April 26, 2017
Standing some 200 feet above sea level (almost 63 metres), this rounded grassy hill, just to the north of The Regent’s Park proper, has long held a fascination for Londoners partly, at least, for the panoramic views it offers of the city skyline.
Once part of a hunting ground used by King Henry VIII, the hill – which has also been known as Battle and Greenberry Hill – was purchased in 1841 from Eton College to provide more public space for Londoners.
It has served as the site of a famous unsolved murder (that of magistrate Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey whose mysterious death, exploited by anti-Catholic plotter Titus Oates, caused considerable uproar) as well as duels, prize fights, mass gatherings and mystic happenings.
The latter have included it being the location where Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg) first organised a gathering of druids, known as a Gorsedd of Bards, in 1792, as well as it being the subject of a prophecy by 16th century ‘soothsayer’ Mother Shipton warning that the streets would “run with blood” if the hill should become surrounded by urban sprawl.
Around the summit of the hill stands a York Stone edging feature bearing an inscription from poet William Blake – “I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill” – while standing on the slope below is the famous Shakespeare’s Tree which was originally planted in 1864 to mark the 300th anniversary of the Bard’s birth (but was replaced in 1964).
The view over London is one of a number of protected views in the city (meaning you can’t build anything block it) and the trees below the summit are kept deliberately low so as not to impede sightlines.
The nearby residential district known as Primrose Hill is noted for being home to numerous famous figures including the likes of Jude Law, Kate Moss and the Gallagher brothers. It is also where the aliens in HG Well’s book, War of the Worlds, intended making their headquarters.
WHERE: Primrose Hill, The Regent’s Park (nearest tube stations are Chalk Farm, Swiss Cottage, St John’s Wood and Mornington Crescent); WHEN: Usually always; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/the-regents-park/things-to-see-and-do/primrose-hill.
March 3, 2017
Located on Cheapside (with entrances on Friday and Bread Streets), the Mermaid Tavern is best known for being the home of Elizabethan-era drinking club known as the Mermaid Club (and also as the Friday Street Club or even the ‘Fraternity of Sireniacal Gentlemen’).
Founded in the early 17th century (and meeting on the first Friday of each month), its members included such literary luminaries as Ben Jonson, John Donne and Francis Beaumont.
There are also suggestions it was founded by Sir Walter Raleigh and that William Shakespeare was also a member but modern scholars have cast doubt upon both claims.
The earliest reference to the tavern, meanwhile, dates from the early 15th century.
The tavern, the location of which today corresponds to the corner of Bread and Cannon Streets, burned down in the Great Fire of London but lives on in John Keats’ poem Lines on the Mermaid Tavern.
This Week in London – Talking Shakespeare; Dickens’ letter in support of ‘fallen women’; and, wallpaper at the Geffrye…
May 5, 2016
• Guildhall is hosting an “open mic” Shakespeare day this Tuesday as part of commemorations marking the 400th anniversary of his death. Speeches, Soliloquies and Songs from Shakespeare will be opened with recitals from actors Simon Russell Beale and John Heffernan before members of the public will have their chance to recite their favourite piece from Shakespeare. Participants are invited to sign up by emailing email@example.com or calling 020 7332 1868. The event will run between 10am to 12pm and 1.30pm to 3.30pm at the Basinghall Suite in the Guildhall Art Gallery. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visit-the-city/attractions/guildhall-galleries/Pages/guildhall-art-gallery.aspx.
• A letter written by author Charles Dickens to the governors of the Foundling Hospital has gone on display at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. The letter was written to the governors in support of an application for a new matron and touches on Dickens’ belief that the downward path of a ‘fallen woman’ wasn’t irreversible and inevitable but that reform was possible. Tempted to Virtue: Dickens and the Fallen Woman can be seen until 22nd May. In a related event, Lynda Nead, curator of the recent exhibition, The Fallen Woman, will join Jenny Earle, programme director at the Prison Reform Trust, in discussing the hidden stories of vulnerable women in the 19th century and today on 21st May. This event is free but booking is essential. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.
• An exhibition celebrating how wallpaper is made is running at the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch as part of London Craft Week. The Craft of Wallpaper demonstrates the variety of processes being used to make wallpaper in today’s world and features papers by some of the UK’s most innovative makers including Claire Coles, Elise Menghini, Helen Morley, Identity Paper, Juliet Chadwick, Linda Florence, Erica Wakerly, Fromental, CUSTHOM, Tracey Kendall and Graham & Brown who are showcasing six of their most successful wallpaper designs: from its first design in 1946, Original, to the 2016 Wallpaper of the Year, Marble. You’ll have to be quick – only runs until Sunday. For more, see www.londoncraftweek.com.
