September 26, 2016
Sir Thomas Bludworth (also spelt Bloodworth) is usually only remembered as the man who had the unfortunate job of being Lord Mayor of London when the Great Fire broke out in 1666. So, given the fire’s 350th anniversary this month, we thought it timely to take a more in-depth look at his life and career.
Bludworth was born in London in February, in about 1620, the second surviving son of John Bludworth, master of the Vintner’s Company and a wealthy merchant. Trained to succeed his father – his elder brother having joined the clergy, Bludworth was himself admitted to the Vintner’s Company in the 1640s and joined the Levant Company in 1648.
First elected an alderman in 1658, he was discharged when he refused to serve as a sheriff and the following year served as the master of the Vintner’s Company. In 1660, he was briefly arrested along with 10 other members of City of London’s common council after the body refused to pay taxes until a representative parliament was convened.
Elected MP for Southwark later that year, Bludworth among city and parliamentary representatives who sailed to The Netherlands to attend the king, Charles II, in exile, and invite him to return to England. It was while attending the king in The Hague that he was knighted. Re-elected in 1661, he was an active parliamentarian who served in numerous different capacities.
Sir Thomas was twice married and had a number of children including a formidable daughter Anne who eventually married the historically unpopular George Jeffreys, (later King James II’s Lord Chief Justice and Lord Chancellor).
In mid-1662, he was once again made a City of London alderman and appointed one of two sheriffs for the following year. He became Lord Mayor of London in November, 1665, but apparently there was no pageant as was customary due to the plague.
During his year in the office – “the severest year any man had” – he faced both the plague and the Great Fire and his reputation has been largely formed out of his response to the latter thanks in large part his alleged response when woken and told of the fire as being: “Pish, a woman might piss it out!”.
Bludworth was heavily criticised at the time and over the years since his reaction to the fire – including not pulling down homes to create a firebreak and thus prevent the spread of the fire, but it should be noted that had he done so before he had received the king’s permission, he would have found himself personally liable.
Diarist Samuel Pepys’ who, following two encounters in the months before the fire had already described Bludworth as “mean man of understanding and despatch of any public business”, recorded that when he finally brought a message from the king ordering the creation of a firebreak, Sir Thomas seemed like “a man spent”.
“To the King’s message (to create a firebreak by pulling down houses), he cried, like a fainting woman, ‘Lord, what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses, but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it’.”
Another eyewitness describes him as looking like he was “frighted out of his wits” during the fire.
Sir Thomas’ own property at Gracechurch Street was among the casualties of the fire but he later built a new mansion in Maiden Lane.
He continued to serve as an MP after the fire and was, perhaps ironically, appointed to a committee working on a bill to provide “utensils” for the “speedy quenching of fire”. In the mid-1670s, he become one of the governing members of the Royal African Company.
Sir Thomas died on 12th May, 1682, aged around 60. He was apparently buried in Leatherhead.
June 17, 2016
Located on the south side of the Strand, the then-named Exeter House was built in the 1300s as the London palace of the Bishops of Exeter on land which had previously been occupied by the Knights Templar.
It was Bishop Walter Stapledon who had the palace constructed – as well as being Bishop of Exeter, he was Lord High Treasurer to the unpopular King Edward II, a role which eventually led to him being dragged from his horse in the City of London and murdered.
King Henry VIII gave the property to his Secretary of State, William, Lord Paget, and, in the late 16th century, it came into the hands of Robert Dudley, the 1st Earl of Leicester. He rebuilt it and renamed it Leicester House which it remained until, following his death in 1588, it was inherited by his stepson, Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex and a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, and renamed Essex House.
The house was rather large and in 1590 was reported as having as many as 42 bedrooms as well as a picture gallery, a banqueting suite and chapel.
Devereux ended up beheaded for treason on Tower Hill in 1601 but his son, also Robert Devereux, became a distinguished general for the Parliamentarians during the Civil War. He received a delegation from the House of Commons at the property to offer their congratulations after the Battle of Newbury in 1643 and was laid out in state there in 1646 (insatiable diarist Samuel Pepys, then a 13-year-old boy, was among those who saw the body).
After the Civil War, the family’s debts resulted into the property passing into the hands of other families. The main part of the house was eventually demolished in the 1670s and part of the property sold to developer Nicholas Barbon. He built Essex Street, which still stands in the area, was built on the site.
The remaining part of the house, meanwhile, was used to house the Cotton Library before, in 1777, it too was demolished.
