December 16, 2013
This part of East London is believed to take its name not from lime trees nor from a house bearing that name. Rather it owes its origins to the process by which chalk shipped from Kent was converted into lime.
The process of ‘lime burning’ – which took place in these parts on the northern bank of the River Thames – involves heating the chalk in a bottle-shaped kiln, also known as an oast. Hence ‘lime oast’ became corrupted into Limehouse.
The earliest reference to the name comes from the early medieval era but in later centuries the area was noted not so much for its lime-burning but its links with shipping – particularly following the opening on the Limehouse Cut in 1770 which linked the Thames with the River Lea and allowed goods to taken from the north of London directly to ships on the Thames without the need to navigate around the Isle of Dogs (see our earlier post on the Limehouse Cut). Limehouse Basin (pictured above, from the Limehouse Cut) opened in the early 19th century.
The area, which became increasingly industrialised as a result, is also known for its links to the Chinese community – and this included, in the Victorian era, opium dens, but the association ended around the 1950s by which time the Chinese community had largely moved to Soho (where Chinatown still stands today).
Around London – Celebrating London’s architecture; space at the NMM; Tate Britain redux; remembering Waterloo at Apsley House; and, ‘Coins and the Bible’ at the British Museum…
June 6, 2013
• The London Festival of Architecture has returned with a month long celebration of the city’s built form in a program of events including talks, tours and exhibitions. Among the latter is Lesser Known Architecture – A Celebration of Underappreciated London Buildings – a free exhibition at the Design Museum which runs until 22nd July and looks at 10 structures ranging from London Underground Arcades and Cabmen’s Shelters (one of which is pictured) to Nunhead Cemetery. Other events include an exhibition at Somerset House – Nicholas Hawksmoor: Methodical Imaginings – looking at churches designed by Hawksmoor in the late 17th and early 18th centuries (this runs until 1st September), and The Secret Society – A Sculptural Banquet, a large scale installation by artist and designer Kathy Dalwood at Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing, west London (ends this Sunday). For more on the festival, check out www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org or for fringe events, http://londonarchitecturediary.com.
• A new exhibition featuring more than 100 images from space – including images of the colourful dust clouds in which new stars are formed, the aurora on the surface of Saturn and the sight of Earth from the International Space Station – opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich tomorrow. Visions of the Universe takes visitors on a “visual trip through our solar system” with images of the moon, sun, plants and distant galaxies. It looks at the development of telescopy and photography and examines our understanding of our place in the cosmos. Space scientists including Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees and The Sky at Night‘s Chris Lintott introduce each section of the exhibition which has at its centre a 13×4 metre curved wall known as the ‘Mars Window’. It has the latest images from NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover projected onto it. There is a programme of events accompanying the exhibition which runs until 15th September. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk.
• Tate Britain is undergoing an overhaul this year with the opening of new galleries and a rearrangement of the institution’s collection. Last month, a new chronological presentation of the institution’s British art opened across more than 2o of the institution’s galleries. BP Walk through British Art features around 500 artworks, dating from the 1500s to present day, by artists ranging from Sir Joshua Reynolds and William Hogarth to JMW Turner, John Constable, Lucien Freud and David Hockney. Meanwhile new galleries have opened dedicated to the works of sculptor Henry Moore and artist William Blake. Around 30 of Moore’s works are featured in the rooms as well as more than 40 of Blake’s works. For more see www.tate.org.uk.
• Apsley House, regency home of the Duke of Wellington, is hosting a series of events every weekend in June in the lead-up to the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Interpreters will be at the house, known as Number 1 London, this weekend to discuss the dress and manners of the era while next weekend (15th and 16th June) visitors have the chance to meet some of Wellington’s soldiers and their wives. Gentry from the Napoleonic era will be celebrating the victory at Waterloo on 22nd and 23rd June while on the final weekend of the month, the focus will be on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Vitoria in 1813, which led to eventual victory in the Peninsular War. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/apsley-house/.
• On Now: Coins and the Bible. This free exhibition at the British Museum looks at how money was referred to in the Old and New Testament, and the use of Christian symbols such as crosses or monograms derived from Greek letters on later coins. These include the first coin, dating from about 450 AD, to depict an image of Jesus (the coin, on loan from the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, is included in the exhibition). There are also early Biblical fragments on papyrus and vellum lent by the British Library and an ivory panel dating from the early 400s AD which includes an image of the purse of 30 pieces of silver Judas received after his betrayal of Jesus. Held in Room 69a, the exhibition runs until 20th October. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
February 3, 2012
Often described as the “finest dining hall in Europe”, the Painted Hall in Greenwich was originally designed to be the Royal Hospital for Seamen’s communal dining hall.