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This Week in London – Beacons to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th; 4,000 years of Sicilian history; underwear’s history exposed; a Shakespearean banknote remembered…
April 21, 2016
• Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday is being marked in various ways across the capital today. Along with street parties, gun salutes in Hyde Park and at the Tower of London, beacons will be lit in numerous locations across the city (as well as around the country and even internationally) tonight. Further celebrations will be held across May and June.
• More than 4,000 years of Sicily’s history is being explored in a new exhibition opening at the British Museum in Bloomsbury today. Sicily: culture and conquest features more than 200 objects and focuses on two major eras: the arrival of the Greeks in the latter half of the 7th century BC and their subsequent encounters with earlier settlers and the Phoenicians; and, the period under Norman rule between 1100 and 1250 AD. Highlights include a spectacularly well preserved terracotta altar from about 500 BC, a terracotta sculpture of a Greek Gorgon, an iconic marble sculpture of a warrior from ancient Akragas, a bronze battering ram used by the Romans to sink enemy ships, a 12th century Byzantine-style mosaic and marble, and wooden Islamic-influenced architectural decorations along with ceremonial glassware and ivory, gold pendants and intricate enamel mosaics and cameos from the Norman period. The exhibition, being run in conjunction with Regione Siciliana, Assessorato dei Beni Culturati e dell’Identita Siciliana, runs in Room 35 until 14th August. Admission charges apply and a programme of events accompanies the exhibition. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/sicily.
• The largest ever museum exhibition of underwear has opened at the V&A in South Kensington. Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear charts the history of underwear from the 18th century to today and features some of the more than 60 individual pieces of mostly contemporary underwear the museum recently acquired for its permanent collection as well as loaned objects. Among the objects on display are an “austerity corset” dating from 1917-18 which has been made from woven paper twine, a man’s waist belt used on the wearer’s wedding day which dates from 1842, a late 19th century corset designed for cycling as well as a rare surviving example of a 1978 panty thong designed by Rudi Gernreich (credited with giving the thong its name) and numerous contemporary pieces – everything from a butt lifter and waist trainer for women to a pair of EnlargetIt briefs designed by aussieBum to add volume to a man’s crotch and a mastectomy bra and prosthesis. The exhibition can be seen until 12th March next year. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/undressed.
• Banknote designer Harry Norman Eccleston’s Shakespearean-related design for the now out of circulation £20 banknote is the subject of an exhibition at the Bank of England Museum in the City. Held as part of commemorations marking 400 years since the Bard’s death, Eccleston’s Shakespeare explores the design elements used in the note, first issued in July, 1970, from his rendering of William Kent’s statue of Shakespeare to his drawing of the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet. Entry is free. For more, see www.bankofengland.co.uk.
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April 15, 2016
Famed for its mention in Geoffrey Chaucer’s iconic 14th century work, The Canterbury Tales, The Tabard Inn once stood on Borough High Street in Southwark.
The inn was apparently first built for the Abbot of Hyde in 1307 as a place where he and his brethren could stay when they came to London and stood on what had been the main Roman thoroughfare between London and Canterbury.
It became a popular hostelry for pilgrims making their way from the Chapel of St Thomas á Becket on London Bridge to the saint’s shrine in Canterbury Cathedral and was one of a number of inns which eventually came to be built in Southwark at the London end of the pilgrim route.
It’s in this context that it earns a mention in Chaucer’s 14th century work as the pilgrims set off on their journey.
The inn passed into private hands following the Dissolution and in 1676, 1o years after the Great Fire of London, burned down in a fire which devastated much of Southwark (the back part of it had been damaged by fire a few years earlier). Earlier patrons may have, it’s been suggested, included the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.
It was subsequently rebuilt as a galleried coaching inn and came to be renamed The Talbot (it’s been suggested this was due to a spelling mistake by the signwriter). Its neighbour, the George Inn, still stands in Talbot Yard (it was also apparently burnt down and rebuilt after the 1676 fire).
Business for the coaching inns dropped away, however, with the coming of the railways and the building was converted into stores before eventually being demolished in 1874.
A plaque to the inn can be seen in Talbot Yard (named for the inn’s later incarnation) – it was unveiled by Terry Jones in 2003.
This Week in London – Seminal moments in Shakespearean performance; Maria Merian’s Butterflies; and, British conceptual art…
April 14, 2016
• It’s the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death (in case you missed that), and among the many events marking the occasion comes a major exhibition at the British Library focusing on 10 key performances that it says have made the Bard the “cultural icon” he is today. Shakespeare in Ten Acts, which opens on Friday, focuses on performances which may not be the most famous but which represent key moments in shaping his legacy. They span the period the first performance of Hamlet at the Globe theatre in around 1600 to a radical interpretation of the same play from US theatre company The Wooster Group in 2013. Among the exhibition highlights are a human skull which was given to the actress Sarah Bernhardt by writer Victor Hugo (and which she used as Yorik’s skull when she played Hamlet in 1899), a dress worn by Vivien Leigh playing Lady Macbeth in the 1955 production of Macbeth at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the only surviving play script written in the Bard’s own hand and rare printed editions including Shakespeare’s First Folio and the earliest printed edition of Hamlet from 1603 (one of only two copies in the world). The exhibition, which runs until 6th September, is accompanied by a season of events. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: Shakespeare’s First Folio 1623 British Library Photo by Clare Kendall.
