March 13, 2017
Famous for being the site of the Bank of England – “the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street”, a phrase first coined by playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan – since 1734, there’s a couple of explanations for the origins of Threadneedle Street’s name – and both relate to livery companies associated with textile industries.
The first is that of the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, initially granted livery by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell in 1656 and then again by King Charles II in 1664. The company has a coat-of-arms featuring Adam and Eve holding up a shield on which can be seen three needles, hence Three Needles Street, the corruption of which is Threadneedle Street.
The second is that of the Merchant-Taylors’ Company, one of the 12 great livery companies, which was founded by Royal Charter in 1327. Its livery hall has been based in Threadneedle Street since the 14th century.
Either or both could be the reason for the unusual name of this City of London street, which runs from Mansion House north-east to Bishopsgate.
Other famous properties located in the street have included the headquarters of the infamous South Sea Company and the first site of the Baltic Exchange (formerly in the Virginia and Baltick Coffee House) which is now in St Mary Axe.
This Week in London – 500 years of Londoners; images of London under attack; reflections on Europe; and female ‘fighters’ fists…
February 2, 2017
• Rat catchers, trapeze artists and politicians are among the subjects depicted in photographs, prints and drawings which form the heart of a new exhibition spanning 500 years of London’s history. Opening at the London Metropolitan Archives, The Londoners: Portraits of a Working City, 1447 to 1980 includes portraits of unknown Londoners as well as some of such luminaries as author Charles Dickens, engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. Highlights include a rare photograph of Charles Rouse, reputedly the last night watchman (pre-cursors to the Metropolitan Police) still on duty in London in the mid-19th century, an 1830 lithograph of a crossing sweeper, the ‘Old Commodore of Tottenham Court Road’, and a number of photographs shot by George WF Ellis in the mid-1920s including a portrait of feminist and social campaigner Dora Russell. The exhibition, which is part of a series of events marking 950 years of London archives, opens on Monday and runs until 5th July at the LMA in Clerkenwell. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/lma. PICTURES: Top – A team of sewermen, photographed outside the City Sewers department in 1875. Right – Jack Black of Battersea, noted rat catcher to Queen Victoria, pictured here from a daguerreotype photograph taken for Henry Mayhew’s ‘1851 London Labour and the London Poor’. Both images © London Met Archives.
• The response of artists and photographers to London’s Blitz during World War II forms the subject of a new exhibition which has opened at the Museum of London. Perspectives of Destruction: Images of London, 1940-44 explores how artists and photographers responded to the devastation caused by the massive aerial bombings. Much of the artwork was commissioned by the government’s War Artists Advisory Committee and focused on damage to buildings rather than deaths and injuries to people due to the impact it may have had on public moral. At the heart of the display is nine recently acquired drawings from official war artist Graham Sutherland depicting damage in the City of London and East End between 1940 and 1941. Also on show is a 1941 oil painting of Christchurch on Newgate Street by John Piper and David Bomberg’s Evening in the City of London, dating from 1944, which depicts St Paul’s Cathedral dominating the horizon above a devastated Cheapside. There’s also a photograph of a V-1 flying bomb narrowly missing the iconic cathedral which, along with eight others, was taken by City of London police constables Arthur Cross and Fred Tibbs. Other artists with works featured include Henry Moore, Bill Brandt and Bert Hardy. Runs until 8th May. Admission is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• A series of installations commissioned from 12 artists – asked to imagine what Europe might look like 2,000 years from now and how our present might then be viewed – have gone on display in the V&A as part of the week long ‘Collecting Europe’ festival. The festival, which only runs until 7th February, includes a range of talks, discussions, live performances and workshops aimed at encouraging debate around Europe and European identity in the light of the Brexit vote. The installations, commissioned by the V&A and Goethe-Institut London, have been created by artists from across Europe. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/collectingeurope.
• Bronze casts of black women’s movement activists’ fists go on display at the City of London’s Guildhall Art Gallery from Tuesday. A Fighters’ Archive, features the work of sculptor Wijnand de Jong and pays tribute to 15 women who were members of various activist groups. The sculpture takes the form of a boxing archive – casts of boxers’ fists collected by boxing academies to commemorate prize fighters – with the fists cast from life. Subjects include Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, Emeritus Professor of Nursing at the University of West London and patron of The Sickle Cell Society, Mia Morris, creator of Black History Month, and Gerlin Bean, founder of Brixton Black Women’s Centre. The fists can be seen until 19th March. Admission if free. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visit-the-city/attractions/guildhall-galleries/Pages/guildhall-art-gallery.aspx.
