April 19, 2017
We kick off a new series this week looking at 10 of most memorable (and historic) views of London and to kick it off, we’re looking at the views from one of London’s most prominent historic institutions, St Paul’s Cathedral.
There are two external galleries at St Paul’s – the first is the Stone Gallery which stands at 173 feet (53.4 metres) above ground level. Encircling the dome, it is reached, via a route which takes the visitor through the internal Whispering Gallery, upon climbing some 378 steps.
Located above it, encircling the cathedral’s famous lantern (which sits on top of the dome), is the Golden Gallery. It stands some 280 ft (85.4 metres) above the cathedral floor, and can be reached by a climb of 528 steps.
From it – and the Stone Gallery below it – can be seen panoramic views of the City of London and across the Thames to Southwark.
The lantern above, meanwhile, weighs some 850 tonnes and on its top sits a golden ball and cross – the current ball and cross, which weigh about seven tonnes, were put there in 1821, replacing the original ball and cross which had been erected in 1708.
St Paul’s Cathedral was the tallest building in London from 1710 into the 1960s (when it was surpassed by Millbank Tower and what is now known as the BT Tower). Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s is not as tall as the original medieval cathedral which reportedly had a spire reaching 489 feet (149 metres) into the sky compared to St Paul’s as it is now, standing to a height of some 365 feet (111.3 metres) above ground level.
WHERE: St Paul’s Cathedral, St Paul’s Churchyard (nearest tube station is St Paul’s); WHEN: The galleries are open from 9.30am to 4.15pm, Monday to Saturday; COST: £18 an adult/£16 concessions and students/£8 a child (6-18 years)/£44 a family of four; WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk
PICTURES: Top – Looking up at the lantern with the Golden Gallery around the base; Below – View looking west from St Paul’s down Fleet Street (the spires of St Brides and St Dunstan-in-the-West can be seen).
This Week in London – A Queen’s garden party; the Great Fire 350 Festival; and, getting behind the scenes at the Museum of London…
August 18, 2016
• Join Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, for a garden party in the grounds of Kensington Palace this weekend. The celebrations include music, military drills and live performances in a bid to bring the era of the Georgians to life. Visitors can listen to court gossip, learn how to play popular music and devise ways to amuse the queen as they pop in and out of a range of tents set up in the gardens, each of which contains a different activity, from uncovering dress secrets to designing a mini-garden fit for a king or queen. There’s even the chance to sample some Georgian ice-cream in the ice-house. The days will be held from today until 21st August. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/. PICTURE: Via HRP
• The Great Fire 350 Festival – marking the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London – is underway and there’s a range of events being held in London over this month and next. While we’ll be mentioning some of these a little closer to actual anniversary date, meantime there are bi-weekly walks, a ‘Fire Trail’ treasure hunt and a new Monument app to keep you busy. The latter allows visitors to conduct a self-guided ‘Great Fire journey’ focusing on the fire itself, the commemoration of the blaze and London as we know it now as well as taking users into the minds of Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke – designers of The Monument. Available for download from Android Market and Apple App Store. For more on the events running as part of the anniversary, see www.visitlondon.com/greatfire350/events.
• Take a behind the scenes look at the Museum of London – and see some rarely exhibited objects – in an exhibition which opened late last month. The free display allows visitors to catch a glimpse of some of the work that goes on behind the scenes and see objects usually housed in the museum’s extensive stores including a detailed model of the process engraving department at the Evening Standard newspaper in 1977, an ice-cream maker and moulds from around 1910, and a confectioner’s icing stand from about 1900. The exhibition can be seen until 15th September. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
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August 15, 2016
It’s the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London ands we thought we’d take a quick look at what happened in the aftermath.
With much of the city razed in the four day fire of early September, 1666, attention quickly turned to the rebuilding of the City and within just a few days, proposals began coming in for the recreation – and transformation – of London.
Christopher Wren, John Evelyn and Robert Hooke were among those who put forward new designs for the city along with the likes of one Richard Newcourt, whose proposed rigid grid featuring churches set in squares wasn’t adopted for London but was eventually for the streets of Philadelphia in what is now the United States of America.
None of these plans – Wren’s vision had apparently been inspired by the Gardens of Versailles while Evelyn’s was an Italianate city with wide piazzas – were eventually adopted, however, thanks largely to the difficulty in working out who owned which properties in the city (people had more on their mind, such as survival perhaps).
