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

Advertisements

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).

 

 

 

 

 

Located in the heart of the City of London (actually, according to a myth, it’s the exact centre of the Roman-era city), Williamson’s Tavern dates from the mid-18th century.

The tavern, located in Groveland Court, just off Bow Lane, owes its name to Robert Williamson who bought residence which once stood on the site – and happened to be the home of the Lord Mayor of London – in  the mid-1700s.

It was Williamson who turned the premises, which had been built soon after the Great Fire of 1666, into a hotel and tavern (the Lord Mayor, meanwhile, moved into the George Dance-designed Mansion House in 1752).

Said to be popular among merchants and seafarers, the hotel, meanwhile, remained in the family until 1914 when James Williamson died and the property was auctioned.  The hotel eventually disappeared but the tavern – now housed in a building dating from the early 1930s – lives on.

There is a remnant of its glorious past nearby – King William III and Queen Mary II, who were said to have dined at the previous Lord Mayor’s residence, presented the Lord Mayor with a gift in the form of now Grade II-listed wrought-iron gates with their monogram and they still stand at one end of Groveland Court.

The tavern, meanwhile, claims to have “probably…the oldest excise license in the City of London”. It also features a stone plaque in the floor which, so the story goes, marks the exact centre of London (although its apparently covered by carpet) and there are some Roman-era bricks or tiles incorporated into a fireplace which were discovered during the 1930s rebuild.

It’s also said to have a resident ghost – Martha (also the name of one of the pub’s dining rooms). According to the pub’s website, police dogs won’t go near the place as a result while longer serving members of staff say they have all seen a painting of her in various parts of the pub (of course, no such painting exists).

The tavern is now part of the Nicholson’s chain. For more, see www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/london/williamsonstaverngrovelandcourtlondon.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

Queen Victoria was born on 24th May, 1819, at Kensington Palace and to celebrate the bicentenary, the palace, as well as holding two new exhibitions inside – Victoria: A Royal Childhood and Victoria: Woman and Crown, also features a new floral display in the surrounding gardens. A new display in the Sunken Garden which features plant species connected to the Victorian period – including heliotrope, canna, pelargonium and begonia – was planted this month for visitors to enjoy over the summer months. In addition, the palace’s gardens and estates team are showcasing a selection of new plant species discovered during the Queen’s reign around the formal gardens – everything from the Chilean lantern tree identified in 1848 to the Chinese fringe tree identified in 1845 – while the decorative pond which surrounds the statue of the Queen outside the East Front of the palace is being planted with aquatic plants and marginals that highlight and complement the iconic sculpture. There is also a special floral illustration using Victorian-style carpet bedding formed of Sempervivum ‘Mahogany’ to spell out ‘200 years’ in front of the statue (see picture). For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/Victoria2019. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces/Richard Lea-Hair.


Queen Victoria’s childhood and later life are being re-examined in two new displays which open this week at Kensington Palace to mark the 200th anniversary of her birth. Victoria: A Royal Childhood features objects related to her early years – such as a scrapbook of mementos created by her German governess, Baroness Lehzen (on public display for the first time) – shown along a newly presented route through the rooms she once occupied in the palace. Visitors will experience how her childhood was governed by the strict rules of the ‘Kensington System’ and see how she escaped isolation and family feuding into a fantasy world of story writing, doll making and drawing inspired by her love of opera and ballet. Her education, family life, closest friendships and bitter struggles are explored with interactive displays helping visitors bring to life the rooms in which she lived. Meanwhile, the palace is also hosting another new exhibition – Victoria: Woman and Crown – which looks at the private woman behind the public monarch and examines her later life, including her response to the death of Prince Albert, her role in shaping royal dynasties and politics across Europe and her complex love affair with India. Among objects on show here are rare survivals from the Queen’s private wardrobe including a simple cotton petticoat dated to around the time of her marriage, and a fashionable pair of silver boots, both of which were recently acquired by Historic Royal Palaces with support from Art Fund. Entry to the two exhibitions is included in the standard admission charge. The palace gardens, meanwhile, are being planted with a special floral display in celebration of the anniversary centred on plant species connected to the Victorian period  including heliotrope, canna, pelargonium and begonia. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/Victoria2019. PICTURES: Top  – The Birth Room in ‘Victoria: A Royal Childhood’; Right – Queen Victoria’s Highland dress in the ‘Victoria: Woman and Crown’ exhibition (Both images © Historic Royal Palaces/Richard Lea-Hair)