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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.
December 9, 2014
The copper gilt plate found on former Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell’s breast when his body was exhumed will be put up to auction in London later today. Sotheby’s says that according to contemporary reports, the plate was found in a leaden canister lying on Cromwell’s chest when the coffin – interred in the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey – was opened by James Norfolke, Serjeant of the House of Commons, on the orders of parliament on 26th January, 1661 – just two years from Cromwell was buried. Norfolke apparently took the plate which was subsequently handed down through his family. It was not the only relic associated with Cromwell to survive – while Cromwell’s body, along with that of regicides Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw, was hanged at Tyburn and then apparently buried in an unmarked grave pit, his head was placed on a spike above Westminster Hall and remained there for more than 20 years until it blew down in a gale and was taken by a guard. It apparently subsequently passed through numerous private hands before, in 1960, it was interred in a secret location in the chapel of Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge. Meanwhile, the plate – which bears the arms of the Protectorate on one side and an inscription in Latin with the dates of Cromwell’s birth, inauguration as Lord Protector and death on the other – is listed with an estimated price of between £8,000 and £12,000. For more on the item, see www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2014/english-literature-history-childrens-books-illustrations-l14408/lot.3.html.
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…
July 15, 2014
A team of volunteers are searching through historical records for evidence of people buried at the Bedlam burial ground in the 16th and 17th centuries. The 15 member team are carrying out the work at the London Metropolitan Archives as archaeologists prepare to excavate 3,000 skeletons from the former burial site next year in anticipation of the construction of the new Liverpool Street Crossrail Station – part of the £14.8 billion cross London Crossrail project. About 400 skeletons have already been removed during preliminary works. Located near Bethlem Hospital, the burial ground opened in the 16th century as part of the city’s response to the plague and was the first burial ground in London not associated with a parish church. Among those buried here were Robert Lockyer, a soldier executed under the orders of Oliver Cromwell for leading the Bishopsgate mutiny of 1649, and Leveller John Lilburne. Crossrail are keen to hear from members of the public who may be able to provide further details of burials at Bedlam – if you can help, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 17, 2013
Can you identify where in London this picture was taken? If you think you can, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!
Well done to Jamie, this is indeed the tower of St Giles Cripplegate, located just off Fore Street in the Barbican Estate. The church – the oldest building in the area – dates from about 1090 and was rebuilt in 1545 after it was destroyed by a fire. The new building survived the Great Fire of 1666 but didn’t fare so well in a fire of 1897 or in the Blitz when all but the outer shell was destroyed. Oliver Cromwell was married here in 1620 and the poet John Milton was buried here in 1674 (he had written much of Paradise Lost locally) (interestingly, his body was apparently exhumed about 100 years later, workman took some souvenirs including teeth and a rib). Others buried here include explorer Sir Martin Frobisher, John Foxe, author of The Book of Martyrs, and Bible translator Lancelot Andrews. For more on the church, see www.stgilescripplegate.com.
November 12, 2012
One of the most famous painters of his age, Dutchman Sir Peter Lely – currently the subject of an exhibition at London’s Courtauld Gallery – rose to become the foremost portrait painter at the English Court during the latter half of the 17th century.
Born to Dutch parents on 14th September, 1618, in Westphalia (now part of Germany) where his father was serving as an infantry captain, Peter – originally named Pieter van der Faes – studied art as an apprentice in Haarlem in what is now The Netherlands. While there he is believed to have changed his name to Lely based on a heraldic lily which appeared on the gable of the house where his father was born in The Hague.
Lely appeared in London in the early 1640s and, while he initially devoted himself to the sort of narrative-style paintings inspired by classical mythology, the Bible and literature he had been working on in Haarlem but having found no great success there, soon turned his hand to portraiture.
The death of court portraitist Anthony van Dyck in 1641 had left a vacuum he stepped into the gap, soon becoming the most in-demand portrait painter at the Royal Court, his sitters including none other than King Charles I himself.
However, Lely, who was made a freeman of the Painter-Stainers Company in London in 1647, managed to straddle the political divide and after the beheading of King Charles I and the end of the English Civil War in 1651, was able to continue painting portraits of the most powerful people in the land including Oliver Cromwell – whom he painted “warts and all” as per the Lord Protector’s request – and his Cromwell’s brother Richard.
Already renowned as the best artist in the country, following the Restoration in 1660, Lely became Principal Painter of King Charles II, placed on an annual stipend as van Dyck had been before him during the reign of King Charles I.
