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.

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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.

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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

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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)

 

Saved for the nation following a public appeal by the Art Fund and Royal Museums Greenwich in 2016 and subsequently having undergone an extensive conservation and restoration process, the ‘Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I’ now hangs in the 400-year-old Inigo Jones-designed Queen’s House in Greenwich.

The life-sized portrait, which is unusually presented in a landscape format, commemorates the failed invasion of England by the Spanish Armada in the summer of 1588. It was painted in about 1590 by an unknown artist when the queen was aged in her mid-50s and may have been commissioned by Sir Francis Drake, second-in-command of the English fleet assembled to defend England from the Spanish.

Up until its £10.3 million acquisition (which was funded by various donations including a £1 million donation from the Art Fund, £400,000 from the Royal Museums of Greenwich, some 8,000 individual donations from members of the public totalling £1.5 million, and a Heritage Lottery Find grant of £7.4 million), it had been owned by Drake’s descendants – now known as the Tyrwhitt-Drakes – who have had possession since at least 1775. It spent much of its life hanging at Shardeloes, a Buckinghamshire country house built for William Drake in the late 18th century.

Designed to inspire a sense of awe in its viewers, the portrait contains numerous references which would have conveyed specific meanings to the Tudor mind. The Queen’s upright posture, open arms and clear gaze, for example, convey vitality and strength while her pearls are symbols or chastity and the Moon. The gold suns embroidered on her skirt and sleeves are said to symbolise power and enlightenment and the queen rests her hands on a globe with her fingers seeming tapping on the new world with the imperial crown sitting overhead in fairly obvious statement of her ambitions overseas.

Two maritime scenes in the background, both of which are actually early 18th century reworking over late 16th century originals, depict firstly the English fleet preparing to engage the Spanish Armada in the English Channel and, secondly, Spanish ships being wrecked on the Irish coast during their passage home.

One of the best known images from English history, the portrait has inspired countless portrayals of Elizabeth on stage and screen, including Cate Blanchett’s in two ‘Elizabeth’ films.

The Queen’s House, where the painting is being displayed, is built on the site of what was once Greenwich Palace, birthplace of Queen Elizabeth I.

WHERE: Queen’s House, Romney Road, Greenwich (nearest overground station is Greenwich/DLR is Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.rmg.co.uk/queens-house.

PICTURE: © National Maritime Museum, London

This five star Mayfair establishment owes its origins and name to William Claridge, possibly a former butler, and his wife Marianne, who took over management of a small hotel at 51 Brook Street in 1853.

In 1854, they purchased the adjoining Mivart’s Hotel, first established in 1812, and substantially expanded the premises. It apparently combined the two names – Mivart’s and Claridge’s – for a short time before the reference to Mivart’s was dropped.

The hotel, which stands on the corner with Davies Street, was bought by Richard D’Oyly Carte (owner of The Savoy) in 1893 and subsequently rebuilt in red brick to the designs of CW Stephens (of Harrods fame) with interiors by Sir Ernest George and the inclusion of modern amenities including en suite bathrooms and lifts. The hotel, which is now Grade II-listed, reopened in 1898, with some 203 rooms and suites.

It was extended in the late 1920s with the addition of 80 new rooms and a ballroom while the lobby was redesigned by art deco pioneer Oswald Milne (much of that decoration, including work by Basil Ionides, remains).

The hotel’s reputation as a place to stay among the well-to-do was given a significant boost when Empress Eugenie, wife of French Emperor Napoleon III stayed in 1860 and entertained Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

It was also favoured by exiled royals during World War II including King Peter II and Queen Alexandria of Yugoslavia all staying here. In fact, their son, Crown Prince Alexander II, was born in suite 212 in 1945 (now named the Prince Alexander Suite).