The mansion’s chapel, meanwhile, became a dissenters meeting house, known as the Essex Street Chapel, which became the birthplace of Unitarianism in England. The denomination’s headquarters, named Essex Hall, still stands on the site.
The pub The Devereux (pictured above), named for Robert Devereux, is among the buildings which now stand on the site (for more on the pub, see our earlier post here).
There’s quite a few whose London residence (or otherwise) is commemorated by more than one blue plaque. So, breaking away from our usual ‘one plaque’ format, here were listing five of those who have made the grade…
1. William Wilberforce (1759-1833). The late 18th century and early 19th century politician and anti-slavery campaigner tops our list with three English Heritage blue plaques. The first is at 111 Brookwood Road in Battersea – the site of Brookwood House where Wilberforce resided during his anti-slavery campaign. The second is on Holy Trinity Church on Clapham Common, the church where Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect with whom he is associated worshipped. And the third is on a property at 44 Cadogan Place in Chelsea where Wilberforce died.
2. Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). Like Wilberforce, the 18th century lexicographer Dr Johnson has three English Heritage blue plaques to his name. The first, on his famous Gough Square property in the City of London we’ve already mentioned (see our earlier post here), while the second is on a property at 8 Russell Street, Covent Garden, then occupied by bookseller Thomas Davies, which was where Dr Johnson famously first met James Boswell in 1763. The third time Dr Johnson’s name appears, more unusually, is on a plaque commemorating Essex Street – Dr Johnson is among a number of names listed on it for his role in establishing an “evening club” at the pub, the Essex Head, in the street in 1783.
3. Samuel Pepys (1633-1703): The 17th century diarist seems to pop-up everywhere in central London so it’s not surprising there are two plaques in the English Heritage blue plaques scheme dedicated to him (although both are located in the same street – one he apparently liked very much). The plaques are located at number 12 and number 14 Buckingham Street in Covent Garden and both mark the site of a Pepys residence.
4. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941): The writer, publisher and literary critic’s name appears on two properties – at 29 Fitzroy Square in Fitzrovia where Woolf lived between 1907-1911 and on Hogarth House at 34 Paradise Road in Richmond where she and Leonard Woolf lived between 1915-1924 (and also where they founded the Hogarth Press in 1917).
5. William Morris (1834-1896): The poet and artist has two English Heritage blue plaques to his credit – the first on 17 Red Lion Square in Holborn where Morris lived in a flat from 1856-1859 with Sir Edward C Burne-Jones, and the second on Red House in Bexleyheath where he and his wife Jane Burden lived from 1860-1865.
November 23, 2015
The National Maritime Museum is hosting a new exhibition on the life of Samuel Pepys and, while we’ve looked at the life of the famous diarist before (see our earlier post here), we thought we’d take a look at his not-so-famous manservant and clerk William Hewer.
“Will” Hewer, who is mentioned several times in Pepys’ diary and, as well as being a business partner also became a fast friend of Pepys, is thought to have been born in about 1642.
He was first introduced to Pepys when still a young man – about 17 – by his uncle Robert Blackborne in 1660. They obviously hit it off because Hewer, who was the son of a stationer, was soon working as a manservant and clerk for Pepys in his role as Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board.
Hewer, who was subjected to some bullying by Pepys who apparently could reduce him to tears (but at the same time Pepys also defended him at work from attacks from others), at first lived with Pepys at his Seething Lane home. However, by late 1663 – apparently thanks to his misbehaviour which included staying out late, drunkenness and corrupting maids – he was told to leave Pepys’ house and moved into his own lodgings.
Pepys moved to the Admiralty in 1673 and Hewer went with him, appointed Chief Clerk the following year. In 1677, he was appointed as Judge Advocate-General.
Hewer’s star continued to climb and in 1685, he was appointed MP for Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight. The following year he was appointed to the Special Commission which replaced the Navy Board and had a special responsibility for accounts.
After King James II fled the country in 1688, Hewer, along with Pepys, lost their patronage from the Crown; both were briefly imprisoned, but were released without trial.
Thanks largely to his involvement in trading with his uncle Blackborne – who served as both Secretary to the Admiralty and Secretary to the British East India Company and to an inheritance he received from his father, Hewer became a wealthy man (as was the case with Pepys, there have been suggestions he may have made considerable illicit sums from people doing trade with the Navy thanks to his position, but these claims have not been substantiated).