In October, 1666, King Charles II – who had encouraged many of those left homeless to move out of the City out of fears that a rebellion was in the offing – joined with the City authorities in appointing six commissioners to regulate the rebuilding (a key factor in which was the mandatory use of brick in place of wood).
Their actions were supported by a couple of parliamentary acts – drawn up to regulate the rebuilding and allow for the opening and widening of roads, among other things – and the establishment of specially convened Fire Courts to deal with property disputes (owners had to clear roadways of debris and establish their rights of ownership before they could start reconstruction).
Rebuilding was, not surprisingly, to take years – after all, almost 400 acres had been burned within the City walls and 63 acres outside them with more than 80 churches, 44 livery halls and more than 13,000 houses among the casualties. And it was patchy with new buildings standing alongside empty blocks awaiting reconstruction.
Construction of the many grand public buildings destroyed in the fire, such as St Paul’s Cathedral, would also take years (the cathedral, Wren’s Baroque masterpiece, wasn’t completed until 1711).
PICTURE: The Monument, which commemorates the Great Fire of London, is among the works of Sir Christopher Wren (for more on the Monument, see our earlier post here).
July 29, 2016
One of the achievements of the short-lived reign of King Edward VI, son of King Henry VIII, was the establishment of this hospital for orphans in 1552 in what were once buildings used by the Greyfriars Monastery (for more on the history of Greyfriars, see our earlier post here).
Located in Newgate Street, the hospital soon had a school attached which became known as the Blue Coat School thanks to the distinctive long blue coats the students wore (and still do, the school is now located near Horsham in West Sussex).
Many of the hospital buildings were destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666 but most were later rebuilt under the supervision of Sir Christopher Wren, although the actual work was apparently carried out by others.
Students at the school have included antiquarian William Camden, Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and writer Charles Lamb.
New buildings for girls were opened in Hertford in 1704 and the school moved out to Sussex in 1902 with the General Post Office built over the top of the demolished buildings.
January 13, 2016
The final in our series looking at London ‘battlefields’, this week we take a look at the so-called Battle of London, the air war fought over London during World War II which, along with the bombing of other British cities, is best known by the phrase The Blitz (it forms part of the greater Battle of Britain).
Taking place from the afternoon of 7th September, 1940, until May, 1941, the Blitz saw London sustain repeated attacks from the German Luftwaffe, most notably between 7th September and mid November when the city was bombed on every night bar one.
The night of 7th September, the first night of the Blitz (a short form of ‘Blitzkrieg’ – German for ‘lightning war’), was among the worst – with more than 450 killed and 1,300 injured as wave after wave of bombers attacked the city. Another 412 were killed the following night.
One of the most notorious raids took place on 29th December when incendiary bombs dropped on the City of London starting what has been called the Second Great Fire of London. Around a third of the city was destroyed, including more than 30 guild halls and 19 churches, 16 which had been rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666.
The city was only attacked sporadically in the early months of 1941 but the night of the last major raid of the Blitz – that of 10th May, a night subsequently known as The Longest Night – saw the highest casualties of any night with almost 1,500 people reportedly killed.
The Blitz killed almost 30,000 civilian in London, and destroyed more than a million homes with the worst hit districts poorer areas like the East End.
The battle wasn’t one-sided – the RAF fought the Luftwaffe in the skies and did have some wins – on 15th September (a day known as Battle of Britain Day), for example, they shot down some 60 aircraft attacking London for the loss of less than 30 British fighters.
It was this victory which led the Germans to reduce the number of daylight attacks in favour of night-time raids which, until the launch of the RAF’s night-time fighters in 1941, meant they met little effective resistance. This included that of ground defences – throughout December, 1940, it’s said that anti-aircraft fire only brought down 10 enemy planes.
Yet, the Blitz did not lead to a German victory. For the Nazi regime, the purpose of the constant bombing of London (and other cities) was aimed at sapping the morale of its residents to the extent that they would eventually be forced to beg for peace. But the plan failed and Londoners, digging deep, proved their mettle in the face of fear.
Hundreds of thousands of people were involved in Civil Defence working in a range of jobs – everything from air raid shelter wardens to rescue and demolition teams – and worked alongside firefighters whose numbers were supplemented by an auxiliary service. Naturally all suffered a high level of casualties.