But the domed hall, which forms part of King William Court – the image, right, is taken from the west end, wasn’t used as such following its completion in the mid 1720s – designed by Sir Christopher Wren and his assistant Nicholas Hawksmoor with spectacular interior paintings by Sir James Thornhill, it was deemed too grand for such a mundane purpose and instead the veteran seamen, who had moved their dining hall to the undercroft, acted as tour guides for those who would pay to see its splendour.
The paintings, for which Thornhill received his knighthood, took almost 20 years to complete. They were designed to show Britain’s naval power as well as a variety of royal subjects in their splendour. The Stuart dynasty are featured on the ceiling of the Lower Hall while the West Wall depicts the Hanoverians – King George I surrounded by his children and grandchildren including the future King George II. Thornhill himself is also present on the lower right hand section of the West Wall painting while in the background is the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral – a reference to Sir Christopher Wren.
The hall has since served a variety of purposes but among the most significant events to take place there was the lying in state of the body of Admiral Lord Nelson following his death in the Battle of Trafalgar in October, 1805. A plaque at the top of the hall marks the spot where the coffin stood.
Between 1834 and 1936, the Painted Hall served as the National Gallery of Naval Art during which more than 300 paintings around naval themes were displayed there (today these form part of the basis of the National Maritime Museum’s art collection).
After an extensive restoration, in 1939 it was again used as a dining room for officers attending the Royal Naval College and for other grand dinners, including one celebrating the formation of the United Nations in 1946.
It’s now available for hire and has also served as a film location – including for films such as The Madness of King George, Quills and the more recent film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
An appeal has been launched to restore the hall with the expected nine month, £450,000 restoration of the West Wall paintings slated to begin after the Olympic Games. To donate, head here.
WHERE: King William Court, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich (nearest Docklands Light Rail station is Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich). WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily ; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.ornc.org/visit/attractions/painted-hall.
This triple-monikered church was first recorded in the 1200s. Far from unique in its dedication to the Archangel St Michael (there were apparently seven churches which were dedicated to him before the Great Fire), it was distinguished from the others by the name Paternoster Royal.
Surprisingly, the name has nothing to do with royalty or the clergy, at least not directly. The name Paternoster comes from the church’s location on what was Paternoster Lane (it’s now College Hill) – it was named for the number of paternoster or rosary seller that were based there.
The name Royal, meanwhile, is a little bit more obscure. First applied in the 1300s, it apparently comes from the close proximity of another street called Le Ryole which was itself a corruption of the French town of La Reole in the wine districts near Bordeaux. The street is believed to have been given the name thanks to the number of wine merchants who traded there.
Like other London churches, this one has been rebuilt several times – notably after the Great Fire of London (to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren) and again after World War II during which the church was all but destroyed by a V1 flying bomb. Since its reopening in 1968 it has served as the international headquarters of the Christian organisation, the Mission to Seafarers, which supports chaplains working in ports around the world.
The walls date from Wren’s time and the stone steeple, which wasn’t completed until 1717, is the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor. The interior features carved figures of Moses and Aaron which stand before the reredos – these apparently came from All-Hallows-the-Great (demolished in 1894) as did the chandelier which bears the words ‘Birmingham 1644’).
High profile parishioners over the years have included the four time Lord Mayor of London, Dick Whittington (see our earlier post on him) – he paid for a substantial extension of the church and founded a college of priests there (it’s from this college, which was dissolved in the mid-1500s and then re-established soon after, that College Hill is believed to have derived its name) as well as an almshouse next door.
Whittington and his wife were both buried inside but he was apparently exumed since several times and the location of his body is now unknown. There’s a stained glass window depicting Whittington and his famous cat inside and the gardens just outside also bear his name.
November 30, 2011
This strangely named church has its origins at least as far back as the 12th century when it was under the jurisdiction of the Prior and Convent of Canterbury.
The name St Vedast is in itself unusual – St Vedast (known as St Vaast elsewhere) is said to have been the Bishop of Arras in northern France during the late fifth and early sixth centuries. How his name came to be associated with a church in London remains a matter of speculation but one plausible explanation is that the church was founded in the twelfth century by a small group of French merchants who had emigrated from Arras.
The ‘alias Foster’ part of the name is perhaps easier to explain although it has led to considerable confusion over the years. While some have in the past suggested the name refers to a different obscure saint – that is, the church is dedicated to St Vedast and St Foster – Foster is actually just an corrupted Anglicised version of Vedast.
But back to the church’s history. The medieval building was apparently replaced at the beginning of the sixteenth century and in the early 1600s this was enlarged and “beautified”. It escaped total destruction during the Great Fire of London but was badly enough damaged to require restoration and this was carried out, albeit not very well, so that in the late 1600s, Sir Christopher Wren was asked to rebuild it.
