One of the key contenders for the oldest school in London must be St Paul’s Cathedral School, originally established in the 12th century to cater for the education of choristers attending St Paul’s Cathedral (although there had apparently been a school associated with the cathedral since the 7th century).

The school, which has been described as one of the oldest educational institutions in the Western world, dates its establishment to about 1123 and started with just eight boys who were given a home and education in exchange for singing in the cathedral.

The school gradually became two separate institutions – a choir school and a grammar school – with the choristers graduating from the choir school to finish their education at the grammar school.

But in 1511, the grammar school was refounded by Dean John Colet as Saint Paul’s School. It’s now located in Barnes.

The former choristers school, now known as the St Paul’s Cathedral School, became known more for its acting in the 16th and early 17th centuries when the children performed regularly for Queen Elizabeth I at Greenwich Palace.

The original school building, which stood in St Paul’s Churchyard, was destroyed in the fire of 1666.

In 1874, the school was re-established in Carter Lane. It moved to its present location in New Change in the 1960s.

While now independent of the cathedral, the establishment now offers a preparatory school for boys and girls aged four to 13 and a residential choir school for the boy choristers of St Paul’s Cathedral. New boarding accommodation is expected to open on the site next year.

PICTURE: The concrete buildings of St Paul’s Cathedral School on the right with the surviving tower of St Augustine’s Church, Watling Street, and St Paul’s Cathedral behind (Google Maps)

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An altar cloth which may have once been part of a dress worn by Queen Elizabeth I goes on show at Hampton Court Palace (pictured) this Saturday. The Bacton Altar Cloth, which was discovered in a church in Bacton in rural Hertfordshire, has undergone two years of conservation work and will be displayed alongside a portrait of the “Virgin Queen” featuring a dress of similar design. The altar cloth has long been associated with Bacton-born Blanche Parry, one of Queen Elizabeth’s servants who became her Chief Gentlewoman of the Bedchamber. Records show the Queen regularly gave her discarded clothing to Parry and for years there has been speculation that the altar cloth was part of one such discarded item. Historic Royal Palaces curator Eleri Lynn, an expert in Tudor court dress, was able to identify previously unseen features and studied the seams of the fabric to show it had once been part of a skirt. Further research – including an examination of the dyes used in the item – have added weight to the theory it was once part of a dress. The altar cloth, on loan from St Faith’s Church in Bacton, can be seen until 23rd February. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk. PICTURE: David Adams.

A photographic exhibition of the first ‘golden’ decade of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club – featuring images of legendary British and American jazz singers – opens at the Barbican Music Library on Saturday. Ronnie Scott’s 1959-1969: Photographs by Freddy Warren, which marks the club’s 60th anniversary, features Warren’s photographs of the likes of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Zoot Sims, Cleo Laine and Tony Bennett. Warren was the in-house photographer at the Soho club from the opening night in 1959, when it was based in Gerrard Street, and documented the construction of the new site in Frith Street in the mid-1960s along with the arrival in London of big American stars. The exhibition includes rare vintage prints – some which were salvaged from the walls when the club was renovated in 2006, Freddy Warren’s original contact sheets, and previously unseen prints specially produced from the original negatives. The exhibition is free. Runs until 4th January. For more, see www.barbican.org.uk/your-visit/during-your-visit/library.

An exhibition exploring how western artists have been inspired by the Islamic world opens at the British Museum today. Inspired by the east: how the Islamic world influenced western art features paintings by leading ‘Orientalists’ including Eugène Delacroix, John Frederick Lewis and Frederick Arthur Bridgman as well as less well-known pieces like British artist Edmund Dulac’s original illustrations for a 1907 edition of the Arabian Nights, and ceramics by Frenchman Théodore Deck, who in the late 19th century created a range of pieces directly inspired by Islamic originals. The display also includes contemporary reactions to the imagery of Orientalism by Middle Eastern and North African female artists such as Lalla Essaydi’s Women of Morocco triptych and Inci Eviner’s 2009 video work Harem. The display can be seen in The Sir Joseph Hotung Exhibition Gallery until 26th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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This Soho square was laid out in the late 17th century, possibly by Sir Christopher Wren, and by the early 1700s most of the buildings surrounding the square were complete.

The name of the square is said to be a corruption of ‘gelding’ – the area, once apparently known as Gelding Close, was previously used for the grazing of geldings (there’s also a story that the gelding was featured on a nearby inn sign which locals objected to, renaming it ‘golden’).