As the weeks passed, the carnage mounted in terms of the loss of and damage to life, destruction of property and psychological toll. And yet the Londoners – sheltering Underground, most famously in the tunnels of the Tube – survived and, as had been the case after the first Great Fire of London, the ruined city was eventually rebuilt.
There are numerous Blitz-related memorials in London, many related to specific bombings. But among the most prominent are the National Firefighters Memorial, located opposite St Paul’s Cathedral, which pays tribute to the firefighters who lost their lives in the war (as well as in peacetime), and a riverside memorial in Wapping honouring civilians of East London killed in the Blitz.
October 2, 2015
This church, which survived until it was largely destroyed by bombing in World War II, isn’t completely lost – its tower still survives in the middle of Wood Street in the City.
The church, one of a number dedicated to St Alban (Britain’s first Christian martyr) in London throughout its history, was medieval in origin although it has been argued its foundation dates back to the 8th century Saxon King Offa of Mercia who is believed to have had a palace here with the chapel on this site (Offa is also credited as the founder of St Alban’s Abbey).
The church had fallen into disrepair by the early 17th century and was demolished and rebuilt in 1630s. It proved unfortunate timing for only 32 years later it was completely destroyed again, this time in the Great Fire of London.
Following the Great Fire, the church, now combined with the parish of St Olave, Silver Street, was among those rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren and completed in the mid-1680s.
It was restored in the late 1850s under the eye of Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott and the four pinnacles on the tower, which stood on the north side of the church, were replaced later that century.
It survived until World War II when the building was burnt out and partly destroyed on a single night during the Blitz in December, 1940. The remains, with the exception of Wren’s Perpendicular-style tower, were later demolished in the 1950s (by which time the church had been united with the parish of St Vedast, Foster Lane).
The Grade II*-listed tower was converted into a rather unusual private dwelling in the 1980s.
September 2, 2015
Situated just off Cannon Street, this much overlooked tiny raised garden was created on the site of the former Church of St Swithin. The church is believed to have existed here as early as the 11th century and was replaced, thanks largely to the generosity of Lord Mayor Sir John Hind, with a larger building in the early part of the 15th century – it featured one of the first towers built specifically for the task of hanging bells inside.
The church was among those destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 but, now united with the parish of St Mary Bothaw, was rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren shortly after in 1677-88.
Later known as St Swithin, London Stone thanks to the mysterious London Stone being built into the south wall of the church in the late 18th century (for more on the stone and its current location, see our earlier post here), the church survived until World War II when it was damaged beyond repair during bombing and was later destroyed.
Relandscaped in 2010, the garden features a rather dramatic memorial (pictured) to the suffering of women and children in war in general and medieval figure, Catrin Glyndwr in particular. Unveiled in 2001, it was designed by Nic Stradlyn-John and sculpted by Richard Renshaw.
The daughter of the Welsh Prince Owain Glyndwr, she was captured in 1409 and brought with her children and mother to the Tower of London. Catrin and two of her children died in late 1413 and were buried in the former church.
WHERE: St Swithin’s Church Garden, Salters Hall Court off Cannon Street (nearest Tube station is Cannon Street); WHEN: daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.bost.org.uk/open-places/red-cross-garden/.
August 12, 2015
The church of St Mary Aldermanbury (the name may relate to its proximity close to Guildhall, or the ‘Alderman’s Bury’ or ‘Alderman’s Hall’), mentioned as far back as the late 12th century, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London but was among those rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren only to be destroyed again during the Blitz in 1940.
There they were reconstructed in the grounds of Westminster College – site of Winston Churchill’s famous “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946 – and the church restored as a memorial to the former British PM. The National Churchill Museum is located beneath.
There’s plaque mentioning this in the gardens (and featuring an image of what the church looked like after its reconstruction in Fulton) which still contains the church’s footings (these date from the 15th century when the church was apparently partially rebuilt) and give an indication of what the church’s footprint would have been along with headstones (among those whose remains were buried here was the notorious Judge Jeffreys).
Other features include a memorial to Henry Condell and John Heminge, both involved in the publication of William Shakespeare’s first folio (you can read more about it in our earlier post here).
The garden was laid out after the church was removed. It is a designated Site of Local Importance for Nature Conservation and attracts wildlife including birds such as blackbirds, woodpigeons, house sparrows and blue tits. Plantings were added in 2011 to maximise the attraction to bird as well as bees and butterflies. On the corner outside the garden is a fountain.