A newly identified sketch of the Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci goes on public view for the first time at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, from tomorrow. Marking 500 years since the artist’s death, Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing also features the only other surviving portrait of Leonardo made during his lifetime as well as 200 of his drawings in which is a comprehensive survey of his life. The newly identified sketch was discovered by Martin Clayton, head of prints and drawings at the Royal Collection Trust, while he was undertaking research for the exhibition and has been identified as a study of Leonardo made by an assistant shortly before da Vinci’s death in 1519. The other contemporary image of Leonardo, by his pupil Francesco Melzi, was produced at about the same time. Other highlights of the exhibition include Leonardo’s Studies of hands for the Adoration of the Magi (c1481) – also on public display for the first time, studies for The Last Supper and many of the artist’s ground-breaking anatomical studies, such as The Fetus in the Womb (c1511). The drawings in the Royal Collection have been together since Leonardo’s death and are believed to have been acquired in the reign of King Charles II. Runs until 13th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rct.uk/leonardo500/london.

The use of sound in the art of William Hogarth is being explored in a new exhibition opening in The Foundling Museum on Friday. Hogarth & the Art of Noise focuses on the work The March of the Guards to Finchley and unpacks the social, cultural and political context in which it was created including the Jacobite uprising, the plight of chimney boys and the origins of God Save the King. It uses sound, wall-based interpretation, engravings and a specially commissioned immersive soundscape by musician and producer Martin Ware to reveal how Hogarth orchestrated the natural and man-made sounds of London. Complementing the exhibition is a display of works from contemporary British artist Nicola Bealing which takes as its starting point subjects and narratives found in 18th century broadside ballads. Runs until 1st September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

Send items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

One of the star sites in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, the tomb of Horatio, Lord Nelson, is certainly grand.

Located in what is known as the Nelson Chamber, it centres on a polished back sarcophagus which sits on a stone plinth surrounded by columns with a mosaic floor featuring nautical motifs underneath.

But what makes this tomb unusual is that the sarcophagus actually predates the cathedral itself – and it wasn’t originally made for Nelson.

The sarcophagus was initially commissioned by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of King Henry VIII, and made by Florentine sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano in about 1524. But when Wolsey fell out of favour – and eventually died in disgrace – the then unfinished sarcophagus was seized by King Henry VIII.

King Henry intended to use it for himself and commissioned Benedetto to rework it but it wasn’t complete when he died and while his children – King Edward VI, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I – had intended to complete it after his death, none did so.

It was Queen Elizabeth I who moved the unfinished work out of Westminster to Windsor but during the Commonwealth various pieces designed to accompany the completed tomb were dispersed.

They included four large bronze angels that Benedetto had completed in 1529 which were intended to stand on the tomb’s four corners – for many years these were used as decorative features on gate pillars at Harrowden Hall in Northampshire but were finally recovered by the V&A in 2015 after a national appeal and can now be seen there.

The sarcophagus itself remained at Windsor until King George III presented it to the Admiralty in tribute to Lord Nelson.

Suitably fitted out, his remains were enclosed within when he was buried in St Paul’s crypt on 9th January, 1806.

Nelson’s body, which had been preserved in a keg of brandy on its journey aboard the HMS Victory back from the Battle of Trafalgar where he was killed in 1805, is actually held inside a wooden coffin which sits inside the sarcophagus. This coffin was made from the mainmast of the French ship L’Orient which was presented to Nelson following victory at the Battle of the Nile.

Meanwhile, the sarcophagus itself, which would have been topped with Wolsey’s cardinal’s hat had it fulfilled its original intention, is now topped with a coronet – a symbol of Nelson’s title of viscount.

A monument to Nelson, the work of John Flaxman, can also be seen inside the cathedral.

WHERE: Nelson Chamber, The Crypt, St Paul’s Cathedral (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s, Mansion House and Blackfriars); WHEN: 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Saturday; COST: £20 adults/£17.50 concessions/£8.50 children (online and group discounts; family tickets available); WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk.