• Still talking exhibitions commemorating Shakespeare’s death and a manuscript of William Boyce’s Ode to the Memory of Shakespeare will be on display at The Foundling Museum’s Handel Gallery from tomorrow. The work, which was composed in 1756, was performed annually at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. The manuscript, the first page of which was thought to be lost until it was acquired in 2006, formerly belonged to Samuel Arnold, who compiled the first complete edition of Handel’s works. Runs at the Bloomsbury-based museum until 30th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.
• Exquisite watercolours depicting the natural world go on show in The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace from tomorrow. Maria Merian’s Butterflies features 50 works produced by the eighteenth century German artist and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian. The works – many of which record the flora and fauna of the then Dutch colony of Suriname in South America, were published in the 1706 work Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname) and partially printed, partially hand-painted versions of the plates were purchased by King George III for his library at Buckingham House (later Buckingham Palace). As well as insects, the works – which were based on a visit Merian made to the colony in 1699, depict lizards, crocodiles and snakes as well as tropical plants such as the pineapple. The exhibition runs until 9th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-queens-gallery-buckingham-palace.
• The evolution of conceptual art in Britain is the subject of a new exhibition at Tate Britain in Milbank Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-1979 features 70 works by 21 artists and positions conceptual art “not as a style but rather a game-changing shift in the way we think about art, how it is made and what it is for”. Highlights include Michael Craig-Martin’s An Oak Tree (1973) and Roelof Louw’s Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges) (1987) as well as Victor Burgin’s Possession (1976), Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document (1974-78) and Conrad Atkinson’s Northern Ireland 1968 – May Day 1975 (1975-76). Admission charge applies. Runs until 29th August. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.
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This Week in London – Botticelli at the V&A; Shakespeare recalled in free sound and light show; and, ‘punk’ captured on film…
March 3, 2016
• A major new exhibition opening at the V&A this Saturday will feature more than 150 works from around the world in a display exploring how artists and designers have responded to the artistic legacy of Botticelli. Italian artist Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) was largely forgotten for more than 300 years after his death but is now widely recognised as one of the greatest artists of all time. Botticelli Reimagined features painting, fashion, film, drawing, photography, tapestry, sculpture and print with works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, René Magritte, Elsa Schiaparelli, Andy Warhol and Cindy Sherman. The exhibition is divided into three sections: ‘Global, Modern, Contemporary’, ‘Rediscovery’, and ‘Botticelli in his own Time’. Runs until 3rd July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/Botticelli. PICTURE: Venus, after Botticelli by Yin Xin (2008). Private collection, courtesy Duhamel Fine Art, Paris. (Name of artist corrected)
• The historic facade of Guildhall in the City of London will become a canvas for a free son et lumiére show on Friday and Saturday nights to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. The display, which runs on a 20 minute loop between 6.45pm and 8.45pm, will feature period images and music from the City’s extensive archives and use 3D projection mapping techniques to transform the Dance Porch of the 15th century building. The Guildhall Art Gallery will be open from 6pm to 9pm and, as well as allowing people to view a property deed for a house in Blackfriars which was signed by the Bard, will feature a pop-up bar with a Shakespeare-themed cocktail. For more on this and other events, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/shakespeare400.
• The 40th anniversary of punk is the subject of a new photographic exhibition drawn from the archives of world renowned music photographer and rockarchive.com founder Jill Furmanovsky which opened at the City of London Corporation’s Barbican Music Library this week. Chunk of Punk, which runs until 28th April, features many of Furmanovsky’s well-known punk-related images as well as hitherto unseen pictures with The Ramones, Buzzcocks, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Blondie, The Undertones, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Blondie and Iggy Pop among the bands featured. The exhibition forms part of Punk.London: 40 Years of Subversive Culture. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk.
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February 26, 2016
Recently conserved by the National Archives, Shakespeare’s last will and testament is at the heart of a new exhibition on show at Somerset House.
By Me William Shakespeare: A Life In Writing, the first joint exhibition of the National Archives and King’s College London, features four of the six known signatures of Shakespeare still in existence and, along with his last will and testament, shows some of the most significant Shakespeare-related documents in the world tracking his existence as everything from a London citizen, businessman, family man, servant to possibly even a thief and subversive.
But back to the will. While not written in the Bard’s hand, the will is signed by him in three places and indicates the wealth and status he had garnered by the time of his death on 23rd April, 1616.