Hewer, who never married (but he did apparently have a special attachment to Pepys wife Elizabeth who was of a similar age), owned a house near The Strand which became the Admiralty Office when he followed Pepys from the Navy Board. Pepys lived with him in the house when he was at the Admiralty.
He also owned other properties, including a country retreat on Clapham Common which he bought in 1688. It was here that Pepys lived in during his latter years (and where he died in 1703).
Hewer was the executor of Pepys’ will and kept his library – including, of course, his famous diary until his own death on 3rd December, 1715. He was buried in St Paul’s Church, Clapham. In an odd twist, his estate was left to his godson Hewer Edgeley but only on the condition that he change his surname to Hewer, becoming Hewer Edgeley-Hewer.
Hewer is depicted in a painting by Godfrey Kneller (1689) now in the National Maritime Museum’s collection. It was a pair with another painting by Kneller of Pepys.
WHERE: Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution is at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark; nearest railway stations are Greenwich and Maze Hill; and nearest river pier is Greenwich); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily; COST: £12 adults/£6 children WEBSITE: www.rmg.co.uk/see-do/exhibitions-events/samuel-pepys-plague-fire-revolution-exhibition.
For more on Pepys, see Margarette Lincoln’s book Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution.
This Week in London – Samuel Pepys and his world revealed; the world of contemporary cycling; and, Indian jewellery traditions…
November 19, 2015
• The largest exhibition ever mounted about the life of 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich tomorrow. Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution features more than 200 paintings and objects brought together from museums, galleries and private collections which explore the life of the famous diarist (depicted here in a bust outside the Guildhall Art Gallery) against the backdrop of the tumultuous events of Stuart London, from the execution London of King Charles I in 1649 through the Great Fire of London and the Glorious Revolution on 1688. Objects on show include the famous painting, Portrait of Charles II in Coronation Robes, objects connected to Pepys’ mistresses including one of his love letters to Louise de Kéroualle (aka ‘Fubbs’ or ‘chubby’) and other personal items such as a lute owned by Pepys. The exhibition is accompanied by a series of events including Pepys Show Late: Party like it’s 1669 (26th November) and a series of walks and talks. Admission charge applies. The exhibition runs until 28th March. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum.
• Cycles are in the spotlight at the Design Museum in Shad Thames with a new exhibition, Cycle Revolution, opening yesterday. The display, which focuses on the world of contemporary cycling, features dozens of bicycles from key manufacturers as well as high end accessories, items belonging to celebrated cyclists Sir Chris Hoy and Sir Paul Smith and specially commissioned films and photography. It looks at cycling subcultures – everyone from the “high performers” to the “cargo bikers”, examines manufacturing techniques and innovations in the use of materials and design with exhibits including a large scale recreation of a bespoke bicycle making workshop, and tackles questions about the future of cycling particularly in relation to the urban environment. The exhibition is being accompanied by a ‘cycle cafe’, large scale installations and a series of public events. Runs until 30th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.designmuseum.com.
• The jewellery traditions of the Indian sub-continent are set to sparkle at a new exhibition opening at the V&A in South Kensington this Saturday. Part of the V&A India Festival, Bejewelled Treasures: The Al Thani Collection features 100 items, drawn from a single private collection, including a Golconda diamond given to Queen Charlotte by the Nawab of Arcot in South India in 1767, a jade-hilted dagger that belonged to the 17th century emperor Shah Jahan (builder of the Taj Mahal), and a jewelled gold tiger’s head from the throne of the Tipu Sultan of Mysore. As well as showcasing the types of jewels collected by the Mughal emperors, the exhibition reveals the influence of India on European jewellery houses in the early 20th century and the ongoing impact of Indian influences on more modern pieces. The exhibition runs until 28th March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/BejewelledTreasures.
Send all items for inclusion to firstname.lastname@example.org
October 27, 2015
A fortunate few last weekend had the chance to have a look inside King Henry V’s elaborately carved chantry chapel in Westminster Abbey as part of commemorations marking the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.
The chapel, which is located on a sort of mezzanine level above the king’s tomb at the east end of the Shrine of Edward the Confessor, is one of the smallest of the abbey’s chapels. It was constructed on the orders of the king – who died Vincennes in August, 1422, and was buried in the abbey on 7th November that year – so prayers could be said in perpetuity for his soul.
