We’re interrupting our usual coverage to bring the Queen’s address to the UK and Commonwealth during this time of crisis…

With origins dating back to a cheese stall established by Stephen Cullum in Aldwych in 1742, Paxton & Whitfield are generally said to be the oldest cheesemongers still operating in London (and one of the oldest in the UK).

Cullum’s business was successful enough that in the 1770s he opened a shop in Swallow Street. By 1790 his son Sam had taken over the business and took two new partners – Harry Paxton and Charles Whitfield.

In 1835 – with Swallow Street demolished to make way for the construction of Regent Street – Sam moved the business to new premises at 18 Jermyn Street (Sam died the following year).

In 1850, the business received the Royal Warrant of Queen Victoria and just three years later finally settled on the name Paxton and Whitfield which the company still bears to this day.

In 1896, the business moved to its current premises at 93 Jermyn Street and a flurry of Royal Warrants followed – that of King Edward VII in 1901, King George V in 1910, King George VI in 1936, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother in 1972, Prince Charles in 1998 and Queen Elizabeth II in 2002.

The firm, meanwhile, has since passed through several hands but continued on at the same premises (albeit becoming, during the period between the two World Wars, an ordinary grocery shop due to the lack of supply of eggs, butter and cheese).

Business picked up after World War II and the company opened shops in Stratford-upon-Avon and Bath. In 2009 formed a partnership with Parisian cheese mongers, Androuet, and in 2014 it opened a new shop in Cale Street, Chelsea.

For more, see www.paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk.

PICTURE: Herry Lawford (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

 

 

 

Britain’s Baroque culture – spanning the period from the Restoration of King Charles II to the death of Queen Anne in 1714 – is the subject of a new exhibition which opened this week at Tate Britain. British Baroque: Power and Illusion – the first major exhibition on the subject – shows how magnificence was used to express status and influence and features works by painters including Sir Peter Lely, Sir Godfrey Kneller, and Sir James Thornhill as well as designs, prints and wooden models of the works of architects like Sir Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor and Sir John Vanbrugh. The importance of portraiture, the visual differences in Protestant and Catholic worship and the illusions contained in painted baroque interiors are all explored in the display along with how the subject of war was dealt with through heroic equestrian portraiture, panoramic battle scenes and accompanying propaganda. The exhibition, which is being accompanied by a programme of events, runs until 19th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: Godfrey Kneller, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, c1706, National Portrait Gallery, London.

The 25th Kew Orchid Festival kicks off at Kew Gardens on Saturday in a celebration of the wildlife and culture of Indonesia. Located in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, the festival will take visitors on an immersive journey evoking the sights, smells and sounds of Indonesia though a series of orchid displays which include a life-sized animals such as orang-utans, a tiger and a rhinoceros, an archway made of hundreds of carnivorous pitcher plants and an erupting volcano. A programme of evening events featuring gamelan music and traditional dancers as well as cooking demonstrations by renowned author and chef Petty Elliott is also planned – these must be booked online in advance. Admission charge applies. Runs until 8th March. For more, see www.kew.org.

On Now: Hidden London: The Exhibition. This display at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden takes visitors on an immersive journey to some of the secret places in the Tube network. Featuring rare archive photos, objects, vintage posters, secret diagrams and decorative tiles from disused stations, it uncovers stories such as how Churchill took shelter in the Railway Executive Committee’s bomb-proof headquarters deep underground at Down Street station at the height of the Blitz during World War II and how almost 2,000 members of staff, mostly women, worked in the Plessey aircraft underground factory located in two 2.5 mile-long tunnels on the eastern section of the Central line. The exhibition is being accompanied by a series of events including late openings and tours. Runs until next January. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/hidden-london#.

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Part of the inner defensive wall built around the White Tower during the reign of King Edward I, the Tower of London’s Beauchamp Tower was used to house prisoners at various times in its history (in fact, it’s name comes from one of them – Thomas Beauchamp, the Earl of Warwick, who was imprisoned here by King Richard II at the end of the 14th century). 