Evidence shows that Shakespeare revised his will as his estate changed, and just before his death, he added personal bequests including that a silver bowl be given to his second eldest daughter Judith, memorial rings to actor friends in London and his second best bed to his wife Anne. He left most of his property to his eldest daughter, Susanna, although his will, according to the National Archives, indicates that he had hoped to establish a male legacy.
Other beneficiaries named in the will include his sister Joan and her sons and his grand-daughter Elizabeth Hall while Susanna and her husband John Hall were named as his executors.
The exhibition, which is being held in the Inigo Jones Rooms in Somerset House’s East Wing as part of the series of events being held to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, runs until 29th May. Admission charge applies.
Other documents featured in the display – all of which are registered with UNESCO – include accounts listing the grant of four-and-half yards of red cloth to Shakespeare by King James I for participation in his coronation procession in 1604, accounts from the Master of Revels showing when plays were performed at court (useful for helping to date when Shakespeare wrote particular plays), and a document recording testimony Shakespeare gave in court when his landlord, Christopher Mountjoy, failed to provide his son-in-law with a dowry for his daughter’s hand (Shakespeare is likely to have played a role in arranging the marriage).
For more on the exhibition, see www.bymewilliamshakespeare.org.
This Week in London – London illuminated; commemorating Shakespeare’s death; and, of bees and pollination…
January 14, 2016
• The biggest ever light festival to hit London opens tonight. Lumber London, produced by Artichoke with the support of the Mayor of London and visitlondon.com, will see a host of international artists transform a series of iconic buildings and locations in four areas across the city – Piccadilly, Regent Street and St James’s, Trafalgar Square and Westminster, Mayfair and King’s Cross. The 30 installations include French collective TILT’s Garden of Light featuring giant illuminated plants in Leicester Square, Patrice Warrener’s The Light of the Spirit which envelopes the west front of Westminster Abbey in colour and light, Deepa Mann-Kler’s Neon Dogs – a collection of 12 neon dogs inspired by the balloon dogs seen at children’s parties, this sits near Trafalgar Square, and, Pipette, a colourful installation by Miriam Gleeman (of The Cross Kings) and Tom Sloan (of Tom Sloan Design) which sits in the pedestrian subway, the King’s Cross Tunnel. Other highlights include Julian Opie’s work Shaida Walking, 2015 which will be permanently located in Broadwick Street, Soho, and Janet Echelon’s enormous net sculpture 1.8 London which is strung between buildings at Oxford Circus. The festival runs from 6.30pm to 10.30pm over the next four nights. You can download a free map on the installations or use the free London Official City Guide app to locate them. For more information – including the full programme – see www.visitlondon.com/lumiere.
• A property deed signed by playwright William Shakespeare and one of the most complete first folios of his works have gone on show in the London Heritage Gallery at the Guildhall Art Gallery. Alongside the two documents which dates from 1613 and 1623, the Shakespeare and London exhibition marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death – to be commemorated on 23rd April this year – will also display other documents related to the story of London’s playhouses. The property deed – which relates to a property in Blackfriars – is only one of six surviving documents to bear the playwrights authenticated signature while the first folio is one of five of the most complete copies in existence and is apparently usually only brought out for consultation by Shakespearean scholars and actors. The exhibition runs until 31st March. Admission is free. For more on it and other events being run to commemorate the Bard’s death, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/shakespeare400. For more on other events this year, check out www.shakespeare400.org.
• See your art featured in an upcoming exhibition on the importance of bees and pollination by attending a drop-in workshop at Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Houses of Parliament next week. The workshop, which will be held from 10am to 2pm on 20th January, will see participants create their own 3D flowers based on famous paintings by Vincent Van Gogh and Jan Van Huysum currently in The National Gallery’s collection – all as part of a focus looking at what plants bees are attracted to. The art created in the workshop will be seen in an exhibition A Right Royal Buzz which is the result of a collaboration between The Royal Parks, The National Gallery and Mall Galleries and will be seen across all three venues (Victoria Tower Gardens representing the Royal Parks) from 17th t0 20th February. For more, head to this link.
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November 18, 2015
Little is known of Jack Cade until the former soldier from Kent led an uprising against the rule of King Henry VI during the Hundred Years War with France. And London was a key site of fighting during the uprising.
Cade, who adopted the name John Mortimer and who some claimed to have been a relative of Richard, Duke of York, was said to have been a veteran of the war who led rebels protesting against the king’s rule amid the general state of disorder affecting England at the time which saw such abuses as lands being illegally seized and a lack of confidence in courts to rule fairly. There was also some discontent over the loss of lands of Normandy.
While many of the rebels were peasants, the rebellion – which rose in late May or early June, 1450 – was also supported by nobles and churchmen who were protesting what they saw as poor governance.
Led by Cade, who also attracted the title ‘Captain of Kent’, were camped on Blackheath in what is now the city’s south-east by mid-June and there apparently presented an embassy from the king with a list of grievances.
