National-Gallery2The Royal Mews – a stables and carriage house – is these days located at Buckingham Palace but prior to being moved there, the Royal Mews, previously usually referred to as the King’s and Queen’s Mews depending who was on the throne, was located on the site where the National Gallery (pictured) and Trafalgar Square now stand.

The name ‘mews’ actually refers to the fact that, from at least the reign of King Richard II in the late 14th century (although official records suggest there may have been a mews on the site as far back as the reign of King Edward I), the royal hawks were initially housed on the site – then in the village of Charing Cross – (the word ‘mew’ refers to the moulting of the birds and originally referred to when they were confined here for that purpose but later come to simply mean the place were the birds were caged).

The title of Keeper of the King’s Mews became a sought-after honour during the 15th century (although largely honorary with the actual work done by deputies) but among those who held the honour were Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known, during the Wars of the Roses as the ‘Kingmaker’.

In 1534, the King’s Mews was destroyed by fire and when it was rebuilt a few years later, it took the form of a stable but kept the original name of mews (although it has been suggested the change of use took place before the fire).

During the Civil War, the Mews were apparently used as a prison by the Parliamentarians for captured Royalists and during the Commonwealth, soldiers were apparently quartered here. Diarist Samuel Pepys also apparently visited several times.

In 1732 the building was again rebuilt, but this time it was to the grand designs of William Kent – images show a grand building with turrets and a great open square before it. In the 1760s, King George III had some of his horses and carriages moved to facilities on the grounds of Buckingham Palace (he had purchased this from the Duke of Buckingham for his wife’s use) but the bulk remained on the Charing Cross site.

In the early 19th century they were opened to the public but in the 1820s, King George IV – making Buckingham Palace his main residence – had the entire stables moved (the Royal Mews which now stand at Buckingham Palace were designed by John Nash and completed in 1825).

The old mews were subsequently demolished and Trafalgar Square – another Nash design – built on the site between 1827 and 1835 while the National Gallery opened in 1838.

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Regent's-Park

Flowers in Regent’s Park, north London. The park, which was designed by John Nash, was opened to the public in 1835. For more on the history of the park, see our earlier post here.

Royal-Opera-ArcadeFollowing our recent article on John Nash (see the earlier post here), we’re taking a look at one of his projects as part of our series on London’s oldest. Built between 1816-18,  the Royal Opera Arcade – which features a series of shops running down the side of a covered central hall – is not only the oldest existing shopping arcade of its type in London but apparently in the world.

The 12 foot wide covered arcade was built on the west side of what was previously the Royal, King’s or Haymarket Opera House – Nash and George Repton completed the exterior of the property originally built by Sir John Vanbrugh at the same time the arcade was built – but is now the site of Her Majesty’s Theatre (the former theatre was destroyed in a fire in 1867).

It extends between Pall Mall and Charles II Street in the West End, running parallel with Haymarket. Burlington Arcade, frequently cited as the city’s oldest, was in fact completed a year later.

The arcade originally had 19 shops – each with a cellar and mezzanine level – running down its west side. It now features shops which sell everything from fine wines and art to books and sandwiches.

For more on the Royal Opera Arcade, see www.royaloperaarcade.com.

Arguably the greatest architect of Regency London, John Nash’s imprint can still be seen in numerous sites around the city, from the master-planning of Regent’s Park and Regent Street to the beautiful buildings of All Soul’s Church in Langham Place and Marble Arch on the edge of Hyde Park.

Born the son of a Welsh millwright in Lambeth, London, on 18th January, 1752, Nash – who went on to work in a range of different architectural styles – trained as a draughtsman under the tutelage of architect Sir Robert Taylor and in 1777 established his own business as a builder and surveyor.

John-NashBut he certainly didn’t meet with immediate success and, following failure as a building speculator (he built properties in Bloomsbury Square and Great Russell Street but failed to make enough money from the venture – there’s a blue plaque on one of the houses, which he lived in, at 66 Great Russell Street), was declared bankrupt in 1783.

Meanwhile, his personal life was also in turmoil during these years – in 1775 he had married, Jane Kerr, the daughter of a Surrey surgeon, but separated from her in the early 1780s after various troubles including her eventually apparently having a child with a Welshman named Charles Charles, who is said to have died in prison after he was jailed for adultery.