WHERE: St Mary Aldermanbury Garden, Aldermanbury, City of London (nearest Tube stations are St Pauls and Monument); WHEN: 8am to 7pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/St-Mary-Aldermanbury.aspx.
August 5, 2015
Located amid the remains of the medieval church of St Dunstan in the East, the garden was created in the late 1960s after the church was finally – and irrevocably, apparently – destroyed in the Blitz of World War II.
The church’s origins went back to around 1100 and it was subsequently extended with a new south aisle in the late 14th century and repaired in the early 17th century before being severely damaged in the Great Fire of 1666.
Patched up, with a new steeple and tower added to the building between 1695-1701 by Sir Christopher Wren, the building stood until the early 19th century when much of the church – with the exception of Wren’s additions – had to be rebuilt (for more on the history of the church, see our earlier Lost London post here).
The ‘new’ building was, however, badly damaged during bombing in 1941 and it was decided not to rebuild the church in the aftermath of the war.
The City of London opened a garden, sympathetic with the remains of the Grade I-listed building, on the site in 1971 (although Wren’s tower remains). They won a landscape award only a few years later.
Features in these atmospheric gardens – which seem to capture the essence of the Romantic idea of what ruins should look like – include a fountain which sits in the middle of the nave. In 2010 it was one of five public gardens in the City where award-winning ‘insect hotels’ were installed.
Maintenance works were carried out in 2015 and new plantings put in (the picture, above, was taken before this).
WHERE: St Dunstan in the East, between Idol Lane and St Dunstan’s Hill, City of London (nearest Tube stations are Monument and Tower Hill); WHEN: 8am to 7pm or dusk (whichever is earlier); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/St-Dunstan-in-the-East.aspx
A short-lived addition to Old St Paul’s Cathedral before it burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, the classical-style portico was designed by Inigo Jones as part of makeover King James I ordered him to give the cathedral in the first half of the 17th century.
St Paul’s, which was completed in the early 14th century in the Early English Gothic style (see our post here for more on its earlier history), had fallen into a state of disrepair by the 1620s, thanks in part to a fire caused by lightning which had brought the spire – 489 feet (149 metres) high when built – crashing down through the nave roof in 1561.
The spire wasn’t rebuilt and repair works undertaken to the cathedral roof were apparently shoddy, meaning that by the early 1600s, things were in a parlous state.
Jones started work in the 1620s, cleaning and repairing the massive structure and adding a layer of limestone masonry over the exterior to give the building a more classical look inspired by the temples of ancient Rome he had seen in that city and in Naples and the work of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio.
This was complemented by the grand portico he added to the west front in the 1630s (and which was paid for by King James’ son, King Charles I). Featuring 10 columns across its breadth and four deep (these, it has been suggested, stood about 45 feet tall), it was topped by a frieze of lions’ heads and foliage with plans for a series of statues which some say were to be saints and others kings to be placed along the top (in the end only statues of King Charles I and King James I were ever placed there). The facade also featured turrets at either side.
Work on the repairs came to a halt in 1642 thanks to the Civil War, during which Parliamentarian forces famously used the cathedral’s great nave for stables.
Following the Restoration in 1660, with Jones now dead (he died in 1652), Sir Christopher Wren was invited by King Charles II to restore the grand old building but Sir Christopher proposed it be demolished instead, a decision which lead to an outcry among London’s citizens.
Wren then changed his plans to instead restore the existing build but replace the spire with a dome. His scaffolding was in place around the cathedral when the Great Fire broke out in 1666 and badly damaged the building (although the portico apparently remained standing until 1687-88 when Sir Christopher had it demolished to make way for his new western front).
Interestingly, it is said Wren used blocks from the portico to create the foundations for the building which now stands on the site.
PICTURE: Wenceslaus Hollar’s rendering of Inigo Jones’ West Portico/Wikipedia
For more on the history of St Paul’s Cathedral see Ann Saunders’ St Paul’s Cathedral: 1,400 Years at the Heart of London.
The first great stone cathedral on the site where Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s now stands was a relative – and as yet incomplete – newcomer in 1215. Construction on it had started more than 120 years before in 1087 but it eventually took more than 200 years to finish.
It was Bishop Maurice, chaplain to William the Conqueror (he donated some Caen stone for its construction), who began the project after the previous wooden Saxon church on the site – the latest in a succession of them dating back to the 7th century – had been destroyed by fire (although it was under successor Bishop Richard de Beaumis that work began to really take shape).