It was, at first, the place to be among the well-to-do – among early residents were Barbara Villiers, the Duchess of Cleveland and mistress of King Charles II, James Bridges, who became the 1st Duke of Chandos, and Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke, a favourite of Queen Anne.

By the mid 18th century, however, the trendy crowd had moved to developments further west and the square subsequently became noted for the high number of foreign delegations which made their base here, including those of Bavaria, Russia, Genoa and Portugal, as well as foreign artists including Swiss painter Angelica Kauffmann – the first female member of the Royal Academy, and Anglo-Irish painter (and later Royal Academy president) Martin Archer Shee.

Other famous residents have included dancer Elizabeth Gamberini, singer Caterina Gabrielli and Scottish anatomist John Hunter (his former home is one of two marked with English Heritage Blue Plaques in the square). Thomas Jefferson, later a US president, stayed in Golden Square during March and April, 1786, in his only visit to London.

A couple of houses in the square – then occupied by the Bavarian minister Count Haslang – were attacked during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots. These properties were bought by James Talbot, the Roman Catholic Bishop for London, in 1788, so the Roman Catholic Church in Warwick Street could be build in the gardens behind.

The square had deteriorated somewhat by the time Charles Dickens placed it in his late 1830s story Nicholas Nickleby as the home of Ralph Nickleby, and it become the location of numerous boarding houses and small hotels as well as various professionals.

By 1900 the square had become closely connected with the wool trade with as many as 70 firms connected with it located here. Several such firms are apparently still located here but the square is better known these days for companies associated with the movie business.

The middle of the square was dug up for an air raid shelter in World War II but it was paved afterwards and the statue of King George II, attributed to John Van Nost and erected here in 1753 as part of beautification project (it has been suggested the statue actually represents King Charles II but that remains a matter of conjecture), returned to its place in the middle.

None of the original houses now remain but there are a number of residences which still have at least elements dating from late 18th century rebuilds including numbers 11, 21, 23 and 24.

PICTURE: Top – David Iliff (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0); Right – David Adams; Below – RozSheffield (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Before we launch a new Wednesday series, we pause to recap our recent look at significant sites in Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s London, a series we ran in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of both the royal couple’s births…

1. Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace…

2. Buckingham Palace…

3. Constitution Hill…

4. Hyde Park…

5. West End theatres…

6. The South Kensington Museum…

7. The Palace of Westminster…

8. Paddington Railway Station…

9. Prince Consort’s Model Lodge, Kennington

10. Mount Street busts…

 

More than 17,500 photographs, prints and private and official papers relating to Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, have been published online. Launched last week, the new website Prince Albert: His Life and Legacy sheds fresh light on Albert’s role as Queen Victoria’s unofficial private secretary and as guide and mentor to some of the greatest national projects of his day as well as his various roles as a university chancellor, art historian, collector, and art and architecture patron. The website is part of the Prince Albert Digitisation Project which, by the end of 2020, will see some 23,500 items from the Royal Archives, the Royal Collection and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 published online. PICTURE: After Roger Fenton, Prince Albert, May, 1854, 1889 copy of the original (Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019).

Sheep have returned to Hampstead Heath for a week-long trial of an initiative aimed at replacing mowing with more natural grazing. The pilot project, which is being managed by the City of London Corporation in partnership with Heath & Hampstead Society, Heath Hands, Historic England, Mudchute Park & Farm and Rare Breeds Survival Trust, involves five sheep and will focus on The Tumulus on the Heath, an ancient Roman monument. If successful, the sheep – which include Oxford Down and Norfolk Horn – will take their grazing talents to other areas.

Staff from the Tate galleries are showcasing their own artworks in a new free exhibition at the Tate Modern. The first Tate Staff Biennale, which can be seen for free in Tate Exchange on level five of the Blavatnik Building, features the work of 133 staff members from all four Tate Galleries – Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives – and has been curated by the Inside Job Collective – a group of Tate staff dedicated to championing the work of colleagues who are also practicing artists. The biennale is inspired by ‘movement’, the theme of this year’s Tate Exchange, an experimental platform at the Tate Modern and Tate Liverpool which brings together the public, artists and associate partner organisations. Can be seen until 3rd September. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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There are numerous monuments commemorating Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in London, including the well-known Albert Memorial and Queen Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace

But for this series, we’re finishing with a look at a couple of much lesser – and certainly less grand – surviving monuments which adorn a Mayfair building. But it is one of the rare memorials in London which feature both the Queen and the Prince (albeit looking in different directions).