Brought down by his misfortune, in the mid 1780s Nash moved to Carmarthen in Wales where he had family. Taking up work here, by the late 1780s he was designing prisons – the first was at Carmarthen – and worked on a number of other prominent buildings including St David’s Cathedral and various country houses.

Rising to prominence in Carmarthen society, by 1797, however, Nash was again working in London, initially in partnership with the renowned landscape architect Humphrey Repton with whom he had formed a business relationship some years earlier (although the partnership had soured over finances by 1800).

He built a substantial home at 29 Dover Street in Mayfair and in 1798, his first wife presumably dead, he married his second wife, Mary Anne Bradley, and soon started work on building a Gothic-inspired residence for them, known as East Cowes Castle, on the Isle of Wight. It was completed in 1802 but enlarged some years later.

Nash designed numerous country properties in the early 19th century, inspired by everything from castles to Italianate architecture, both in England and Ireland and soon came to the attention of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV (there was a rumour his wife was one of the prince’s discarded mistresses).

In 1806 he was officially made Deputy Surveyor General in the Office of Woods and Forests – the office which managed the Crown estate, and from 1815 on, he largely worked for the prince alone. Among the major London commissions from his royal patron were the design of Regent Street (he and his wife moved into number 14 in 1823) and the development of Regent’s Park on land formerly known as Marylebone Park and surrounding housing estates (for more on The Regent’s Park, see our earlier entry here). He also redeveloped St James’s Park.

In 1815, he was commissioned to develop the Prince Regent’s Marine Pavilion in Brighton and by 1822 had transformed the building into the spectacular Royal Pavilion which can be visited there today.

Nash was also involved in the development of The Regent’s Canal – which linked the Grand Union Canal in London’s west to the River Thames in London’s east and was completed in 1820 – and built many of the grand villas which still line it (for more on Regent’s Canal, see our earlier entry here).

Becoming an official architect to the Office of Works in 1813 (an appointment which only ended in 1832, three years before his death), Nash went on to design churches – including All Soul’s in Langham Place (he’s depicted above in a bust at the church) – as well as West End theatres including the Haymarket Theatre and the Royal Opera House (which burnt down in 1867) as well as the adjacent Royal Opera Arcade and residences including Carlton House Terrace and Clarence House (for more on this, see our earlier entry here).

Other major commissions included the redevelopment of Buckingham Palace (parts of the current building are his work but the main facade isn’t – for more on the palace history, see our earlier entry here) and the Royal Mews, and the creation of Marble Arch, originally envisaged as the main gateway to the palace (see our earlier entry here). Nash also designed a conservatory for Kew Gardens.

Nash’s close relationship with the Prince Regent (who become King George IV on 29th January, 1820), meant that when the king died in 1830, he found himself on the outer (and his reputation took many years to recover thanks to his association with the unpopular king). With no knighthood forthcoming for his efforts (unlike many of his contemporaries) and the chance of further work unlikely (his work on Buckingham Palace had been left unfinished due to concerns over rising costs), Nash retired to his house on the Isle of Wight.

He died there on 13th May, 1835, and was buried in the churchyard at St James’s Church in East Cowes. He was survived by his wife who, having settled his debts, retired to Hampstead.

For an in-depth study of Nash, try Geoffrey Tyack’s book, John Nash: Architect of the Picturesque.

• A West End institution which has hosted a who’s who of Londoners – including the likes of Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling and Winston Churchill as well as, more recently, David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Princess Diana – has reopened its doors to the public after a four year redevelopment. Originally opened in 1865 by French wine merchant Daniel Nicholas Thévenon and his wife Celestine, Café Royal at 68 Regent Street – overlooking Piccadilly Circus – has been relaunched as five star hotel featuring more than 150 rooms, six historic suites and a variety of dining venues – including the spectacular Grill Room – as well as a private members club, meeting rooms and wellbeing centre. The redevelopment of this storied building, which centres on the original premises – retaining John Nash’s Grade I-listed facade, has seen the restoration of grand public rooms, originally dating from the 1860s and 1920s, as well as an expansion into neighbouring buildings – all under the watchful eye of David Chipperfield Architects and Donald Insall Associates. For more, see www.hotelcaferoyal.com.