The story goes that Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared the suite Yugoslav territory for a day (although evidence supporting the story about Churchill’s involvement is apparently scarce). It’s also said that a spadeful of dirt from Yugoslavia was placed under the bed so the Crown Prince could literally be born on Yugoslav soil (but there’s no mention of this aspect of the story on Crown Prince Alexander II’s official website).

Churchill and Clementine stayed in a suite here on the sixth floor after the wartime PM’s unexpected defeat in the general election of 1945.

Other luminaries to have stayed here include American actors Cary Grant, Katharine (and Audrey) Hepburn, Yul Brynner and Bing Crosby (Spencer Tracey famously said he didn’t want to go to heaven when he died but to Claridge’s) as well as director Alfred Hitchcock, Aristotle and Jackie Onassis, and, more recently, everyone from Mick Jagger and Madonna to Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. Kate Moss celebrated her 30th birthday here.

And, of course, royals including the late Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip have all been regular diners.

The hotel, which underwent a major restoration from 1996 and saw 25 new suites designed by David Linley opened in 2012, is now part of the Maybourne Hotel Group, having parted ways with the Savoy Hotel in the mid-noughties.

Current facilities include the restaurant Fera at Claridge’s (this opened in 2014 after the closure of Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s in 2013) as well as The Foyer & Reading Room (where afternoon tea is served), The Fumoir cocktail bar, Claridge’s Bar and a health club and spa.

The Claridge’s Christmas Tree is a much anticipated part of London’s festive season, with recent years seeing a different world-renowned designer taking on the task of decorating it, including the likes of John Galliano, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, and Christopher Bailey of Burberry.

The hotel was the subject of a three part documentary, Inside Claridges, in December, 2012.

For more, see www.claridges.co.uk.

PICTURE: Tim Westcott (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

Costumes from a new film about Queen Anne, The Favourite, have gone on show at Kensington Palace where the Queen once lived. The film, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, explores the relationships and power struggles between the Queen (played by Olivia Coleman) and two of her closest female attendants – Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Lady Churchill’s impoverished cousin turned chambermaid, Abigail (Emma Stone). The costumes have been designed by three-time Oscar winner Sandy Powell who worked with Fox Searchlight Pictures and Historic Royal Palaces in creating the display in the Queen’s Gallery, once used by Queen Anne and her husband for exercise when the weather was bad. The display can be seen until 8th February. Admission charge applies. The Favourite opens in the UK and Ireland on 1st January. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces/Michael Bowles

Previously unseen portraits of Amy Winehouse and Sir Kenneth Branagh and newly acquired portraits of explorer Sir Rannulph Fiennes, astronaut Tim Peake and British Museum director Neil MacGregor have gone on show at the National Portrait Gallery. The portraits, which also include photographs from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s wedding in May this year, form part of a major new display of the gallery’s contemporary collection which features works produced from the year 2000 until today. Sitting alongside the collection is a new exhibition of works by artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby from her series The Beautyful Ones – comprised of portraits of Nigerian youth, including some members of her own family. Admission is free and The Beautyful Ones display can be seen until 3rd February. For more. see www.npg.org.uk.

A recently discovered rare self portrait of Artemisia Gentileschi, the most celebrated female artist of the Italian Baroque, has gone on show at the National Gallery. Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (1615-17), which was acquired by the gallery in July, 2017, can be seen in the Central Hall of the gallery after going through a five month conversation and restoration process which was documented in a series of short films shared on social media via #NGArtemisia. In March, the painting will leave the gallery on a “pop-up” tour of unexpected venues across the UK. A major exhibition of Gentileschi’s work is planned at the National Gallery in 2020. Admission to see the painting is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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Thousands of people, including Queen Elizabeth II and members of the Royal Family, attended Whitehall on Sunday to take part in the National Service of Remembrance, this year marking 100 years since the end of World War I. The event included two minutes silence at 11am and wreaths were laid at the base of the Cenotaph to commemorate the servicemen and women killed in all conflicts from the World War I onwards. In an historic first, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier laid a wreath during the ceremony. Following the service, a procession involving 10,000 members of the public who were selected by a ballot marched past the monument and through London. ALL PICTURES: Crown Copyright/Ministry of Defence.