Located at 121 Mount Street (on the corner with Mount Street Mews), is a Victoria-era building now housing the Delfino Pizzeria. The facade, on the first floor, features a bust of Queen Victoria looking down on Mount Street and a bust of Prince Albert looking down on Mount Street Mews.

The Grade II-listed building on which the busts are located is part of a development constructed in the mid-1880s by James Trant Smith. The sculptor is apparently unknown.

Obviously, Prince Albert died in late 1861, well before the building was constructed, but Queen Victoria lived until 1901.

PICTURES: Google Maps.

That’s it for the current series – we’ll be launching a new Wednesday series in a couple of weeks.

The Crystal Palace was the most famous remnant of the 1851 Great Exhibition but there is another less grand monument – and both Prince Albert and Queen Victoria had a connection to it.

Originally constructed for display at the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, the Prince Consort Model Lodge, also known as Prince Albert’s Model Cottage, was designed by architect Henry Roberts for the Society for Improving the Conditions of the Labouring Classes.

Prince Albert was president of the society which turned to him for support when it was initially refused permission to build the model home in the exhibition’s grounds and, as a result, it was eventually agreed it could be build close to them at the Knightsbridge Cavalry Barracks.

The two storey red brick cottage (the bricks were hollow, an innovation aimed at making the homes sound-proof and fire-proof as well as cheaper to build) actually contained homes for four families – each with a living room, a scullery, a parent’s bedroom and two other bedrooms as well as a water closet.

Among the estimated 250,000 people who visited the homes were Queen Victoria – who did so on 12th July, 1851, lavishing praise on her husband’s project – as well as writer Charles Dickens and philanthropist Angela Burdett Coutts.

Following the closure of the exhibition, the home was dismantled and rebuilt on the edge of Kennington Park in 1853 (the park became a public recreation ground the following year and was subsequently the first public park in south London). It can still be seen on the Kennington Park Road side of the park today with improvements including the addition of a porch on the rear.

Interestingly, the cottage is decorated with mosaic tiles featuring intertwined ‘V’s’ and ‘A’s’ – the initials of the royal couple, a motif which is repeated in brickwork on the cottage’s sides. There’s also an inscription on the front which reads ‘Model houses for families • Erected by HRH Prince Albert’.

The model cottage, which has previously served as a home for the park’s superintendent, has been the headquarters of Trees for Cities since 2003. It’s also been featured on a new British stamp this year, among a series marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Prince.

And, yes, the design was adopted for homes built in several other locations including Stepney and Kensington in London and Hertfordshire as well as in locations overseas including The Hague, St Petersburg and Brussels.

PICTURE: Google Maps

 

Queen Victoria was a monarch known for breaking records and, thanks to her rule being in an age when technology was advancing at an incredible pace, performing royal-related “firsts”.

Among the latter is the fact that the Queen was the first British monarch to travel by train – a feat she performed with Prince Albert by her side on 13th June, 1842. It was he, who having first travelled on a train in 1839, had encouraged the rather nervous 23-year-old to make the journey (which she apparently agreed to undertake only two days before she actually did).

Travelling in a specially adapted “royal saloon” decorated with flowers, the royal couple travelled on the Great Western Railway, leaving Slough, which they had travelled to from Windsor Castle, at noon and arriving at London’s Paddington Station some 25 minutes later. Queen Victoria later wrote that there was no dust or great heat during the journey which, in fact, was “delightful and so quick”.

The train – which was pulled by the Firefly-class steam engine Phlegethon – was driven by Sir Daniel Gooch who was assisted by engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, builder of the railway. The Queen’s carriage was sandwiched in between six other carriages and trucks to act as a buffer in case of an accident.

On arriving at Paddington (at a temporary building which had been opened in 1838 and which would be replaced in 1854), the Queen was greeted by railway officials and their families along with a detachment of hussars on a platform covered with a red carpet. Crowds quickly grew and the royal couple were then escorted to Buckingham Palace.

The Queen would go on to regularly use railways as she travelled about Britain and even had a special signal installed on the roof of the royal carriage so the driver could be instructed to slow down as required.

Interestingly, the current Queen – Elizabeth II – and Prince Philip re-enacted the journey in 2017 to mark its 175th anniversary. They were accompanied by Isambard Thomas, the great, great, great grandson of Brunel and Gillian White, great, great grand-daughter of Gooch.