The tomb was completed in 1431 and the chantry chapel was built above between 1437 and 1450. The latter is entered via narrow stairways of worn steps hidden inside a pair of stone turrets which flank the tomb.
For centuries the Henry V’s funeral ‘achievements’ – the king’s saddle, helm and shield – were displayed on a wooden beam above the chantry chapel but these were restored and moved to the abbey museum in 1972.
Henry V’s wife, Catherine de Valois, who survived her husband by 15 years was eventually – in the Victorian age – buried under the chantry chapel altar (originally buried in the old Lady Chapel, King Henry VII had her removed and placed in an open coffin in the open air next to the tomb of King Henry V, when building his new chapel – among visitors to her mummified body was diarist Samuel Pepys who even kissed her. In 1778 she was buried in a vault before being relocated to her current position in 1878).
An inscription on the altar in the chantry chapel reads: “Under this slab (once the altar of this chapel) for long cast down and broken up by fire, rest at last, after various vicissitudes, finally deposited here by command of Queen Victoria, the bones of Catherine de Valois, daughter of Charles VI, King of France, wife of Henry V, mother of Henry VI, grandmother of Henry VII, born 1400, crowned 1421, died 1438”.
The chantry chapel is still occasionally used for services but, measuring just seven by three metres, is not usually open to the public because of size and access issues.
Westminster Abbey will hold a special service of commemoration on 29th October in partnership with charity Agincourt600. The day before, 28th October, it will host a one day conference for Henry V enthusiasts entitled ‘Beyond Agincourt: The Funerary Achievements of Henry V’. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org/events/agincourt.
Above – King Henry V’s chantry chapel; Below – King Henry V’s tomb which sits below the chantry chapel. PICTURE: Jim Dyson/Dean & Chapter of Westminster
This small, simply laid out garden in the City of London is redolent with history.
It was once the site of the Navy Office, the workplace of diarist Samuel Pepys, and it was in the garden of this building that he and Sir William Penn buried their wine and parmesan cheese for safety during the Great Fire of London in 1666.
The office survived the Great Fire but was, oddly enough, destroyed by fire only a few years later in 1673 (there is a blue plaque commemorating it in the garden) and a new office, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, was built here in the early 1680s before it was demolished in 1788.
It’s due to its association with Pepys (who also lived in the street and was buried in the nearby church of St Olave Hart Street) that it boasts a bronze bust of him which was erected by the Samuel Pepys Club in 1983, designed by Karin Jonzen and funded by public subscription. It was presented to the garden by Fred Cleary who played an instrumental role in encouraging green spaces in the Square Mile in the 1970s.
The garden, which was laid out in about 1950, is also notable for its beds of red roses, planted to commemorate the deal struck in 1381 in which the Sir Robert Knollys was belatedly granted permission for a footbridge his wife had built over Seething Lane. She had done so contrary to planning rules while he was away fighting with John of Gaunt (ostensibly so she could avoid the dust of the street when crossing from her house to her rose garden), and so when he returned, the City of London Corporation allowed the bridge (now long gone) to remain, but only in exchange for the symbolic “penalty” of one red rose a year.
The occasion is still marked each June in a ceremony overseen by the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames in which a red rose is plucked from the garden and delivered to the Lord Mayor of London at Mansion House.
WHERE: Seething Lane Garden, Seething Lane, City of London (nearest Tube stations is Tower Hill); WHEN: Daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/Pages/default.aspx.
August 3, 2015
The plague, which was apparently also known as the Poor’s Plague, is said to have broken out in early 1665 – perhaps February – with the first areas to be affected dockside districts and the crowded slum of St Giles in the Fields before it moved into the City proper. There are claims that the outbreak’s origins occurred a couple of months earlier at a property in Drury Lane where contaminated bales of goods imported from Holland were opened by Flemish weavers.
However it came to be in London, it soon spread and by July was running rampant with many of the nobility, merchants, and tradesmen choosing to flee the city in the hope of escaping its reach. They included King Charles II and his family and court who moved to Hampton Court in early July and then to Salisbury at the start of August before, following some cases there, to Oxford in September.
Those who did come down with the disease – generally thought to have been bubonic plague, a disease of rats which is transmitted to humans via fleas – were confined to their homes with red crosses and the words ‘Lord, have mercy on us’ painted on the door while gatherings in public – such as for the theatre – were banned to prevent the disease’s spread.
Other measures to contain the disease included the imposition of a curfew and the killing of an estimated 40,000 dogs and 200,000 cats, thought to be spreaders of the disease, on the orders of the mayor, Sir John Lawrence.
