This Week in London – Remembering the Great Fire of 1666; rediscovering the Palace of Whitehall; and, the Queen’s dresses go on show…
July 21, 2016
• A new “theatrical” exhibition marking the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London is opening at the Museum of London on Saturday. Fire! Fire! takes visitors on an interactive journey from before, during and after the great fire, looking at how the fire started and spread and the personal stories of Londoners present at the time. Visitors will be able to step in Pudding Lane and see what life was like for 17th century Londoners, walk into the bakery where the fire started, and identify objects melted by the flames. Exhibits on show include a restored 17th century fire engine, originally built in London in the last 1670s, other firefighting equipment including a squirt, a leather bucket and fire hook, a pair of bed hangings, a burnt Geneva Bible, and letters written in the fire’s aftermath. Admission charges apply. Can be seen until 17th April next year. A series of events, including walks, tours, lectures, workshop and family activities, accompanies the exhibition. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/fire-fire. The museum has also commissioned a Minecraft building group recreate London as it was in 1666 with the first of three interactive maps to be released next week (available for free download from www.museumoflondon.org.uk) and further maps to follow in September and February. For more information on other events surrounding the anniversary, see www.visitlondon.com/greatfire350.
• The long lost Palace of Whitehall is the subject of a new visitor experience which kicks off at the last surviving part of the palace – the Banqueting House – today. Handheld devices, binaural 3D sound and haptic technology is being made available to guests as they stroll around the streets of modern Whitehall, allowing them to immerse themselves in the former palace during the time of the Tudors and the Stuarts. The Lost Palace experience, created in a collaboration between Historic Royal Palaces and Chomko & Rosier and Uninvited Guests, includes a chance to see the jousts which so delighted Queen Elizabeth I at Horse Guards Parade, accompany King Charles I as he walks through St James’s Park to his execution at the Banqueting House, meet Guy Fawkes following his arrest in the Gunpowder Plot, take part in a performance of King Lear and eavesdrop on an encounter between King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn before their doomed love affair began. The Palace of Whitehall was once the largest palace in Europe with 1,500 rooms spread across 23 acres. Tickets can be purchased at the Banqueting House. Runs until 4th September. For more details, see www.hrp.org.uk/thelostpalace.
• Dresses worn by Queen Elizabeth II during two of the most significant events in Her Majesty’s life – her wedding and her coronation – can be seen as part of the Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace from Saturday. The two dresses will form part of a special exhibition – Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe, the largest display of the Queen’s dress ever held. Alongside the two feature dresses, both designed by British couturier Sir Norman Hartnell, are around 150 outfits created by designers including Hartnell, Hardy Amies and Ian Thomas. The then Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress (pictured), made for her marriage to the Duke of Edinburgh on 20th November, 1947, was made in ivory silk, decorated with crystals and 10,000 seed pearls and attached to a 15 foot long train, while the Queen’s Coronation dress – created for the event on 2nd June, 1953, is made of white duchesse satin and encrusted with seed pearls, sequins and crystals (along with an extra four-leaf shamrock on the left side of the skirt, added secretly by Sir Norman, to bring her good luck). The exhibition, open to 2nd October, is being accompanied by special displays at both Windsor Castle and Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016.
• The world’s largest collection of London images – more than 250,000, dating from 1450 to now – are being made available on a free-to-access website hosted by the London Metropolitan Archives from today. Collage – The London Picture Archive features more than 8,000 historical photographs of capital’s streets as well as images of the Great Fire of London in 1666 and photographs of the construction of Tower Bridge along with maps, prints, paintings and films, all drawn from the collections at the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Art Gallery and the Clerkenwell-based London Metropolitan Archives. The collection can be accessed at www.collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk.
• It’s hands-on gaming at the Science Museum for two weeks from Friday with more than 160 systems and hundreds of games available to play on. Power UP spans 40 years of gaming with games ranging from classics like Pong and Pac-Man to modern games like Halo and systems from Atari and SEGA to PS4 and Xbox One. Ninety minute sessions are being held four times daily from 11am tomorrow until 7th August. Ticket charges apply. For more , see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/powerup.
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November 5, 2012
Today marks what was traditionally known as Guy Fawkes Day or, as it’s known more popularly today, Bonfire Night, when, along with people throughout the UK, Londoners celebrate the capture of would be regicide Guy Fawkes and his conspirators, who in 1605 plotted to blow up the House of Lords and with it, King James I, during the State Opening of Parliament.
Meantime, if you’re wanting to attend a celebration in London, Time Out has a terrific guide to all the events taking place – simply head to their page here. Enjoy the night!
March 30, 2012
And so we come to the last entry in our special series on Lost London looking at some of London’s gates – this time the only gate located on the south side of the Thames.