PICTURE: Inside Paddington Station today (Jimmy Harris/licensed under CC BY 2.0)


Following the destruction of much of the Palace of Westminster in a fire which broke out on 16th October, 1834, work was launched on a new building to house both the House of Commons and the House of Lords – a building to which both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had strong connections.

Rebuilding commenced in earnest for the new building 27th August, 1840, when Sarah Barry, wife of architect Charles Barry (his plans for a new Perpendicular Gothic-style Parliament building had been selected from some 97 submissions), laid the foundation stone of the new complex.

Work, to the designs of Barry with the aid of Augustus Pugin, progressed (although a lot slower than was originally envisaged – and a lot more expensively) and the new House of Lords was opened in 1847 followed by the new House of Commons in 1852 (when Barry received a knighthood).

The Clock Tower, meanwhile, now renamed the Elizabeth Tower, was not completed until 1858, but when the Victoria Tower was roofed in 1860, the work was largely complete (although construction wasn’t officially completed until 10 years later – Barry died in 1860 and the work was continued by his son, Edward Middleton Barry).

In 1852, Queen Victoria became the first monarch to take the route since used by all sovereigns at the State Opening of Parliament – arriving in the Irish State Coach (still used by Queen Elizabeth II today) she entered the entrance at the base of the Victoria Tower (now known as the Sovereign’s Entrance) and proceeded to the Robing Room where she was dressed in the Imperial State Crown and the Robe of State before processing through the Royal Gallery to the chamber of the House of Lords where she took her seat on the Throne (located opposite the door leading to the House of Commons).

Prince Albert, known for his passion for the arts, chief connection came when he was appointed chair of the Royal Fine Arts Commission in 1835. It oversaw the placement of paintings and sculptures in the building, including five vast frescoes by William Dyce depicting the Arthurian legend which can be seen in the Robing Room.

The prince tragically died on 14th December, 1861, and while the structural work had largely been completed, much of the decorative schemes the commission had envisaged for the palace hadn’t been finished. As a result, many of the decorative aspects Prince Albert had overseen the planning of were never completed.

Portrayals of the Queen and Prince in the building today include a white marble statue of Queen Victoria holding a sceptre and laurel crown in the Prince’s Chamber and portraits of the Queen and Prince Albert by Franz Xaver Winterhalter which flank the Chair of State in the Robing Room.

WHERE: Houses of Parliament (nearest Tube stations are Westminster, St James’s Park and Embankment); WHEN: Tours are held on Saturdays until 25th January 2020 and Monday to Friday between until 30th August 2019 (except 26th August); COST: £26.50 adults/£22 concessions/£11.50 children five to 15 years (children under five are free); WEBSITE: www.parliament.uk.

An exhibition exploring the changing roles of women in the British Army from 1917 to the present day has opened at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. Rise of the Lionesses, which is being held in partnership with the WRAC Association, charts the major contributions women have made to the Army’s history as well as how perceptions of “appropriate” roles for females have affected these contributions and how women have fought to redefine those roles. Highlights include the combat shirt and medical kit belonging to Sergeant Chantelle Taylor – the first female British soldier to kill in combat, the first Army-issue bra, and the vehicle chassis used to train Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) while she served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service during World War II (pictured above). The free display can be seen until 20th October and is accompanied by a programme of public events. For more, head to this link. PICTURE: Courtesy of National Army Museum.

• Communications intelligence and cyber security are explored in an exhibition at the Science Museum, making the centenary of UK intelligence, security and cyber agency,  GCHQ. Top Secret: From ciphers to cyber security features more than 100 objects including cipher machines used during World War II, secure telephones of the type used by British Prime Ministers, and an encryption key used by the Queen. There’s also encryption technology used by Peter and Helen Kroger who, until their arrest in the 1960s, were part of the most successful Soviet spy ring in Cold War Britain, and the remains of the crushed hard drive alleged to contain top secret information which was given by Edward Snowden to The Guardian in 2013 while the work of GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre is also explored with visitors able to see a computer infected with the WannaCry ransomware which, in 2017, affected thousands of people and organisations including the NHS. Runs until 23rd February. Admission is free. For more, head to www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.