Given the demands of Wren’s time elsewhere, it’s not known if he personally designed the resulting church (the spire is possibly the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor), but the church was rebuilt and stood until 194o when the body of the building was ruined in the Blitz. The spire, however, survived and the restoration of the remainder of the church was completed in 1962.
It was also after World War II that the city parishes were reorganised and St Vedast-alias-Foster was united with three other former parishes – St Alban Wood Street, St Anne & St Agnes, St Lawrence Jewry, St Mary Aldermanbury, St Michael-le-Querne, St Matthew Friday Street, St Peter Chepe, St Olave Silver Street, St Michael Wood Street, St Mary Staining, St Mary Magdalene Milk Street, St John Zachary, and St Michael Bassishaw, of which only the buildings of St Lawrence Jewry and St Anne and St Agnes remain along with the tower of St Alban Wood Street).
Although the bulk of the building of St Vedast-alias-Foster is modern, the church does retain its seventeenth century Great West Doors and the font also comes from that century, having been designed by Wren and carved by Grinling Gibbons for the church of St Anne and St Agnes. The reredos which stands behind the altar, meanwhile, is inscribed with the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and The Creed, and originally stood in St Christopher-le-Stock Parish Church in Threadneedle Street. Other features to come from other churches include the seventeenth century pulpit (All Hallows, Bread Street) and swordrest (St Anne and St Agnes).
The church’s Fountain Courtyard features part of a Roman floor found under St Matthew Friday Street and a stone (actually baked brick) upon which is inscribed cuneiform writing. The latter, which comes from a Zigurrat in modern Iraq built in the 9th century BC, was presented to Canon Mortlock, rector of the church, marking his work with novelist Agatha Christie and her husband, archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan and was found during his 1950-65 dig on the site. The lump of stone bears the name of Shalmaneser who reigned from 858 to 834 BC.
Famous figures associated with the church include John Browne, sergeant painter to King Henry VIII, Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of King Henry VIII who was born in nearby Milk Street, and Thomas Rotherham, rector of the church from from 1463-48 and later Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of King Edward IV.
WHERE: 4 Foster Lane (nearest Tube station is St Paul’s). WHEN: 8am to 5.30pm weekdays/11am to 4pm Saturday (Mass is held between 12.15 and 12.45 weekdays and a sung Eucharist at 11am on Sundays) ; COST: Free but a donation of at least £1 per head is asked; WEBSITE: www.vedast.org.uk.
November 3, 2010
Hunkering down on the south bank of the Thames, the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich is yet another Wren masterpiece and the centrepiece of the UNESCO-listed Greenwich Maritime World Heritage Site.
What is now known as the college was originally designed as a ‘hospital’ or retirement home for old or infirm sailors. Established by Royal Charter in 1694, it was King William III who pushed the project into fruition as per the wishes of his then late wife Queen Mary II.
Wren was selected to design the building and along with the diarist John Evelyn, who had been appointed treasurer, laid the foundation stone on 30th June, 1696.
Wren’s initial design – for a three side courtyard facing the river – was rejected by Queen Mary who insisted the view from the existing Queen’s House to the river be maintained. So, instead, the hospital was built as a series of four pavilions, each with its own court, with the Queen’s House standing as it’s centrepiece when viewed from the river.
Wren himself never lived to see the building’s completion – it was in the end completed by a number of other famous architects including Sir John Vanbrugh, Thomas Ripley, and Wren’s pupil Nicholas Hawksmoor. Fortunately Wren had laid out all the foundations which ensured the basic design conformed to his plans.
The first 42 pensioners moved in in 1706 and the numbers grew as buildings were completed to a peak of 2,710 in 1814. However, declining numbers of pensioners by the mid 1800s – thanks to a period of peace on the seas and the success of a program which saw more pensioners living with their families, eventually led to the hospital’s closure in 1860.
In 1873, the Royal Naval College took over the premises, assuming the role of both the former Naval College at Portsmouth and the School or Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering which had been based in South Kensington. The Naval Staff College opened on the site in 1919 and further navy departments including the Department of Nuclear Science and Technology moved there in later years. The Royal Navy left the college in 1998.
Now in the care of the Greenwich Foundation, the college is now used by the University of Greenwich and the Trinity College of Music as well as for public events. The public can also visit certain parts of the former college including the grounds, the spectacular Painted Hall and the Chapel.