PICTURE: Above – Michael Broad  (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Below – reverendlukewarm (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

A sapphire and diamond coronet made for Queen Victoria goes on permanent display in the V&A’s William and Judith Bollinger Gallery from today. The new display is being unveiled as part of the V&A’s commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the births of the Queen and her husband, Prince Albert. The coronet was designed for the Queen by Prince Albert in 1840, the year they were married. Albert based the design on the Saxon Rautenkranz (circlet of rue) which runs diagonally across the coat of arms of Saxony. Victoria wore the coronet in a famous portrait by Franz Xavier Winterhalter completed in 1842 and again in 1866 when she wore it instead of her crown at the opening of Parliament. Entrance to the gallery is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

A major new exhibition of the work of Edvard Munch (1863-1944) opens at the British Museum in Bloomsbury today. Edvard Munch: love and angst, a collaboration with Norway’s Munch Museum, features 83 artworks taken from the museum’s collection as well as loans from across the UK and Europe. Highlights include a black-and-white lithograph of The Scream – the first time any version of the work has been on show in the UK for a decade, Vampire II – considered to be one of his most elaborate and technically accomplished prints, the controversial erotic image Madonna, and, Head by Head, a print representing the complex relationship between human beings. All of the latter three latter prints are being displayed alongside their original matrix (the physical objects Munch used to transfer ink onto paper). Runs until 21st July in the Sir Joseph Hotung Exhibition Gallery. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org. (PICTURE: The Scream (1895), Edvard Munch (1863-1944), Private Collection, Norway. Photo: Thomas Widerberg)

A retrospective of the work of Abram Games (1914-1996), a poster artist for the War Office during World War II, has opened at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. The Art of Persuasion: Wartime Posters By Abram Games features more than 100 posters he designed while working in the War Office’s Public Relations Department between 1941 and 1945. It explores how his Jewish refugee heritage, his experiences while a soldier and the turbulent politics of the time shaped his career and how his work – Games is described as a “master of reductive design” – still influences design professionals today. In conjunction with the opening of the exhibition last week, Games has been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home in Golders Green. Runs until 24th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk/artofpersuasion.

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

A state-of-the-art, multi-sensory experience focusing on the beasts, large and small, that have helped shaped London opens at the Museum of London tomorrow. Beasts of London, being run in conjunction with the Guildhall School and Music & Drama, tells the story of the capital from before London existed through to the city today, all through the perspective of animals. Inspired by objects in the museum’s collection, the nine “episodes” of the experience encompass subjects including the arrival of the Romans, the creation of the first menageries during the medieval period, the plague years of the 1600s, the first circuses in the late 1700s, the end of the animal-baiting period in the Victorian era and the role of animals in today’s contemporary city. There’s also a special episode on the contribution horses have made to the city. Well-known identities including Kate Moss, Brian Blessed, Pam Ferris, Nish Kumar, Stephen Mangan, Angellica Bell and Joe Pasquale provide voices for the animals alongside actors from the Guildhall School. The family-friendly experience can be enjoyed until 5th January, 2020. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/beastsoflondon. PICTURE: Lion sculpture; courtesy Museum of London.

A new exhibition about Britain’s role in the Cold War opens at the National Archives in Kew today – exactly 70 years since the formation of NATO. Protect and Survive: Britain’s Cold War Revealed features original documents including political memos, spy confessions, civil defence posters and even a letter from Winston Churchill to the Queen as it explores the complexities of government operations during a time of paranoia, secrets and infiltration. Other highlights include George Orwell’s infamous list of suspected communist sympathisers, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin’s ‘percentages agreement’, a plan of Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb’s fateful spy mission, ‘Atom spy’ Klaus Fuchs’ confession and Civil Defence posters. There’s also a recreated government bunker and a 1980s living room showing the impact of the Cold War on both government and ordinary lives as well as digital screens on which Dame Stella Rimington, the first female Director General of MI5, shares her experiences along with insights from historian Dominic Sandbrook and curator Mark Dunton. The display is being accompanied by a series of events including night openings, film screening and talks. Runs until 9th November (30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall). Admission charge applies. For more, see nationalarchives.gov.uk/coldwar.