Carved into the walls of the tower’s chambers are a series of inscriptions, known as ‘graffito’ (known to you and I as graffiti), which were carved by some of the prisoners, mostly between the years 1532 and 1672.

The include an elaborate family memorial carved for John Dudley, eldest son of the Duke of Northumberland. He and his three brothers (including a young Robert Dudley, later the Earl of Leicester) were imprisoned by Queen Mary I for their father’s attempt to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne.

Interestingly there’s a simple inscription which just says ‘Jane’ nearby, one of a couple in the tower, although its not generally believed she carved this.

The name ‘Arundell’ is another of the inscriptions – it refers to Philip Howard, the Earl of Arundel, who was imprisoned here by Queen Elizabeth I for 10 years. Along with his name are the words “The more affliction we endure for Christ in this world, the more glory we shall get with Christ in the world to come”.

The name Thomas can be seen carved above a bell bearing the letter ‘A’. It’s believed to refer to Thomas Abel, chaplain to Katherine of Aragon, the ill-fated first wife of King Henry VIII. The king has Abel imprisoned here after he declared the King’s divorce of the Katherine unlawful.

The Beauchamp Tower isn’t the only location of graffiti in the Tower of London – in the Salt Tower, for example, can be found the image of a wounded foot, a Catholic symbol representing the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £24.70 adults; £11.70 children 5 to 15; £19.30 concessions (family tickets available; discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.

PICTURES:  Above – some of the graffiti seen on the Beauchamp Tower walls (David Adams); Middle – An ‘A’ carved on a bell with the word ‘Thomas’, said to refer to Thomas Abel, chaplain to Queen Katherine of Aragon (dvdbramhall – licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0); Below – The name Arundel (Pjposullivan1 – licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/imaged cropped)

This month (12th January to be exact) marks 125 years since the National Trust was founded by Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley. So we’re taking a quick look at another, somewhat related, milestone – the acquisition of the Trust’s first London property.

Located in Barking, Eastbury Manor House, initially known as Eastbury Hall, was built between 1560 and 1573 (during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I) for Clement Sisley on land which once belonged to Barking Abbey.

The H-shaped house and surrounding estate remained in the family until 1629 after which it passed through the hands of a number of well-to-do families, gradually falling into disrepair.

By the early 19th century, decay had led to one of the property’s unique octagonal stair turrets being pulled down and wooden flooring and fireplaces removed. The ground floor was being used as a stable and dairy.

The property struggled on into the early 20th century when it was threatened with demolition. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, recognising its significance as a rare example of mid-16th century brick built gentry house, lobbied for it to be saved and, working alongside the National Trust, ran a campaign to raise funds for its acquisition.

The house – and surrounding gardens – were acquired by the Trust for the nation in 1918 and then, in 1934, leased to Barking Borough Council. The following year the property became the home of Barking Museum.

It was awarded Grade I-listed status in 1954 and is now managed by the Borough of Barking and Dagenham. A restoration program in recent years has seen the addition of a permanent exhibition on the property’s history.

WHERE: Eastbury Manor House, Eastbury Square, Barking (nearest Tube station is Upney); WHEN: From 13th  February, 10am to 4pm Thursdays and Fridays and, from 22nd March, 11am to 4pm Sundays; COST: £5.20 adults/£2.60 children and concessions/£9.30 family (LBBD residents, SPAB and National Trust members free); WEBSITE: www.eastburymanorhouse.org.uk.

PICTURE: David Nicholls (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

It’s our first ‘This Week in London’ for 2020 so instead of our usual programming, we thought we’d briefly look at five key exhibitions that you won’t want to miss this year…

1. Thomas Becket at the British Museum. Marking the 850th anniversary of the murder of the medieval Archbishop of Canterbury on 29th December, 1170, the museum will host the first ever major exhibition on the life, death and legacy of the archbishop as part of a year-long programme of events which also includes performances, pageants, talks, film screenings and religious services. The exhibition will run from 15th October to 14th February, 2021. PICTURE: Alabaster sculpture, c 1450–1550, England. Here, Becket is shown kneeling at an altar, his eyes closed and his hands clasped in prayer, all the while four knights draw their swords behind him. To Becket’s right is the monk Edward Grim, whose arm was injured by one of the knight’s swords. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

2. Elizabeth and Mary at the British Library. This exhibition draws on original historic documents to  take a fresh look at what’s described as the “extraordinary and fascinating story of two powerful queens, both with a right to the English throne: Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots”. Letters and other 16th century documents will show how their struggle for supremacy in the isles played out. Runs from 23rd October to 21st February, 2021.

