With the recent change at 10 Downing Street – David Cameron out/Theresa May in – we thought it a good time to look back at when the man considered Britain’s first PM moved in.
Sir Robert Walpole, commonly considered Britain’s first Prime Minister although he was never formally known by that title, was actually First Lord of the Treasury when in early 1730s King George II presented him with the terrace house at 10 Downing Street, off Whitehall, and the large mansion behind it (in fact the title of ‘First Lord of the Treasury’ can still be seen inscribed on the brass letter-box on the property’s front door).
Sir Robert accepted the king’s gift, but only on condition that it be made available to all future First Lords of the Treasury And he didn’t move in until 22nd September, 1735, having had architect William Kent join the terrace house with the mansion behind it before doing so.
Kent had joined the houses on two levels with the main entrance facing onto Downing Street instead of Horse Guards. The Walpoles would live at the back of the new house where Kent had created a series of grand rooms – suitable for receiving honoured guests – and had built an unusual three sided staircase which remains a star sight of the building today.
Walpole used the ground floor of the new property for business and set-up his study in what is now the Cabinet Room. Lady Walpole used the upstairs room now known as the White Drawing Room as her sitting room and what is now called the Terracotta Room (although the name of this room changes with the colour scheme) as the dining room.
Among those who attended 10 Downing Street during the Walpole’s residency were luminaries such as Queen Caroline (wife of King George II) as well as prominent politicians, writers and military figures.
The Walpoles left in 1742 and it was more than 20 years later before another First Lord of the Treasury moved in.
PICTURE: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC/ Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.
February 19, 2016
The Royal Mews – a stables and carriage house – is these days located at Buckingham Palace but prior to being moved there, the Royal Mews, previously usually referred to as the King’s and Queen’s Mews depending who was on the throne, was located on the site where the National Gallery (pictured) and Trafalgar Square now stand.
The name ‘mews’ actually refers to the fact that, from at least the reign of King Richard II in the late 14th century (although official records suggest there may have been a mews on the site as far back as the reign of King Edward I), the royal hawks were initially housed on the site – then in the village of Charing Cross – (the word ‘mew’ refers to the moulting of the birds and originally referred to when they were confined here for that purpose but later come to simply mean the place were the birds were caged).
The title of Keeper of the King’s Mews became a sought-after honour during the 15th century (although largely honorary with the actual work done by deputies) but among those who held the honour were Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known, during the Wars of the Roses as the ‘Kingmaker’.
In 1534, the King’s Mews was destroyed by fire and when it was rebuilt a few years later, it took the form of a stable but kept the original name of mews (although it has been suggested the change of use took place before the fire).
During the Civil War, the Mews were apparently used as a prison by the Parliamentarians for captured Royalists and during the Commonwealth, soldiers were apparently quartered here. Diarist Samuel Pepys also apparently visited several times.
In 1732 the building was again rebuilt, but this time it was to the grand designs of William Kent – images show a grand building with turrets and a great open square before it. In the 1760s, King George III had some of his horses and carriages moved to facilities on the grounds of Buckingham Palace (he had purchased this from the Duke of Buckingham for his wife’s use) but the bulk remained on the Charing Cross site.
In the early 19th century they were opened to the public but in the 1820s, King George IV – making Buckingham Palace his main residence – had the entire stables moved (the Royal Mews which now stand at Buckingham Palace were designed by John Nash and completed in 1825).
The old mews were subsequently demolished and Trafalgar Square – another Nash design – built on the site between 1827 and 1835 while the National Gallery opened in 1838.
November 21, 2014
Located in Kensington Gardens, this neo-classical summer house was designed by William Kent for Queen Caroline (who was responsible for much of the shape of the gardens as they are now).
Standing amid naturalistic plantings overlooking the Long Water (which was among the features created at the order of Queen Caroline – consort of King George II), it was built in 1734-35 and designed to be glimpsed down one of the avenues of trees which radiated out from the Round Pond in front of Kensington Palace.
The Grade II-listed ‘temple’, which features graffiti inside dating back until 1821, was later converted to a park keeper’s home but restored to its use as a summer house in 1976.
Kent apparently also designed a second summer house for Kensington Gardens which revolved – it stood on a 13 metre high mound constructed by Kent’s predecessor Charles Bridgeman using spoil from the excavation of the Serpentine in the south-eastern corner of the gardens (the summer house was later demolished and the mound levelled).
Not the most prominent feature of the gardens but like the much later Princess Caroline’s Bath in Greenwich Park (see our earlier post here), it does have an important royal connection and is worthy of a stop when visiting the gardens.
WHERE: Kensington Gardens (nearest tube stations are that of Queensway, Bayswater, Lancaster Gate, South Kensington, Gloucester Road and Kensington High Street); WHEN: 6am to dusk; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/kensington-gardens.
