & Duck, a reference to the rural nature of the location back then, and was renamed the British Museum Tavern in the mid-18th century before taking its current name when the refurbishment took place in the 1750s.

Famous patrons have apparently included Karl Marx, who frequented it while writing Das Kapital in the British Museum Reading Room. Other famous figures associated with it are Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and JB Priestley.

Ah, and the sign itself (pictured right). It depicts Sir Hans Sloane, a royal physician and MP whose collections formed the basis of the British Museum when it first opened its doors.

Now part of the Greene King franchise. For more, see www.greeneking-pubs.co.uk/pubs/greater-london/museum-tavern/.

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

 

This City of London square sits on the part of the site of what had been Salisbury House, the town house of the bishops of Salisbury.

The house, which later became known as Dorset House, burned down in the Great Fire of London of 1666 and the square, now at the southern end of Salisbury Court, developed in its aftermath.

Lying just to the south of Fleet Street, the square was once home to the Salisbury Court Theatre in the mid-17th century and John Dryden lived here from 1673 to 1682, a period during which he wrote works including Amboyna (1673), All for Love (1678) and The Spanish Fryar (1681). It was also a popular place for actors to reside given its proximity to the Dorset Garden Theatre which was also built on part of the site of Salisbury House.

There was an alehouse here when King George I acceded to the throne – known as a locale frequented by his supporters, it was famous for an incident in 1716 in which it was stormed by a Jacobite mob during which the landlord shot a weaver (he was acquitted but five rioters were hanged at the end of the court.

Samuel Richardson ran a printing shop lived here from 1723 – Pamela was among the works he wrote here. He later pulled down some old residences to expand his printing operations (and it was in his house that Dr Samuel Johnson and William Hogarth first met).

In 1863, all the houses on the south side were replaced by the Salisbury Hotel and this was replaced in  the 1960s by Salisbury Square House when the square was remodelled and the central area laid out. Only number one remains of the early 18th century houses which once stood here.

The now largely paved square features garden boxes in the middle along with an obelisk commemorating Robert Waithman, Lord Mayor of London between 1823-24. It had apparently originally been erected in Farringdon Street but was moved here in the 1970s.

PICTURE: Google Maps.

 

 

This Bloomsbury square is another that’s one of a pair – in this case with Mecklenburgh Square which stands on the other side of the site of the now-demolished Foundling Hospital (across what’s now known as Coram’s Fields).

The three acre square was planned by Samuel Pepys Cockerell, who was appointed to develop the estate around the hospital with the intention of maintaining some open space around the hospital while allowing spare land to be leased for housing (and so raise some much needed funds for the hospital).

The square was over the period 1795-1802 while the gardens in the square’s middle were laid out in in the late 1790s (initially for use by residents only, they’re now open to the public).

The name comes from Caroline of Brunswick, wife of the then Prince Regent (later King George IV).

The square, which is Grade II-listed along with Coram’s Fields and Mecklenburgh Square, was a respectable if not highly fashionable residential location.

Famous residents have included numerous members of the Bloomsbury Group such as siblings Virginia (later Woolf) and Adrian Stephen, economist John Maynard Keynes and Leonard Woolf – all of whom lived in the same property (Virginia and Leonard moved out of the square when they married in 1912) as well as EM Forster. Writer JM Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, also lived for a time in a house overlooking the square.

Jane Austen refers to the square in Emma in which her sister Isabella praises it as “very superior to most others” and “very airy”.

All of the original buildings around the square have since been demolished and replaced – among them number is 40 which was built for the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children in the 1920s and now houses the Foundling Museum (there’s a statue of the hospital’s founder Thomas Coram outside by William MacMillan – pictured right).

The north side of the square is home to the UCL School of Pharmacy, the west side features tiered apartments which form part of the Grade II-listed Brunswick Centre development, which dates from the late 1960s and early 1970s, while on the south side is the university residence known as International Hall.