 • One of six small hospitals set up by the Bloomsbury-based Foundling Hospital, the Barnet branch operated in Monken Hadley in west London from 1762-1768. It’s now the subject of one of two new exhibitions which opened at the Barnet Museum at the beginning of the month. The Barnet Foundling Hospital, Monken Hadley, 1762-1768, features a range of objects relating to some of the children placed in the hospital including identifying coin tokens left by mothers, and letters written by manager Prudence West. The exhibition initially runs until 14th January – after which objects will be replaced with prints – and then until 28th February. The second exhibition, Foundling Voices, is on tour from the Foundling Museum and features oral histories of some of the last people to be cared for by the Foundling Hospital in Berkhamsted which closed in 1954. This runs until 13th January. Admission to both is free. For more, see www.barnetmuseum.co.uk.

On Now: Constable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of Landscape. This exhibition, recently opened in the John Madejski Fine Rooms and Weston Rooms at the Royal Academy of Arts, features works of art by three “towering figures” of English landscape painting – John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough and JMW Turner. The 120 works on display includes paintings, prints, books and archival material. Highlights include Gainsborough’s Romantic Landscape (c 1783), Constable’s The Leaping Horse (1825) and Boat Passing a Lock (1826), and Turner’s Dolbadern Castle (1800). There are also works by their 18th century contemporaries and artifacts including letters written by Gainsborough, Turner’s watercolour box, and Constable’s palette. Admission charge applies. Runs until 17th February. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.au.

It wasn’t until some time after Admiral Lord Nelson’s victory over the French fleet in the Battle of Trafalgar off the coast of Spain on 21st October, 1805, that the large public space in Westminster we now know as Trafalgar Square took its name.

Prior to the development of the square, much of the area it covers was occupied the King’s Mews – stables linked to the Palace of Whitehall – and was simply seen as part of the district known as Charing Cross (named for the memorial cross which stood close to where the equestrian statue of King Charles I now stands – for more on this, see our earlier post and follow the links).

Following the relocation of the Mews in the early 19th century, plans were drawn up by architect-of-the-age John Nash to redevelop the area while the square itself, completed in 1845, was designed by Sir Charles Barry (best known for his work on the Houses of Parliament).

The final design incorporated a statue of Admiral Lord Nelson atop a column, known as ‘Nelson’s Column’, in the centre – apparently against Barry’s wishes (see our earlier post for more on Nelson’s Column).

Originally designed with an upper terrace and a lower piazza linked by stairs at the eastern and western end of the terrace, the square contains two fountains on either side of the column – the current fountains were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1937-9 and replaced earlier ones.

It was originally suggested that the square be named King William IV Square but it was apparently architect George Ledwell Taylor who provided the alternative of Trafalgar Square in honor of Nelson’s great battle.

Bordered by significant landmarks including the National Gallery to the north, the church of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields to the north-east, South Africa House to the east and Canada House to the west, the square stands at the confluence of a number of major roadways including Whitehall, Strand, Charing Cross Road and The Mall.

Aside from the aforementioned statue of King Charles I, monuments within the square include Nelson’s Column along with plinths set in the four corners of the square. These bear statues of King George IV, Victorian military figures General Sir Charles James Napier and Major-General Sir Henry Havelock while the fourth plinth, located in the north-west corner, was originally intended to bear an equestrian statue of King William IV.

Instead, it was left empty for many years before the advent of the Fourth Plinth project under which a variety of contemporary artworks – most recently a massive sculpture of a boy astride a rocking horse – have occupied the space (you can see a picture of the current work in our earlier post here).

The square, once known as the home of thousands of pigeons before these were banished midway through last decade to allow greater public use of the space, also features the busts of three admirals – John Jellicoe, David Beatty and Andrew Cunningham, located against the north wall under the terrace.

There are also two statues on a lawn in front of the National Gallery – these are of US President George Washington and King James II. Curiously, the square also features a small pillar box in the south-east corner, referred to by some as the smallest police station in London.