This important Kensington thoroughfare runs through the heart of South Kensington’s world-famous museum precinct from Thurloe Place, just south of Cromwell Road, all the way to Hyde Park.

Along its length, it takes in such important institutions as the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Imperial College London while Royal Albert Hall is only a stone’s throw to the west.

It was, as might be expected given the name, indeed laid out as part of Prince Albert’s grand scheme surrounding the Great Exhibition of 1851 as a means of accessing the vast Crystal Palace which was located in Hyde Park (before moving out to south London).

It wasn’t the only road in the area built specifically for that purpose – the transecting Cromwell Road and Queen’s Gate, which runs in parallel and, yes, is named for Queen Victoria, were also built for to provide access to the Great Exhibition.

After the exhibition was over, Exhibition Road formed part of the precinct known as “Albertopolis” in which, inspired by the Great Exhibition, became something of a knowledge and cultural centre featuring various museums and the great concert hall which sadly Albert didn’t live long enough to see.

In the 2000s, a scheme to give pedestrians greater priority along the road was realised (in time for the 2012 Olympics).

PICTURE: Looking north along Exhibition Road from the intersection with Cromwell Road (the Natural History Museum is on the left; the Victoria & Albert Museum – and the Aston Webb Screen – on the right)/Google Maps.

 

The “lost garden” of Sir Walter Raleigh opens at the Tower of London on Saturday, marking the 400th anniversary of the famous explorer’s death. Sir Walter, an adventurer who was a court favourite in the time of Queen Elizabeth I and enemy of King James I, was imprisoned in the tower on three occasions, at times living there with his wife and family, before he was eventually executed  on 29th October, 1618. Held in the Bloody Tower, he used the courtyard outside to grow plants from the New World and experiment with ingredients from an “elixir of life”. The gardens, which occupy the spot where the original apothecary garden once stood and are now a new permanent display at the tower, features a range of fragrant herbs, fruit and flowers. There’s also information on how they were used by Raleigh and his wife, Bess Throckmorton, to create herbal remedies and the chance for green-fingered families to concoct their own elixir. Meanwhile, the Bloody Tower has been revamped with a combination of film, sound, graphics and tactile objects to provide an insight into Raleigh’s times of imprisonment at the tower. Sir Walter and his wife Bess will also be present, entertaining crowds on Tower Green with stories of his adventures. Included in the usual admission price. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon.

The Domesday book, the earliest surviving public record in the UK, forms the centrepiece of a new exhibition looking at the history, art, literature and culture of Anglo-Saxon England which opens at the British Library tomorrow. Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War spans the six centuries from the end of Roman Britain to the Norman Conquest. As well as the Domesday documents – last displayed in London seven years ago and on loan from The National Archives, among the 180 treasures are the Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowulf and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History as well as finds from Sutton Hoo and the Staffordshire Hoard. The Codex Amiatinus, a giant Northumbrian Bible taken to Italy in 716, returns to England for the first time in 1,300 years. The exhibition, which runs until 19th February, is being accompanied by a series of talks and events. Admission charge applies. For more, see http://www.bl.uk. PICTURE: © The National Archives.

A series of 20 new works by London women artists go on display in public spaces across the city from today. The free exhibition, LDN WMN, is being curated by the Tate Collective as part of the Mayor of London’s #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign marking the centenary of women’s suffrage in the UK. It features large installations, paintings and digital graphics in bringing the hidden stories of some of London’s pioneering and campaigning women to life. They include that of reporter and activist Jackie Foster, suffragist Lolita Roy, SOE operative Noor Inayat Khan and the women who built Waterloo Bridge. The artworks, by artists including Soofiya, Manjit That and Joey Yu, will be displayed in locations from Canning Town to Alexandra Palace, Brick Lane to Kings Cross. For locations, head to www.london.gov.uk/about-us/mayor-london/behindeverygreatcity/visit-ldn-wmn-series-free-public-artworks.