This Week in London – New gallery at Hampton Court; Northwest Passage explorers remembered; and, celebrating Churchill’s birthday…
November 20, 2014
• A new gallery opens today in the restored Cumberland Suite at Hampton Court Palace. The Gothic Revival suite of rooms, designed by William Kent for William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and the youngest son of King George II, were the last major royal commission ever undertaken at the palace. They will now house a selection of the Royal Collection’s finest paintings including masterpieces by Holbein, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Bassano and Gainsborough. The restoration followed two years of research aimed at returning the rooms to a state which as closely as possible represents Kent’s original decorative scheme. One of the rooms – the duke’s large light closet – is being opened to the public for the first time in 25 years and will house 12 of Canaletto’s smaller Grand Canal views of Venice. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/.
• The exploration of the Northwest Passage is the subject of a new exhibition which has opened at the British Library in King’s Cross. Lines in the Ice: Seeking the Northwest Passage looks back over 400 years with exhibits including King Charles II’s personal atlas, 19th century woodcut illustrations and wooden maps made by Inuit communities, and artefacts related to three of the most eminent explorer to seek out the Northwest Passage – Martin Frobisher, Sir John Franklin and Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole. The exhibition has opened just weeks after the discovery of the HMS Erebus, one of Sir John Franklin’s lost ships. There’s a full programme of events to accompany the exhibition. Runs until 29th March. Admission is free. For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: The world we live in, c. 1958, on display in Lines in the Ice. Courtesy of British Library.
• Celebrate Winston Churchill’s birthday at a special after-hours event in the Churchill War Rooms in Whitehall next week. Advance booking is required to buy tickets for the event which will include a silent disco, drink tasting workshops and the chance to strike your best Churchill pose in a special photo booth. The event runs on the evening of 27th November. To book, head to www.iwm.org.uk/events/churchill-war-rooms/lates-at-churchill-war-rooms-churchill-s-birthday.
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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…
March 26, 2014
Known around the world for the stoic mounted troopers which stand guard here, this rather fanciful building straddling a site between Whitehall and St James’s Park was built in the early 1750s on land which had previously served as a tiltyard for King Henry VIII.
In the 1660s King Charles II had a barracks built here for the guards manning the entrance to what was then the Palace of Whitehall, but in 1749 it was demolished and the present building constructed.
William Kent had apparently drawn up designs but it was architect John Vardy who oversaw construction of the neo-Palladian building after Kent’s death in 1748. The windows on the St James’s Park side of the building are said to have been based on a drawing by Lord Burlington (he of Chiswick House fame – see our earlier post here).
While the site previously marked the entrance to the Palace of Whitehall, it is now considered the formal entrance to St James’s Palace (although the palace is located some distance away) and, as a result, only the monarch can drive through the central archway without displaying a pass.
Until 1904, the Grade I-listed building housed the office of the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces but the title was then abolished and replaced with Chief of the General Staff, who relocated to the War Office Building. Horse Guards subsequently became the home of the army commands of London District and the Household Division, a role it still fulfils.
As well as being the site of the daily Changing of the Queen’s Life Guard (this free event takes place at 11am every day; 10am on Sundays), Horse Guards is also now home to the Household Cavalry Museum.
Among treasures in the museum are two silver kettledrums presented to the regiment in 1831 by King William IV, a cork leg used by the first Marquess of Anglesey after his real leg was amputated following the Battle of Waterloo (and subsequently became a tourist attraction in its own right) and silverware by Faberge. Visitors to the museum can also see into the working stables via a glazed petition.
The parade ground behind the building is the site of the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony which officially celebrates the Sovereign’s birthday. Although the ceremony has only been held since 1748, it’s interesting to note that some of the birthday celebrations of Queen Elizabeth I were held in the same place.
WHERE: The Household Cavalry Museum, Horse Guards, Whitehall (nearest Tube stations are Westminster, Embankment, St James’s Park and Charing Cross); WHEN: Open 10am to 5pm (November to March)/10am to 6pm (April to October); COST: £6 adults/£4 children (aged 5-16) and concessions/£15 family ticket; WEBSITE: www.householdcavalrymuseum.co.uk.
This Week in London – William Kent at the V&A; new City Visitor Trail; and, Veronese at the National Gallery…
March 20, 2014
• The life and work of William Kent, the leading architect and designer of early Georgian Britain, is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the V&A on Saturday. William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain covers the period 1709 to 1748 which coincides with the accession of the first Hanoverian King George I. the tercentenary of which is being celebrated this year. The display features more than 200 examples of Kent’s work – from architectural drawings for buildings such as the Treasury (1732-37) and Horse Guards (1745-59), to gilt furniture designed for Houghton Hall (1725-25) and Chiswick House (1745-38), landscape designs for Rousham (1738-41) and Stowe (c 1728-40 and c 1746-47) as well as paintings and illustrated books. The exhibition, the result of a collaboration between the Bard Graduate Center, New York City, and the V&A, features newly commissioned documentary films and will have a section focusing on designs Kent created for the Hanovarian Royal family including those he produced for a Royal Barge for Frederick, the Prince of Wales (1732) and a library for Queen Caroline at St James’ Palace (1736-37). Runs until 13th July. Admission charge applies. See www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: Armchair for Devonshire House ca. 1733-40, © Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth. Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees.