A renovation project in 2003 pedestrianised the roadway along the north side of the square and installed a central stairway between the the upper and lower levels along with lifts, public toilets and a cafe.

For some more on the history of Trafalgar Square, see Jean Hood’s Trafalgar Square: A Visual History of London’s Landmark Through Time.

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip were married at Westminster Abbey, a highly significant property in the Queen’s story which we’ll be looking at in more depth shortly, on 20th November, 1947 (and, as did other brides in post-war Britain, the princess had to collect coupons for her wedding dress).

Following their honeymoon at Broadland – the home of Lord Mountbatten in Hampshire and at Birkhall, Balmoral, in Scotland, in 1949, they and their baby son, Charles, moved into Clarence House, their home for the next three years.

The house, which still featured Victorian decor, was refurbished although post-war austerity ensured the decor and furnishings – many of which were wedding presents – remained simple. The house still contains a Georgian dining table and 20 ladder-back chairs which were the gift of the Royal Warrant Holders Association and a mahogany sideboard and four side tables which were a present from Queen Mary, the Queen’s grandmother.

Princess Anne, second child of the Queen and Prince Philip, was born in the house in 1950.

Clarence House was originally built between 1825 and 1827 to the designs of John Nash (he also designed Buckingham Palace) and was designed as the home of George III’s third son, Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence and his wife Adelaide, and incorporated some of the Tudor buildings of St James’ Palace.

Indeed, Prince William Henry liked the house so much that on succeeding to the throne as King William IV in 1830, he decided not to move to Buckingham Palace and instead remained at Clarence House.

Later occupants have included Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, and two of her sons, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, and Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught as well as Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who moved in after the property was vacated by Queen Elizabeth II and remained living at the house until her death in 2002.

Today Clarence House is the official London residence of Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, as well as Prince Harry.

Clarence House is usually open for tours during summer but will not be opening this summer due to the Paralympic and Olympic Games blocking the entrance from The Mall. For details on the 2013 opening, see www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/clarencehouse.

PICTURE: ChrisO, Wikipedia

Originally installed as a grand entrance to Buckingham Palace, John Nash’s arch was moved to its current location, what is now effectively a traffic island not far from Speaker’s Corner in nearby Hyde Park, in 1851.

The story goes that this took place after it was discovered that the arch was too narrow for the widest of the new-fangled coaches but there are some doubts over this, particularly as the gold state coach passed under it during Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1952. Another story says that it was moved after extensions to Buckingham Palace left insufficient space for it.

Work on the arch had started at Buckingham Palace in the mid 1820s and it was completed by 1833. It was originally moved to replace Cumberland Gate as the new entrance to Hyde Park and to complement Decimus Burton’s arch at Hyde Park Corner. Successive roadworks in the 20th century, however, left it in its current position.

Clad in Carrara marble, the design of the arch was inspired by Rome’s Arch of Constantine and the Arc do Carrousel in Paris. The sculptural ornamentation, which includes works by Sir Richard Westmacott and Edward Hodges Baily, however, was apparently never completed and an equestrian statue of King George IV, originally destined for the top of the arch, instead now stands in Trafalgar Square. The bronze gates – which bear the lion of England, cypher of King George IV and image of St George and the Dragon – were designed by Samuel Parker.

Only senior members of the Royal family and the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery are permitted to pass under the central arch of the monumental structure.

The arch stands close to where the Tyburn Tree once stood (for more on this, see our earlier post). It contains three small rooms which, up until the 1950s housed what has been described as “one of the smallest police stations in the world”.

There was some talk in 2005 that the arch would be moved to Speaker’s Corner but this obviously hasn’t eventuated.

The Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree – donated  by the people of Oslo each year since 1947 as a thanks for the support Britain gave to Norway during World War II. On the left is the Olympic countdown clock.

A giant hedge-like reindeer outside Covent Garden, a market since at least the 1600s but once the site of a large kitchen garden for the monks of the Convent of St Peter, Westminster (see our earlier post for more).