Bills of mortality recorded the number of deaths weekly – in the week of 19th to 26th September, the number peaked at 7,165 people before declining. By late in the year life in the capital had started returning to normal.
While the bodies were buried in mass graves, by September the growing numbers of dead meant many were simply left to rot where they fell.
The estimated numbers of those who died varies somewhat depending on the source but according to the Museum of London’s website, the Great Plague of 1665 is estimated to have killed 100,000 people – about a fifth of the population – within just seven months of its outbreak.
While the sheer number of dead is unprecedented, other plagues were proportionally deadlier, in particular the coming of the Black Death in 1348 which killed about half of all Londoners over an 18 month period (equating to an estimated 40,000 people).
The Great Plague was, thankfully, the last major plague to affect London. Among those who had survived was the diarist Samuel Pepys whose entries provide a valuable source of information on how the plague affected Londoners (pictured above is detail from the gateway into the church of St Olave Hart Street – Pepys’ parish church at the time of the plague – where a number of victims of the Great Plague were buried).
July 13, 2015
Located on the site of London’s first coffee house in St Michael’s Alley in the City, the Jamaica Wine House comes with plenty of yesteryear atmosphere.
The coffee house, which was established in 1652 at the sign of ‘Pasqua Rosee’s Head’ (named for one of the co-owners, a Turk and former manservant called Pasqua Rosee), was once frequented by the likes of diarist Samuel Pepys who apparently had a pleasurable night there on 10th December, 1660.
Standing in the midst of what became a hotspot for coffee houses in London, it was apparently damaged in the Great Fire of London of 1666. Rebuilt as the Jamaica Coffee House in the 1670s, it become known as something of a gathering place for seafarers who were involved in the West Indies trade. The current name bears testament to that past (we’ll take a more in-depth look at the history of the coffee house in an upcoming Lost London post).
While the building which housed the coffee shop is long gone, the current Grade II-listed building, located just of Cornhill, dates from 1869 and was built as a public house. Built of red brick and red stone, retains much of its Victorian character outside and in – with the latter featuring dark wood panelling on the walls and decorative ceilings and glasswork. The basement features a wine bar.
These days the establishment – which is known fondly to regulars as the ‘Jampot’ – boasts a clientele which includes City workers as well as “bell-ringers” and walking tourists (or so the website says). And then there’s the three ghosts – one of which is said to be a dog.
Now part of the Shepherd Neame chain (which purchased it in 2009). For more, see www.shepherdneame.co.uk/pubs/london/jamaica-wine-house.
LondonLife – Astrologer, former Lord Mayor and Leveller among those buried in Bedlam, new research finds…
February 11, 2015
The remains of an astrologer believed to have been stoned to death by an angry mob, a former Lord Mayor of London and a member of Civil War era dissenting group, the Levellers, who was executed by firing squad may be among those exhumed from the former Bedlam burial ground in Liverpool Street in the City of London in a new archaeological excavation.
A research project carried out ahead of the planned excavation of the new eastern entrance of the Liverpool Street Crossrail Station has unearthed the names and backgrounds of more than 5,000 of the 20,000 Londoners who were buried on the site in the 16th and 17th centuries.
They include Dr John Lamb, an astrologer and advisor to the Duke of Buckingham, who a mob apparently stoned to death outside a theatre in 1628 after allegations against him of rape and black magic, Sir Ambrose Nicholas, Lord Mayor of London in 1575, as well as victims of riots by ‘Fanatiques’ (as noted in the diaries of Samuel Pepys in January, 1661) and, according to a report in The Independent, Robert Lockyer, a member of the Leveller movement who was executed by firing squad in 1649 during the English Civil War.
Some 3,000 skeletons will be disinterred in the excavation along with, it is expected, Roman and medieval artefacts. The dig will start next month and will be carried out by MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology). The skeletons will be analysed before they are reburied in consecrated ground.
The research into the backgrounds of more than 5,000 of those buried on the site – which was established in 1569 to help alleviate overcrowding caused by outbreaks of plague and other epidemics – has been carried out by 16 volunteers with the results compiled into a new online database – the Bedlam Burial Ground Register. Plague was the most common form of death followed by infant mortality and consumption.
“This research is a window into one of the most turbulent periods of London’s past,” said lead archaeologist Jay Carver. “These people lived through civil wars, the Restoration, Shakespeare’s plays, the birth of modern industry, plague and the Great Fire.”