Prince Albert’s personal contributions to the V&A’s Library collection are the subject of a new exhibition which opened this week as part of the South Kensington Institute’s celebration of the 200th anniversaries of the births of both the Prince and Queen Victoria. Prince Albert: Science & the Arts on the Page features books and photographs include one volume containing a letter written by the Prince’s librarian Ernst Becker highlighting Albert’s wish to promote knowledge and learning in science and the arts. There’s also a volume of songs written and set to music by Albert and his brother, featuring amendments in Albert’s own hand, as well as his signed season ticket to the Great Exhibition of 1851. Runs until 1st September on the Library Landing. Admission is free. Head here for more.

Forty years of computer game history is once again on show at the Science Museum from Saturday. Returning for its fourth year, Power UP features 160 consoles and hundreds of games, from retro classics like Space Invaders to the latest in VR technology. Special events include two adults-only evening sessions on 10th and 17th April. Runs until 22nd April. For more, see sciencemuseum.org.uk/power-up.

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

This well-to-do district of west London owes its name to the family of Hugh Grosvenor, the 7th Duke of Westminster and owner of the Grosvenor Estate, the land upon which Belgravia is located.

The country estate of the duke’s family – the Grosvenors – is known as Eaton Hall and it lies just to the south of Chester. Various names related to the estate appear on the London map. Among them is Belgravia.

Belgravia take its name from the tiny village of Belgrave which lies within the estate’s boundary (the word Belgrave, incidentally, comes from the Old French for “beautiful wood”).

The London residential area now known as Belgravia, meanwhile, was formerly known as Five Fields and used for grazing. The Westbourne River meandered through it, crossed by “Bloody Bridge”, so-called because it was a known haunt of robbers.

It later became the site of market gardens and houses began to appear in the area following King George III’s move to what was then Buckingham House but development of the area didn’t begin in earnest until the 1820s when Robert Grosvenor, later the first Marquess of Westminster (pictured here in a statue in Belgrave Square), began developing the estate with the aid of builder Thomas Cubitt.

Designed with Belgrave Square at its centre, the new development immediately became associated with the more affluent end of society, a connection which continues to this day.

As well as Belgrave Square, the district, which straddles both the City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, includes Eaton, Chester and Lowndes Squares (the first two names associated with the duke’s country estate; the third named after William Lowndes, a politician and Secretary to the Treasury under King William III and Queen Anne.

Palatial terraced houses aside, landmarks include the Grade II-listed St Peter’s Church, located at the east end of Eaton Square, which was first built in the 1820s and rebuilt in the 1830s. The area is also home to numerous embassies and consulates including those of Norway, Spain, Malaysia and Egypt, and, in keeping with the international feel, also boasts several statues of notable foreigners including Simon Bolivar and Christopher Columbus.

Famous residents have included former Prime Ministers Stanley Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain and Margaret Thatcher (the first two lived in Eaton Square; Thatcher in Chester Square), Louis Mountbatten, who lived in Wilton Crescent, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who lived in Upper Belgrave Street, as did Lord Lucan who mysteriously disappeared in 1974 after his children’s nanny was found murdered.

PICTURES: Top – Terraced homes in Grosvenor Crescent, which runs off Belgrave Square (Google Maps); Right – Statue of Lord Robert Grosvenor, first Marquess of Westminster (David Adams).

At Eternity's GateThe first exhibition to examine the work of Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh through his relationship with Britain has opened at Tate Britain this week. Van Gogh and Britain includes more than 40 works by the artist including L’Arlésienne (1890), Starry Night on the Rhone (1888), and Sunflowers (1888). The exhibition will also feature later works by Van Gogh including two he painted while in the Saint-Paul asylum – At Eternity’s Gate (1890 – pictured) and Prisoners Exercising (1890). The exhibition shows how Van Gogh, who lived in London between 1873 and 1876 working as a trainee art dealer, responded to works by artists like John Constable and John Everett Millais and his love of British writers like William Shakespeare, Christina Rossetti and, particularly, Charles Dickens (L’Arlésienne features one of Dickens’ favourite books in the foreground). The show runs until 11th August and is being accompanied by a series of talks and other events. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.ukPICTURE: Vincent van Gogh (1853 –1890), ‘Sorrowing old man (‘At Eternity’s Gate’)’ (1890), Collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