Located at the south end of London Bridge, this gate guarded the bridge entry in medieval times. When the first gate was built here remains something of a mystery but it is known that the first stone bridge, built in the late 1100s under the direction of priest Peter de Colechurch (it opened in 1209), certainly included a gatehouse known as the Stone Gateway (referred to by some as Bridge Gate) at the southern end.
The practice of parboiling the heads of traitors and the dipping them in tar before putting them on pikes above the gate apparently dates from 1305 when Scottish rebel William Wallace’s head was displayed there. The practice apparently continued until 1678 when goldsmith William Stayley’s head was the last to be displayed there.
As we mentioned in our earlier post on London Bridge, famous heads to adorn the gateway over the years included Peasant’s Revolt leader Wat Tyler in 1381, rebel Jack Cade in 1450, the former chancellor Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher in 1535, Thomas Cromwell in 1540 and Guy Fawkes in 1606.
Pictured above is an enlarged detail of a 1616 print showing London Bridge by Claes Van Visscher – the heads are clearly visible on top. One German visitor famously counted 30 heads on top when he visited in 1598.
The gate (and it should be mentioned there was also another gate on the bridge with a drawbridge which was replaced by Nonsuch House in 1577) was presumably removed sometime after 1756 when an Act of Parliament authorised the removal of shops and houses on the bridge.
Of course, there are many other gates in London – some of them smaller gates in the city walls – which have been lost to time. We’ll be looking at some more of these in future posts…
Around London – New picture gallery at V&A; remembering the 5th of November; War Horse – the exhibition; and, celebrating Private Eye…
November 3, 2011
• The Victoria and Albert Museum has opened a new permanent gallery displaying highlights from its internationally renowned collection of photographs in what amounts to a chronicle of the medium stretching from its invention in 1839 to the 1960s. The gallery, which opened in late October, initially features works such key figures as Henri Cartier Bresson, Man Ray, Alfred Stieglitz, Diane Arbus and Irving Penn. Among highlights are the oldest photograph in the V&A’s collection – a daguerrotype of Parliament Street taken from Trafalgar Square in 1839, a Robert Howlett portrait of Isambard Kingdom Brunel standing in front of the Great Eastern, and an early botanical photography taken without a camera in 1854. The display also includes two “in focus” sections, looking at the lives of two photographers – initially British photographer Julia Margaret and the influential Henri Cartier-Bresson – in depth. The V&A was the first museum to start collecting photographs when it did so in 1856. Entry is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.
• Remember, remember, the 5th of November! This weekend is Bonfire Night (aka Guy Fawkes Night) and across London communities will be gathering around bonfires to gasp at fireworks displays. We don’t have the capacity to collect all the details of where they’re taking place but thankfully the people at View London do. Follow this link to see its listing of where fireworks displays are taking place. To see our previous entry looking at the origins of the night, follow this link. For more on the Gunpowder Plot, see our previous entry here.
• On Now – War Hose: Fact & Fiction. A book, a long running stage performance and a soon to be released film, War Horse is now also the subject of a major exhibition at the National Army Museum. War Hose: Fact & Fiction is a family-friendly exhibition which tells the real-life story of horses in war and includes archive material from the animal charity The Brooke, which was founded after Dorothy Brooke rescued some former war horses being sold into a life of hard labour in Cairo (Brooke, who rescued some 5,000 horses, went on to found the Old War Horse Memorial Hospital in Cairo in 1934). The exhibition also features content from Michael Morpurgo, author of the novel War Horse, as well as the National Theatre’s production and the upcoming Spielberg-directed movie. Entry is free. Runs until August 2012. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk.
On Now: Private Eye: The First 50 Years. A celebration of the irreverent Private Eye magazine which, since it was founded in October 1961, has distinguished itself through a combination of satire and hard-hitting journalism. The exhibition features more than 120 of the magazine’s funniest cartoons and a display of the magazine’s distinctive covers with one of from each year chosen by editor Ian Hislop. It also shows how surprisingly low-tech the magazine’s production remains despite great changes in technology, and there’s a recreation of the editor’s Soho office. Admission is free. Runs until 8th January. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.
June 8, 2011
One of the most significant events during the early year of King James I’s reign was the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot.
The plot, which involved a group of Catholic conspirators including Robert Catesby and Guido ‘Guy’ Fawkes (you can read more about Fawkes in our earlier entry on Bonfire Night), centred on a plan to blow up the House of Lords in Westminster Palace during the State Opening of Parliament in November 1605, thus killing the king (who had aggrieved Catholics in a public denunciation at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604; it should also be noted that he was already aware of several other failed Catholic plots to kill him) and, presumably, many MPs and Lords.
It is believed they intended replacing James with his daughter, Princess Elizabeth, whom they hoped could be made more amendable to Catholic worship.