The pioneering work of Hungarian avant garde artist Dóra Maurer goes on show at the Tate Modern on South Bank next Monday in the first UK exhibition celebrating her five decade career. The free display brings together 35 of her works – from conceptual photographic series and experimental films to colourful graphic works and striking geometric paintings – with highlights including Seven Foldings (1975), Triolets (1981), Timing (1973/1980) and the six-metre-long Stage II (2016). The year-long display is one of several free displays opening at the Tate Modern this month. Others include an exhibition of Sol LeWitt’s graphic woodcut prints, a show featuring photograms, films, painting and drawings by Polish émigré artists Franciszka Themerson and Stefan Themerson, and photography displays by Mitch Epstein, Naoya Hatakeyama and David Goldblatt. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

Cinema is being celebrated at Somerset House this month with the launch of Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House. The event includes courtyard screenings, specially curated DJ sets and live performances, and panel discussions from industry insiders. Actor Antonio Banderas will join Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar to introduce the festival’s opening night premiere, Pain and Glory, with other special guests including the cast of Shane Meadows’ BAFTA-award winning film This is England, Francis Lee, the director and writer of God’s Own Country, and  the film’s lead actor Josh O’Connor as well as Peter Webber, director of Inna de Yard. Runs from 8th to 21st August. For more, see www.somersethouse.org.uk.

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Better known today as the Victoria and Albert Museum following its renaming in 1899, the South Kensington Museum was created in the aftermath of the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Initially located in Marlborough House on the Mall, it moved to its South Kensington site in 1857, opening to the public on 22nd June that year. Recorded among the visitors in the initial couple of years was Queen Victoria – who visited twice in February, 1858, and then again open 14th April when she was accompanied by Prince Albert.

The purpose of the later visit was to open the Art Rooms on the ground floor of Sheepshanks Gallery, a building which had been specifically constructed to house paintings given by John Sheepshanks (the building, located on the eastern side of the John Madejski Garden now contains sculptures on the ground floor and silver and stained glass on the first floor).

One interesting connection between the Queen and the museum can be found in a six metre tall plaster cast of Michelangelo’s David. The cast was given to Queen Victoria as a gift from the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1857 but she didn’t want the trouble of housing the giant figure (and she was apparently shocked by its nudity – more on that in a moment). So the Queen gave the statue to the museum where it was installed in a prominent position (and can today be seen in Room 46b).

But ah, yes, the nudity. The story goes that in response to the Queen’s shock, a proportionally accurate plaster fig leaf was commissioned to cover David‘s nether regions whenever the Queen visited (apparently by being hung on two small hooks on the cast). The fig leaf, like the statue, can still be seen – it’s housed in a small case on the back of the plinth David‘s standing on.

David is one of only a few items in the V&A’s collection today which once belonged to the Queen or Prince Albert. Others include the Raphael cartoons which she loaned to the museum in 1865 (and are still on loan from the current Queen).

As part of the redevelopment of the museum in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (when it was also renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum despite the Queen’s wishes it be called the Albert Museum), statues of the royal couple were installed above the museum’s main entrance in Cromwell Road with Prince Albert positioned just below the Queen who is flanked  by St George and St Michael (see above).

PICTURES: Courtesy V&A

WHERE: Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Gloucester Road); WHEN: 10am to 5.45pm daily (Fridays to 10pm); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.vam.ac.uk

This statue in Kensington Gardens, just to the east of Kensington Palace, is one of numerous depicting the Queen located around London. But what sets this one apart is the sculptor – none other than the Queen’s daughter, Princess Louise.

The statue was erected in 1893 and funded by the citizens of Kensington – officially the Kensington Golden Jubilee Memorial Executive Committee – to commemorate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee (actually held in 1887).

Kensington Palace was, of course, where the Queen was born and lived until her accession to the throne.

Made of marble, the statue depicts Victoria, seated and wearing her coronation robes in 1837 at the age of just 18. It sits on a plinth in the middle of a small ornamental pond.

Princess Louise, the Duchess of Argyll, had been taught by sculptor Mary Thornycroft and and Sir Edgar Boehm and was widely known among artists. She was apparently approached by her friend, painter Alma Tadema, about making the work and initially refused before later agreeing to make it.

Other works she created include a memorial commemorating those who fought in the South African War in St Paul’s Cathedral and another statue of Queen Victoria, this one located in Montreal, Canada.

Princess Louise married John, Marquess of Lorne, heir of the Duke of Argyll, who went on to serve as Governor-General of Canada from 1878-1884.