On Now – Elizabethan Treasures: Miniatures by Hilliard and Oliver. This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery – which is focused on the work of Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619) and Isaac Oliver (c1565-1617) – is the first major display of Tudor and Jacobean portrait miniatures to be held in the UK for more than 35 years and includes new discoveries as well as portraits on public display for the first time. A large section of the exhibition is devoted to portraits of Queen Elizabeth I as well as King James I, his wife Anne of Denmark and his three children – Henry, Elizabeth and Charles (later King Charles II). There are also miniatures of famous figures like Sir Walter Ralegh, Sir Francis Drake and a little known portrait of Shakespeare’s patron, the Earl of Southampton. Other highlights include a previously unknown portrait by Hilliard of King Henri III of France. Runs until 19th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

A major exhibition exploring the role of money in Jewish life has opened at the Jewish Museum London in Camden Town. Jews, Money, Myth looks at the “ideas, myths and stereotypes” that link money and Jews over two millennia. It features art works such as Rembrandt’s Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver as well as new commissions by Jeremy Deller and Doug Fishbone along with film, literature and cultural emphemera ranging from board games and cartoons to costumes and figurines. There are a series of related events. For more, see www.jewishmuseum.org.uk.

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

The Painted Hall in Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College reopens on Saturday following a two-year, £8.5 million restoration project. The hall, known as the UK’s “Sistine Chapel”, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren as a ceremonial dining room for what was then the Royal Hospital for Seamen. Completed in 1705, its 4,000 square metre interior features a decorative scheme painted by Sir James Thornhill, the first British artist to be knighted, which took 19 years to complete. The paintings celebrate English naval power as well as the then newly installed Protestant monarchy with joint monarchs King William III and Queen Mary II as well as Queen Anne and King George I all represented in the artworks along with hundreds of other mythological, allegorical, historical and contemporary figures. The restoration project has also seen the King William Undercroft, located underneath the hall, converted into a new cafe, shop and interpretation gallery. Two cellar rooms from King Henry VIII’s palace – which once stood on the site – were discovered during the restoration works and are also now on public display. Other new touches include the return of a series of carved oak benches to the hall (having been introduced when it was used as an art gallery in the 19th century they were removed 100 years ago), two ‘treasure chests’ containing objects related to the ceiling artworks which can be handled, and new tour options – not just of the hall and undercroft but of the entire Old Royal Naval College site. There’s a host of special activities over the opening weekend, including a parade and official opening ceremony from 9.30am, the chance to meet historical characters, music, food stalls, kids activities and more. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ornc.org. PICTURED: The Old Royal Naval College, home of the Painted Hall.

The V&A has announced it is extending its sell-out Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition due to unprecedented demand. The exhibition at the South Kensington museum, which had originally been scheduled to close on 14th July, will now run until 1st September with new tickets made available on 15th of each month (there’s also a limited number of tickets available to purchase daily at 10am from the V&A’s Grand Entrance on a first-come, first-served basis; V&A members, of course, attend free-of-charge with no need to book). The exhibition, which initially sold out of its five month run with 19 days of opening, is the most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in the UK on the House of Dior and the museum’s biggest fashion exhibition since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2015. For more, see vam.ac.uk.

On Now: Merchant Navy Treasures: An Introduction to the Newall Dunn Collection. This display at the City of London’s Guildhall Library delves into the Newall Dunn Collection, one of the world’s most comprehensive photographic and reference collections on merchant shipping, and showcases the achievements of shipping historian Peter Newall and artist and writer Laurence Dunn. Alongside images, press releases and newspaper cuttings, on show are company brochures, menus and other items from the ocean liners and cargo vessels of three famous lines from the golden age of shipping: the Cunard, Orient and Union-Castle. Admission is free. Runs until 24th May. For more, follow this link.

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

Designed by the architect Charles Fitzroy Doll in distinctive French Renaissance-style for the Frederick Hotels Company, the Hotel Russell opened on the east side of Russell Square in 1898.

The now Grade II*-listed building, which is said to have been based on the 16th century Château de Madrid in Paris, is clad in decorative Doulton’s thé-au-lait (“tea with milk”) terracotta.

Its facade incorporates the coats-of-arms of the world’s nations as they were in 1898 and above the entrance are life-sized statues of four queens – Elizabeth I, Mary II, Anne and Victoria – which were designed by sculptor Henry Charles Fehr (pictured). The Guilford Street frontage features busts of four Prime Ministers: Lord Derby, Lord Salisbury, William Gladstone, and Benjamin Disraeli.