Christmas tree near the ice-skating rink at Somerset House, now an arts and cultural centre but originally built on the site of a Tudor palace in the late 1770s as a home for three “learned societies” – the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Society, and the Society of Antiquaries – as well as government offices (including the Navy Board).

Christmas lights in Regent Street, one of the city’s premier shopping streets, in the West End. It’s current shape was designed by architect John Nash in the early 19th century.

Christmas decorations on the exterior of Cartier in Old Bond Street, Mayfair. The area takes its name from the May Fair once held there and is now one of the most expensive areas within London (see our earlier post for more).

Looking for a book about London? See The Exploring London Little List of Books for Christmas…

A former hunting chase, The Regent’s Park in London’s north-west was extensively developed in the 19th century and remains a good – if not complete – example of a Regency landscape.

As with many of London’s Royal Parks, Regent’s Park (it’s formal name is actually The Regent’s Park but we’ll shorten it for our purposes here) once served as King Henry VIII’s hunting grounds – he seized the park, then known as Marylebone Park Fields after the nearby village and boasting thick woods as well as more open forests, from the Abbey of Barking in 1538.

Used by royalty for the next 50 years, it remained largely unaltered until after the Civil War when, between 1649 and 1660, the Commonwealth ordered many of the trees to be chopped down to pay debts. It was restored to royal ownership with the restoration of the monarchy but, with hunting falling out of fashion, was then leased out to tenant farmers.

It was John Nash who created the park that we know and love today. Friend of the Prince Regent (later King George IV), he was among a number of architects who responded to the Prince Regent’s calls for the creation of a new design featuring a palace for himself.

Nash’s original designs included a round park featuring a lake and canal and surrounded by as many as 56 villas and a palatial summer home for the Prince Regent which would be linked to his other home at St James’s by a processional road.

But only eight of the villas were ever built and only two of them – St John’s Lodge and The Holme – remain (both are private residences but part of the lodge’s gardens are open to the public) while the plans for the Prince Regent’s palace were put on hold when he turned his attention to developing Buckingham Palace instead. The canal, meanwhile, was moved to the park’s northern boundary where it still stands today (see our earlier entry on Regent’s Canal) while the processional route Nash had proposed became Regent Street.

While the park was initially only for the exclusive use of residents and what Royal Park’s call the ‘carriage set’, in 1835, the eastern part of the park was opened to the public for two days a week. Other sections of what is now included in the park, including Primrose Hill, were opened later.

Meanwhile, the fact most of the villas had never been built had left a large amount of free space and so both the Zoological Society and the Royal Botanic Society moved in – the latter laying out what is the Inner Circle with lawns and a lake of its own. Another society to operate in the park was the Royal Toxophilite Society which introduced archery there.

Not much has changed since but for the creation of Queen Mary’s Gardens in the 1930s – these were laid out on the space formally occupied by the Royal Botanic Society which had decided not to renew its lease. The Open Air Theatre performances, which are still held in the gardens today, started at about the same time. The park was damaged by bombing during World War II but has been fully restored.

Other facilities now in the 166 hectare (410 acre) park include a sports facility known as The Hub as well as several cafes, tennis courts and boat hire. The London Zoo, of course, also remains there.

WHERE: The Regent’s Park (nearest tube station is Regent’s Park); WHEN: 5am to at least 4pm (closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/The-Regents-Park.aspx

The fourth in a line of parks stretching from Kensington Palace to Westminster, St James’s Park largely owes its foundation to King James I. 

Given its early history is covered in our earlier post, we’ll skip forward to the time of King Charles II when, under to instruction of Frenchman Andre Mollet, the park was redesigned with new landscaping including wide lawns, avenues of trees and a wide, centrally positioned canal. It was King Charles II who also opened the park up to the public (he even mingled with them there along with his mistress Nell Gwynn). Interestingly the first pelicans were also introduced to the park around this time when the Russian ambassador presented a pair of pelicans to the king.

In the 18th century, Horse Guards Parade was added to the park by filling in one end of the park’s canal and was later used for parades. The ceremonies of Beating Retreat and Trooping the Colour are still held there today.

The next major changes came in the 19th century when in 1827-28, architect John Nash oversaw a more romantically inspired renovation, including the transformation of the canal into a natural looking lake and the addition of winding paths, as part of his grand scheme which still shapes much of London today.