Thomas, Lord Scales – authorised by the king to raise troops, subsequently marched out to Blackheath but Cade and his rebels retreated into the forests of Kent and managed to lure the royal troops into an ambush.
Cade and the rebels returned to Blackheath while back in London the Royal soldiers turned mutinous, angered over the defeat. They were disbanded to protect the City and the king retired to Kenilworth Castle, effectively abandoning London to the rebels (despite the offer of the Lord Mayor and aldermen to resist the rebels).
Cade then marched on London itself, reaching Southwark on 2nd July (apparently using the now vanished White Hart Inn as his HQ). He forced his way over London Bridge the next day, cutting the drawbridge ropes personally with his sword to ensure it couldn’t be raised again
Such was the support the rebels had in London, that resistance was initially minimal. Following his entry to London, Cade struck the famous London Stone (pictured above – for more on it, see our earlier post here) with his sword, declaring “Mortimer” was now lord of the city.
While initially under tight control, Cade gradually lost control of many of his followers who turned to looting. Meanwhile, to head off an attack on the Tower of London – where Lord Scales had retreated – he handed over the hated Lord Treasurer, James Fiennes, Lord Saye, and his son-in-law William Crowmer, Under Sheriff of Kent (they had apparently been imprisoned in the Tower by the King for their own protection such as their unpopularity). Both were beheaded – Fiennes at Cheapside, Crowmer at Mile End – and their heads placed on poles on London Bridge.
The king’s supporters in the Tower had regrouped by early July and, with the rebels, while initially welcomed by many, now clearly having outstayed their welcome, they and city militias drove the rebels from the streets and had taken back the northern half of London Bridge (another bloody battle over the bridge) when William of Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, arrived with promises of pardon for the rebels on behalf of the Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, John Kemp.
His forced much reduced, Cade – a pardon in his pocket under Mortimer’s name only – moved back into Kent and continued to cause trouble. He was, however, captured by the new Sheriff of Kent, Alexander Iden, on 12th July, – one version says this took place near Heathfield in Sussex at a hamlet now known as Cade Street. In any event, Cade was mortally wounded during the struggle and died en route to London.
His corpse, however, completed the journey and Cade was hanged, drawn and quartered and his head placed atop a pole on London Bridge.
While the rebel ringleaders were later captured and killed, in the most part King Henry VI honoured the pardons he had granted.
The story of Cade’s rebellion features in William Shakespeare’s play, King Henry the Sixth.
Hundreds gathered at Westminster Abbey last Thursday for a service to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt – 600 years to the day when word of the battle’s victory arrived in London. During the service, the sword of King Henry V – who was buried in the abbey and whose chantry chapel is located above his tomb (see our earlier post here) – was carried through the abbey and presented to the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, at the High Altar (pictured below). “A hundred years ago, as our countrymen fought alongside the French, the old enmities had been put away,” Rev Dr Hall told those at the service who included the Duke of Kent and Princess Michael of Kent. “In the dark days before the Second World War, the story of Agincourt encouraged men and women alike to strive their utmost for freedom from tyranny. Today we give hearty thanks for our freedoms, and we pray for an end to tyranny wherever it is found, and for enduring peace and prosperity.” Royal Shakespeare Company actor Sam Marks read the St Crispin’s Day speech from the Bard’s Henry the Fifth (pictured above) while veteran of the stage and screen, Robert Hardy, read the prologue from Act IV of the same play. For more on abbey, visit www.westminster-abbey.org. PICTURES: Ian Stratton/Westminster Abbey.
October 23, 2015
This weekend marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt (25th October, 1415) when King Henry V and his army of English archers overcame the larger French host in what is now northern France during the Hundred Years War.
To mark the occasion, the Royal Armouries have launched a new exhibition at the Tower of London, The Battle of Agincourt: 600th Anniversary Exhibition which tells the story of the battle and its aftermath as well as some of the myths which sprang up in its wake.
Below are some of the “treasures” presented in the exhibition in the White Tower which runs until 31st January. There will also be a programme of associated events running at the Tower from tomorrow until 1st November. For more, see www.royalarmouries.org/agincourt.
King Henry V played a key role in the battle, which came more than two-and-a-half months after he launched an invasion of Normandy. Until Agincourt, the campaign had not gone well – dysentery had taken a considerable toll on his men and his army had only taken one target – the port of Harfleur – when, after crossing the River Somme, the French heralds summoned him to the fight. It was on the morning of the battle – St Crispin’s Day, 25th October – that he gave a short speech to stiffen the resolve of his army which William Shakespeare subsequently embellished in his play Henry V: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”. This painting of the king is by unknown artist, oil on panel, late 16th or early 17th century. PICTURE: © National Portrait Gallery.