Crossrail workers recently discovered the gravestone of Mary Godfree who died in September, 1665, as a result of the ‘Great Plague’ which reached its peak that year.
PICTURES: Courtesy of Crossrail.
We’re running a bit behind this week, so the next instalment in our Churchill series won’t appear until later this week.
October 17, 2014
Famous as the home of the Apollo Club, the Devil – more completely the Devil and St Dunstan or The Devil and the Saint, thanks to its sign which showed the saint tweaking the Devil’s nose with pincers – was a Fleet Street institution.
Located at number 2, Fleet Street close to the Temple Bar, the tavern’s origins date back to at least 16th century but it was Elizabethan playwright Ben Jonson who made it home to the literary dining club known as the Apollo Club (the moniker comes from the name of the room in the tavern in which the club was located).
As well as Jonson, members of the club are said to have included William Shakespeare, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope and Dr Samuel Johnson. Samuel Pepys is also said to have frequented the tavern.
A bust of Apollo was mounted over the door to the room and a verse of welcome on the wall – they apparently still exist inside the bank of Child & Co (now part of the Royal Bank of Scotland) which now occupies the site on which the tavern once stood. The ‘rules’ of the club – which have been penned by Jonson – also apparently hung over the fireplace (and the name of the club lives on in Apollo Court over the road).
The tavern is also noted for its associations with ‘Mull Sack’ (aka chimney sweep turned 17th century highwayman John Cottington) and hosted concerts and other important gatherings including that of the Royal Society which held its annual dinner here in 1746.
It was demolished in the 1787 when the site was annexed by the neighbouring bank. A plaque can now be seen on the bank’s wall in Fleet Street.
PICTURE: Open Plaques
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 21, 2014
While for many Tower Green inside the Tower of London is synonymous with beheadings, only seven people, including Anne Boleyn, were ever actually executed there. Far more people were executed outside the Tower’s walls at nearby Tower Hill, just to the north.
Some of the names of those executed here are recorded on a memorial at the site – everyone from Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was beheaded here by an angry mob in 1381, through to Sir Thomas More in 1535 (gracious King Henry VIII commuted his sentence from being hung, drawn and quartered to mere beheading), and Simon Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat, a Jacobite arrested after the Battle of Culloden and the last man to be executed here when his head was lopped off in 1747.
While, as you can see above, many of those executed at Tower Hill were beheaded (and most were of the nobility), there were some executions there which did involve the guilty party being hung, drawn and quartered – a punishment reserved for those being convicted of high treason and also enforced at other sites in London including at Tyburn and Smithfield. Among them was William Collingbourne in 1484 for supporting the cause of Henry Tudor against that of King Richard III.
A plaque on the external wall of the nearby pub quotes a passage from the famous diarist Samuel Pepys after he witnessed an execution in Charing Cross on 13th October, 1660: “I went to see Major General Harrison. Hung drawn and quartered. He was looking as cheerful as any man could in that condition”.
Thomas Harrison fought with Parliament during the Civil War and was among those who signed the death warrant of King Charles I. Found guilty of regicide after the Restoration, he was hung, drawn and quartered (though as Pepys tells us, not here).
The pub, located at 26-27 Great Tower Street, is part of the Fuller’s chain. For more, see www.hung-drawn-and-quartered.co.uk.
December 2, 2013
While the designation of London’s oldest public library depends on your definition, for the purposes of this article we’re awarding the title to the Guildhall Library.
Its origins go back to about 1425 when town clerk John Carpenter and John Coventry founded a library – believed to initially consist of theological books for students, according to the terms of the will of former Lord Mayor, Richard (Dick) Whittington (for more on him, see our previous post here).
Housed in Guildhall (pictured above), this library apparently came to an end in the mid-1500s when Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector for the young King Edward VI, apparently had the entire collection loaded onto carts and taken to Somerset House. They were not returned and only one of the library’s original texts, a 13th century metrical Latin version of the Bible, is in the library today.
Some 300 years passed until the library was re-established by the City of London Corporation. Reopened in 1828, it was initially reserved for members of the Corporation but the membership was soon expanded to include”literary men”.
By the 1870s, when the collection included some 60,000 books related to London, the library moved into a new purpose-built building, located to the east of Guildhall. Designed by City architect Horace Jones, it opened to the public in 1873.
