July 4, 2016
The origins of the name of this pub apparently lie in something of a mistake (well, sort of).
Located at 10 Bridge Street on the corner of Canon Row – just across the road from the clock tower at the north end of the Houses of Parliament, its name apparently lies in mistaken belief that the tower was named St Stephen’s Tower.
It never was, at least not officially. Prior to recently being renamed the Elizabeth Tower – in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s 60 years on the throne, the tower, which contains the bell known as Big Ben, was simply known as the Clock Tower (another common error has been to call the tower itself Big Ben).
The name St Stephen’s Tower apparently was the fault of Victorian journalists. They had the habit of referring to stories relating to the goings-on in the House of Commons as “news from St Stephen’s” because MPs, prior to the destructive fire of 1834, used to sit in St Stephen’s Hall (the entrance to the hall can be found down the road opposite Westminster Abbey).
Hence we have St Stephen’s Tavern, a favoured watering hole of many politicians – including apparently PMs Stanley Baldwin, Winston Churchill and Harold MacMillan.
The pub has been around since at least Victorian times – it was demolished in 1868 when Westminster tube station being built and rebuilt a few years later. In 1924, the pub was expanded to take over the Queen’s Head next door.
It closed in the late 1980s but was reopened in 2003 with many of the original fittings restored. These include one of only 200 parliamentary division bells, located above the bar, which calls MPs back to parliament when it’s time for them to vote (tourists apparently often think it’s a fire alarm and flee when it goes off).
For more, see www.ststephenstavern.co.uk.
PICTURE: Ewan Munro/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 (image cropped)
August 14, 2015
A series of secret tunnels, built behind the famous White Cliffs of Dover on the orders of former British PM Winston Churchill, have opened to the public for the first time.
More than 50 volunteers along with archaeologists, engineers, mine consultants and a geologist, spent two years excavating and restoring the tunnels which, known as the Fan Bay Deep Shelter, were aimed at housing men manning gun batteries designed to prevent German ships from moving freely in the English Channel.
The shelter, which was personally inspected by Churchill in June, 1941, provided accommodation for four officers and up to 185 men in five bomb-proof chambers for use during bombardments as well as a hospital and a store room. It was originally dug by Royal Engineers from the 172nd Tunnelling Company in just 100 days.
The tunnels, which were decommissioned in the 1950s and then filled in during the 1970s, were discovered after the National Trust bought the land above in 2012. More than 100 tonnes of soil and rubble were removed during the excavation.
Specialist guides now take visitors on 45 minute, torch-lit, hard hat tours into the shelter – the largest of its kind in Dover, taking visitors down the original 125 steps into the tunnels 23 metres below the surface. Inside can be seen graffiti dating from the war which includes the names of men stationed there as well as ditties and drawings. Other personal mementoes include homemade wire hooks, a needle and thread and ammunition.
Back above ground, there are two World War I sound mirrors which were originally designed to give advance warning of approaching aircraft but which had become obsolete when radar technology was invented in 1935 (pictured in action below).
The tunnels complement those which are already open at Dover Castle (managed by English Heritage).
WHERE: Fan Bay Deep Shelter, Langdon Cliffs, Upper Road, Dover (nearest train station is Dover Priory (two miles); WHEN: Guided tours only – from 9.30am daily until 6th September – tours then on weekdays only until 30th September); COST:£10 adults/£5 children (aged 12-16) (free for National Trust members); WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/white-cliffs-dover.
PICTURE: Top – National Trust/Barry Stewart/; Bottom – National Trust/Crown Copyright.
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.
This Week in London – Marking VE Day’s 70th; Rut Blees Luxemburg at the Museum of London; and India’s Sidi community on show at the NPG…
May 7, 2015
• Three days of events kick off in London tomorrow to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day. Events will include a Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall at 3pm tomorrow (Friday) coinciding with two minutes national silence while Trafalgar Square – scene of VE Day celebrations in 1945 – will host a photographic exhibition of images taken on the day 70 years ago (the same images will be on show at City Hall from tomorrow until 5th June) and, at 9.32pm, a beacon will be lit at the Tower of London as part of a nation wide beacon-lighting event. On Saturday at 11am, bells will ring out across the city to mark the celebration and at night, a star-studded 1940s-themed concert will be held on Horse Guards Parade (broadcast on BBC One). Meanwhile, on Sunday, following a service in Westminster Abbey, a parade of current and veteran military personnel will head around Parliament Square and down Whitehall, past the balcony of HM Treasury where former PM Sir Winston Churchill made his historic appearance before crowds on the day, to Horse Guards. A flypast of current and historic RAF aircraft will coincide with the parade and from 1pm the Band of the Grenadier Guards will be playing music from the 1940s in Trafalgar Square. Meanwhile, starting tomorrow, special V-shaped lights will be used to illuminate Trafalgar Square, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament as a tribute. For more information, see www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/ve-day-70th-anniversary.