Phoenixes, dragons, griffins and other fantastic beasts take over Hampton Court Palace this half-term, bringing the fantasy children’s book series and gaming brand Beast Quest to life. The interactive experience will see families pitted against strange and magical beasts in a quest which will require bravery, quick-thinking and new found skills. The Beast Quest experience is suitable for all the family and takes about one hour, 15 minutes to complete. Runs from Saturday to 28th October and is included in the usual palace admission price. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

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A new stained glass window depicting bright country scenes was unveiled in Westminster Abbey last week in honour of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Queen’s Window, located in the south transept overlooking Poet’s Corner, is the work of world-renowned artist David Hockney and was commissioned by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster to celebrate her reign. The work is Hockney’s first in stained glass and features a Yorkshire scene with hawthorn blossom which uses his distinct colour palette of yellow, red, blue, pink, orange and greens. “The subject reflects The Queen as a countrywoman and her widespread delight in, and yearning for, the countryside,” the abbey said in a statement. The window was created by York-based stained glass artists Barley Studio to Hockney’s designs. Other artists who have completed stained glass works in the abbey include Sir Ninian Comper, Hugh Easton and John Piper with the last stained glass windows, by Hughie O’Donoghue, installed in the Lady Chapel in 2013. PICTURE: Alan Williams/Westminster Abbey

Erected around the turn of the 19th century to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 (some put the date  of its erection at about 1897; others in about 1905), the clocktower replaced an obelisk that had previously stood in the centre of St George’s Circus in  Southwark.

The rather ornate tower was designed by architect and engineer Jan F Groll and featured four oil lamps to help light the intersection, described as the first purpose-built traffic junction in England.

It survived until the late 1930s when it was demolished after being described as a nuisance to traffic.

Meanwhile, the Robert Mylne-designed obelisk had been first erected in 1771 and marked one mile from Palace Yard, one mile 40 feet from London Bridge and one mile, 350 feet from Fleet Street (Mylne, incidentally, was the architect of the original Blackfriars Bridge).

Following its removal, it was taken to Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park where it stood until 1998 when it was moved back to its position in St George’s Circus where it now stands. It was Grade II*-listed in 1950.

There’s a replica of the obelisk in Brookwood Cemetery – it marks the spot where bodies taken from the crypt of the Church of St George the Martyr, located in Borough High Street, in 1899 were reinterred to ease crowding.

PICTURE: Once the site of a clocktower, the obelisk has since been returned to St George’s Circus (Martin Addison/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/image cropped)

An English author who originally hailed from the west of England (possibly Wales), William Baldwin wrote and published a number of works in the mid-1500s while living in London and has been credited, thanks to his satirical work, Beware the Cat, as being the author of the first English novel.

Baldwin is believed to have studied at Oxford prior to coming to London where, from 1547, he worked with the printer Edward Whitchurch – who had apparently set up shop at Wynkyn de Worde’s former printworks at the Sign of the Sun (now at the Stationer’s Hall, just off Ludgate Hill – pictured) – as a corrector.

Whitchurch also published Baldwin’s works including the popular Treatise of Moral Philosophy (1547) and Canticles or Balades of Salomon (1549), which was dedicated to a young King Edward VI and was a translation of the Biblical book, Song of Songs.

His other works included being the editor and key contributor to the hugely popular and influential Mirror for Magistrates (1554) which was something of a cautionary tale for public officials, and the Marvelous History Entitled Beware the Cat, Concerning Diverse Wonderful and Incredible Matters (aka Beware the Cat).

The latter book, which is an attack on Catholicism, tells the story of a priest who uses alchemy to talk to cats and finds that, despite his low opinion of them, they actually live according to strict rules (reflecting on the arbitrary nature of the “rules” which govern everyday life).