• A new City Visitor Trail has been unveiled by the City of London, taking visitors on a 90 minute self-guided tour of some of the City’s main attractions (or longer if you want to linger in some of the places on the itinerary). The trail – a map of which can be picked up from the City Information Centre – goes past iconic buildings such as St Paul’s Cathedral, Guildhall, Mansion House, Monument, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge as well as lesser-known sites. As well as the main route, there’s also five specially themed routes – ‘Law and literature’, ‘London stories, London people’, ‘Culture Vulture’, ‘Skyscrapers and culture’, and ‘Market mile’ – and a City Children’s Trail, provided in partnership with Open City, which features three self-guided routes aimed at kids. As well as the map, the City has released an app – the City Visitor Trail app – which provides a commentary at some of the city’s main attractions which can either by read or listened to as it’s read by people closely associated with the locations (available for both iPhone and Android). For more, follow this link.
• The works of the 16th century Venetian artist known as Veronese (real name Paolo Caliari) are being celebrated in a new exhibition, Veronese: Magnificence in Renaissance Venice at the National Gallery. More than 50 of his works are featured in the display including two altarpieces never before seen outside Italy: The Martyrdom of Saint George (about 1565) from the church of San Giorgio in Braida, Verona, and The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine (1565-70) from the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice. Others include early works like The Supper at Emmaus (about 1565), the beautiful Portrait of a Gentleman (c 1555) and the artist’s last autograph work, the altarpiece for the high altar of San Pantalon in Venice (1587). Runs until 15th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.
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February 19, 2014
Designed by Richard Boyle, the third Earl of Burlington (1694-1753), the two storey, domed villa was inspired by what Lord Burlington had seen of ancient and sixteenth century architecture during his tours of Italy – in particular the work of Andrea Palladio – as well as the work of Palladio admirer, famed English architect Inigo Jones (his statue along with that of Palladio can be seen outside),
It was constructed in the 1720s, most likely between 1727 and 1729, on a site which had been purchased by the first Earl of Burlington (his grandfather) in 1682 and which was already occupied by a Jacobean-era house (this property, which the third Earl significantly renovated, was eventually pulled down in 1788). The interiors were designed by William Kent in collaboration with Burlington and feature luxurious rooms with velvet-covered walls such as the magnificently restored Blue Velvet Room.
The exact purpose of the property remains something of a mystery – it’s been suggested it was built to as a pavilion for private contemplation, grand entertainments and to house the Earl’s art collection and the fact it had no kitchen is supportive of such a conclusion. But there is evidence it was also used as a functioning house – the fact Lady Burlington died in her bedchamber in the premises in 1758 and the link which was eventually built by Lord Burlington between it and the older property on the estate are suggestive of this.
Whatever its purpose, the architectural and artistic masterpiece was complemented by formal gardens which Lord Burlington, again, along with the aid of Kent, extensively altered to create a highly planned but naturalistic-looking landscape. Known as the “birthplace of the English Landscape Movement”, the gardens have influenced everyone from ‘Capability’ Brown to the design of New York City’s Central Park.
Following Lord Burlington’s death in 1753, the house passed into the hands of his grandson, the fifth Duke of Devonshire (his wife was the rather infamous Duchess Georgiana). He extended the house into a large mansion, adding new wings (these weren’t removed until the 1950s) and improved the gardens, adding the stone bridge (pictured) that still stands over the lake.
Upon the fifth Duke’s death in 1811, the house passed into the hands of the sixth Duke, known as the ‘Bachelor Duke’. He made considerable use of the property and guests included Tsar Alexander I of Russia, King Fredrick William III of Prussia, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and Tsar Nicholas I (again, of Russia). The Bachelor Duke also extended the grounds and brought a range of exotic animals into them, including an elephant, kangaroos and emus.
Upon his death in 1858, he left the property to his sister and after her death only four years later, it was subsequently let to some rather high-brow tenants including the Prince of Wales who received the Shah of Persia there in 1873,
The estate was eventually sold by the ninth Duke to the Middlesex County Council and after the war, gifted to the Minister of Works. In 1984, care for the house was transferred to English Heritage. The gardens are now owned by the London Borough of Hounslow.
Along with the Chiswick House and Gardens Trust, English Heritage recently completed a £12 million restoration of the gardens which, this year will host the fourth annual Camellia Festival next month. But this stunning property is well worth a visit any time of the year.
WHERE: Chiswick House, Burlington Lane, Chiswick (nearest Tube station is Turnham Green/nearest train station is Chiswick); WHEN: 10am to 4pm Saturday and Sunday (until 31st March); COST: £5.90 adults/£3.50 children (5-15 years)/£5.30 concession/£15.30 family; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/chiswick-house/ or www.chgt.org.uk.