PICTURE: David Stanley (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The impact of Queen Victoria on Buckingham Palace, transforming what was empty residence into “the most glittering court in Europe”, is a special focus of this year’s summer opening of Buckingham Palace. Marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Queen, the exhibition Queen Victoria’s Palace recreates the music, dancing and entertaining that characterised the early part of the Queen’s reign using special effects and displays. Highlights include the Queen’s costume (pictured) for the Stuart Ball of 13th July, 1851, where attendees dressed in the style of King Charles II’s court. There’s also a recreation of a ball held in the palace’s newly completed Ballroom and Ball Supper Room on 17th June, 1856, to mark the end of the Crimean War and honour returning soldiers which uses a Victorian illusion technique known as Pepper’s Ghost to bring to life Louis Haghe’s watercolour, The Ball of 1856. The table in the State Dining Room, meanwhile, has been dressed with items from the ‘Victoria’ pattern dessert service, purchased by the Queen at the 1851 Great Exhibition, and the room also features the Alhambra table fountain, a silver-gilt and enamel centrepiece commissioned by Victoria and Albert in the same year, and silver-gilt pieces from the Grand Service, commissioned by the Queen’s uncle, King George IV, on which sit replica desserts based on a design by Queen Victoria’s chief cook, Charles Elme Francatelli. The summer opening runs until 29th September. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.rct.uk/visit/the-state-rooms-buckingham-palace. PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

 The Victorian reign is also the subject of a new exhibition at the British Museum where rare etchings by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert have gone on display. At home: Royal etchings by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert features 20 artworks that they created during the early years of their marriage and depict scenes of their domestic lives at Windsor Castle and Claremont including images of their children and pets. The display includes three works donated to the museum by King George V, Queen Victoria’s grandson, in 1926, and it’s the first time they’ve gone on public display. Prince Albert introduced the Queen to the practice of etching soon after their wedding and under the guidance of Sir George Hayter they made their first works on 28th August, 1840. They would go on to collaborate on numerous works together. The display can be seen in Room 90a until mid-September. Admission is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org. PICTURE: The Princess Royal and Prince of Wales, 1843, by Albert, Prince Consort (after Queen Victoria) © The Trustees of the British Museum.

American artist Ed Ruscha is the subject of the latest “Artist Rooms” annual free display in the Tate Modern’s Blavatnik building on South Bank. The display features works spanning Ruscha’s six-decade career, including large, text-based paintings and his iconic photographic series. There is also a display of Ruscha’s artist’s books – including Various Small Fires 1964 and Every Building on the Sunset Strip 1966 – as well as some 40 works on paper gifted to Tate by the artist. Highlights include his series of photographs of LA’s swimming pools and parking lots, paintings inspired by classic Hollywood cinema, and works such as DANCE? (1973), Pay Nothing Until April (2003) and Our Flag (2017). Runs until spring 2020. Admission is free. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert both had an abiding love of performance and were avid theatre-goers (the Queen first attended the theatre as monarch to watch The Siege of Rochelle and Simpson & Co at the Drury Lane Theatre just a few months after ascending the throne in 1837).

Until Prince Albert’s death in 1861, they were regularly seen at various theatres with the Queen attending both ‘in state’ (that is, formally as monarch with all the pomp and ceremony that entails) as well as in private (despite Prince Albert’s concerns over her security). The royal couple’s visits to the theatre generally took place from February to June when the Queen was principally in residence at Buckingham Palace.

As well as the Drury Lane Theatre (more formally, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane – pictured above in 2018), other theatres they attended include the Theatre Royal Haymarket and the Covent Garden Theatre, now the Royal Opera House.

They also attended the now demolished Princess’s Theatre in Oxford Street, most notably to see Charles Kean’s production of The Corsican Brothers in February, 1852. Keen not only directed but played both brothers mentioned in the title. So enamoured was the Queen of it, that she would see it four times.

The royal couple were such great admirers of Kean that they even had him stage private theatrical performances at Windsor Castle and when he died, Queen Victoria sent a letter of condolence to his wife.

PICTURE: Marco Verch (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

 

News today that Boris Johnson will be the next Prime Minister of the UK. Johnson, who will take over from Theresa May – only the second woman to hold the office – as PM tomorrow after winning the Conservative Party vote over Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, will be the 14th Prime Minister to serve in the office during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. PICTURE: US State Department

As well as being a location for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s carriage rides, Hyde Park was the scene of what the Queen described as “the greatest day in our history” – the opening of the Great Exhibition in 1851.

Designed by Joseph Paxton, the vast Crystal Palace had been constructed on the south side of the park and it was at noon on 1st May, 1851 (having already celebrated their son Arthur’s first birthday), that the Queen and Prince arrived in a closed carriage to officially open the exhibition, encountering, as they did so, the biggest crowd they’d ever seen.