Three scenes from a four metre by two metre model of the battlefield of Agincourt, supported by the Arms and Armour Heritage Trust and constructed by MM Dioramas and Perry Miniatures. The model features 4,000 detailed scale model figures – 2,600 French and 1,750 English, representative of the larger forces each brought the fight (the exhibition puts the number of English 8,500-9,000 and the French at 12,000 although we should note others have claimed the English were outnumbered by as much as three or four to one). In the model, which draws on recent research to accurately bring to life the arms, armour and heraldry of those involved, English archers – who played a critical role in the battle (in fact, the battle is seen as an exemplar of the use of archers in battle) – are shown positioned behind wooden stakes that King Henry V asked them each to carry for protection against the French cavalry, seen charging towards them. The battle, which started in late morning when the English archers provoked the French into attacking, was all over by early afternoon and while it’s not certain how many died, sources are agreed that the French losses were considerably higher than the English. Following the exhibition the model will be going on permanent display at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds. PICTURE © Royal Armouries.
Lyle Bacinet, north Italian, late 14th century. Rare in terms of its quality, it would have been used mostly by mounted knights. By the late 14th century, men-at-arms would have worn complete plate armour. PICTURE © Royal Armouries.
An arrowhead typical of the period. These would have been made in ‘sheaves’, bundles of 24 arrows which would have been worn on the archer’s waist. PICTURE © Royal Armouries.
An English ‘ballock dagger’, dating from the late 14th – early 15th centuries. A common weapon and characteristic shape of the period. Such weapons may have been carried by archers to finish off the wounded. PICTURE © Royal Armouries.
Shakespeare’s retelling of events in Henry V has kept the story of the famous battle alive down the centuries. In a nod to the important role the Bard has played, the exhibition features a rare First Folio of Shakepeare’s plays as well as a tabard (below) worn by Richard Burton in the title role of King Henry V at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1951. It was made of hessian and felt with simulated armour at the shoulders so it would appear to have been worn on the battlefield. PICTURE © Victoria and Albert Museum.
Other 20th century artefacts related to Agincourt include a film poster for Henry V (1944), a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s play which starred and was directed by Laurence Olivier. PICTURE: © ITV / REX.
For more information on events surrounding the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, see www.agincourt600.com.
August 12, 2015
The church of St Mary Aldermanbury (the name may relate to its proximity close to Guildhall, or the ‘Alderman’s Bury’ or ‘Alderman’s Hall’), mentioned as far back as the late 12th century, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London but was among those rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren only to be destroyed again during the Blitz in 1940.
There they were reconstructed in the grounds of Westminster College – site of Winston Churchill’s famous “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946 – and the church restored as a memorial to the former British PM. The National Churchill Museum is located beneath.
There’s plaque mentioning this in the gardens (and featuring an image of what the church looked like after its reconstruction in Fulton) which still contains the church’s footings (these date from the 15th century when the church was apparently partially rebuilt) and give an indication of what the church’s footprint would have been along with headstones (among those whose remains were buried here was the notorious Judge Jeffreys).
Other features include a memorial to Henry Condell and John Heminge, both involved in the publication of William Shakespeare’s first folio (you can read more about it in our earlier post here).
The garden was laid out after the church was removed. It is a designated Site of Local Importance for Nature Conservation and attracts wildlife including birds such as blackbirds, woodpigeons, house sparrows and blue tits. Plantings were added in 2011 to maximise the attraction to bird as well as bees and butterflies. On the corner outside the garden is a fountain.
WHERE: St Mary Aldermanbury Garden, Aldermanbury, City of London (nearest Tube stations are St Pauls and Monument); WHEN: 8am to 7pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/St-Mary-Aldermanbury.aspx.
10 sites from London at the time of the Magna Carta – 10. Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem…
July 15, 2015
Founded in Clerkenwell in 1144, the Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem served as the order’s English headquarters.
The order, also known as the Knights Hospitaller, was founded in Jerusalem in 1080 to care for the sick and poor, and soon spread across Europe with the English ‘branch’ established on 10 acres just outside the City walls apparently by a knight, Jorden de Briset.
The original buildings – of which only the 12th century crypt (pictured above) survives complete with some splendid 16th century tomb effigies including that of the last prior, Sir William Weston – included a circular church, consecrated in 1185, and monastic structures including cloisters, a hospital, living quarters and a refectory or dining hall.
There are records of dignitaries staying at the priory as it grew in size and renown – among them was King John who in 1212, apparently stayed here for an entire month. There are also surviving accounts of Knights Hospitaller riding out in procession from the priory and through the City at the start of a journey to the Holy Land.
The priory and church were attacked during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, thanks to its connection with the hated Poll Tax (Prior Robert Hales was also the Lord High Treasurer and was beheaded during the revolt on Tower Hill).
The church was subsequently rebuilt as a rectangular-shaped building and then, in the early 16th century, enlarged when the site was significantly renovated. These renovations were still relatively new when the priory was dissolved in 1540 during the Dissolution of King Henry VIII.