The library lost some 25,000 books during World War II when some of the library’s storerooms were destroyed and after the war, it was decided to build a new library. It opened in 1974 in the west wing of the Guildhall where it remains (entered via Aldermanbury).
Today, the 200,000 item collection includes books, pamphlets, periodicals including the complete London Gazette from 1665 to the present, trade directories and poll books as well as the archive collections such as those of the livery companies, the Stock Exchange and St Paul’s Cathedral and special collections related to the likes of Samuel Pepys, Sir Thomas More, and the Charles Lamb Society.
The library also holds an ongoing series of exhibitions.
Where: Guildhall Library, Aldermanbury; WHEN: 9.30am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday; COST: Entry is free and no membership of registration is required but ID may be required to access rarer books; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visiting-the-city/archives-and-city-history/guildhall-library/Pages/default.aspx.
March 11, 2013
The honour of being London’s oldest winebar goes to Gordon’s Wine Bar at 47 Villiers Street in the West End (just up from Embankment Tube Station or down from Charing Cross Station, whichever you prefer).
The venerable establishment – still a favoured place to stop for a drink for many Londoners – opened its doors in the 1890s and still conveys a powerful sense of old world charm with the decor pretty much unchanged (there’s been no fancy makeover here) and the wine still served from wooden casks behind the bar.
The site on which the bar is located was once occupied by York House (home to, among others during its centuries of life, Robert Devereaux – 2nd Earl of Essex and favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Francis Bacon – Lord Chancellor during the reign of King James I) and then, later on, by a large house lived in by diarist Samuel Pepys in the late 1600s before, thanks to its position close to the river, a building was built upon it in the 1790s which served as a warehouse.
The usefulness of the warehouse came to an end when Victoria Embankment was built and the river pushed back and the building was subsequently used for accommodation. Writer Rudyard Kipling was among tenants who lived here (from 1889-1891 during which wrote The Light that Failed – in fact, the building was renamed after him, Kipling House, in 1950.
It was Angus Gordon, a “free vintner” meaning he didn’t have to apply for a licence thanks to the largesse of King Edward III in 1364, who established the premises in the vaults here in the 1890s (interestingly the current owners are also Gordons, but not related). Among the other uses of the building, of which Gordon’s only occupies a part, was apparently as a brothel in the 1920s.
For more on Gordon’s head to www.gordonswinebar.com.
March 8, 2013
Once part of the Palace of Whitehall, the Cockpit (also referred to as Cockpit-in-Court or the Royal Cockpit) was initially built as a pit in which to watch cockfighting as part of renovations carried out by King Henry VIII after he “acquired” Cardinal Wolsey’s former property of York Place and before transforming it into a royal palace.
It was one of a number of entertainment related buildings constructed by the king in the new palace precinct – others included a real tennis court, bowling alley and a tiltyard.
By Jacobean times, the use of the octagonal-shaped cockpit – located between today’s Downing Street and Horse Guards Parade – had changed into that of a private royal theatre and in 1629 Inigo Jones was given the task of redesigning it to accommodate King Charles I’s elaborate court masques (Jones had previously redesigned the Cockpit Theatre in Drury Lane).
Following the Restoration in 1660, the Cockpit again returned to its use as a theatre and King Charles II had new dressing rooms added and the decor given an overhaul (the ever-present diarist Samuel Pepys was among those who attended theatrical presentations during this period and Ben Jonson among those whose work was presented here).
The theatre building is believed to have been demolished around 1675 and the site subsequently used to house government officials including those of the Foreign Office (see our earlier post here) and Privy Council.
In the 1730s, William Kent designed the building (which although since expanded and modified) now stands on the site and is currently the home of the Cabinet Office.
While the Cockpit is long gone, its name lives on in ‘Cockpit Passage’ – a gallery inside the Cabinet Office from where one could once watch tennis being played.
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.
October 8, 2012
One of the major thoroughfares of the City of London, Cannon Street’s name has nothing at all to do with artillery or religion. In fact, the street, which runs from St Paul’s Churchyard in the west to Eastcheap in the east, owes its name to the industry that once took place there.
Like many other streets in the City connected with the occupations of past residents, Cannon Street is a corruption of a street formerly known as Candelwichstrete (one of many various spellings of which the modern English version is Candlewick Street) which relates to the candlemakers and wax chandlers who lived and conducted their trade along the street in the Middle Ages (the Tallow Chandlers Company, involved in regulating candle-making, has been located in adjoining Dowgate Hill since 1476, although the current building dates from 1672).