Lely’s workshop was large and its output prolific, with his students and employees – who at one stage apparently included scientist and architect Robert Hooke – often completing his paintings after he sketched out some details, only painting the sitter’s face in any great detail.
Among his most famous works are a series of 10 portraits known as the Windsor Beauties (currently at Hampton Court Palace), a series of portraits of senior naval officers who served in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, known as the Flagmen of Lowestoft (most of the works at are the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich) and Susannah and the Elders (currently at Burghley House in Cambridgeshire) as well as some of the paintings in the current Courtauld exhibition including Nymphs by a Fountain (usually found at the Dulwich Picture Gallery) and Boy as a Shepherd (also the Dulwich Picture Gallery).
Lely was also known as an avid collector of art and is credited as being the first artist in England to do so in any serious manner – among his purchases were works which formerly formed part of King Charles I’s collection. At the time of his death, he is said to have owned more than 500 paintings, although more than half of these were works of his or his studio.
Sir Peter, who never married but had two children who survived him with a common-law wife Ursula, lived at a house in the north-east corner of Covent Garden from about 1650 until his death in 1680 (some sources have him knighted in this year, others in 1679) but also had a house at Kew and owned property outside of London including in Lincolnshire and The Hague.
He was apparently working at his easel in the studio of his Covent Garden house when he died on 30th November, 1680. He was buried at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden. The monument to him, the work of Grinling Gibbons, was destroyed by fire in 1795.
Peter Lely: A Lyrical Vision – which focuses on some of his early non-portrait works – runs at The Courtauld Gallery until 13th January. For more on the exhibition, visit www.courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/exhibitions/2012/peter-lely/index.shtml. Running alongside the exhibition is a display of some of the drawings from Sir Peter’s own collection, Peter Lely: The Draughtsman and His Collection.
November 2, 2012
The latest in the series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken and who it’s of. If you think you can identify this picture, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!
Well done to Angelo (and, I suspect the correct location for Mike), this is indeed a bust of Sir Christopher Wren and is located in a loggia outside the Guildhall Art Gallery facing into Guildhall Yard. It and three other larger than life busts of notable Londoners – playwright William Shakespeare, statesman Oliver Cromwell and diarist Samuel Pepys – are all the work of Tim Crawley and were installed when the gallery was completed in 1999. Along with them is a full length statue of Dick Whittington and his famous cat – these are the work of Laurence Tindall.
March 23, 2012
While we’ve looked at some of the history of the Banqueting House during last year’s special on King James I’s London, we thought we’d take a more in-depth look as part of our Treasures of London series…
The building replaced an earlier banqueting hall built on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I and another, shorter-lived hall, built by King James I, which was destroyed by fire in 1619.
Following its destruction, King James had Inigo Jones design a new hall to provide, as the previous hall had, a location for state occasions, plays and masques – something of a cross between an organised dance, an amateur theatrical performance and just a chance to dress up.
Jones, who partnered with Ben Jonson to produce masques, designed the hall – which has a length double the width – with these performances specifically in mind. The first one – Jones and Jonson’s Masque of Augurs – was performed on Twelfth Night, 1622, even before the building was completed (the last masque was performed here, incidentally, in 1635, after which, thanks they were moved to a purpose built structure nearby, ostensibly to save the newly installed paintings from being damaged by the smoke of torches – see below).
The incredible paintings on the ceilings, which celebrate the reign of King James I and will be the subject of their own Treasures of London article at a later date, were installed by March 1636. Produced by Flemish artist Sir Peter Paul Rubens, they had been commissioned by King Charles I, King James’ son, in commemoration of his father. Ironically, it was outside the building where the monarchy was so celebrated that King Charles I was beheaded in 1649 (this is marked in a ceremony held at the Banqueting House on 30th January each year).
Following the king’s execution, Whitehall Palace wasn’t used for several years until Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell took up residence there in 1654, using the Banqueting House as a hall if audience. It stood empty after Cromwell’s death in 1658 until the Restoration in 1660 when King Charles II again used it as a grand ceremonial hall for receiving foreign embassies and conducting court ceremonies (these including the ancient custom of what is known as ‘Touching for the King’s Evil’ to cure those afflicted with the disease of scrofula as well as the washing of the feet of the poor by the sovereign on Maundy Thursday.)
King James II was the last king to live at Whitehall Palace and during his reign, from 1685-88, it was used as a royal storehouse. But it was revived for formal use following his reign – it was here that King William III and Queen Mary II were officially offered the crown on 13th February, 1689.