The first part of the building to be completed was the quire in 1148 – its opening was delayed by another fire in 1135 caused during civil unrest following the death of King Henry I – but it wasn’t until after the Magna Carta’s advent – in 1240 – that the church was eventually consecrated by Bishop Roger Niger.
Originally designed in the Norman Romanesque-style, the architectural style changed during the building process into the Early English Gothic style.
Enlarged and renovated several times since construction began, it wasn’t fully completed until the 14th century – when it was the largest church in England and the third largest in Europe featuring the tallest steeple, built in 1221, and spire, built in 1315, ever built (that is, until 1561 when it was knocked down by lightning).
It later contained a number of important relics including the arms of Mellitus, the first bishop of London (see our earlier post on him here), St Mary Magdalene’s hair, the head of King Ethelbert and, importantly for the time, some pieces from the skull of St Thomas á Becket. Among the tombs inside the emerging church in 1215 were those of Sebba, King of the East Saxons, who had been buried in the north aisle in 695, and that of King Ethelred “The Unready”.
While the exterior was remodelled in the early 17th century – including the addition of a monumental new porch by architect Inigo Jones – the medieval building remained standing until the Great Fire of 1666.
PICTURE: Via Wikipedia
April 27, 2015
One of the most famous streets (and photographed) in London (though sadly not open to the public), Downing Street in Whitehall is these days most well-known for being the location, at Number 10, of the official residence of the British Prime Minister.
But Downing Street’s history dates back to a time before the first British PM moved in (this was Sir Robert Walpole in the 1735 and even after that, it didn’t become a regular thing for Prime Ministers to live here until the Twentieth century). And its name bears testimony to its creator, Sir George Downing, a soldier and diplomat described as “a miserly and at times brutal” man who served first under both Oliver Cromwell and, following the Restoration, King Charles II (and was, coincidentally, one of the first graduates of Harvard University).
In the 1650s, Sir George took over the Crown’s interest in land here, just east of St James’s Park, and intended to build a row of townhouses upon it. His ambitions were delayed, however, due to an existing lease with the descendants of Elizabethan courtier Sir Thomas Knyvet who had once lived in a large home on the site of what is now Number 10 Downing Street.
By the 1680s, however, the lease had expired and between 1682-84, Downing was able to construct a cul-de-sac, closed at the St James’s Park end, featuring either 15 or 20 two storey terraced townhouses with stables and coach-houses, designed by no less than Sir Christopher Wren.
While the homes were apparently of shoddy craftsmanship and stood upon poor foundations (Churchill famously wrote that Number 10 was “shaky and lightly built by the profiteering contractor whose name they bear”), the street apparently attracted some notable residents from the start.
These included the Countess of Yarmouth, who briefly lived at Number 10 in the late 1680s, Lord Lansdowne and the Earl of Grantham, and even, briefly, apparently the diarist James Boswell in the mid 1700s. Downing himself isn’t thought to have ever lived here – he retired to Cambridge a few months after the houses were completed.
The houses between Number 10 and Whitehall – on the north side of the street – were taken over by the government and eventually demolished in the 1820s to allow for the construction of offices for the Privy Council, Board of Trade and Treasury while the houses on the south side remained until they were demolished in the early 1860s to make way for the Foreign, India, Colonial and Home Offices.
The numbers in the street have changed since Downing’s houses were first built. Of the original homes in the street only Number 10 (home of the PM) and Number 11 (home of the Chancellor of the Exchequer) survive.
Access to the street has been restricted since the 1980s with the current black steel gates put in place in 1989.
An underground tunnel apparently runs under the street connecting number 10 with Buckingham Palace and the underground bunker, Q-Whitehall, built in the 1950s in the event of nuclear war.
Still on designs for royal palaces and today we’re looking at two designs for the same palace. Both Inigo Jones (1573-1652) and Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) drew up designs for the remodelling and expansion of Whitehall Palace.
First up was the neo-classical architect Jones who drew up plans for a vast complex of buildings (pictured left) which would replace the Tudor palace King Henry VIII had created when he transformed the grand house formerly known as York Place into a residence suitable for a king (York Place had previously been a residence of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and prior to that, the London residence of the Archbishops of York).