• The works of leading London-based photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg are on show in at new exhibition at the Museum of London in the City. London Dust will feature three major newly acquired works by Luxemburg including Aplomb – St Paul’s, 2013, Walkie-Talkie Melted My Golden Calf, 2013, and the film London/Winterreise, 2013. Blees Luxemburg’s images – others of which are also featured in the exhibition – contrast idealised architectural computer-generated visions of London that clad hoardings at City-building sites with the gritty, unpolished reality surrounding these. In particular they focus on a proposed 64 floor skyscraper, The Pinnacle, which rose only seven stories before lack of funding brought the work to a halt. The free exhibition runs until 10th January next year. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• The Talk: The Cutting Edge – Weapons at the Battle of Waterloo. Paul Wilcox, director of the Arms and Armour Research Institute at the University of Huddersfield, will talk about about the weapons used at Waterloo with a chance to get ‘hands-on’ with some period weapons as part of a series of events at Aspley House, the former home of the Iron Duke at Hyde Park Corner, to mark the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo. To be held on Monday, 11th May, from 2.30pm to 4pm. Admission charge applies and booking is essential – see www.english-heritage.org.uk/apsley for more.
• On Now: On Belonging: Photographs of Indians of African Descent. A selection of ground-breaking photographs depicting the Sidi community – an African minority living in India – is on show at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square. The works, taken between 2005 and 2011, are those of acclaimed contemporary Indian photographer Ketaki Sheth and the exhibition is his first solo display in the UK. They provide an insight into the lives of the Sidi, and include images of a young woman named Munira awaiting her arranged wedding, young boys playing street games, and the exorcism of spirits from a woman as a young girl watches. Admission is free. Runs in Room 33 until 31st August. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.
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April 27, 2015
One of the most famous streets (and photographed) in London (though sadly not open to the public), Downing Street in Whitehall is these days most well-known for being the location, at Number 10, of the official residence of the British Prime Minister.
But Downing Street’s history dates back to a time before the first British PM moved in (this was Sir Robert Walpole in the 1735 and even after that, it didn’t become a regular thing for Prime Ministers to live here until the Twentieth century). And its name bears testimony to its creator, Sir George Downing, a soldier and diplomat described as “a miserly and at times brutal” man who served first under both Oliver Cromwell and, following the Restoration, King Charles II (and was, coincidentally, one of the first graduates of Harvard University).
In the 1650s, Sir George took over the Crown’s interest in land here, just east of St James’s Park, and intended to build a row of townhouses upon it. His ambitions were delayed, however, due to an existing lease with the descendants of Elizabethan courtier Sir Thomas Knyvet who had once lived in a large home on the site of what is now Number 10 Downing Street.
By the 1680s, however, the lease had expired and between 1682-84, Downing was able to construct a cul-de-sac, closed at the St James’s Park end, featuring either 15 or 20 two storey terraced townhouses with stables and coach-houses, designed by no less than Sir Christopher Wren.
While the homes were apparently of shoddy craftsmanship and stood upon poor foundations (Churchill famously wrote that Number 10 was “shaky and lightly built by the profiteering contractor whose name they bear”), the street apparently attracted some notable residents from the start.
These included the Countess of Yarmouth, who briefly lived at Number 10 in the late 1680s, Lord Lansdowne and the Earl of Grantham, and even, briefly, apparently the diarist James Boswell in the mid 1700s. Downing himself isn’t thought to have ever lived here – he retired to Cambridge a few months after the houses were completed.
The houses between Number 10 and Whitehall – on the north side of the street – were taken over by the government and eventually demolished in the 1820s to allow for the construction of offices for the Privy Council, Board of Trade and Treasury while the houses on the south side remained until they were demolished in the early 1860s to make way for the Foreign, India, Colonial and Home Offices.
The numbers in the street have changed since Downing’s houses were first built. Of the original homes in the street only Number 10 (home of the PM) and Number 11 (home of the Chancellor of the Exchequer) survive.
Access to the street has been restricted since the 1980s with the current black steel gates put in place in 1989.
An underground tunnel apparently runs under the street connecting number 10 with Buckingham Palace and the underground bunker, Q-Whitehall, built in the 1950s in the event of nuclear war.
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.
There are numerous memorials to Sir Winston Churchill around London and today we’ll look at a handful of them (while next week we’ll take a look at a couple of the most unusual memorials). We’ve already looked at the most famous statue of him in Parliament Square (in an earlier post here), but here’s some more…
• Allies, Mayfair. These almost life-size bronze statues, located at the juncture of Old and New Bond Streets, depict Churchill and US President Franklin D Roosevelt in an informal pose, sitting and talking together on a bench. The sculpture was a gift from the Bond Street Association to the City of Westminster and was unveiled by Princess Margaret on 2nd May, 1995 commemorating 50 years since the end of World War II. It is the work of US sculptor Lawrence Holofcener. There’s a space between the two World War II leaders where the passerby can sit and have their picture taken between them.
• Member’s Lobby, House of Commons. We’ve already mentioned this bronze statue (see our previous post here), erected in 1969, which stands just outside Churchill Arch opposite one of another former PM, David Lloyd George. It is the work of Croatian-born sculptor Oscar Nemon who also created numerous other busts of the former PM now located both in the UK (one of which is mentioned below) and around the world.
• Great Hall, Guildhall. Commissioned by the Corporation of the City of London and unveiled in 1955, this bronze statue shows Churchill, wearing a suit and bow tie, seated in an armchair and looking ahead. Another work of Nemon’s, it was commissioned as a tribute to “the greatest statesman of his age and the nation’s leader in the Great War of 1939-1945”.
• Outside former Conservative Club, Wanstead. A very thick-necked bust of Churchill, erected in 1968, sits outside the 18th century mansion in Wanstead High Street, north-east London, which was once the Conservative Club and is now occupied by a restaurant. The bigger than life-sized bust is the work of Italian artist Luigi Fironi and stands on a plinth once part of old Waterloo Bridge. Churchill was the Conservative member for this area between 1924-1964 and based at the club from 1930 to 1940.
Sir Winston Churchill will be forever associated with this now rather nondescript East London street, thanks to a series of events that occurred when he was Home Secretary.
Known as the Siege of Sidney Street or the Battle of Stepney, the event was sparked when, on 16th December, 2010, a gang of Russian and Latvian exiles attempted to break into a jewellers in Houndsditch by tunnelling from an adjacent property in Exchange Buildings.
Tipped off by a neighbour, the police arrived and in the series of events that followed, a number of officers were shot and three – Sergeant Charles Tucker, PC Walter Choate and Sergeant Robert Bentley – were killed (Sergeant Tucker died at the scene and the latter two later that day in hospital). The event became known as the Houndsditch Murders.
The gang members largely escaped – although one gang member, George Gardstein, was later found dead of wounds he had received during the gunfight – and an intensive manhunt commenced for the gang.
Some two weeks later, on 2nd January, 1911, police were informed that several members of the gang, including the alleged mastermind known as Peter the Painter (who may not have even existed or who may have been a Polish decorator Peter Piaktow), were hiding at a property at 100 Sidney Street.
Expecting fierce resistance, several hundred police officers moved in to surround the property the next day and, at dawn – after encountering heavy fire from the building, the siege began.
When the then 36-year-old Churchill received word of the siege (apparently while taking a bath), he made his way to the site, already attracting crowds of onlookers, to observe and apparently offer advice.
At the scene he authorised the use of the military – including a detachment of Scots Guards from the Tower of London and 13 pounder artillery pieces. These, drawn by the Royal Horse Artillery, had just arrived when a fire began to consume the building (it may have been sparked by a bullet hitting a gas pipe). The fire brigade attended but Churchill apparently refused them entry until the shooting stopped.
The gang members inside the building never attempted to escape the building and the remains of two of them – Latvians Fritz Svaars and William Sokolow – were subsequently found in its ruins.
Along with the thee policemen killed at the attempted burglary, a firefighter – Charles Pearson – was also killed, struck by falling debris. There is a memorial plaque to him at the former site of 100 Sidney Street.
Seven supposed members of the gang were eventually captured by police but all either had the charges dropped, were acquitted or had their convictions quashed.
Churchill’s role at the six hour siege was the matter of some controversy and former PM (and then Opposition Leader) Arthur Balfour was among those who accused him of acting improperly and risking lives.
There’s a famous photo of Churchill – who was recorded by one of his biographers saying the event had been “such fun” – peering around a corner at the scene (there’s a story that a bullet tore through his top hat, almost killing him, during the siege) while the event was also one of the first news stories to be captured on film (by Pathe News).
Nestled next to Westminster Abbey opposite the Houses of Parliament, St Margaret’s has long been known as the “parish church of the House of Commons” (although we should point out it’s not officially a parish church). As a result, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that it has a couple of significant links to former PM Winston Churchill.
Among the most momentous personal occasions was when Churchill married Clementine Hozier in the church on 12th September, 1908, after a short courtship. A headline in the Daily Mirror called it ‘The Wedding of the Year’.
After the fighting of World War II ended in 1945, on VE Day Churchill, in a move reflecting that taken by then PM David Lloyd George after World War I, led the members of the House of Commons in procession from the Houses of Parliament into the church for a thanksgiving service.
In 1947, the church was the scene of another Churchill wedding, this time that of Sir Winston’s daughter, Mary who was wedded to Captain Christopher Soames of the Coldstream Guards on 11th February.
WHERE: St Margaret’s Church, Westminster (nearest Tube stations are St James’s Park and Westminster); WHEN: 9.30am to 3.30pm weekdays/9.30am to 1.30pm Saturday/2pm to 4.30pm Sunday; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org/st-margarets-church.
Churchill’s association with this landmark Mayfair hotel was a long one – not only did he convene key meetings here during World War II, the hotel also served as his residence.
Entertaining the upper crust since the mid 1800s, Claridge’s was the scene of many meetings during World War II, including all night meetings convened by Churchill with US military intelligence personnel which would only end when Churchill’s barber appeared at 6am.
The Brook Street hotel became something of a haven for deposed heads of state both in the lead-up to and during World War II – King Peter II and his family had moved in after he was exiled in 1941 and it was at the orders of Sir Winston that in 1945 Suite 212 was declared Yugoslavian territory so Crown Prince Alexander II could be born on “home soil” (there’s a story that a clod of earth from Yugoslavia was placed under the bed during the birth).
Alongside the king of Yugoslavia, other heads of state to have stayed here during this period include the kings of Greece and Norway.
The scene of many a Churchill dinner, Churchill and Lady Clementine made Claridge’s – specifically the sixth floor penthouse suite – their home for a period after his election defeat in 1945 (Churchill apparently wasn’t that keen on the idea of living so high up!).
For more on the history of Claridge’s, check out the hotel’s website here: www.claridges.co.uk.
Throughout his life – as a child, bachelor, husband and family man, Sir Winston lived in many properties in London (although, of course, a couple of the most famous properties associated with him – his birthplace, Blenheim Palace, and the much-loved family home, Chartwell in Kent – are located outside the city). But, those and 10 Downing Street aside, here are just some of the many places he lived in within London…
• 29 St James’s Place, St James: Having been born at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and then having spent time in Dublin, at the age of five (1880) he came to live here with his family. He remained here until 1882 when he was sent off to school in Ascot (he later attended schools in Sussex and, most famously, Harrow School). The family, meanwhile, moved to a townshouse at 2 Connaught Place which backed on to Hyde Park.
• 33 Eccleston Square, Pimlico: The Churchills moved here in 1909 and it was here that their first two children Diana and Randolph were born in 1909 and in 1911. The family remained here until 1913. A blue plaque marks the property.
• Admiralty House, Whitehall: The Churchills first moved into Admiralty House – part of the Admiralty complex on Whitehall – in 1913 (from the aforementioned Eccleston Square) after Churchill was made First Lord of the Admiralty. They remained here until 1915 – years he would go onto to describe as the happiest in his life – before he resigned but returned in 1939 when he was once again appointed to the position.
• 2 Sussex Square, Bayswater: In 1920, the Churchills bought this property just north of Hyde Park which they kept until 1924 when they moved into 11 Downing Street (see below). The property is marked with a blue plaque.
• 11 Downing Street, Whitehall: The Churchills lived at 11 Downing Street when Sir Winston was Chancellor of the Exchequer, from 1925 to 1929. The property, located in Downing Street, is not accessible to the public.
• 11 Morpeth Mansions, Morpeth Terrace, Westminster: The Churchill family lived at this Westminster address between 1930 and 1939 (prior to him becoming Prime Minister). The property is marked by a brown plaque.
• 28 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington: Churchill died in this Grade II-listed, mid 19th century property on the morning of 24th January, 1965. The couple moved in after the end of World War II and, while it’s not clear whether they fully vacated the residence when he was prime minister between 1951-55, it remained their property until his death 10 years later. The property next door, number 27, provided accommodation for his staff. The property is marked with a blue plaque.
Sir Winston Churchill lived a number of residences in London but, of course, the most famous in its own right is the traditional home of British PMs, 10 Downing Street.
Located in a short street just off Whitehall (now closed to the public), the property has been home to Prime Ministers since Sir Robert Walpole, officially First Lord of the Treasury but effectively the first PM, took up residence in 1735.
Churchill moved in following his election to the office of Prime Minister in 1940 and he and his wife Clementine took up residence in a second floor flat. It was in this property where, cigar in hand, he is famously known to have dictated speeches and letters to his secretary while propped up in bed.
The building suffered some bomb damage during the Blitz – on 14th October, 1940, a bomb fell on nearby Treasury Green and damaged the home’s kitchen and state rooms. Three civil servants doing Home Guard duty were killed but the kitchen staff were saved thanks to Churchill who, dining in the Garden Rooms when the bombing raid began, ordered them to leave their duties and get into a bomb shelter.
The Garden Rooms – which included a bedroom, meeting area and the small dining room – were subsequently reinforced with steel and heavy metal shutters although these apparently would have made little difference had there been a direct hit.
Cabinet moved out of Number 10 into the underground bunker complex now referred to as the Churchill War Rooms (see last week’s post) in October, 1939, and, after several near misses, the Churchills – Sir Winston apparently very begrudgingly – moved into the Number 10 Annex above the war rooms in 1940 (although Churchill continued to visit Number 1o for working and dining).
Much of the furniture and valuables were removed from Number 10 and only the Garden Rooms, Cabinet Room and Private Secretaries’ office remained in use (along with a reinforced bomb shelter built underneath – King George VI is known to have sheltered here when he was dining with Churchill when a raid began).
At the end of the war the Churchills quickly moved back into Number 10 and it was from the Cabinet Room that he made his Victory in Europe (VE) Day broadcast on 8th May, 1945.
He vacated the premises after his election defeat later in 1945 but returned when re-elected PM in 1951 and left after he resigned in 1955 having held a dinner party attended by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip the night before.
A couple of interesting facts about Churchill’s time at number 10: Churchill had many pets who usually had free rein in the house – even at 10 Downing Street his poodle Rufus was known to have wandered into a meeting in the Cabinet Room (before he was ejected) – while in 1958, Georgina Landemare, the cook during his time at number 10, famously published a book, Recipes from No. 10, which featured an introduction by Churchill’s wife, Clementine.
There are apparently two portraits of Churchill among those of other PMs which grace the wall of the Grand Staircase.
For more on the history of 10 Downing Street, see www.gov.uk/government/history/10-downing-street
Now a museum, the Churchill War Rooms is actually the underground bunker system beneath Whitehall from where Churchill directed operations during the Blitz of World War II.
The subterranean complex includes a series of historic rooms where Churchill and his cabinet met which remain in the same state they were in when the lights were switched off at the end of the war in 1945. There’s also a substantial cutting-edge museum dedicated to exploring Churchill’s life which boasts an interactive “lifeline” containing more than 1,100 images and a similar number of documents as well as animations and films.
With the coming conflict on the horizon, the complex was constructed from 1938 to 1939 as an emergency government centre in the basement of the now Grade II* listed government building then known as the New Public Offices (and now home to HM Treasury). It became operational on 27th August, 1939, shortly before the outbreak of the war.
Key rooms include the Map Room (pictured, top, it was manned around the clock by military officers producing intelligence reports) and the War Cabinet Room where more than 100 meetings of Cabinet were held (including just one gathering of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s cabinet in October, 1939).
Other facilities included a private office/bedroom for Churchill (this came with BBC broadcasting equipment which Churchill used four times and, although it had a bed, Churchill apparently rarely used it), the Transatlantic Telephone Room (pictured above, it was disguised as a toilet) from where Churchill could speak directly to the US President. There are also staff dormitories, bedrooms for officers and government ministers, and rooms for typists and telephone switchboard operators.
In October, 1940, a massive layer of concrete – up to five feet thick and known simply as ‘The Slab’ – was added to protect the rooms. Other protective devices included a torpedo net slung across the courtyard overhead to catch falling bombs and an air filtration system to prevent poisonous gases entering.
Abandoned after the war, the premises hosted some limited tours but, despite growing demand to see inside, it wasn’t until the early 1980s when PM Margaret Thatcher pushed for the rooms to be opened to the public that the Imperial War Museum eventually took over the site. The museum opened on 4th April, 1984, in a ceremony attended by the PM as well as members of Churchill’s family and former staff.
Then known as the Cabinet War Rooms, they were extended in 2003 to include rooms used by Churchill, his wife and associates, and, in 2005, following the development of the Churchill Museum, it was rebranded the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms. In 2010, the name was shortened to the Churchill War Rooms. The entrance to the premises was redesigned in 2012.
Among the objects in the museum are one of Churchill’s famous “siren suits”, an Enigma machine and the flag from his funeral.
WHERE: Churchill War Rooms, Clive Steps, King Charles Street (nearest Tube stations are Westminster and St James’s Park); WHEN: 9.30am to 6pm daily; COST: £18 adults (with donation)/£9 children aged 5-15 (with donation)/£14.40 concessions (with donation) (family tickets available); WEBSITE: www.iwm.org.uk/visits/churchill-war-rooms/
PICTURES: Churchill War Rooms/Imperial War Rooms
Of course, no look at London sites associated with Sir Winston Churchill would be complete without a mention of the Palace of Westminster, better known as the Houses of Parliament.
Churchill made his maiden speech in the House of Commons on 18th February, 1901, having won the seat of Oldham for the Conservative Party the year before (he switched to the Liberal Party in 1904 and eventually rejoined the Conservatives in 1924).
Over his long career in politics (he was an MP for 62 years), he served in a variety of roles including the President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary, First Lord of the Admiralty, Minister of Munitions, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and twice, Prime Minster.
Some of the most famous speeches Churchill gave in the House of Commons were during World War II – they include the ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’ speech given on 13th May, 1940 – the first after he had been made Neville Chamberlain’s replacement as PM, the ‘we shall fight them on the beaches’ speech given on 4th June, 1940, and the ‘this was their finest hour’ speech of 18th June, 1940, in which he gave the ‘Battle of Britain’ its name and, as the name suggests, first recorded the phrase “their finest hour” (the speech ended with it).
Churchill’s last speech to Parliament was given on 1st March, 1955, in which he spoke about the British development of a hydrogen bomb.
There’s several places within the Houses of Parliament which now bear Churchill’s name. Among them are the Churchill Room (named as such in 1991 when ownership of the room passed from the Lords to the Commons, it features two of his paintings and a bronze bust of the PM).
They also include the Churchill Arch – this leads from the Members’ Lobby into the Commons Chamber and is flanked by a 1969 statue of Churchill ( and one of fellow former PM, David Lloyd George (one foot on each of the statues has been burnished thanks to the practice of MPs to touch them as they enter the Commons Chamber).
It took on its current name after it was rebuilt following damage from bombs during World War II – at Churchill’s suggestion damaged stone was reused in its construction as a memorial to the “ordeal” Westminster had endured during the war. The statue of Churchill, incidentally, was the focus of recent commemorations on the 50th anniversary of his death.
Churchill’s stamp can also be seen on the Commons Chamber itself – it was he who recommended that when the chamber was rebuilt after World War II that it retain its rectangular shape rather than be redesigned in a semi-circle.
Churchill’s body lay in state in Westminster Hall prior to his funeral service in January, 1965 (for more on that, see our previous post here.
For more on Churchill’s Parliamentary career, check out the UK Parliament’s Living History page here: www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/private-lives/yourcountry/collections/churchillexhibition/.
This Week in London – Churchill’s Scientists; Waterloo online; a Chelsea murder case reopened; exploring Crossrail; and, astronomical photography…
February 5, 2015
• Marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill, a new exhibition at the Science Museum in South Kensington looks at his passion for science and the influence that had on bringing World War II to an end. Churchill’s Scientists celebrates the individuals who flourished under Churchill’s patronage (and , as well as helping to bring about the end of World War II, also launched a post-war “science renaissance”) – from Robert Watson-Watt (inventor of radar) through to Bernard Lovell (creator of the world’s largest telescope) – and also delves into more personal stories of Churchill’s own fascination with science and tech. The display include objects from the museum’s collection as well as original archive film footage, letters and photographs. Highlights include the high speed camera built at Aldermaston to film the first microseconds of the detonation of the UK’s first home grown atomic bomb, the cigar Churchill was smoking when he heard news of his re-election as PM in 1951, and a one-piece green velvet “siren suit” designed by Churchill to wear during air raids (only one of three originals known to exist, it’s never been on public display outside of the tailors who created it). The free exhibition runs until 1st March and is part of the Churchill 2015 programme of events. Visit www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/churchill for more. PICTURE: Churchill with a Spitfire from Castle Bromwich (Philip Insley, CBAF Archive Vickers ArchiveSyndics).
• The National Army Museum and Waterloo2oo have launched an online gallery which will eventually comprise images and information on more than 200 artefacts associated with the Battle of Waterloo ahead of the 200th anniversary in June. Among the objects featured on Waterloo200.org are the Duke of Wellington’s boots, a French eagle standard captured in battle and the saw used to amputate the Earl of Uxbridge’s leg. One hundred items – drawn from the Army Museum’s collection as well as from European museums and private collections – can already be seen on the site with a further 100 to be added before the bicentenary on 18th June.
• The Talk: Death in Disguise: The Amazing True Story of the Chelsea Murders. On 12th February, the Guildhall Library in the City of London will host Gary Powell as he examines the facts of this double murder which took place in Chelsea in May, 1870, and left Victorian society reeling. For more events at the library, follow this link.
• On Now: Breakthrough: Crossrail’s tunnelling story. This exhibition at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden brings a new perspective on the massive Crossrail project currently underway in the city. Visitors will experience the tunnel environment through a five metre high walk-through installation featuring a computer simulation of a giant boring machine as well as learn about how the project is shaping up, play interactive tunnelling games and hear firsthand from those who work underground. Admission charge for adults applies. Runs until August. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.
• Extended: Astronomy Photographer of the Year Exhibition. This exhibition at the Royal Observatory Greenwich features the winning images from last year’s competition. They include the Briton James Woodend’s image of a vivid green aurora in the Icelandic night sky; American Patrick Cullis’ view of earth taken from 87,000 feet above ground; and, New Zealander Chris Murphy’s image of dusty clouds dancing across the Milky Way. The exhibition can be seen for free in the Observatory’s Astronomy Centre until 19th July. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/astrophoto.
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The world recently paused to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of former British PM, Sir Winston Churchill (see our earlier post here), so we’re launching a new series looking at 10 sites associated with Churchill in London.
Given the recent anniversary, we’re starting at a site close to the end of his story, at St Paul’s Cathedral, where his state funeral was held on 30th January, 1965.
Code-named ‘Operation Hope Not’, the funeral had been thoroughly planned in the years leading up to the former PM’s death and took place just six days after he passed. Having lain in state in Westminster Hall for three days (during which time it’s estimated 320,000 filed past his flag draped body), his coffin, carried on a gun carriage pulled by 120 members of the Royal Navy, was escorted by more than 2,300 personnel from the military as it made its way through city streets lined with thousands of people to St Paul’s for the service.
During the service, the catafalque containing Churchill’s body stood on a raised platform beneath the central dome surrounded by six candlesticks. Among the official pallbearers – who marched before it down the aisle – were another former PM, Clement Attlee, along with military figures like Field Marshal Lord Slim and Admiral of the Fleet Lord Mountbatten of Burma.
A plethora of world leaders representing 112 nations attended the funeral service including six sovereigns, six presidents and 16 prime ministers. Among them – in an unprecedented move for a state funeral – was Queen Elizabeth II (sovereigns do not normally attend non-family funerals) along with Prince Philip and Prince Charles.
It’s estimated that as some 350 million people around the globe tuned in to watch the funeral on TV.
After the service, Churchill’s body was taken to Tower Pier (near the Tower of London) where, to the sound of a 19-gun salute fired by the Royal Artillery, he was loaded on the MV Havengore. Sixteen RAF Lightning aircraft then did a flypast as he was transported upriver to Festival Pier with dockers dipping their cranes in salute as the boat passed (this journey was recreated last week using the original barge in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death).
On its arrival at Festival Pier, the body was then taken to Waterloo Station from where it went via train in a specially prepared carriage (the refurbished funeral train has been brought back together at the National Railway Museum at York) to be buried in St Martin’s churchyard in Bladon, Oxfordshire – a site not far from his birthplace at Blenheim Palace.
A bronze memorial plaque commemorating where Churchill’s catafalque stood in St Paul’s is set before the Quire steps while in 2004, the Winston Churchill Memorial Screen was unveiled in the crypt where it stands in line with the final resting places of both Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.
For more on the state funeral, St Paul’s has a great page of detail which you can find here, including downloadable copies of the Order of Service and other documents.
January 23, 2015
Standing tall among some of the towering figures of British politics (and others), the over life-sized bronze statue of Sir Winston Churchill on Parliament Square in Whitehall was designed by Welsh sculptor Ivor Roberts-Jones and is located on a site on the square’s north-east corner chosen by the great man himself.
Standing 12 feet (3.6 metres) high on an eight foot (2.4 metre) high pedestal opposite the Houses of Parliament (which he faces), Churchill, who was 90 when he died, is portrayed during the years of World War II wearing a navy greatcoat but wears no hat and leans on a cane.
The full length, Grade II-listed statue, which Roberts-Jones was commissioned to create in 1970, was unveiled by Lady Churchill with the aid of Queen Elizabeth II in 1973.
Interestingly, it’s said that there’s a mild electric current which runs through the statue to ensure pigeons don’t perch and snow doesn’t gather on his head. Another quirky fact – Roberts-Jones was subsequently commissioned to make another Churchill statue in 1977 – this one for New Orleans.
PICTURE: Adam Carr
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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July 28, 2014
No, the name of the famous Bond Street in Mayfair has nothing to do with James Bond. Rather, the street – in fact, two streets named Old and New Bond Street – takes its name from a 17th century courtier, Sir Thomas Bond.
Bond was the comptroller of the household of Queen Henrietta Maria, then the Queen Mother thanks to being the widow of King Charles I and the mother of King Charles II. He was also something of a land developer – the head of a consortium that purchased Albermarle House from Christopher Monck, the 2nd Duke of Albermarle, in 1683.
The house was promptly demolished and the area redeveloped with what is now Old Bond Street – which runs from Piccadilly to Burlington Gardens – laid out in 1686 and given Sir Thomas’ surname (he’d died the previous year).
The northern extension of Old Bond Street (which runs from Burlington Gardens to Oxford Street) – named New Bond Street – was developed in the 1720s. Caroline Taggart, in The Book of London Place Names, says it was residents of Old Bond Street who insisted on the use of ‘new’ in the name, no doubt to differentiate between themselves and the newcomers or, as Taggart suggests, ‘upstarts’.
Traditionally known as a location for art dealers (Sotheby’s auction house – identified by an ancient Egyptian bust of the goddess Sekhmet which sits on the facade – has stood there for more than a century), the street has become increasingly known for its luxury fashion and accessories retailers such as Asprey’s, Chanel, Cartier, Dolce & Gabbana, Bulgari and Tiffany & Co (see the Bond Street Association for more). Other landmark buildings in the street include the home of the Fine Art Society and the Royal Arcade.
Bond Street is also home to US sculptor’s Lawrence Holofcener’s work, Allies (pictured above), depicting former British PM Winston Churchill and US President Franklin D Roosevelt, and at the northern end stands the Bond Street Underground Station which opened in 1900.
Famous residents have included Admiral Horatio Nelson – who stayed at number 147 in 1797-98 while he recovered after losing his arm at Tenerife, eighteenth century satirist Jonathan Swift and politician William Pitt the Elder, as well as twentieth century spy Guy Burgess, who lived at Clifford Chambers before his defection to USSR.
Around Christmas, the street plays host to a rather special display of lights (pictured top).
June 30, 2014
The origins of the name of this inner west London location on the northern side of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens go back to at least the 14th century when it was recorded as Bayard’s or perhaps Baynard’s watering place.
Bayard was the word for a bay-coloured horse but it is thought that instead the name here comes from a local landowner – it’s been suggested he may be the same Baynard whose name is was remembered in the long gone Norman fortification Baynard’s Castle in the City.
The name probably referred to a site where people on their way out of or headed to London stopped for a rest and some water; the water aspect may relate to springs or to the Westbourne Stream which ran through the area.
It’s now known for its culturally diverse population and high concentration of hotels. It’s also known for Georgian terraces – many of which have been converted into flats, mansion blocks and garden squares.
Notable residents have included Peter Pan author JM Barrie and former PM’s Tony Blair and Winston Churchill while landmarks include Whiteleys, a department store which first opened in the mid 19th century (and was later rebuilt after burning down).