During their reign, the court’s focus shifted to Kensington but the Banqueting House was used for Queen Mary to lay in state after her death in 1694.
Following the destruction of the remainder of Whitehall Palace in 1698 – the origins of this fire are apparently owed to a maid who had put some linen by a charcoal fire to dry – the Banqueting Hall was used briefly as a Chapel Royal and, following a renovation in the late 1700s, it was used for concerts and, from 1808, as a place of worship for the Horse Guards.
Further renovation works followed and in 1837, it was re-opened as a Chapel Royal and used as such until 1890 when this practice was formally discontinued. In 1893, Queen Victoria gave the Royal United Services Institute the use of the building as a museum – among the things displayed there were the skeleton of Napoleon’s horse, Marengo. In 1962, the exhibits were dispersed and the Banqueting House today is used for a range of royal, corporate and social events.
There is an undercroft underneath, designed as a place where King James I could enjoy drinking with his friends. It was later used for storage.
WHERE: Corner of Whitehall and Horse Guards Avenue (nearest Tube stations are Westminster and Embankment); WHEN: Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm; COST: £5 adults/£4 concessions/children under 16 free (Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/BanquetingHouse/.
PICTURE: Courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam.co.uk
November 16, 2011
And so we come to the final entry in our special series on Royal Parks – Bushy Park (Royal Parks also look after Brompton Cemetery, but given it’s not strictly a park, we’ll deal with that in an upcoming post).
Lying off the beaten track near Hampton Court in south-west London, Bushy Park’s location means it’s perhaps the least glamourous of the Royal Parks we have looked at. Yet, like the other parks, its connection with royalty goes back a long way – in this case to the time of King Henry VIII.
The park was included as part of the Hampton Court estate given to the king by Cardinal Wolsey. Henry immediately transformed what had been farmland (complete with artifical medieval rabbit warrens, the remains of which can still be seen) into a deer chase and enclosed the park with a brick wall (a section of the original wall lies on the north side of Hampton Court Road).
The character of the park was altered again in 1610 when King Charles I ordered the creation of the Longford River, a 12 mile ornamental canal designed to bring water from the River Colne in Hertfordshire to the park’s water features.
Christopher Wren had a hand in the park’s design in 1699 when he designed Chestnut Avenue – a mile long formal roadway which runs through the centre of the park. He also added the round pond at its end and placed a fountain topped with a statue in its midst.
Known as the Diana Fountain after the Roman goddess of hunting, the statue (pictured above with Chestnut Avenue behind) actually represents one of Diana’s nymphs Arethusa. It was commissioned by King Charles I for his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, and originally stood at Somerset House before Oliver Cromwell moved it to the Privy Garden at Hampton Court and Wren then moved it to its current location.
The 17th and 18th century also saw the appearance of houses at the park to be used as hunting lodges (and the ranger’s home), and gardens were added.
Worth noting here is the story of shoemaker Timothy Bennet. A resident of nearby Hampton Wick, in 1752, when an old man, he successfully fought to ensure a public right-of-way through the park after the then ranger, Lord Halifax, ordered it closed to the public. There’s a monument to him outside Hampton Wick Gate and a walking path which runs across the park at perpendicular to Chestnut Avenue is still known as Cobbler’s Walk.
More gardens were added in the 20th century including the Waterhouse and Pheasantry Plantations. Other areas include the tranquil Woodland Gardens and the Water Gardens which are comprised of a Baroque-style collection of pools, cascades, basins and the canal. There are also a series of ponds – including a pond for model boats – to the east of Chestnut Avenue.
The park saw service in both World Wars. During the first, Canadian troops were stationed there (there’s a totem pole in the Woodland Garden marking this) and other areas within the park were used for growing produce as part of the “Dig for Victory” campaign.
During the second, it was used again for food production and in 1942 became a US base and later Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces – the location where General Dwight Eisenhower planned Operation Overland, the reinvasion of Europe which kicked off with the D-Day landings. There are memorials concerning this connection in the park’s north-east corner.
Facilities today include the Pheasantry Welcome Centre, which opened in 2009, and includes a cafe, toilets and information. There are also sporting facilities, a small cafe near the carpark and a children’s playground.
WHERE: The park lies north of Hampton Court Palace, just west of Kingston and Hampton Wick and south of Teddington (nearest train station is Hampton Wick or Hampton Court). WHEN: 24 hours except in September and November when it’s open between 8am and 10.30pm; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Bushy-Park.aspx