The hotel’s interior features ornate fixtures and fitting including a Pyrenean marble staircase which runs off the opulent marble foyer and an interior courtyard housing a Palm Court. Each bedroom was fitted with an en-suite bathroom.

Its restaurant, now named the Neptune but originally named after Doll, was designed almost identically to the RMS Titanic‘s dining room (Doll designed both). That’s not the only Titanic connection – the hotel also features a bronze statue of a dragon on the stairs named ‘Lucky George’ and the Titanic carried an identical statue.

The hotel survived World War II largely intact – with the exception of a roof-top dome which was damaged in an air raid in 1941 and not replaced.

Fast forward to April, 2018, and the hotel reopened as the The Principal Hotel (on the 106th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic) following an extensive £85 million, two year renovation by designer Tara Bernerd.

But the Principal Hotel Company sold its portfolio of hotels to Covivio a few months later and they, in turn, leased the management of the hotels to the InterContinental Hotels Group. The Principal was renamed the Kimpton Fitzroy London in October that year.

Alongside 330 or so rooms, amenities at the five star hotel include the glass-roofed Palm Court, cocktail bar Fitz’s (named for Charles Fitzroy Doll), and the coffee shop Burr & Co. There’s also a grand ballroom, meeting rooms and a fitness centre.

Interestingly, Doll designed another hotel, the Imperial, also on Russell Square, which opened in 1911. It was demolished in 1966.

For more, see www.kimptonfitzroylondon.co.uk/us/en/.

PICTURES: Top – David Iliff (licensed under CC BY 3.0); Right and below – Jack1956.

This is the final in our series on historic London hotels. We’ll be launching a new special series next Wednesday.

Queen Elizabeth II posted her first Instagram photo while visiting the Science Museum in South Kensington last Thursday in a promotion for its exhibition on computers. Under the account @theroyalfamily, the Queen posted two images of a letter at the museum which comes from the Royal Archives. It was written to Prince Albert and Queen Victoria by Charles Babbage and in it, the 19th century inventor and mathematician spoke of his invention of an “Analytical Machine” upon which the first computer programs were written by Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron. Having explained the origins of the letter, the Queen added: “Today, I had the pleasure of learning about children’s computer coding initiatives and it seems fitting to me that I publish this Instagram post, at the Science Museum which has long championed technology, innovation and inspired the next generation of inventors. Elizabeth R.” The Royal Family’s Instagram account has some 4.9 million followers. For more on the Science Museum, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.

View this post on Instagram

Today, as I visit the Science Museum I was interested to discover a letter from the Royal Archives, written in 1843 to my great-great-grandfather Prince Albert.  Charles Babbage, credited as the world’s first computer pioneer, designed the “Difference Engine”, of which Prince Albert had the opportunity to see a prototype in July 1843.  In the letter, Babbage told Queen Victoria and Prince Albert about his invention the “Analytical Engine” upon which the first computer programmes were created by Ada Lovelace, a daughter of Lord Byron.  Today, I had the pleasure of learning about children’s computer coding initiatives and it seems fitting to me that I publish this Instagram post, at the Science Museum which has long championed technology, innovation and inspired the next generation of inventors. Elizabeth R. PHOTOS: Supplied by the Royal Archives © Royal Collection Trust / Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

A post shared by The Royal Family (@theroyalfamily) on

 

The Connaught Hotel, another five star Mayfair establishment, was built in 1892 on the site of smaller hotel which had opened in what is now Carlos Place in the early 19th century.

Known as The Prince of Saxe-Coburg Hotel (or The Coburg for short), the first hotel on the site opened in 1815 as an offshoot of Alexander Grillon’s hotel in Albemarle Street. The Coburg was created out of two houses owned by the Duke of Westminster.

In 1892, the owners of The Coburg – Lewis Isaacs and H L Florence – embarked upon a complete rebuild of the hotel and in 1897 it reopened with a 90-year lease on the building signed by Sir John Blundell Maple, of a famous furniture making family.

The new premises was renamed The Connaught during World War I amid anti-German sentiment. The new moniker was a reference to the seventh child of Queen Victoria, Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn.

Frequented by the gentry between the wars thanks to its handy position between Buckingham Palace and Harley Street, during World War II the hotel served as home to French President General Charles de Gaulle.