It was also at this time that The Mall (which like Pall Mall takes it name from the game of Pelle Melle – see our earlier post) was transformed into a grand processional route (it was opened to traffic later, in 1887). The park, bounded to the west by Buckingham Palace, also takes in the Queen Victoria Memorial – completed in 1914 to replace the Marble Arch which was moved to its current location at the corner of Oxford Street and Park Lane in 1851 – and flower beds which are planted annually with 12,000 geraniums, the color of which is chosen to match the guardsmen’s tunics.

Meanwhile, in 1837, the Ornothological Society of London erected a cottage for the birdkeeper (the thatched cottage can still be seen there today and the post of birdkeeper still exists). The first bridge was placed across the lake in 1851 (and replaced in 1951 with the one that now stands there).

Little has changed in the 23 hectare (58 acre) park since Nash’s day. Newer facilities include a restaurant and a playground at the western end.

WHERE: St James’s Park (nearest tube station is St James’s Park); WHEN: 5am to midnight daily; COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/St-Jamess-Park.aspx 

PICTURE: © Anne Marie Briscombe  (courtesy Royal Parks)

Perhaps the most overlooked and least celebrated of central London’s Royal Parks, Green Park (officially The Green Park) is a peaceful oasis of leafy trees between the bustle of Piccadilly and traffic of Constitution Hill and part of an unending swathe of green which connects Kensington Gardens with, eventually, St James’ Park.

Originally meadowland used for hunting, the earliest known mention of the area where the park now stands was apparently in 1554 when it was believed to be a staging point for Thomas Wyatt (the younger) who led a group of rebels protesting against the marriage of Queen Mary I to King Philip II of Spain. The unfortunate – and unsuccessful (in terms of his rebellion at least) – Wyatt was later beheaded for treason.

In 1668, King Charles II had the park enclosed with a brick wall and stocked with deer, as well as having a ranger’s lodge and icehouse built (to keep his drinks cool when entertaining in summer). While it was initially known as Upper St James’s Park, by 1746 Green Park had its own name. It’s not really known what prompted the name change but the unofficial story is that Queen Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II, found out that her philandering husband had picked some flowers there for another woman – a milkmaid. In revenge, she had every flower in the park pulled up with orders they were not to be replanted. To this day, while some 250,000 daffodils bloom here in spring, there remain no formal flowerbeds in the park.

The 47 acre (19 hectare) park, which was also used on occasion as a duelling ground, underwent further development at the beginning of the following century with the creation of the ornamental Tyburn Pool near the centre of the park.

Queen Caroline, the wife of King George II, meanwhile, had a reservoir built to supply water to St James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace (it was known as the Queen’s Basin) as well as a library and the Queen’s Walk. Planted in 1730, this runs along the eastern side of the park and helped to turn it into a fashionable place in which to be seen (and led to the building of many a mansion in nearby Piccadilly).

Other buildings in the park have included two temporary ‘temples’ – the Temple of Peace (erected in 1749 to mark the end of the War of Austrian Succession) and the Temple of Concord (erected in 1814 to mark 100 years of the rule of the Hanoverian dynasty). Both of these, believe it or not, burnt down during the celebrations they were built for.

The park, which underwent a redesign in which the first trees were planted in the 1820s as part of architect John Nash’s grand plans for St James’s Park, was opened to the general public in 1826 but by then many of its earlier features – including the ranger’s house, Tyburn Pool and the Queen’s Basin – were already gone.

In more recent times, war memorials have been added to the park – the maple-leaf daubed, Pierre Granche-designed memorial to Canadian soldiers in 1994 (Canada is also remembered in Canada Gate on the park’s south side, installed in 1908 to mark the nation’s contribution to the Empire), and a set of memorial gates on Constitutional Hill at the park’s western end which is dedicated to the five million people from the Indian Sub-Continent, Africa and the Caribbean who served in World War II in 2004. The park also features the ‘Diana fountain’, installed in 1952 by the Constance Fund (and currently undergoing restoration).