But such a plot was hard to keep mum and an anonymous tip-off to Lord Monteagle, a Catholic, not to attend the event, led authorities to eventually uncover the plot in a basement storeroom below the House of Lords where, at around midnight on 4th November, they found Fawkes guarding the 36 barrels of gunpowder.
Fawkes was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered – a sentence never fully carried out after he leapt off the scaffold and broke his neck – and the other plotters, who had fled from London soon after the discovery, were either killed during subsequent arrest attempts, imprisoned or executed.
So happy was King James I – that he had Act of Parliament passed which made the 5th November a day of thanksgiving – it remained in force until 1859. Celebrations of the plot’s foiling continue every year on Bonfire Night.
But what were some of the significant places in the event? The cellar where Fawkes was arrested no longer exists – it was destroyed during a fire in 1834.
The conspirators who had been arrested were subsequently taken to the Tower of London where King James I authorised the torture of at least Fawkes and perhaps others among the conspirators. Fawkes capitulated quickly and signed two confessions (which are now in The National Archives). Another of the conspirators, Francis Tresham, died of natural causes while in the Tower.
The eight surviving conspirators went on trial at Westminster Hall – still part of the Houses of Parliament complex today; the end of the hall is visible in the above picture – in late January 1606 and were all condemned to death for treason.
Four of them were executed on 30th January in St Paul’s Churchyard outside St Paul’s Cathedral while the remaining four including Fawkes were executed the next day outside Westminster Hall in Old Palace Yard. The heads of Catesby and Thomas Percy, both of whom had been killed during a shoot-out in Staffordshire, were set up outside the Houses of Parliament.
Arrests – and in some cases executions – of others believed to be associated with the plot continued in the following months.
Another place of note in the story of the Gunpowder Plot is Syon Park in the city’s west, now the London home of the Duke of Northumberland. The aforementioned Thomas Percy was a cousin of the then Earl of Northumberland, Henry Percy, and apparently dined with the Catholic earl at the house on the night of 4th November, before the plot was uncovered.
That association subsequently led to the earl’s arrest and he was confined to the Tower for the next 15 years on the order of the king.
November 2, 2010
This week, on November 5th and surrounding days, people across England will mark Bonfire Night, an annual event which involves burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on top of a bonfire and setting off copious amounts of firecrackers.
So who was Guy Fawkes and what’s it all about?
Bonfire Night (the 5th November is also known as Guy Fawkes Day or Fireworks Night) has its origins in 1605 when a group of Catholics – including Guy or Guido Fawkes (the latter the Spanish form of his name) – attempted to blow up parliament in what became known as the Gunpowder Plot.
Born in York in 1570, Fawkes converted to Catholicism some time before selling his inheritance and heading to continental Europe where he fought as a mercenary for Catholic Spain against the Protestant Dutch in the Eighty Years War.
Having later travelled to Spain where he unsuccessfully tried to drum up support for a Catholic rebellion in England, he then returned to England where he was introduced to Robert Catesby, who planned to assassinate King James I and much of parliament and put a Catholic monarch back on the throne.
Having leased an undercroft beneath the House of Lords, the group of 13 plotters stockpiled gunpowder there with Fawkes put in charge of lighting it on 5th November before making his escape to the Continent. An anonymous letter, however, to Catholic Lord Monteagle warning him not to attend the State Opening of Parliament, led authorities to the site around midnight on 4th November and there they found Fawkes guarding the 36 barrels of gunpowder.
Arrested (he initially gave them the name of John Johnson), he subsequently confessed under torture and was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered – a sentence which he shortened by leaping off the scaffold and breaking his own neck before it could be carried out. The other plotters were also either killed, imprisoned or executed.
Bonfires were supposed to have been lit the night after the plot was foiled – 5th November – to celebrate the king’s safety and they have been ever since that date (in fact, James I passed an Act of Parliament making 5th November a day of thanksgiving – it remained in force until 1859).
Effigies of Fawkes followed (although some people substitute that of Fawkes with other people) as did the firecrackers. Some children carry effigies of Fawkes around asking for a “penny for the Guy” in an effort to apparently raise money for firecrackers. The poem which starts “Remember, remember, the fifth of November” is also associated with the night.
The night, which is now celebrated for all sorts of reasons – some suggest Guy Fawkes should be recognised as a hero for defending persecuted people against governments, is reportedly still observed in places as far afield as the US and New Zealand.
The cellar where Fawkes was arrested no longer exists – it was destroyed during a fire which consumed much of the medieval Houses of Parliament in 1834. But interestingly, the Yeoman of the Guard still do search the Houses of Parliament before each State Opening of Parliament. Two confessions signed by Fawkes are held at the National Archives.
PICTURE: Agata Urbaniak (www.sxc.hu)