Jones’ complex – which apparently featured seven internal courts – covered much of what is now known as Whitehall as well as neighbouring St James’s Park with a magnificent River Thames frontage.
The first part of Jones’ grand scheme – the Banqueting House (see our earlier post here) – opened in 1622. It still survives today – pictured above – and gives a taste of the grandeur of his overall scheme.
Yet, despite the eagerness of King James I for the project, it failed to materialise. English Heritage chief executive Simon Thurley told the BBC in 2012 that the hall represented only five per cent of what Jones had planned.
King James I died in 1625 and his son King Charles I was apparently keen to continue the project – so much so that Jones submitted new plans in 1638 – but he didn’t find the funds the project needed (and, of course, as we know, then became consumed by the events of the Civil War before being beheaded outside the Banqueting House in 1649).
Following the Restoration, in the 1660s King Charles II apparently had Sir Christopher Wren quietly draw up plans to redevelop the palace but these weren’t follow through on although during the reign of King James II he did work on several projects at the palace including a new range of royal riverside apartments, terrace (remains of which can still be seen) and a chapel.
In 1698, much of the bloated Whitehall Palace – then the largest palace in Europe with more than 1,500 rooms – burnt down although the Banqueting House, though damaged, survived basically intact (in fact there’s an interesting anecdote, its veracity questionable, which has it that on hearing of the fire Wren rushed to the site and had an adjacent building blown up to create a firebreak and ensure the Banqueting House was saved).
The then king, King William III, approached Wren and he again submitted plans for its rebuilding (prior to the fire, he had already worked on several aspects of the palace including a new range of royal apartments and a chapel for King James II).
But Wren’s plans – images show a grand domed building – were largely never realised (although he did convert the Banqueting House into a chapel) and the destroyed palace never rebuilt (no doubt in large part due to the fact that King William III preferred a more rural and less damp location – such as that of Kensington Palace – thanks to his asthma).
For more on the history of the Palace of Whitehall, see Simon Thurley’s Whitehall Palace: The Official Illustrated History.
November 11, 2014
Pictured is the south bank of the Thames showing the buildings of the former Thames Tunnel Mills (now converted to residences). The tower of the Church of St Mary the Virgin is in the background – the church dates from 1716 and was designed by John James, an associate of Sir Christopher Wren.
September 23, 2014
Following on from the last moment in London’s history which looked at the death of Queen Anne, we pause a moment to look at the day 300 years ago – 18th September, 1714 – when her successor, King George I, landed at Greenwich as he arrived to take up his new throne.
There was apparently thick fog when the Elector of Hanover made his way up the Thames accompanied by a flotilla of boats carrying his family and entourage including 18 cooks as well as his mistress, Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenburg, and his half-sister Sophia Charlotte von Kielmansegg (known rather nastily among English courtiers as the “Maypole” and the “Elephant”).
He landed at the water gates of the Sir Christopher Wren-designed Royal Hospital for Seamen, now known as the Old Royal Naval College, in Greenwich (pictured above) but when the waiting crowds cheered the disembarking king, it was a case of mistaken identity. In fact, they were cheering his son, George Augustus (and future King George II) and by the time the king actually disembarked, much of the crowd had already dissolved, leaving a much smaller – and probably disappointing – gathering to welcome him.
The arrival of the king – a re-enactment of which took place at the ORNC last week – is depicted in a painting in the upper part of the the college’s Painted Hall. The work of artist James Thornhill, it depicts the king wearing Roman costume riding a chariot and appears alongside a figure of St George defeating the dragon (who, of course, stood for the papacy and family of the deposed King James II).
The Painted Hall also features a family portrait of the new Royal Family, excluding George’s wife Sophia Dorothea who was imprisoned in Germany at the time following allegations of infidelity. The future King George II is featured with his back to the king in reference to the hostility between the two of them.
The ORNC is currently looking to raise £5.5 million to conserve Thornhill’s paintings following a restoration of the Painted Hall in 2013. For more details, head to www.ornc.org/support/current/conserve-the-painted-hall.