On 14th June, a 41 royal gun salute is fired here to mark the Queen’s birthday. Salutes are also fired here for the State Opening of Parliament in November or December, Remembrance Sunday, and for State Visits.

WHERE: Green Park (nearest tube station is Green Park and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: http://www.royalparks.gov.uk/Green-Park.aspx

PICTURE: Courtesy of Royal Parks. © Anne Marie Briscombe 

Daytripper – Brighton

July 22, 2011

It’s summer and that means, fingers crossed that the weather holds, Londoners start looking for the beach. One of the easiest to access coastal resorts – just an hour on the train – is the East Sussex town of Brighton.

Its history dates back to before the Doomsday Book and by medieval times, the town – previously known as Brighthelmstone – was prosperous enough to become a target to French raiders who burnt it down during a raid in 1514.

Yet much of what we now know as Brighton dates from the late 18th century when the town was transformed into a fashionable seaside resort. But before we get to that, there’s a couple of notable survivors from earlier days worth mentioning.

First up is the  14th century St Nicholas’ Church which, although considerably altered in later years, still contains a Norman font and has several graves of interest in the churchyard including that of Captain Nicholas Tattersall who carried King Charles II to France in his boat in 1651, as well as those of Phoebe Hessel, famed for having served 17 years in the army during the 1700s disguised as a man, Sake Dene Mohomed who first brought Turkish baths to Brighton and Amon Wilds, a famed Regency architect and builder.

And for a feel of what the medieval streetscape may have been like, head to the central shopping area known as The Lanes which still follows the medieval street pattern (although the shops date from later period) and which, boasting a range of interesting shops, is well worth spending some time poking about in.

While Brighton had gradually been establishing a reputation as a sea bathing resort in the years prior to 1783, in that year the town’s profile received a valuable boost when the Prince Regent (later King George IV) visited the town. So taken with it was he that not only did he make repeat visits, he also constructed the magnificently opulent Royal Pavilion (pictured) – completed in 1822 and designed by John Nash – which still stands as one of the town’s foremost attractions.

The property, which Queen Victoria sold to the town in 1850 for the grand price of £53,000, boasts a series of exquisitely decorated chambers inspired by exotic ‘oriental’ themes. A 10 year, £10 million restoration project was completed in 1991.

Other properties in the town dating from a similar era include the Brighton Dome, which, completed in 1808, was originally the stables for the Prince Regent (back in the day when the Royal Pavilion was simply a farmhouse – in fact, it’s said that it was that fact people commented that the Prince’s horses were better accommodated than the man himself which helped spur him to build the Royal Pavilion). These days it’s the town’s main landmark entertainment venue and contains a concert hall and theatre.

Another property of the era is the Western Pavilion which feature a large Indian dome in reference to those of the Royal Pavilion and was built by Amon Henry Wilds, son of the architect Amon Wilds and a partner in his architectural practice, in 1831 as a residence. It stands next to the Gothic house built by his father, and another architect, Charles Busby, in the 1820s.

The arrival of the railway in 1841 further opened up the town to Londoners which in itself led to the construction of numerous waterfront hotels (the most famous of which is the Grand Hotel, built in 1864 and the scene of a 1984 IRA bombing aimed at killing then PM Margaret Thatcher).

The boom also saw three piers built running out off the foreshore – the Chain Pier (built in 1823 and destroyed by a storm in 1896), the West Pier (constructed in 1866, the derelict remains of which stand starkly in the waters off the town today after it was closed in 1975), and the Palace Pier (constructed in 1899, it is now hosts a lively funfair and, since 2000, has been formally known as Brighton Pier).

The late 1800s also saw the founding the Booth Museum (1874) by naturalist and collector Edward Thomas Booth (located in Dyke Road, it is now known as the Booth Museum of Natural History) and Volk’s Electric Railway which opened in 1883 and is now the ‘world’s oldest operating electric railway’, still running daily trains between Brighton Pier and Black Rock near the Marina.

Brighton, now part of the City of Brighton & Hove, remains a popular beach resort for Londoners, both for its beach and its nightlife, so on a warm day be prepared to fight the crowds.