They were greeted by massed choirs as they entered the Crystal Palace after which Prince Albert delivered an address to the Queen and she made a short reply before the choir then sang the Hallelujah Chorus. The Royal Family – the Queen holding the hand of Bertie, the Prince of Wales, and the Prince holding that of Princess Victoria “Vicky” – then toured the building, cheered on by thousands of onlookers.

The exhibition, with its thousands of displays from around the world, was then officially declared open by the Lord Chamberlain and 100 cannons were fired outside.

The royal couple returned to Buckingham Palace where, for the first time, they walked out onto the balcony to greet the thousands of people massed outside.

Victoria described the day as one to “live for ever” in her journal. Paul Thomas Murphy, in his book Shooting Victoria, records that she went on to write: “God bless my dearest Albert, God bless my dearest country, which has shown itself so great to-day. One felt so grateful to the great God, who seemed to pervade all and to bless all.”

Interestingly, the park was also where Queen Victoria, in the presence of Prince Albert and other members of the Royal Family, presented 62 men with the first Victoria Crosses on 26th June, 1857. It was also where, sadly without the Prince, the Queen made a surprise appearance on 22nd June, 1887, as thousands of school children ate a free meal given as a gift to celebrate her Golden Jubilee.

PICTURE: ‘Her Majesty and the Princes passing through the Crystal Palace’, 1851 Sharles, H (artist) ; Ackermann & Co. (printer and publisher)/© Victoria and Albert Museum London.

WHERE: Hyde Park (nearest Tube stations are Lancaster Gate, Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge); WHEN: 5am to midnight; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park

It was on this road connecting the western end of The Mall outside Buckingham Palace with Hyde Park Corner that an infamous incident took place during Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s early years together.

For it was from a footpath on Constitution Hill that the first of eight assassination attempts were made on the Queen as the couple – the Queen then pregnant – rode out from the palace in a low slung carriage headed for Hyde Park as was their custom.

Edward Oxford was just 18-years-old when at on 10th June, 1840, he took up a position on a footpath on Constitution Hill where he stood for a couple of hours before, at about 6pm, as the royal couple’s carriage sailed past, he fired two pistols at them.

Both shots missed (in fact, no bullets were ever found) and Queen Victoria was quick to order the carriage to drive on (she and Albert would also ride out along the same route the next day despite the scare – this time there was a sizeable crowd of well-wishers eager to convey their good sentiments to the Queen and a procession of these followed their carriage up the hill to Hyde Park).

Oxford, meanwhile, was immediately seized by onlookers and stripped of his guns. He immediately admitted his crime, was subsequently arrested, charged with treason and later acquitted on grounds of insanity before being detained in an asylum at Her Majesty’s pleasure (he was eventually discharged with the proviso that he head to one of England’s overseas colonies and ended up living out his days in Melbourne, Australia).

An interesting footnote is that future artist John Everett Millais, then aged just 11-years-old, was among those standing on Constitution Hill watching the Queen drive past on the day of the assassination attempt.

There were another seven assassination attempts on Queen Victoria over the ensuing years. For more on them, check out Paul Thomas Murray’s detailed book Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem and the Modernisation of the Monarchy.

PICTURE: A view down Constitution Hill towards Buckingham Palace fro, the top of Wellington Arch.

You may have noticed that last week we kicked off a new Wednesday series on 10 (more) London garden squares, only having kicked off a new series on 10 sites from Victoria and Albert’s London the week before. To clarify, we are currently running the Victoria and Albert series, the garden squares entry snuck in by accident (but we’ll be returning to the garden squares down the track)! Apologies for any confusion...


Queen Victoria, the first British monarch to use Buckingham Palace as an official residence, moved her household into the palace just three weeks after ascending to the throne on 20th June, 1837.

The palace, which had been empty for seven years following the death of her uncle King George IV, had been undergoing a grand repurposing under architect John Nash, transforming it from a house into a palace.

Originally built in 1703 as a London residence for John Sheffield, the 3rd Earl of Mulgrave, in 1761 the property had been purchased by King George III as a family home for his wife Queen Charlotte (14 of the couple’s 15 children were born here).

Remodelling of the property began the following year and had been continued by King George IV following his accession to the throne in 1820. As a result of the ongoing work, George IV never lived in the palace nor did his successor, King William IV, who preferred Clarence House.

The building works still weren’t finished when Victoria moved in. Her ministers had advised her to remain at Kensington Palace, her childhood home, until the works were finished but Victoria wasn’t having any of that – the move would help her escape the overbearing care of her mother Victoria, Duchess of Kent, the ambitious Sir John Conroy, and the so-called (and stifling) ‘Kensington System’ of rules under which she’d been brought up.