In the post war years, the hotel soon established a reputation for fine food and drink thanks in part to the opening, in 1955, of The Grill Room. This was only enhanced with the arrival of Michel Bourdin as head chef in 1975 – a position he held for 26 years.

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, opened the hotel’s new kitchens in 1992 and 10 years later Angela Harnett’s Menu at The Connaught opened, winning a Michelin star in 2004 (it closed in 2007).

In the mid 2000s, the Grade II-listed hotel underwent a major £70 million restoration and refurbishment with new additions including a new wing, the Aman Spa and a Japanese garden. In 2008, French chef Hélène Darroz opened a restaurant at the hotel and the following year, in 2009, a new art deco ballroom designed by Guy Oliver – Mayfair’s first in more than 80 years – opened its doors.

Most recently, in 2017, New York-based French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened a new restaurant at the Connaught. Other newer additions include Tadao Ando’s Silence, a water feature installed outside the main entrance in 2011.

With around 120 rooms and suites (not to mention the world-famous Connaught Bar), the hotel, which had been acquired by the Savoy Group in the 1950s, is now part of the Maybourne Hotel Group along with Claridge’s.

Famous names which have been recently associated with the hotel include Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and Gwyneth Paltrow. And, of course, Ralph Lauren, who was so enamoured of the hotel’s famous staircase that he had a replica made for his Madison Avenue store in New York.

For more, see www.the-connaught.co.uk.

PICTURE: Via Google Street View.

 

This five star luxury Mayfair hotel opened in 1931 and quickly established a reputation for luxuriousness.

Located at 35 Park Lane on the site of what was formerly the London residence of the Earl of Dorchester (and later a mansion built for millionaire RS Holford), the hotel was the dream of Sir Robert McAlpine who bought the site in partnership with Gordon Hotels in 1929 for £500,000 and vowed to create a luxury hotel that would “rank as the finest in Europe”.

Engineer Sir Owen Williams initially oversaw the building’s design but a falling out saw architect William Curtis Green take over the project (meaning while the structural frame was Sir Owen’s work, the elevations are largely the work of Green). A quarter of the building was constructed underground.

When the 10 storey modernistic building was opened on 18th April, 1931, by Lady Violet Astor, it featured luxurious rooms and suites (with, apparently, the deepest baths of any hotel in London), a ballroom built to accommodate 1,000, an Oriental Restaurant and, of course, the Dorchester Bar (it was here the ‘Dorchester of London’ cocktail was invented).

The Dorchester survived World War II with only minor damage (its basement served as an air-raid shelter). In fact, during World War II, such was the reputation of its reinforced concrete structure, that UK Cabinet members including Lord Halifax stayed here while US General Dwight D Eisenhower planned the D-Day invasion from his suite – now the Eisenhower Suite – during World War II.

In the 1950s, stage set designer Oliver Messel revamped various aspects of the hotel including designing some suites in an extension in Deanery Street (the Oliver Messel Suite is named for him).

The hotel has hosted its share of the rich and famous – Prince Philip hosted his bachelor party in the hotel’s Park Suite on the eve of his wedding to Queen Elizabeth II in 1947 (the Queen, meanwhile, had dined there the day before the engagement was announced), and actors Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor used the hotel as something of a “second home”.

Other notable figures who have stayed at the hotel include writers Cecil Day-Lewis and Somerset Maugham, painter Sir Alfred Munnings, director Alfred Hitchcock and film stars Gloria Swanson, Marlene Dietrich, Danny Kaye and James Mason as well as Tom Cruise, Meg Ryan and Nicole Kidman.

The Dorchester was listed as a Grade II building in 1981 and, having been sold by the McAlpine family to a consortium headed by the Sultan of Brunei in the mid-1970s, it was purchased outright by the Sultan of Brunei in the Eighties (and later transferred ownership to the Brunei Investment Agency).

The hotel was completely renovated between 1988 and 1990 and was again refurbished in 2002.

Facilities today at the hotel – alongside the 250 rooms and suites – include numerous restaurants and bars such as the three Michelin star Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, China Tang, The Spatisserie and The Grill at the Dorchester, as well as The Bar at the Dorchester and The Promenade where afternoon tea is served. There’s also a spa.