The name was gradually corrupted into Cannon Street (apparently the corruption was at least partly due to its pronunciation in the Cockney dialect), which is what it was known as by the late 17th century when the seemingly ever-present Samuel Pepys was writing his diary.
Cannon Street – which was only extended to its current length in the mid-1800s under the supervision of architect JP Bunning, having formerly been a narrow lane which stopped at Dowgate Hill in the east – apparently later become known for the number of drapers based there and was also home to the Steelyard or Stalhof, the trading base of the German Hanseatic League in London in the 13th and 14th centuries (a plaque commemorating this was erected at Cannon Street Station in 2005).
Now lined with office buildings including some former warehouses from the Victorian era, the street is also home to a recently redeveloped above ground train station and Underground station- both of which were opened in the late 1800s (the station, which built was on the site of the Roman governor’s palace, was originally located behind the Cannon Street Hotel, birthplace of the British Communist Party). Cannon Street is also the location of the mysterious London Stone – formerly located at the now long-gone St Swithin’s Church, it can be found behind a grill at number 111 – for more on it, see our earlier post here).
September 17, 2012
A late 17th and early 18th century wood carver and sculptor, the curiously named Grinling Gibbons is remembered for his magnificent carvings in numerous English buildings including such London icons as St Paul’s Cathedral and Hampton Court Palace.
Not much is known about Gibbons’ early life. The son of English parents (his father was apparently a draper), he was born in Rotterdam in The Netherlands on 4th April, 1648, and, as a young man, is believed to have undertaken an apprenticeship as a sculptor in that country.
Around the age of 19, he moved to England – first to York and to Deptford in the south. It was the quality of his work which led diarist John Evelyn, having discovered Gibbons working on a limewood relief of Tintoretto’s Crucifixion in a small cottage near Deptford in early 1671, that led him to introduce him to Christopher Wren, the architect of the age, and fellow diarist Samuel Pepys and to eventually present him (and his relief) to King Charles II at Whitehall Palace on 1st March the same year.
But Gibbons’ work apparently failed to initially impress at court and it was only following his ‘discovery’ later that year by the court artist Sir Peter Lely that he began to receive major commissions.
It’s apparently not known when Gibbons married his wife Elizabeth and moved to London they were living there by 1672 and were having the first of their at least 12 children (while at least five of their daughters survived into adulthood, none of their sons did).
In 1672, they were living in an inn, called La Belle Sauvage or The Bell Savage, located on Ludgate Hill near St Paul’s, and, while Gibbons continued to maintain a workshop here into the 1680s, the family moved to Bow Street in Covent Garden around the end of the 1670s (the house here apparently collapsed in 1702 and was subsequently rebuilt in brick).
Gibbons, who was admitted to the Draper’s Company in 1672 and held various posts within it over ensuing years, reached the pinnacle of his success when he was made master sculptor and carver in wood to King William III in 1693, and was later made master carpenter to the king, then King George I, in 1719.
Having worked mostly in limewood, Gibbons, recently called the “British Bernini”, is known for his distinct and exuberant style which features cascading foliage, fruit, animals and cherubs. While he worked on numerous important buildings outside of London – including carvings in the Chapel Royal and king’s dining room at Windsor Castle, in a chapel at Trinity College in Oxford, at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and a famous ‘carved room’ at Petworth House in Sussex – and beyond (he also created two presentation panels – known as the ‘Cosimo’ and ‘Modena’ panels which were sent to Italy as royal gifts), Gibbons is also noted for his work on a number of prominent buildings in London.
Among the buildings he worked on or in around London are the churches of St James’s in Piccadilly, St Mary Abchurch, St Michael Paternoster Royal and, famously, St Paul’s Cathedral (where he carved choir stalls, the bishop’s thrones and choir screen) as well as Hampton Court and Kensington Palaces.
While he is primarily remembered for his limewood carvings, Gibbons’ workshop was also responsible for sculpting statues, memorials and decorative stonework. A couple of the workshop’s statues can still be seen in London – one of King Charles II in Roman dress at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea and another of King James II outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square – while the magnificent Westminster Abbey memorial to Admiral Sir Clowdisley Shovell is also attributed to him.
Gibbons died at his Bow Street home on 3rd August, 1721, and was buried in St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden (his wife had been buried there several years before).
For more on Grinling Gibbons, check out David Esterly’s Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving.