London Explained – Royal residences…

There are numerous royal palaces in London but which are royal residences?

Buckingham Palace. PICTURE: Sung Shin/Unsplash

Foremost is Buckingham Palace, the official residence and office of the monarch – Queen Elizabeth II – in London. The palace – acquired for the Crown by King George III in 1761, converted to a palace by King George IV and first lived in by Queen Victoria – is also used for State ceremonies and for official entertaining.

Clarence House. PICTURE: ChrisO (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Other royal residences include Clarence House which is the official London residence of Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

The property was built between 1825 and 1827 to the designs of John Nash for Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence (hence the name).

It was the home of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, between 1953 and her death in 2002, and was also temporarily the home of the then-Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip following their marriage in 1947.

St James’s Palace. PALACE: Elisa.rolle (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

St James’s Palace, which was largely built by King Henry VIII and served as the residence of numerous monarchs until King William IV, also remains the home of several members of the Royal Family – including Princess Anne and Princess Alexandra – and their household offices.

The State Apartments are sometimes used for entertaining during in-coming State Visits, as well as for other ceremonial and formal occasions. Its history means diplomats are still accredited to the Court of St James.

Kensington Palace. PICTURE: Pranav Thombare/Unsplash.

Kensington Palace – childhood home of Queen Victoria and favoured residence of monarchs from King William III to King George II – is these days the official London residence of Prince William and Katherine, the Duchess of Cambridge.

It also contains the London residences and offices of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.

While Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, Kew Palace and the remnant of the Palace of Whitehall known as the Banqueting House are all royal palaces, they ceased being used regularly for royal court purposes in the 18th century and are now in the care of Historic Royal Palaces (along with parts of Kensington Palace).

LondonLife – Green spaces form part of ‘Green Canopy’ for Queen’s Platinum Jubilee…

Epping Forest. PICTURE: martin_vmorris (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

City of London-managed open spaces Epping Forest, Burnham Beeches and Ashtead Common have been selected to be part of a nationwide network of 70 ancient woodlands to be dedicated to The Queen in celebration of the Platinum Jubilee. At almost 6,000 acres, Epping Forest is London and Essex’s largest green space and is known as the “green lungs” of London. Burnham Beeches, located in Buckinghamshire, is only a square mile in size but is described as a “New Forest in miniature” while Ashtead Common in Surrey’s 200 hectares of open public space is home to more 1,000 living ancient oak pollards. For more on The Queen’s Green Canopy initiative, see www.queensgreencanopy.org. For more on the City of London’s green spaces, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do.

Burnham Beeches. PICTURE: synx508 (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)


Ashtead Common. PICTURE: Pollards Hill Cyclists (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Where’s London’s oldest…synagogue?

PICTURE: John Salmon (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Actually the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the entire UK, the Bevis Marks Synagogue in the City of London was built in 1701.


The synagogue entrance. PICTURE: Edwardx (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The synagogue has historical ties to the city’s Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community, known as Sephardic Jews, which first started meeting together in a small synagogue in Creechurch Lane in 1657 after it become possible for Jews to openly practice their religion under the rule of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.

Increasing numbers in the community soon meant a larger premises was required and a committee was formed which signed a contract with Quaker builder Joseph Avis in February, 1699, to build a larger premises (tradition holds that Avis returned the money he made on the job to the community, saying he would not profit from building a house of God). In June that same year, the community leased a tract of land at Plough Yard, Bevis Marks, on which the new building would be built. Construction commenced soon after.

The property’s design is said to emulate, at least in part, that of the 1675 Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam (it’s also thought the design was influenced by the works of Sir Christopher Wren). There’s also a story that the building included an oak beam from one of the Royal Navy’s ships presented by Queen Anne.

The rectangular building, which features three galleries inside, was eventually completed and dedicated in September, 1701.

The roof of the now Grade 1-listed building was replaced following a fire in 1738 and the synagogue only suffered minor damage during the Blitz. It also suffered some collateral damage from the IRA bombing in 1992 and the 1993 Bishopsgate bombing but remains mostly intact.

Sermons at Bevis Marks were in Portuguese until 1833 when they changed to English.

Features inside include an oak Renaissance-style ark containing the Torah scroll which, painted to resemble coloured Italian marble, is located at the centre of the eastern wall. There are also seven hanging brass candelabra which symbolise the seven days of the week. The largest, which hangs in the centre of the synagogue – represents the Sabbath and was donated by the community of the Great Synagogue of Amsterdam. There are also 10 large brass candlesticks representing the Ten Commandments. While the upright oak seats are said to “reflect the Puritanism of 17th century England”, the backless oak benches at the back are the original seats which were brought from the Creechurch Lane premises.

Twice Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s 1804 birth is recorded in the register but after his father had a falling out with the synagogue officials, Disraeli was in 1817 baptised at St Andrew’s Holborn.

The synagogue is temporarily closed to visitors and tour groups. For more information, head to www.sephardi.org.uk/bevis-marks/visit-bevis-marks/.

This Week in London – Tulips at Hampton Court; new Falklands-related displays at the IWM; and, a new garden for The Regent’s Park…

Hoping you have a wonderful Easter break.

PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces

Hampton Court Palace’s Tulip Festival – the largest of its kind in the UK – is returning following its successful inaugural year in 2021. From Friday until 2nd May (depending on flowering periods), the palace’s 60 acres of formal gardens are expected to be filled with rare, historic and specialist tulip varieties inspired by Queen Mary II’s famous 17th century collection which was once housed at the palace. Some 120,000 tulip bulbs of 60 different varieties have been planted, including breath-taking floating tulip vases located in the palace’s famous fountains, and floral displays which will fill the cobbled courtyards of Base Court and Clock Court. Visitors will be able to find out all about the links between the flower and the palace’s history with a dedicated Tulip Festival Guide. Included with admission. For more, head here.

New exhibits marking the 40th anniversary of the Falklands Conflict have gone on show at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth. Among the new items on display are drawings by Linda Kitson, the first female artist commissioned by IWM to accompany troops into conflict, and images of the conflict – many of which have never been seen before – taken by photographer Paul RG Haley who covered it for Soldier Magazine. The museum is also exploring the story and legacy of the conflict through a digital programme of events including a series of short films and a new episode of the Conflict of Interest podcast featuring actor Katherine Parkinson. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.

The Regent’s Park will soon boast a new 1.5 acre garden at its centre in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee. The new garden, to be created on the site of a former plant nursery near the Inner Circle, will include design features that reflect the Queen’s “love of trees and nature”. The Royal Parks will be committing £1 million to the project and will seek external funding and public donations. Designs for the new park will be shared as they are developed. Meanwhile, The Royal Parks have also announced they will be creating a new wood in Richmond Park as part of the Queen’s Green Canopy Initiative. The new woodland, which will be located adjacent to Ham Cross, will be planted with 70 large trees, each one to mark a year of Her Majesty’s reign.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

This Week in London – Japanese works at the Queen’s Gallery; Raphael at The National Gallery; Food Season at the British Library; and, Enid Marx’s Blue Plaque…

Itaya Hiroharu, folding screen paintings, 1860. Sent to Queen Victoria by Shōgun Tokugawa Iemochi, 1860.

A first-of-its-kind exhibition featuring the Royal Collection’s Japanese works of art opens at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, tomorrow. Japan: Courts and Culture, features more than 150 works including rare porcelain, samurai armour, woodcut prints, embroidered screens and a range of diplomatic gifts sent during the reigns of monarchs ranging from King James I to Queen Elizabeth II. Among the highlights are a pair of folding screens sent to Queen Victoria in 1860 from the Japanese Shōgun Tokugawa Iemochi which will go on public display for the first time since they arrived at the British court 162 years ago. The screen paintings, which depict the changing seasons, were not thought to have survived but in recent years research has revealed the two screens were the work of Itaya Hiroharu, one of the artists likely to have worked on Queen Victoria’s gifts. Also included in gift was a set of lacquer furniture, spears inlaid with glittering mother of pearl, and swords made by leading court swordsmiths – all of which will also be on display. Admission charge applies. Runs until 26 February, 2023. For more, see www.rct.uk.

Raphael, The Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Saint Nicholas of Bari (‘The Ansidei Madonna’) (1505), © The National Gallery, London

• Marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Raphael, one of the first-ever exhibitions to explore the complete career of this giant of the Italian Renaissance opens at The National Gallery on Saturday. The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Raphael, which was supposed to be held in 2020 and was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, features more than 90 exhibits. They include a rare gathering of Raphael’s paintings of the Virgin and Child including Ansidei Madonna (The Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Saint Nicholas of Bari) (1505), two bronze roundels – The Incredulity of Saint Thomas and The Descent into Limbo – from Santa Maria della Pace which have never previously exhibited outside Italy and which are attributed to Cesarino Rossetti after designs by Raphael, and a room devoted to Raphael’s frescoes for Pope Julius II’s private apartments. There are also several of his original print designs, an survey of ancient Rome he undertook for Pope Leo X, tapestry designs including Saint Paul Preaching at Athens (workshop of, or on behalf of, Pieter van Aelst, active about 1490–1533, after design by Raphael, about 1517–19), and portraiture from his final years including Portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici (1518) and Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (1519). Admission charge applies. Runs until 31st July. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/the-credit-suisse-exhibition-raphael.

• The British Library’s Food Season kicks off today with almost two months of online and in-person events inspired by the cookbooks, recipes and culinary stories in the collection. Highlights include chef Ainsley Harriott talking about his life and career with food-writer Melissa Thompson, food-writer Maunika Gowardan celebrating India’s breadth of food cultures with chefs and food-writers including Ravinder Bhogal, Romy Gill, Kavi Thakrar and Farokh Talati, chef and broadcaster Andi Oliver discussing Jessica B Harris’ 50- year career examining the history and meaning of food for the African diaspora, and psychologist Kimberley Wilson chairing a discussion about the food prisoners are fed inside British correctional institutions and if it impacts rehabilitation. Now in its fifth year, the 2022 Food Season is supported by KitchenAid. For the full programme of events, head to www.bl.uk/events/food-season.

Textile designer Enid Marx – famous for her seat fabric designs on the London Underground – has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque was unveiled this week at her former home at 39 Thornhill Road where she lived and worked for more than 30 years. Marx, who shared the house with her partner, Margaret Lambert, and friends Eleanor Breuning and Grace Lambert (Breuning continues to live at the house today), had a purpose-built studio in the back garden which remains in similar condition to when she left it almost 25 years ago. Alongside her work for the London Underground, Marx also is known for her design of postage stamps marking the start of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign in 1953. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

10 historic stairways in London – 8. The King’s Staircase, Kensington Palace… 

PICTURE: Tuomo Lindfors (licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This staircase, a grand entrance to the King’s State Apartments at Kensington Palace, are famous for the paintings on the walls and ceiling which depict an 18th century court looking down on those who ascend.

The work of William Kent, the staircase paintings were complete in 1724 and replaced earlier wooden panelling.

The stairs were originally constructed as part of Sir Christopher Wren’s remodelling Nottingham House into Kensington Palace for King William III and Queen Mary II. Following a fire in 1691, they were rebuilt in marble.

There are 45 people in Kent’s painting and only about a dozen have been identified. As well as members of the Yeomen of the Guard, the images depict King George I’s Polish page Ulric, his Turkish servants Mahomet and Mustapha, Peter the ‘wild boy’, a child found in the woods in Germany, and Dr John Arbuthnot, a medical doctor and satirist who tried to teach Peter to speak.

Interestingly, Kent included a selfie on the ceiling – a depiction of himself, wearing a brown turban and carrying an artist’s palette, standing with his mistress by his side.

The trompe l’oeil (a technique which creates the optical illusion of 3D) work features architecture inspired by Rome where Kent had trained while there’s also a painted figure of Diana on the top landing which is based on an antique statue at Holkham Hall in Norfolk.

In 1734, Queen Caroline commissioned Kent to rework the stairs to the Queen’s State Apartments. His work there features a Roman-inspired scene again created as a trompe l’oeil. There is also a homage to Queen who is compared to Britannia. The staircase’s balustrade was another by Huguenot ironworker Jean Tijou.

WHERE: The Broad Walk, Kensington Gardens, Kensington (nearest tube stations are High Street Kensington or Queensway); WHEN: Daily 10am to 6pm (last admission 5pm); COST: £16 adult/£12.80 concession/£8 child (Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace.

10 historic stairways in London – 5. The King’s Staircase, Hampton Court Palace…

The King’s Staircase at Hampton Court Palace. PICTURE: Peter K Burian (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

This grand staircase was installed in Hampton Court Palace during the reign of King William III and Queen Mary II as a grand entrance to the King’s Apartments.

The staircase, which features shallow steps, was designed Sir Christopher Wren and features a wrought iron balustrade designed by French ironsmith Jean Tijou.

Another view of the staircase and accompanying art. PICTURE: David Adams

It was decorated in about 1700 by Italian painter Antonio Verrio to resemble a Roman courtyard which is open to the sky. The main image depicts ‘Victory of Alexander over the Caesars’ which features King William III as Alexander the Great and is painted as an allegory of William’s triumph over the Stuart King, James II, in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 (with the Stuarts represented by the 12 Caesars).

The stairs lead up to the Guard Chamber, an anteroom which had to be passed through to reach the Presence Chamber.

LondonLife – Gun salutes mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee…

PICTURE: Cpl Victoria Goodall (Copyright:© UK MOD Crown Copyright 2022)

The Honourable Artillery Company fires a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London to mark the 70th Anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne. The gun salute at the Tower was one of a number which took place across the UK on Monday – while the date of the Queen’s accession was the 6th February, gun salutes do not traditionally take place on a Sunday. The gun salutes are traditionally comprised of 21 rounds with a further 20 rounds fired at Royal Parks and palaces and a further 21 at the Tower to show the respect the City of London has for the Queen. Below, the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery can be seen firing 41 rounds in Green Park.

PICTURE: Corporal Rebecca Brown RLC (Copyright: ©MoD Crown Copyright 2022)

London Explained – Historic Royal Palaces…

The Tower of London is one of the palaces under the care of Historic Royal Palaces. PICTURE: Nick Fewings/Unsplash

Visitors to several of London’s landmark royal properties will across an organisation known as Historic Royal Palaces.

HRP, as its sometimes shortened to, is a self-funding charity charged with the management of palaces which are owned by the Crown (technically by Queen Elizabeth II ‘in Right of Crown’ meaning she holds them in trust for the next monarch and by law cannot sell or lease them). The palaces are generally no longer used as royal residences.

These include the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and the Banqueting House (once part of the Palace of Whitehall). Buckingham Palace, which remains the official London residence of Queen Elizabeth II and a working royal palace, is not one of them nor is St James’s Palace, home to several members of the Royal Family and their households.

All five of the properties in London which are under the care of Historic Royal Palaces ceased being regularly used by the Royal Court in the 19th century and were opened up to the public. The government became responsible for their care under the Crown Lands Act 1851.

In 1989, the government established Historic Royal Palaces as part of the Department of the Environment to oversee care of the five palaces. Six years later it became part of the Department of National Heritage (now known as the Department for Culture, Media & Sport).

In April, 1998, Historic Royal Palaces became an independent charity by Royal Charter. It is governed by a board of trustees who include the director of the Royal Collection Trust and the Keeper of the Privy Purse from the Royal Household as well as the Constable of the Tower of London.

Historic Royal Palaces now oversees management of the palaces under a contract with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport (as well as the five London properties, since 2014, it has also been responsible for the care of Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland).

Perhaps the most well-known faces of Historic Royal Palaces are joint curators – Tudor historian Tracy Borman, and architectural and social historian Lucy Worsley.

HRP collects revenues through entries to the palaces but also offer an annual membership through which you can have unlimited entry.

For more, head to www.hrp.org.uk.

10 historic stairways in London – 2. Queen Mary’s Steps, Whitehall…

PICTURE: Paul Farmer (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

This small stone stairway which now sits in the midst of a grassy expanse at the back of the Ministry of Defence was once part of the Palace of Whitehall.

Named for Queen Mary II, wife of King William III, for whom they were designed, the stairs were part of a terrace built in 1691 abutting the Thames in front of an old river wall constructed for King Henry VIII.

Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the stairs were one of a pair located at either end of the terrace which gave direct access to the river – and state barges – from the Royal Apartments.

Excavations in 1939 during construction of the MoD revealed the Tudor river wall, the terrace and the northern-most of the two flights of steps. The upper part of the steps have been repaired and the terrace and wall reconstructed.

The steps and palace fragments are now a Grade I listed monument.

LondonLife – Buckingham Palace…

Buckingham Palace. PICTURE: Debbie Fan/Unsplash.

Buckingham Palace is among the sites across London which will be hosting events to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee this June. The Queen’s 70th year on the throne will be marked with four days of celebrations across the June bank holiday weekend which will include the Queen’s Birthday Parade (known as Trooping the Colour), the lighting of Platinum Jubilee Beacons – including the principal beacon at Buckingham Palace, a Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral, the ‘Platinum Party at the Palace’ – a celebration concert in the gardens of Buckingham Palace, The Big Jubilee Lunch in communities across the city, and a special Platinum Jubilee Pageant, part of which will see a moving river of flags rippling down The Mall. For more information, head to www.royal.uk/platinum-jubilee-central-weekend.

This Week in London – Borealis at Guildhall Yard; princess panto costumes; and ancient Greeks at the Science Museum…

Borealis. PICTURE: Doug Southall

A dazzling light show inspired by the Northern Lights – one of the seven natural wonders of the world – can be seen in the Guildhall Yard this December. Borealis – which can be seen between 11th and 22nd December – is the work of artist Dan Acher and is one of a number of light displays which is illuminating London this winter as part of Mayor Sadiq Khan’s ‘Winter Lights’ campaign. Others include an animal-themed display bringing to life the beasts that once lived at the Tower of London, an outdoor programme of installations and video art projections illuminating the Southbank Centre’s site, the ‘Illuminated River’ display lighting up nine of London’s bridges in what is be the longest public art project in the world, and a free Canary Wharf ‘Winter Lights Spectacular’ in January which will feature 20 new light commissions by some of the most innovative artists across the globe. In Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, thousands of illuminated white roses will form an ‘Ever After Garden’ designed by fashion designer Anya Hindmarch while traditional favourites like the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland as well as winter markets and ice rinks at locations like the Natural History Museum and Somerset House are also once again returning to the city. London’s red buses are an easy way to see the Christmas lights this year with routes 12, 94, 98, 139 and 390 all travelling through Oxford Circus. Free tickets to Borealis can be booked at www.visitlondon.com/Borealis while, for more on the best bus routes, see https://londonblog.tfl.gov.uk/festive-bus-routes/. For more information on all the light shows and events (some of which are already underway), see visitlondon.com    .

Costumes worn by then Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret in wartime-era pantomimes are at the heart of a new display at Windsor Castle this Christmas. The princesses spent much of their time at Windsor during World War II – away from the Blitz in London – and, between 1941 and 1944, they performed in and helped to stage a series of pantomimes to raise money for the Royal Household Wool Fund which supplied knitting wool to make comforters for soldiers fighting at the front. Six of the costumes they wore have been brought together for the first time and are being displayed in the castle’s Waterloo Chamber where the pantos were originally performed. The costumes on show were worn in the last two pantos – Aladdin, which was performed in 1943, and Old Mother Red Riding Boots which was performed in 1944. Also on show are 16 large scale pictures of fairy-tale characters that were pasted around the walls to create the space for the performances. Visitors to Windsor this Christmas will also see State Apartments decorated for the festive season and a 20 foot high Christmas tree in St George’s Hall. The Semi-State Rooms, created for King George IV and now used for official entertaining, are also now open to visitors. The costumes can be seen until 31st January. Admission charges apply. For more on the Christmas activities at Windsor, including a ‘Mary, Queen of Scots at Christmas Family Activity Day’ on 18th December, see www.rct.uk/whatson/. Meanwhile, Buckingham Palace is offering guided tours of the State Rooms over winter with special family guided tours available for the first time. The tours run until 30th January. Admission charge applies. For more on the guided tours, head here and for more on the family tours, head here.

• The ancient Greeks’ pursuit of knowledge is the subject of a new exhibition which has opened at the Science Museum in South Kensington. Ancient Greeks: Science and Wisdom takes visitors on a journey in which they will sail the perilous seas with a statue of Hermes that was discovered on a shipwreck off the island of Antikythera, experience the lost music of the aulos instrument through interactive displays and an exclusive video that reimagines its ancient sounds, and gaze at the starry cosmos through ancient Greek eyes via a beautiful and rare silver globe depicting the known constellations and a Byzantine sundial-calendar – the second oldest known geared mechanism in the world. The free display can be seen until 5th June. Tickets are required – to book head to sciencemuseum.org.uk/ancient-greeks.

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Lost London – Arundel House…

Arundel House, from the south, by Wenceslas Hollar. Via Wikimedia Commons.

One of a string of massive residences built along the Strand during the Middle Ages, Arundel House was previously the London townhouse of the Bishops of Bath and Wells (it was then known as ‘Bath Inn’ and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was among those who resided here during this period).

Following the Dissolution, in 1539 King Henry VIII granted the property to William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton (it was then known as Hampton Place). After reverting to the Crown on his death on 1542, it was subsequently given to Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, a younger brother of Queen Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, and known as ‘Seymour Place’. Then Princess Elizabeth (late Queen Elizabeth I) stayed at the property during this period (in fact, it’s said her alleged affair with Thomas Seymour took place here).

Arundel House, from the south, by Wenceslas Hollar. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Seymour significantly remodelled the property, before in 1549, he was executed for treason. The house was subsequently sold to Henry Fitz Alan, 12th Earl of Arundel, for slightly more than £40. He was succeeded by his grandson, Philip Howard, but he was tried for treason and died in the Tower of London in 1595. In 1603, the house was granted to Charles, Earl of Nottingham, but his possession was short-lived.

Just four years later it was repurchased by the Howard family – in particular Philip’s son, Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel – who had been restored to the earldom.

Howard, who was also the 4th Earl of Surrey, housed his famous collection of sculptures, known as the ‘Arundel Marbles’, here (much of his collection, described as England’s first great art collection, is now in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum).

During this period, guests included Inigo Jones (who designed a number of updates to the property) and artist Wenceslas Hollar who resided in an apartment (in fact, it’s believed he drew his famous view of London, published in 1647, while on the roof).

Howard, known as the “Collector Earl”, died in Italy in 1646. Following his death, the property was used as a garrison and later, during the Commonwealth, used as a place to receive important guests

It was restored to Thomas’ grandson, Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk, following the Restoration. Following the Great Fire of London in 1666, for several years the property was used as the location for Royal Society meetings.

The house was demolished in the 1678. It’s commemorated today by the streets named Surrey, Howard, Norfolk and Arundel (and a late 19th century property on the corner of Arundel Street and Temple Place now bears its name).

This Week in London – Faberge eggs; Royal jeweller Garrard; and, Christmas at Kew…

The Alexander Palace Egg, Fabergé. Chief Workmaster Henrik Wigström (1862-1923), gold, silver, enamel, diamonds, rubies, nephrite, rock crystal, glass, wood, velvet, bone, 1908 © The Moscow Kremlin Museums

• The largest collection of Faberge’s Imperial Easter eggs to be displayed together in a generation go on show at the V&A from Saturday. Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution is the first major exhibition devoted to the international prominence of Russian goldsmith, Carl Fabergé, and his little-known London branch. Divided into three sections which cover everything from the techniques and detailing synonymous with the Faberge name to his time in London, the royal patronage he received, and the impact of the Great War and Russian Revolution on the business. The display features more than 200 objects with highlights including a prayer book gifted by Emperor Nicholas II to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna on his Coronation Day, the only known example of solid gold tea service crafted by Fabergé, a rare figurine of a veteran English soldier commissioned by King Edward VII, and a “kaleidoscopic display” of 15 of the Imperial Easter Eggs. The latter include several that have never before been shown in the UK including the largest Imperial Egg – the Moscow Kremlin Egg – which was inspired by the architecture of the Dormition Cathedral, the Alexander Palace Egg – which features watercolour portraits of the children of Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra and contains a model of the palace inside (pictured), the recently rediscovered Third Imperial Egg of 1887 (found by a scrap dealer in 2011) and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s Basket of Flowers Egg. Runs until 8th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

The Royal Family’s relationship with the jeweller Garrard is the subject of a new exhibition which has opened in Kensington Palace’s ‘Jewel Room’. Going on display for the first time are examples of the firm’s ledgers which document royal commissions dating back to 1735 while other highlights include Queen Mary’s fringe tiara which was made in 1919 using diamonds taken from Queen Victoria’s wedding gift to Queen Mary and which was subsequently worn by Queen Elizabeth II on her wedding day. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace.

Botanical illustrations from the archives at Kew Gardens are brought to life on a canvas consisting of a selection of spectacular trees from the arboretum as part of this year’s Christmas display. Christmas at Kew also includes Spheric – a 15-metre-wide dome of light covered in more than 2,000 individually controlled LED pixels which sits on a reflective water pool and allows visitors to fully immerse themselves in a unique mirrored illusion as they cross the lake, a new installation for Holly Walk which will illuminate the night sky for over 200 metres overhead as it replicates the enchanting visual phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis, a vibrant rainbow tree illumination which brings to life the 12 Days of Christmas, and the ever-popular Fire Garden. The display can be seen until 9th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Treasures of London – Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth I…

Held in the National Archives at Kew, this great seal was used during the second half of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign – from 1586 to 1603.

The seal, which replaced an earlier one used by Queen Elizabeth I, was used by the Chancery to prove the document it was attached to was issued in the Queen’s name. The seal also acted as a security device, ensuring the document couldn’t be read before reaching the intended recipient. Made of wax, it was created using a metal pattern or matrix.

The reverse side of the Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth I. PICTURE: Courtesy of The National Archives, Kew.

The metal pattern for this seal was created by court miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard.

The obverse or front side of the seal, which is made of resin and beeswax which turns brown with age, shows Queen Elizabeth I on her throne, her hands holding a sceptre and an orb – royal insignia – and accompanied by the Royal Coat of Arms. The reverse (pictured) shows Queen Elizabeth I mounted on a horse and surrounded by symbols including the Tudor Rose, a harp representing Ireland and fleur de lys representing France. The inscription around the seal reads: Elizabetha dei gracia Anglie Francie et Hibernie Regina Fidei Defensor (‘Elizabeth, by grace of God, Queen of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith’).

The seal was traditionally carried before the Lord Chancellor and Keeper of the Great Seal in a purse or burse. One used to carry Queen Elizabeth I’s matrix is in the collection of the British Museum.

The matrix used to create the second seal was surrendered to King James I on his accession to the throne on 3rd May, 1603. James then used it for the next 11 weeks until his own was ready (at which time Queen Elizabeth I’s matrix was defaced).

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 6. Royal Albert Hall… 

PICTURE: Raphael Tomi-Tricot/Unsplash

Arguably the grandest music venue in London, the Royal Albert Hall, named in memory of Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, has been hosting musical events since it first hosted a concert in 1871.

The Grade I-listed hall, which has a seating capacity of more than 5,000 and which did suffer from acoustic problems for many years (until mushroom-shaped fibreglass acoustic diffusers were hung from the ceiling following tests in the late 1960s), has been the setting for some of the most important – and, in some cases, poignant – music events of the past 150 years, not just in London but the world at large.

Among some of the most memorable are the Titanic Band Memorial Concert – held on 24th May, 1912, just six weeks after the sinking of the iconic ship to remember the 1514 people who died with a particular focus on the eight musicians who played on as the stricken vessal sank, the ‘Great Pop Prom’ of 15th September, 1963 – only one of a handful of occasions when The Beatles and Rolling Stones played on the same stage, and Pink Floyd’s gig of 26th June, 1969 – coming at the end of a UK tour, the on-stage antics saw the band banned (it was short-lived, however, they returned just a few years later in 1973).

Other musical figures to have taken to the stage here include everyone from composers Richard Wagner, John Philip Sousa, and Benjamin Britten to the Von Trapp family, jazz greats Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, and the likes of Shirley Bassey, Bob Dylan and Elton John – a veritable musical who’s who of the past 150 years. The venue also hosted the 13th Eurovision Song Contest in 1968.

Of course, Royal Albert Hall is famous for The Proms, an annual festival of classical music which was first performed here in 1941 after the venue where it had been held since 1895 – the Queen’s Hall on Langham Place – was lost to an incendiary bomb during World War II.

Prom stands for ‘Promenade Concert’,  a phrase which originally referred to the outdoor concerts in London’s pleasure gardens during which the audience was free to walk around while the orchestra was playing (there are still standing areas during performances). The most famous night of the season is the ‘Last Night of the Proms’ which, broadcast by the BBC, features popular classics and ends with a series of patriotic tunes to stir the blood.

This Week in London – Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots; Ellen and William Craft honoured; and, Kehinde Wiley’s ‘Portrait of Melissa Thompson’…

Ink and pencil drawing of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots at Fotheringhay Castle, 8th February, 1587 © British Library (Additional MS 48027, f. 650r)

• The complex relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the British Library in King’s Cross tomorrow. Highlights of Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, the first major exhibition to consider both women together, include Queen Elizabeth I’s 1545 handwritten translation of her stepmother Katherine Parr’s Prayers and Meditations – a gift for her father King Henry VIII, a sonnet by Mary, Queen of Scots, which was handwritten the night before she was executed in 1587 (possibly the last thing she ever wrote), the ‘Penicuik Jewels’ which she is thought to have given away on the day of her death and Robert Beale’s eye-witness drawing depicting her entering the hall, disrobing, and placing her head on the block (pictured right). Other items on show include King Henry VIII’s Great Bible (dating from 1540, it was later inherited by Elizabeth I), Elizabeth I’s mother-of-pearl locket ring (c1575) containing miniature portraits of herself and her mother Anne Boleyn, and the warrant confining Mary, Queen of Scots, in Lochleven Castle in 1567. The exhibition is accompanied by a programme of events. Runs until 20th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk/events/elizabeth-and-mary.

Nineteenth century African-American abolitionists Ellen and William Craft have been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at their former Hammersmith home. The Crafts escaped from enslavement in Georgia in the US in December, 1848, and fled to Britain, settling in a mid-Victorian house at 26 Cambridge Grove where they raised a family and campaigned for an end to slavery. The Crafts returned to the US following the end of the American Civil War and the emancipation of enslaved people and settled in Boston with three of their children. In 1873, they established the Woodville Cooperative Farm School in Bryan County, Georgia, for the children of those who had been emancipated. Ellen died in Georgia in 1891 and William in Charleston in 1900.

Melissa Thompson standing beside Kehinde Wiley’s Portrait of Melissa Thompson, 2020, now on display at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum

American artist Kehinde Wiley’s monumental Portrait of Melissa Thompson has gone on display in the V&A’s British Galleries, alongside William Morris’s Wild Tulip designs that inspired it. The massive oil painting, which was created as part of Wiley’s series The Yellow Wallpaper and was first exhibited at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow in 2020, was acquired earlier this year and is being displayed as part of a series of initiatives marking the 125th anniversary of William Morris’s death this October. The painting will be displayed in the William Morris Room (room 125) until 2024, after which it will move to its permanent home at V&A East Museum in 2025. Admission is free. For more, head to vam.ac.uk.

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Treasures of London – Traitor’s Gate…

PICTURES: David Adams

Built by King Edward I in the 13th century as a water gate to provide access from the Tower of London to the River Thames, the name ‘Traitor’s Gate’ came to be applied to this portal in Tudor times in relation to those accused of treason who were brought into the tower under its arch.

The double gateway is part of St Thomas’s Tower, which was designed by a Master James of St George, and behind it is a pool which was used to feed water to a cistern on the roof of the White Tower. While the gate was originally built to give access directly to the river, Traitor’s Gate now sits behind a wharf which runs along the river bank (and where can be seen the bricked up entrance says ‘Entry to the Traitor’s Gate’ – this was bricked up in the 19th century when embankment works were carried out)

Sir Thomas More, Sir Walter Raleigh and even the future Queen Elizabeth I (when a princess) were among those who were brought in by barge through the Traitor’s Gate (their journey would have led them under London Bridge where the heads of executed prisoners were on display). Whether Henry VIII’s disgraced Queen Anne Boleyn entered the tower through the gate remains a matter of some dispute.

Where’s London’s oldest…flyover?

PICTURE: Teseum (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The oldest flyover in central London was actually built well before the first automobile.

Spanning the Fleet River valley, it was built between 1863 and 1869 and, spanning Farringdon Street below (which follows the line of the Fleet (now beneath the ground), it linked the City of London with Holborn (or more specifically Holborn with Newgate Street).

Statue of commerce on the flyover. PICTURE: steve_w (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The flyover was designed by City of London surveyor William Heywood. It was part of a number of improvements designed to create better access to the City from the West End.

A number of old buildings and indeed some entire streets had to be demolished before construction could begin and thousands of bodies buried in St Andrew Holborn’s northern churchyard had to be relocated.

Made of cast iron, the flyover is about 1400 feet (425 metres) long and 80 foot (24 metres) wide and features three spans – the largest in the middle – supported on granite pillars.

Pavilions containing stairs allowing pedestrians to move between levels were built at either end on both sides of the roadway (the two northern buildings are both replacements – the previous versions were demolished after being damaged during the Blitz and have been replaced in more recent years).

The decorations include a series of four bronze statues featuring Agriculture and Commerce on the south side (the work of Henry Bursill) and Fine Arts and Science on the north side (the work of firm Farmer & Brindley).

There are also statues of winged lions and globe lamps (the current lamps are replicas with the originals thought to have been destroyed during the Blitz) as well as well as the City of London’s coat-of-arms and dragons.

The buildings containing the stairs, meanwhile, each feature a statue of a famous medieval Londoner on the facade – merchant Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579), engineer Sir Hugh Myddelton (1560-1631), and Mayors Sir William Walworth (d.1385) and Henry Fitz Ailwin (1135-1212).

The viaduct was opened by Queen Victoria on 6th November, 1869. It was listed as Grade II in 1972.

This Week in London – Royal portraits in Greenwich; Sir Roger Bannister to be honoured; and, drawing on the Tate’s Turbine Hall floor…

King Henry VII by unknown Netherlandish artist, 1505 (oil on panel) © National Portrait Gallery, London

More than 150 of the finest portraits of royal families over five dynasties are on show at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, which is being run in conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery, features famous paintings, miniatures, sculpture, photographs, medals and stamps from the Tudor, Stuart, Georgian, Victorian and Windsor dynasties. Highlights include the earliest known portrait of Henry VII (also the oldest artwork in the exhibition) which was painted in 1505 by an unknown artist, Flemish artist Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger’s famous ‘Ditchley Portrait’ of Elizabeth I, portraits of Charles II and his mistresses, early 19th century domestic photographs of Queen Victoria and her family, and a selection of paintings and photographs of Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton and Annie Leibovitz. Runs until 31st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/TudorsWindsors.

Westminster Abbey has announced a new memorial to Sir Roger Bannister, the first man to run under a mile in four minutes. The abbey said the memorial ledger stone to Bannister, who later became a neurologist, will be placed in what is known as ‘Scientists’ Corner’ in the building’s nave, close to the graves of scientists Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin as well as the ashes of Stephen Hawking. “Throughout his life Sir Roger Bannister reached out for that which lay beyond,” said the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, in a statement. “As a sportsman, pushing himself towards a prize some considered beyond human reach, as a scientist ever eager for deeper understanding of neurology. We are delighted that his memory and his achievement will be set in stone in the Abbey. He ran the race set before us all.” Bannister is famous for having run a mile in three minutes, 59.4 second at Oxford on 6th May, 1954 – a record which stood for almost nine years.

Be among those transforming the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall into an “ever changing work of art”. Visitors are invited to join in covering the hall’s floor with their own jottings using coloured drawing materials as part of artist Ei Arakawa’s interactive installation, Mega Please Draw Freely. The installation, which can be contributed to until 29th August, kicks off UNIQLO Tate Play – a new free programme of playful art-inspired activities for families, being in partnership with UNIQLO, at the Tate Modern. The project, which has seen the Turbine Hall floor covered with a temporary surface allowing it to be drawn upon, is inspired by the Gutai group, radical Japanese artists who wanted to change the world through painting, performance and children’s play and, in particular, the group’s ‘Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition of 1956’ in which Yoshihara Jirō created the groundbreaking work Please Draw Freely, a large board on which people were free to draw and paint. Visitors can access Mega Please Draw Freely by booking a free collection display ticket online at www.tate.org.uk.

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