Today The Dorchester is the flagship of the Dorchester Collection of hotels which also includes 45 Park Lane, Cowarth Park in Ascot, The Beverly Hills Hotel and The Hotel Bel-Air in LA, the Hotel Eden in Rome, Le Meurice and Hotel Plaza Athenee in Paris and the Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan.

Out the front of the hotel is a London Plane tree which was named one of the “great trees of London” in 1997.

For more, see https://www.dorchestercollection.com/en/london/the-dorchester/.

PICTURE: || UggBoy♥UggGirl || PHOTO || WORLD || TRAVEL || (licensed under CC BY 2.0/image cropped)


Built on the site of what was Grosvenor House in Park Lane – London residence of the Dukes of Westminster, the Grosvenor House Hotel opened in 1929 but wasn’t completed until the 1950s.

The Mayfair hotel was conceived and constructed on the orders of commercial speculator Albert Octavius Edwards and was designed by Wimperis, Simpson and Guthrie with luxury in mind (Sir Edwin Lutyens was responsible for the external elevations).

Originally designed as two apartment blocks, it was apparently only when the first block was completed that it was decided the second north block would be a hotel. It opened on 14th May, 1929, with an event described as “outstanding”.

Along with some 472 rooms – it was the first hotel in London to feature en suite bathrooms which came with running ice-cold water in each, its facilities included The Great Room, originally an ice-skating rink where then Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) learned to ice skate which Edwards decided in the 1930s to convert into one of the largest banqueting spaces in Europe.

It was subsequently the scene of many awards evening and charity events including Queen Charlotte’s Ball as well as BBC broadcasts (the Beatles are among those who have performed there). The hotel was also the first in London to have a swimming pool.

The hotel, which only suffered minor damager during the Blitz, saw service during World War II. The Great Room was initially home to the Officers’ Sunday Club and later as one of the largest US officers’ mess. During the war, the premises hosted everyone from Charles de Gaulle and King Haakon of Norway as well as US generals Dwight D Eisenhower and George S Paton.

The hotel actually has strong American connections from the get go – American methods were used during construction to speed things along – and its restaurant was noted for swerving American-style food. Among other Americans who have stayed there include Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, Orson Welles, Jackie Onassis, Henry Kissinger, Sammy Davis, Jr, and Madeline Albright.

The actual construction of the hotel continued into the 1950s when permission was given to demolish a house at 35 Park Street (located next door to the hotel) following the death of its owner – Bruno, Baron Schroder, and a 92 bedroom extension to the hotel was built. It was officially opened by Peter Thorneycroft, Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1957.

The hotel, which was acquired by Trust Houses in 1963, underwent several changes of ownership in more recent years and following an extensive renovation in the Noughties, it reopened in September, 2008 as a JW Marriott hotel.

It was reportedly announced late last year that Qatari-owned Katara Hospitality was buying the hotel from Indian conglomerate Sahara India Pariwar, which has owned the hotel since 2010, for an undisclosed sum.

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

PICTURES: Park Lane facades and entrance in Park Street. Courtesy of Google Maps.

This west London square was laid out in the early years of the reign of King George I and therein lies the clue to its name.

King George I, formerly Elector of Hanover in what is now Germany, was the first king of the British House of Hanover, and had been invited to take the Crown after the last of the Stuarts – Queen Anne – died in 1714 without leaving behind any surviving children (despite the fact that she’d had 14 pregnancies and given birth to five live children, all of whom died before her).

And so it was only logical – if not a bit sycophantic – that developer Richard Lumley, the 1st Earl of Scarborough – a keen supporter of the Hanoverian succession, named Hanover Square after the new king’s royal house. Thanks to the new king sharing his name with England’s patron saint, the nearby church was also named St George’s, Hanover Square (located just to the south – pictured below) as was the street that leads to it – St George Street.

Early residents in this Mayfair square included military figures like the generals Earl Cadogan and Sir Charles Wills. The square, which features a central park, was also home to the renowned concert venue, the Hanover Square Rooms (later the Queen’s Concert Rooms) until 1900 when they were demolished (JC Bach, Haydn, Paganini and Liszt all performed here as did Mark Twain who spoke on ‘Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands’ in 1873).

The square has been pretty comprehensively reconstructed since those days and is now home almost exclusively to offices including that of the UK offices of Vogue.

Monuments in the square include a statue of former PM, William Pitt the Younger.

PICTURES: Top – Google Maps/Below – Regency History (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)