While Baldwin is believed to have finished the work during the last months of the reign of King Edward VI (he died on 6th July, 1553), the subsequent accession of Queen Mary I and her tougher line on the press freedoms led Baldwin to postpone publication until 1561 by which time Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne.

Around the same time as he completed this work, Baldwin is said to have assisted the Royal Master of Revels, George Ferrers, in preparing Christmas festivities at the Royal Court – this was an occasional role he would perform beside his work with Whitchurch.

Baldwin’s last known work was The Funerals of King Edward the Sixth (1560). In 1563, he is believed to have been ordained a deacon and stepped away from the printing trade. He served in various clerical roles (there is an account of him preaching at Paul’s Cross) before dying some time prior to 1st November, 1563.

(With thanks to John N King’s 2004 article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).

 

This City of London pub – a sizeable establishment to say the least, takes its name from a building that no longer exists. 

Located at 9 Gracechurch Street, The Crosse Keys is located in a former purpose-built bank – that of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. Designed by W Campbell Jones, the Grade II-listed building opened in 1913 and featured the largest banking floor in the City at the time.

The bank moved out in the latter part of the 20th century and JD Wetherspoon moved in, opening it as The Crosse Keys and keeping much of the original opulent interior, including marble pillars and fireplaces and a magnificent glass dome above the stairwell.

Oh, and the name? That comes from The Crosskeys Inn, a famous coaching inn which once stood on the site and took its name from the keys of heaven, held by St Peter (the crossed keys form part of the Holy See’s coat of arms).

The origins of the inn go back to before the Great Fire of London in 1666 (the inn’s yard also served as a playhouse during the Elizabethan era – the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, of which Shakespeare himself was a member, were said to be among those who performed here).

It was destroyed in the Great Fire, rebuilt and burnt down again in 1734. Rebuilt again, by the late 1800s, it had become a well known coaching inn, said to cater for some 40 or more coaches a day.

There’s a City of London blue plaque marking the site and inside, plenty of historical facts and figures in a series of prints on the walls.

For more, see www.jdwetherspoon.com/pubs/all-pubs/england/london/the-crosse-keys-city-of-london.

PICTURE: The rather grand facade of The Crosse Keys (Ewan Munro; licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

This week marked 20 years since the British Library’s St Pancras building was officially opened, so we thought it timely to take a look at this London ‘treasure’.

Located on Euston Road, the building, complete with rather grand piazza, was designed by architect Sir Colin St John Wilson and his partner MJ Long.

The largest public building to be constructed in the 20th century in the UK, it was designed specifically to house the British Library collections – which itself had only been created in 1972 when an act was passed by Parliament.

The building – which did draw some criticism over its design when it was completed but has been embraced by the public – was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 25th June, 1998.

Grade II-listed since 2015, it’s comprised of 112,000 square metres spread over 14 floors – including five below ground – and features 11 reading rooms specialising in various subject areas including one for ‘manuscripts’, another for ‘maps’ and another for ‘rare books and music’.

The centrepiece of the building is the King’s Tower which is home to the library of King George III and the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery.

The collection housed at the library includes more than 150 million items. Highlights – many of which are housed in the Treasures Gallery – include a copy of the Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels, and Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook as well as a first edition of The Times (18th March, 1788), manuscripts by everyone from Jane Austen and James Joyce to Handel and the Beatles, and the Diamond Sutra, the world’s earliest dated printed book.

The library, which also hosts temporary exhibitions, is also home to a restaurant, cafe and several coffee shops as well as its own retail shop.

There are now plans to further develop the campus by expanding onto a 2.8 hectare site at its northern end with the aim, among other things, of creating more exhibition spaces, new learning facilities and a permanent home for the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national centre for data science and artificial intelligence. A joint venture led by Stanhope plc, working with architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP), won a competitive process to undertake the development last year.