3. Tudors to Windsors at the National Maritime Museum. This major exhibition promises to give visitors “the opportunity to come face-to-face with the kings, queens and their heirs who have shaped British history and were so central to Greenwich”.  Including more than 150 works covering five royal dynasties, it will consider the development of royal portraiture over a period spanning 500 years and how they were impacted by the personalities of individual monarchs as well as wider historical changes. Will be held from April.

4. Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King at Hampton Court Palace. Marking the 500th anniversary of the Field of Cloth of Gold – King Henry VIII’s landmark meeting with his great rival, the French King François I, the exhibition will feature a treasure trove of precious objects from the English and French courts as well as a never-before-seen tapestry, manufactured in the 1520s, which depicts a bout of wrestling at the meeting presided over by François and which also shows a black trumpeter among the many musicians depicted. Opens on 10th April. The palace will also play host this year to Henry VIII vs François I: The Rematch, a nine day festival of jousting, wrestling and foot combat complete with feasting, drinking and courtly entertainment. Runs from 23rd to 31st May.

5. Faces of a Queen: The Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I at the Queen’s House in Greenwich. This display brings together, for the first time, the three surviving versions of the iconic ‘Armada Portrait’ of Elizabeth I. The portrait commemorates the Spanish Armada’s failed attempt to invade England and the display will include the Royal Museums Greenwich’s own version of the painting along with that from the National Portrait Gallery and that which normally hangs in Woburn Abbey. Runs from 13th February to 31st August.

We’ll feature more details in stories throughout the coming year. But, of course, this is just a sample of what’s coming up this year – keep an eye on Exploring London for more…

2. Treasures of London – The Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I…

and the most popular post of 2019…

1. Where’s London’s oldest…door?

MOLA archaeologists have started excavating the site of The Boar’s Head Playhouse in Middlesex Street, Whitechapel, before construction of a new student housing complex. The playhouse, the location of which is known from historical accounts, was created in 1598 when inn owner Oliver Woodliffe converted his establishment by adding tiered galleries, a stage and central open air yard (extra galleries and a roof over the stage were added a year later). The playhouse hosted popular acting troupes including Lord Derby’s Men and the Lord Worcester’s Men, later the Queen’s Men, led by the famous actor and playwright Thomas Greene, and among the plays performed was the comedy No-body and Some-body as well as a chronicle of the life and reign of Elizabeth I, If You Know Not Me, You Know No Bodie. It is hoped the excavations will provide new insights into the theatre. The accommodation, being developed by Unite Students, will provide housing for 915 students and is expected to open in 2021. PICTURES: Top – Archaeologists record an 18th century clay tobacco pipe kiln built against 16th century walls associated with the Boar’s Head playhouse © MOLA; Below – Reconstruction of the Boar’s Head Playhouse from 1598, by C Walter Hodges.

 

This area in the south-east of London derives its name from a royal connection – Prince George of Denmark, the husband of Queen Anne, is said to have owned a hunting lodge on the east side of the hill.

Originally named Dulwich Hill (given its proximity to Dulwich), its name was changed in honour of the prince after his marriage to Queen Anne in 1683. The residential area centres on the street of the same name – Denmark Hill.

Landmarks include Ruskin Park, named after Victorian art critic John Ruskin, who lived the street, as well as Maudsley Hospital – built in 1915 – and King’s College Hospital, which moved here in 1913.

The Salvation Army’s iconic William Booth Training College, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and completed in 1932, is also located here.

PICTURE: View from the top of William Booth Tower looking north towards the City of London (diamond geezer/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

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)

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.

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

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