Among the town’s other, more recent, attractions are the Sea Life Centre on the waterfront, home to more than 150 creatures including sharks and rays, the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery in the city’s ‘cultural quarter’ near the Royal Pavilion, and the Brighton Fishing Museum, also located on the waterfront, it traces the story of the town’s fishing community.

Visit Brighton has a range of maps and walks to help you explore the city. Visit www.visitbrighton.com for more information.

Regent’s Canal was fully opened in 1820 and linked the Grand Junction Canal, which ended at Little Venice in Paddington in London’s west, with the East London Docks and Limehouse in the east. Architect John Nash was one of the directors of the canal company and it was thanks to his friendship with the Prince Regent, the future King George IV, that the canal obtained its name. Nash saw the canal as an integral part of his plans for The Regent’s Park and it now runs along the park’s northern edge. Nash’s assistant James Morgan was the canal’s chief engineer. The waterbus service, which operates between Little Venice and Camden Loch, runs at various times daily until October. See here for timetable details.

Word is that Prince William and his soon-to-be wife, Catherine Middleton, have yet to formally decide where they will live when in London (they are expected to spend much of their first two-and-a-half years of marriage in North Wales). 

Their initial London base, however, will reportedly be Clarence House. Located in The Mall, just down the road from Buckingham Palace and beside St James’s Palace, the grand building is currently the home of William’s father Charles, the Prince of Wales, his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and, William’s brother, Prince Harry (it is also the home of William himself).

In years gone past, Clarence House served as the home of the newly married Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) and her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Prince Charles, who lived there with his parents until the age of three, returned to the property in August 2003 after the death of his grandmother Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who had lived in the building from 1953.

Clarence House was built between 1825 and 1827 to the designs of architect John Nash on the orders of Prince William Henry, the Duke of Clarence and later King William IV.

Choices for a permanent home in London for the soon-to-be married couple reportedly include Buckingham Palace (see yesterday’s entry), as well as Kensington Palace.

It was converted from a Jacobean mansion for King William III and Queen Mary II and has since been the home of many royals including, most famously, Diana, Princess of Wales. She and her then husband, Prince Charles, moved in following their wedding in 1981, and Princess Diana continued to live there after her divorce in 1996.

Other notable royal residents have included Queen Anne and Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth II.

Another option – St James’s Palace – was built in 1531 on the site of a medieval leper hospital by King Henry VIII. Used initially for state occasions and to house royal relatives (Tudor monarchs actually lived at Whitehall Palace), it became the official royal residence in 1702, when Whitehall Palace burnt down, and remained so until the 1830s when King George III moved to Buckingham Palace.

This curiously named part of London, pronounced Mar-lee-bone, takes it’s name from a church dedicated to St Mary which was originally built near a small river or stream called the Tyburn or Tybourne. Hence St Mary-le-Burn became St Marylebone.

There was a medieval village here which during the 18th century became subsumed into greater London as fashionable people sought land to the west of the city. The area – in particular Harley Street – became known as a location of choice for doctors to site their consulting rooms and is still known for its medical establishments.

Among the significant sites is the St Marylebone Parish Church (pictured right) which, consecrated in 1817, was where poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett were married in 1846 following their elopement, the John Nash-designed All Souls Church in Langham Place, the Langham Hotel which opened in 1865 and boasted Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain among guests, 221B Baker Street, fictional home of Sherlock Holmes and now the site of the Sherlock Holmes Museum, and the famous wax museum, Madame Tussauds.

Marylebone is also home to the world famous Wallace Collection, bequeathed to the government in 1897, the concert hall Wigmore Hall, the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal Institute of Architects, and the art-deco headquarters of the BBC, Broadcasting House. Marylebone High Street remains a shopping mecca offering a diverse range of independent boutiques and specialty shops while in the south, Marylebone includes one of London’s most famous shopping strips on Oxford Street.

Other famous people connected with the area include four time Prime Minister William Gladstone who lived at 73 Harley Street from 1876 to 1882, writer Charles Dickens who lived at 18 Bentinck Street while working as a court reporter in the 1830s, author Edward Gibbon, who lived at 7 Bentinck Street while writing his landmark text The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire from the 1770s, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, who worked in Upper Wimpole Street in the 1890s.