WHERE: British Library, 96 Euston Road (nearest Tube stations are Kings Cross St Pancras, Euston and Euston Square); WHEN: 9.30am to 6pm (includes Treasures Gallery – exhibition times can vary); COST: Free (but admission fees may be charged for exhibitions); WEBSITE: www.bl.uk.

PICTURE: Top – Aerial view of the St Pancras building (Tony Antoniou); Below – One of the reading rooms (Paul Grundy).

This corner pub was originally located in a former royal hunting lodge in what became The Regent’s Park.

It was one of several inns which were in the park which were demolished when it was created.

But unlike others, The Queen’s Head and Artichoke was rebuilt on its current site at 30-32 Albany Street in 1811. The existing building apparently dates from around 1900.

The licence for the pub is said to date back to the time of Queen Elizabeth I. The story goes that the establishment received its rather odd name thanks to Daniel Clarke, head gardener and master cook to the Queen and her successor, King James I – and, later, the pub’s proprietor.

For more, see www.theartichoke.net.

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

News recently that Parliament Square has its first female statue (more about that in an upcoming post) so we thought it timely to consider London’s oldest statue of a female.

It’s actually of a queen – Elizabeth I – and can be found on the facade of the Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West on Fleet Street in the City of London (also home to a rather famous clock).

Believed to have been made in 1586, the statue is said to be the work of one William Kerwin and originally adorned Ludgate.

It was moved to its current position over the church’s vestry door in 1760 when Ludgate was demolished due to road widening. Along with other statues from the gate, it had been given to Sir Francis Gosling who had it placed at the church.

The statue features a rather regal looking Queen, standing formally in royal robes with sceptre and orb.

 

Formerly known as the National Westminster Tower (NatWest Tower for short), Tower 42 – sometimes referred to as London’s first “genuine” skyscraper – was once the tallest building in the London (but now comes in at number eight).

Designed by Richard Seifert & Partners (who had proposed a couple of different options), the 47 storey building at 25 Old Broad Street was built between 1971 and 1980 as the headquarters of the National Westminster Bank.

The length of the build – which ended up costing £72 million – was due to the fact that it was paused in the mid-1970s to allow for a redesign of the ground area after the City of London Club was heritage listed (and thus its planned demolition couldn’t proceed).

Some 42 of its stories are cantilevered off a concrete core which contains elevators and service rooms. It has been repeatedly said the building was designed so that in plan view it resembles the NatWest logo – three interlocking chevrons – but Seifert apparently said this was just a coincidence.

It was formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 11th June, 1981, and, at 183 metres tall, was not only the tallest in London but in the entire UK until it was surpassed by One Canada Square in the Docklands in 1990. It remained the tallest building in the City of London until 2009 when Heron Tower took over that title.

Among its innovations were use of sky lobbies – located on levels 23 and 24, they are accessible by express elevators from the ground floor, and an automated external window washing system. Problematically, however, its interior layout proved somewhat inflexible which meant some of the bank’s operations remained outside of the building. Thanks to a need for large trading floors after deregulation in 1986, NatWest subsequently relocated its headquarters.

After the building was badly damaged by an IRA bomb in 1993, the entire tower, under the supervision of GMW Architects, was reclad and the interior refurbished. It was subsequently renamed the International Finance Centre and again renamed in 1998, this time as Tower 42 (a reference to the 42 cantilevered floors).

In 2011, it was purchased by South African businessman Nathan Kirsh for a reported £282.5 million. These days it contains office space, several restaurants, health clubs and other services as well as and a champagne bar with panoramic views, Vertigo 42.

An LED light display was installed in 2012 in time to display the Olympic rings for that year’s Games.

The building was refused listed status in 2014 owing to its now greatly altered nature.

Interestingly, part of the site was once occupied by Crosby Hall, built in 1466 for City alderman Sir John Crosby and one time residence of King Richard III. The hall was relocated to Chelsea in 1910.

PICTURE: © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0