When Victoria married Albert (see the previous entry) on 10th February, 1840, the newly weds made the palace their London home. It was here that, over the next 17 years, Victoria would give birth to eight of their nine children (starting with Victoria ‘Vicky’, in 1840), and where the couple would work, controversially at side-by-side desks.

The couple’s growing family was soon stretching the palace accommodations and following a request from Queen Victoria, in 1846 some £20,000 was granted by Parliament on 13th August to complete and extend the grand property with an additional £50,000 for the works raised from the sale of the Royal Pavilion to the Brighton Corporation.

Under the direction of architect Edward Blore and builder Thomas Cubitt, the East Wing was added at the front of the palace, enclosing what had previously been a horseshoe-shaped courtyard and creating the famous central balcony where the Royal Family now gather on special occasions. Queen Victoria made the first public appearance on the balcony in 1851 during the Great Exhibition (pictured above are members of the Royal Family at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton).

A new ballroom – designed by Nash’s student James Pennethorne – was added to the State Rooms shortly after. This was inaugurated in May, 1856, with a ball held there the following month to mark the end of the Crimean War.

The ball was one of several held at the palace during those years along with official royal ceremonies and other entertainments including musical performances by the likes of Felix Mendelssohn and Johann Strauss II.

A new exhibition, Queen Victoria’s Palace, opens at Buckingham Palace next month. 

WHERE: State Rooms, Buckingham Palace (nearest Tube stations are Victoria, Green Park and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: 20th July to 29th September (opening at 9am, closing times vary – see website for details); COST: £25 an adult/£14 a child (under 17s/under fives free)/£22.80 concession/£64 family; WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/buckinghampalace.

PICTURES: Top – Diliff (licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0); Lower – David Adams.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the births of both Queen Victoria (24th May) and Prince Albert (26th August) and, in celebration, we’re running a special series on London locations that played a key role in their joint lives.

First up is the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace where the royal couple were married on 10th February, 1840. It was the first marriage of a reigning queen since Queen Mary I in 1554.

The chapel, which hosted the christening of Prince George in 2013 and Prince Louis in 2018, was built in about 1540 and substantially altered since, including under the eye of Sir Robert Smirke in 1837.  It was built on a north-south axis rather than the more usual east-west (a sizeable window on its northern wall can be seen to the right of the palace’s main gatehouse – see picture).

The chapel, which features a richly decorate ceiling said to have been painted by Holbein, has been used regularly by the Chapel Royal – a department of Royal Household – since 1702.

At the wedding, the Queen wore a white satin gown with a deep flounce of handmade Honiton lace, designed by William Dyce, which featured a long veil and an 18 foot long train (she had 12 train bearers). Her jewellery included a sapphire broach given to her by Albert and she wore a headress of orange blossoms. Victoria’s dress is said by some to have popularised the idea of the white wedding dress among the English (although there is apparently some debate over this).

Among those in attendance was Victoria’s mother, the Dowager Duchess of Kent and Strathearn, Albert’s father and brother, the Duke and Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha respectively, and various other royals including Queen Adelaide, the widow of King William IV, as well as the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne (who, in fact, carried the Sword of State). Given the fact Victoria’s father was dead, it was her uncle, the Duke of Sussex, who walked her up the aisle.

It was a big affair in the city – people lined the roads between Buckingham and St James’s palaces and some reportedly even climbed trees for a better view. Victoria wrote in her diary that she’d never seen such crowds “and they cheered most enthusiastically”.

The wedding breakfast, which featured a 300lb cake which was nine foot in circumference, was held at Buckingham Palace after which the newly weds headed off to Windsor for a two day honeymoon.

Famously, before the wedding, the Archbishop of Canterbury had apparently asked Victoria whether, given she was Queen, she wanted to remove the word “obey” from her wedding vows. Victoria had refused.

There are limited opportunities for the public to attend services in the Chapel Royal at certain times of the year.

PICTURE: Johan Bilien (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Queen’s birthday was marked on Saturday with the annual Trooping the Colour in central London. More than 400 soldiers, close to 300 horses and 400 musicians took part in the event, believed to have first been performed during the reign of King Charles II. As well as Queen Elizabeth II, other members of the Royal Family in attendance included Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex (see image below). ALL PICTURES: US Department of Defence photo by US Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A Pineiro (Via Flickr account of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/licensed under CC BY 2.0).