The priory church, which survived the Great Fire of 1666, was later used as a parish church but was destroyed in an air raid in World War II. Subsequently rebuilt, it can be visited today along with the crypt below and the cloister garden, created in the 1950s as a memorial to St John’s Ambulance members from the London area (the original shape of the circular church is picked out in the paving here).
Perhaps the most famous building to survive is St John’s Gate which dates from the 16th century and was once the gatehouse entrance to the priory (added in the final renovations).
After the Dissolution it served various roles including as the office of the Master of Revels (where Shakespeare’s plays were licensed), the home of The Gentleman’s Magazine (Samuel Johnson was among contributors and worked on site), a coffee house (run by William Hogarth’s father) and a public house called the Old Jerusalem Tavern (yes, Charles Dickens was said to be a regular). It is now home to the recently renovated Museum of the Order of St John (you can see our earlier post on the museum here).
WHERE: Museum of the Order of St John, St John’s Gate (and nearby priory church), St John’s Lane, Clerkenwell (nearest Tube stations is Farringdon); WHEN: 10am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday (tours are held at 11am and 2.30pm on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday); COST: Free (a suggested £5 donation for guided tours); WEBSITE: www.museumstjohn.org.uk.
We’ll kick off a new Wednesday series next week…
June 23, 2015
A series of bronze sculptures inspired by the characters of William Shakespeare’s plays is appearing at the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on Bankside this summer. The work of Susan Bacon, the sculptures are being displayed alongside some of the clay maquettes – or “sculptural calligraphy” – Bacon created before working in bronze. She explains: “The characters start with a small sketch in clay. These maquettes are to me the beginning of an idea, the seeds that make up Shakespeare’s characters. As in the study of the spontaneous fluency in Zen Calligraphy with ink, so it can be in clay; a natural attempt to transfer these ideas and their energy into uninterrupted form. Working on images and speeches I combine in my mind many ideas and thoughts that are drawn out by the words. Only then do I execute a quick sculptural response.” The sculptures can be seen in the foyer of the Globe until 18th October (open daily, 9am to 11pm, free admission). For more, see www.shakespearesglobe.com.
PICTURE: Pete Le May
This church in the shadow of 30 St Mary Axe (aka The Gherkin) is all that remains of a Benedictine nunnery that was founded here during the reign of King John in 1210.
Established by one “William, son of William the goldsmith” after he was granted the right by the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral, the priory was built to the north of a previously existing church with a new church for the nuns to use built right alongside the existing structure (thus accounting for the rarely seen side-by-side naves of the current building).
While the new church was built longer than the existing church, the latter was then lengthened to give them both the same length. A line of arches and a screen separated the nun’s choir and the parish church.
The church which stands today has been much altered over the centuries and what we now see there largely dates from the 14th and 15th centuries (although the bell turret which sits over the west front is an 18th century addition).
One of the priory’s claims to fame in medieval times was that it apparently was once home to a piece of the True Cross, presented by King Edward I in 1285.
The nunnery was dissolved in 1538 during the Great Dissolution of King Henry VIII and the buildings, excepting the church, sold off to the Leathersellers’ Company (all were eventually demolished by the 18th century). The screen separating the nun’s choir and the parish church, meanwhile, was removed, leaving the main body of the church as it can be seen today.
The now Grade I-listed church, which was William Shakespeare’s parish church when he lived in the area in the 1590s, survived both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz but was severely damaged by two IRA bombs in the early 1990s leading to some major – and controversial – works under the direction of architect Quinlan Terry.
Inside the church today is a somewhat spectacular collection of pre-Great Fire monuments including the 1579 tomb of Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange, the 1636 tomb of judge, MP and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Julius Caesar Adelmare, and the 1476 tomb of merchant, diplomat, City of London alderman and MP, Sir John Crosby.
It was also once the site of the grave of 17th century scientist Sir Robert Hooke but these were apparently removed from the church crypt in the 19th century when repairs to the floor of the nave were being made and placed in an unmarked common grave. Their location apparently remains unknown.
WHERE: St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Great St Helens (nearest Tube stations are Aldgate, Bank and Liverpool Street); WHEN: 9.30am to 12.30pm weekdays daily (also usually open Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons but visitors are advised to telephone first); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.st-helens.org.uk.
This Week in London – Wellington Arch marks the Battle of Waterloo; Shakespeare’s Globe celebrates the Bard’s birth; and the ‘cathedral on the marsh’ open day…
April 17, 2015
• The Battle of Waterloo comes under the microscope in a new exhibition opening at Wellington Arch on Hyde Park Corner tomorrow. Wellington Arch: Waterloo 1815 – The Battle for Peace provides an overview of the battle and the reasons which led to it, the people involved and the battle’s legacy. Displayed items include the sword the Duke of Wellington carried at the battle, his handwritten battle orders and an original pair of ‘Wellington boots’ as well as, of course, the arch itself, which was built in 1825-27 as a monument to Wellington’s victories over Napoleon. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/wellington-arch/.