The domed Painted Hall, which features a series of classically themed paintings with King William III and Queen Mary II at its heart, was originally planned by Wren to be the hospital’s dining hall but due to the length of time it took for Sir James Thornhill to complete – 19 years – his paintings it was never used as such. Instead it stood empty until the body of Admiral Lord Nelson was brought there to lie in state in January 1806. In 1824 it became the National Gallery of Naval Art but in the 1930s became a dining room again with the gallery’s contents transferred to the National Maritime Museum.
The Chapel of St Peter and St Paul, meanwhile was completed in 1751 to the design of Sir Thomas Ripley but was gutted by fire only 28 years later. It was then rebuilt, largely to the designs of James “Athenian” Stuart with some of the detailing designed by his Clerk of Works William Newton, and was reopened in 1789. Restored in the 1950s, it is said to look “almost as it was” when it opened in 1789. The chapel is still in use for services.
WHERE: Located adjacent to Greenwich Pier with entry from Cutty Sark Gardens, College Approach, Romney Road Gate, Royal Gate or Park Row, Greenwich (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich); WHEN: The Painted Hall and Chapel are open daily from 10am to 5pm (chapel used for worship on Sunday mornings, open for sightseeing from 12.30pm); COST: Free (Booked guided tours are available for £5 an adult/children under 16 free); WEBSITE: www.oldroyalnavalcollege.org
September 29, 2010
Hampton Court Palace in London’s outer south-west is known to many as the palace of Henry VIII. Yet a considerable part of the complex of buildings we see today was also created during the reign of some time joint rulers William III and Mary II.
It was to Christopher Wren – assisted by the able Nicholas Hawksmoor – that the rulers turned when looking to update the Royal Apartments. Wren’s designs for a domed baroque palace to rival Versailles in France were apparently so ambitious that they were only half-built (and built in haste – two workmen died and another 11 were injured when the main wall collapsed in 1689). The death of the queen in 1694 also meant work on the palace stopped – it was resumed in 1697 (under control of Wren’s deputy William Talman who had offered a lower price than Wren) but again stalled after the death of the king in 1702.
Wren’s imprint is on the palace we see today is nonetheless considerable and includes the Baroque-style South and East Front (the size of the formal gardens which radiate out from the latter give a glimpse into the grand plans Wren had for the palace), Fountain Court which replaced the Tudor Cloister Court and around which were located new state apartments for both the king and queen, and the Orangery.
Among those who worked on the interiors of were the famous woodcarver Grinling Gibbons and painter Antonio Verrio.
WHERE: Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey (nearest station is Hampton Court from Waterloo); WHEN: 10am to 6pm everyday (winter hours 10am to 4.30pm from 31st October to 26th March); COST: Adult £15.40, Concession £12.65, Child under 16 £7.70 (under fives free), family tickets, garden only tickets and online booking discounts available; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/
September 15, 2010
While St Paul’s Cathedral is certainly his best-known work, Sir Christopher Wren designed 50 other churches in London in the wake of the Great Fire of 1666. Rather than look at each individually, we’ll just highlight a couple with the first being the “wedding cake” church, St Bride’s.
The site of St Bride’s has been home to at least eight churches, the first of which is believed to have been founded in the Dark Ages. Dedicated to the sixth century Irish nun St Bride – or St Bridget, the church – thanks to its location on Fleet Street – has had a long association with printers and later newspapers and journalists and, despite the fact most news organisations have long since departed the area, is still regarded as “the journalist’s church”.
The medieval St Bride’s was completely consumed in the Great Fire but a new church was opened in 1675 after works were carried out to Wren’s design (among his assistants on the job was Nicholas Hawksmoor who became a celebrated architect in his own right).
Despite the return of worshippers, however, the building remained unfinished and Wren was approached in the early 1680s about constructing the steeple. This was completed in 1703 and has become a London landmark with many believing its tiered design was the basis for the modern “wedding cake” design.
The steeple – at 226 feet or almost 70 metres, the tallest in London – was one of few things which survived after a firebomb destroyed much of the building during the Blitz in 1940. The church was subsequently restored according to Wren’s original designs (albeit with a shorter steeple than Wren’s original – eight feet or 2.4 metres were knocked off when it was struck by lightning in 1764.)
As well as its association with the printing industry and the press, these days St Bride’s is also notable for its US connections – the first American child of English descent, Virginia Dare, was the daughter of two former St Bride’s parishioners (there is a bust of Virgina above the font). The parents of Edward Winslow, three-time Governor of Plymouth in Massachusetts, were also married in St Bride’s.
The crypt contains remains dating back to Roman times.
WHERE: Fleet Street (nearest tube St Paul’s); WHEN: 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday, 11am to 3pm Saturday, 10am to 1pm and 5pm to 7.30pm Sunday; COST: Entry is free but guided tours are available on Tuesday afternoons at 3pm for £5 a person; WEBSITE: www.stbrides.com.