The gardens were extensively renovated in 2002-03 by Camden Council; works which included restoration of railings apparently taken for munitions during World War II. Its trees include a London plane tree, said to be the second oldest in London, which in 2009 was declared one of the Great Trees of Britain.

On one of the garden’s railings, close to the statue of Captain Coram, is a tiny bronze sculpture of a mitten by artist Tracey Emin, a fitting symbol of the childhoods connected with the Foundling Hospital.

PICTURES: Top – Looking across Brunswick Square Gardens (Google Maps); Right – Thomas Coram (David Adams).

A silver trencher plate – one of only three silver pieces in the world known to have belonged to 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys (and the only one on display in the UK, the other two being in the US) – has gone on show in the Museum of London’s ‘War, Plague and Fire’ gallery following its recent acquisition. The plate, which was only recently recognised as belonging to Pepys – a naval administrator and MP, bears his coat-of-arms on the rim while the underside features London hallmarks testifying to the metal’s purity. The plate is also stamped with a “date letter” representing 1681-82 as the year it was made along with an MK in a lozenge, the maker’s mark of the workshop of Mary King in Foster Lane (the date 1681 also appears scratched on the surface but this was done at a later date). Knife and fork scratch marks are also visible on the trencher which may have been among the silver objects Pepys boasted about serving his guests with in his diary instead of the less expensive pewter. Admission to see the plate is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/samuel-pepys-silver-plate. PICTURES: © Museum of London.

Bookseller and philanthropist, Thomas Guy’s memory is still preserved in the London hospital which still bears his name (pictured above).

Guy was born the son of Thomas Guy, Sr, a lighterman, carpenter and coalmonger (and Anabaptist) in Southwark, in about 1644. But his father died when he was just eight-years-old and his mother Anne moved the family to Tamworth, her home town, where he was educated at the local free grammar school.

In 1660, he returned to London where he was apprenticed to a bookseller in Cheapside. Eight years later (and having lived through the Great Plague and The Great Fire), his apprenticeship completed and now admitted as a freeman to Worshipful Company of Stationers, he opened his own bookstore on the corner of Cornhill and Lombard Street  in the City of London where he found success in selling illegal fine quality printed Bibles from what is now The Netherlands.

He went on to obtain a contract from Oxford University for the printing of Bibles, prayer books and other classical works – a move which saw his fortune begin to take off, so much so he apparently renamed his shop the ‘Oxford Arms’.

But Guy also became a noted investor and it was through doing so – particularly his success in investing in and then offloading shares in the booming South Sea Company (before it collapsed) – which, alongside his success as a publisher, helped to create his fortune.

He had a somewhat notorious reputation for frugality (there is a somewhat dubious story that he broke off an engagement with a maidservant following a dispute concerning some paving works she authorised without his permission) but is also known to have been a significant philanthropist.

His giving included funding upgrades to his former school in Tamworth as well the building of almshouses there in 1678. In fact, his connections with the town were still deep – he represented the town as its MP between 1675 to 1707 – he was so angry was he at his rejection in 1608 that he threatened to pull down the town hall and, later, in his will specifically deprived the inhabitants of Tamworth of use of the almshouses.

Guy had, meanwhile, refused the offer of taking up the post of Sheriff of London after he was elected, apparently because of the expense involved, and paid a fine instead.

He was appointed a governor of St Thomas’s Hospital in 1704 which he also funded the expansion of (using the money he’d made through his investment in the South Sea Company), building three new wards. Having obtained permission to build a hospital for “incurables” discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital, he began building his own hospital, Guy’s, near London Bridge in 1722.

Guy never married and died at his home in the City on 27th December, 1724. He laid in state in the Mercer’s Chapel before being buried in the crypt beneath the chapel at Guy’s Hospital (a fine monument by John Bacon now stands over the site).

He left considerable bequeathments to various charitable organisations as well as to relatives but the bulk of his estate went to his hospital – which was now roofed – so that the works could be completed. The bronze statue outside the hospital, by Scheemakers, depicts guy in his livery.

PICTURE: David Adams


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)

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.

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

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)