This week (and next week) as part of our look at Shakespeare’s London, we’re taking a look at a few of the many memorials to William Shakespeare located around London…
• Westminster Abbey: Perhaps the most famous of London’s memorials to Shakespeare can be found in Poet’s Corner, an area of the abbey which has become noted as a burial place and memorial site for writers, playwrights and poets. Designed by William Kent, the memorial statue of Shakespeare was placed here in January, 1741 (there had apparently been some earlier talk of bringing his bones from Stratford-upon-Avon but that idea was squashed). The life-size statue in white marble, sculpted by Peter Scheemakers, was erected by Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, Dr Richard Mead, Alexander Pope and Tom Martin. The memorial also features the heads of Queen Elizabeth I, King Henry V and King Richard III on the base of a pedestal and shows Shakespeare pointing to a scroll on which are painted a variation of lines taken from The Tempest. A Latin inscription records the date the memorial was created and an English translation of this was added in 1977. For more on the abbey, see www.westminster-abbey.org.
• Guildhall Art Gallery (pictured above): Facing into Guildhall Yard from niches under the loggia of the Guildhall Art Gallery are four larger-than-life busts of historical figures connected with the City of London. As well as one of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, architect Christopher Wren, and diarist Samuel Pepys (along with a full-length statue of Dick Whittington and his famous cat) is a bust depicting Shakespeare. Carved out of Portland stone by sculptor Tim Crawley, the busts were installed in 1999. Much attention was apparently paid to creating a bust which resembled pictures of Shakespeare. Follow this link for more on the gallery.
• Former City of London School: This Thames-side building, dating from the 1880s, features a full length statue of Shakespeare who gazes out over the river. He’s not alone – poet John Milton, Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Thomas More and Sir Francis Bacon stand nearby, selected, apparently, to represent various disciplines taught at the school. The statues were the work of John Daymond who depicted Shakespeare flanked by representations of classics and poetry and drawing and music. The school vacated the building on Victoria Embankment in the 1980s and it’s now occupied by JP Morgan.
We’ll be looking at some more works depicting Shakespeare next week…
Constructed on the site of the Duke of Somerset’s Tudor-era mansion, Somerset House as we know it today owes its origins to a national scheme aimed at creating public buildings in London which would rival those of Continental cities.
The campaign led to the passing of an Act of Parliament in 1775 for the construction of a new public building at Somerset House to house government agencies such as the Navy Office, Salt Office, Surveyor General of Lands, the King’s Bargemaster and the offices of the Duchy of Lancaster and Cornwall as well as various learned societies.
The former building – which had been worked on by the likes of Sir Christopher Wren and which had been used as a residence for the likes of King Charles II’s queen, Catherine of Braganza, following his death, had fallen into a state of considerable disrepair and was demolished in 1775.
William Robinson, secretary of the Office of Works, was initially given the job of designing the new building (much to the discontent of some) but after his sudden death the same year, the task was given to Sir William Chambers, comptroller of the Office of Works and one of England’s leading architects.
The basic design was as it appears today – four ranges built around a central court (now named the Edmond J Safra Fountain Court). The Strand Block, located to the north and the most highly decorated of the buildings inside and out, was built first and largely completed by 1780, the Embankment Building (home of the Navy Office) in 1786 and the east and west ranges two years later.
When Chambers died with the work unfinished in 1796, it was carried to completion by James Wyatt and declared complete in 1801, despite the fact elements of Chambers’ design were still outstanding. It had cost more than £460,000, in excess of three times Robinson’s original estimate.
One of the first new occupants – thanks to a decision by King George III – was the fledgling Royal Academy of Arts (it had been one of the last occupants of the former premises) and its focal point was the Great Exhibition Room where exhibitions were held until 1836. Others in the new building included The Royal Society (it remained until 1837 when, like the RA, it moved to Burlington House) and the Society of Antiquaries (it moved to Burlington House in 1874).
As well as being home to various offices of the Navy Board (the southern building, where it was housed, contains the stunning, now restored, Nelson stair), Somerset House was also home to the Inland Revenue.
New additions were made to the original design in the nineteenth century – the extension of the south block to the east and addition of a New Wing to the west – and the construction of the Victoria Embankment (see our earlier post here) meant the two watergates Chambers had designed became landlocked. Somerset House no longer rose directly from the water as he’d intended but from a roadway (as it does today – we’ve mentioned this before but you can see the original riverbank by looking through the glass floor of the building’s Embankment entrance).
Somerset House is these days home to a range of cultural and artistic organisations – from the British Fashion Council to the National Youth Orchestra and, in the north wing, the Courtauld Institute of Art. And as well as hosting various art installations, the central courtyard is host to an ice-skating rink over winter.
For more on Somerset House, see www.somersethouse.org.uk.