• Shakespeare’s Globe in Southwark celebrates the Bard’s birthday with a Hamlet-themed day of free family events this Sunday. Along with an Elsinore bouncy castle, there will be sword-fighting demonstrations, ‘skull’ coconut shies and a grave-digging ball pool while actors who have taken on the role of Hamlet over the years while appear on stage attempting to deliver the quickest ever reading of the play and famous film adaptions of Hamlet will be playing on screen around the site. The day will also mark almost a year since Shakespeare’s Globe embarked on an unprecedented two year global tour of Hamlet taking in every country in the world in honour of last year’s 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. The birthday event at the Globe runs between 11am and 4.30pm. For more, see www.shakespearesglobe.com.
• The famous “cathedral on the marsh” – the Crossness Pumping Station – is open to the public this Sunday, the first of five days it will be open this year. The pumping station at Abbey Wood in south-east London was built by Sir Joseph Bazalgette as part of a general sewerage system upgrade and was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1865. The Grade I-listed Beam Engine House was constructed in the Romanesque-style and features some of the “most spectacular ornamental Victorian cast ironwork” to be found today. The day runs from 10.30am to 4pm. Admission charges apply but no booking is required. For more, see www.crossness.org.uk.
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We finish our series on Winston Churchill, we take a look at a couple of the more odd memorials to him in London.
First up, it’s the remains of the church of St Mary Aldermanbury in the City. Among the scores of churches destroyed in the Great Fire of London, it was rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren but was again gutted by fire during the Blitz of 1940, leaving only the walls standing. In 1966, the town of Fulton, Missouri, in the US had the remains of the building transported to their town where they were reconstructed in the grounds of Westminster College. It was there that he had made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946 and the citizens had the church restored as a memorial to him (beneath the reconstructed church now lies National Churchill Museum). The scant remains of the church in London (pictured above), meanwhile, is now a green oasis in the midst of the city. There’s a memorial plaque at the site which were added by the US college. (The grounds, incidentally are also home to a monument to John Heminge and Henry Condell, two actors and friends of Shakespeare – you can read more on that in an earlier post here).
The second odd Churchill memorial we’re looking at is a clock face located on the facade of Bracken House – a building which sits opposite St Paul’s in the City. The astronomical clock, the work of Philip Bentham, features shows the time, date and astronomical symbol as well as a sunburst at its centre – look closely and you’ll see a familiar face at the centre. The building, which dates from the 1950s, is apparently named after Brendan Bracken, onetime chairman of the Financial Times which was published in the building until the 1980s. The Churchill connection comes in thanks to the fact that Bracken was a close personal friend of Churchill and served as his Minister of Information from 1941 to 1945.
And that brings to an end our series on Churchill. Next week we kick off a new Wednesday series.
February 20, 2015
Having previously looked at the Norman fortification (razed by King John in 1213 – see our earlier post here), this time we’re taking a look at the later (medieval) fortification known as Baynard’s Castle.
In the 1300s, a mansion was constructed about 100 metres east of where the castle had originally stood on a riverfront site which had been reclaimed from the Thames. This was apparently destroyed by fire before being rebuilt in the 1420s and it became the seat of the House of York during the Wars of the Roses. King Edward IV was proclaimed king here in 1461 and King Richard III was offered the crown here in 1483 (a moment famously captured by William Shakespeare).
King Henry VII transformed the fortified mansion into a royal palace at the start of the 16th century – adding a series of towers – and his son, King Henry VIII, gave it to the ill-fated Catherine of Aragon when they married. The Queen subsequently took up residence (Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves also resided here when queen – the latter was the last member of the royal family to use it as a permanent home).
After King Henry VIII’s death, the palace passed into the hands of the Earl of Pembroke (brother-in-law of Queen Catherine Parr, Henry’s surviving Queen) who substantially extended it, adding ranges around a second courtyard. In 1553, both Lady Jane Grey and Queen Mary I were proclaimed queen here. Queen Elizabeth I was another royal visitor to the palace, entertained with a fireworks display when she did.
It was left untouched during the Civil War (the Pembrokes were Parliamentarians) but following the Restoration, it was occupied by the Royalist Earl of Shrewsbury (among his visitors was King Charles II). It wasn’t to be for long however – the palace was largely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, although remnants of the building, including one or two of the towers, continued to be used for various purposes until the site was finally cleared in the 1800s to make way for warehouses.
The site in Queen Victoria Street in Blackfriars (the area is named for the monastery built on the site of the Norman castle) is now occupied by the Brutalist building named Baynard House. The castle is also commemorated in Castle Baynard Street and Castle Baynard Ward.
It was discovered in archaeological excavations in the 197os that the castle’s waterfront wall had been built on top of the Roman riverside city wall.
PICTURE: © Copyright Andrew Abbott