Now a Piccadilly institution, Fortnum and Mason’s origins (which we dealt with in 2011 in a London’s oldest post but couldn’t resist looking at again) famously go back the early 17th century when Hugh Mason rented out a spare room to William Fortnum, a Footman in the household of Queen Anne.

fortnum-masonThe entrepreneurial Fortnum decided to supplement his income by selling Queen Anne’s half-used candle wax (new candles were required every night) for a small profit. It was he who convinced his landlord, who also had a small shop in St James’s Market, to join with him in a joint venture – the first Fortnum & Mason – in Duke Street in 1707.

Initially founded as a grocery store, Fortnum & Mason, which moved to its current site at 181 Piccadilly in 1756, become known for its high quality and rare goods – in particular tea – and during the 18th and 19th centuries supplied the gentry who were in London for the ‘season’. Departments inside the store have included a rather bizarre ‘Expeditions Department’ which apparently supplied King Tut’s finder Howard Carter and a 1922 expedition to Mount Everest.

It has held numerous Royal Warrants since the mid 1800s with the first granted in 1863 when the firm was appointed as grocers to the then Prince of Wales.

A supplier of British officers during the Napoleonic Wars, Fortnums was also active during the Crimean War when Queen Victoria had shipments of “concentrated beef tea” sent to Florence Nightingale for use in her hospitals there.

Other claims to fame include the creation of the first Scotch egg in 1738 as a food for travellers and that in 1886, it became the first store in Britain to stock tins of Heinz baked beans. It also operated a post office between 1794 and 1839 when the General Post Office was founded.

The iconic clock which hangs on the facade of the building was commissioned in 1964 by Canadian businessman Garfield Weston who bought the business in 1951. Every hour models of Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason come forth and bow to each other. Other features on the building itself include four colonies of bees which have lived on the roof since 2008 in uniquely-designed hives.

The store, now famous for its luxury food hampers, underwent a £24 million restoration in the lead-up to its 300th anniversary in 2007. As well as the flagship store, it also now operates stores in St Pancras (2013) and Heathrow Airport (2015) as well as, since last year, in Dubai (it did open a store on Madison Avenue in New York in the 1930s but the business was short-lived thanks to the Depression). Fortnum & Mason products can also be found in a growing number of department stores around the world.

The Piccadilly store houses a number of eateries including The Parlour, The Gallery and The Wine Bar as well as, since it was opened by Queen Elizabeth II herself in 2012, the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon – already famous for its afternoon teas.

See www.fortnumandmason.com.

PICTURE: Gryffindor/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0

Little-BritainThis central – and rather unassuming – London street owes its name to the French – not British – who apparently once lived in the area which lies just south of Smithfield.

Originally named Little Brittany, it was settlers from Brittany in the east of modern France that inhabited the area where the street can be found after the Norman Conquest. Foremost among them apparently was the Duke of Brittany who apparently had a house here prior to the 1500s.

Between the late 15th century and early 18th century, the street was known as a location for booksellers (it was here that Britain’s first daily newspaper, the early 18th century Daily Courant, was printed in the area after moving from Fleet Street).

Famous residents over the years have included the 17th century poet John Milton (there’s also a much-repeated anecdote that has a Little Britain-based bookseller trying to convince the Earl of Dorset to buy as many copies of the apparently immoveable Paradise Lost as he could carry) , a very young Samuel Johnson (the then three-year-old and his mother lodged with a bookseller when she brought him to be touched by Queen Anne as a cure for his scrofula), and Benjamin Franklin who stayed here in 1724.

Literary references included a mention in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations – the office of the lawyer Mr Jaggers were placed here.

St Bartholomew’s Hospital now occupies many of the buildings in the street.

Eighteenth century physician Dr Richard Mead is noted not only for his attendance on the rich and famous of his time – including royalty – but also for his philanthropy, his expansive collections and, importantly, his contributions in the field of medicine.

Born in Stepney, London, on the 11th August, 1673, as the 11th of 13 children of nonconforming minister Matthew Mead, Mead studied both Utrecht and Leiden before receiving his MD in Italy. Returning to England in 1696, he founded his own medical practice in Stepney.

He married Ruth Marsh in 1699 and together the couple had at least eight children, several of whom died young, before her death in 1720 (he subsequently married again, this time to Anne, daughter of a Bedfordshire knight, Sir Rowland Alston).

Having published the then seminal text – A Mechanical Account of Poisons – in 1702, the following year Mead was admitted to the Royal Society. He also took up a post as a physician at St Thomas’ Hospital, a job which saw him move to a property in Crutched Friars in the City – his home until 1711, when he relocated to Austin Friars.

It was after this that he become friends with eminent physician John Radcliffe who chose Mead as his successor and, on his death in 1714, bequeathed him his practice and his Bloomsbury home (not to mention his gold-topped cane, now on display at the Foundling Museum – see note below).

Following Radcliffe’s death, in August of that year Dr Mead attended Queen Anne on her deathbed. Other distinguished patients over his career included King George I, his son Prince George and daughter-in-law Princess Caroline – in fact he was appointed as official physician to the former prince when elevated to the throne as King George II – as well as Sir Isaac Newton, lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope, Sir Robert Walpole and painter Antoine Watteau.

Mead, who had been named a governor of St Thomas’ in 1715 and elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1716, was over the years recognised as an expert in a range of medical fields – including, as well as poisons, smallpox, scurvy and even the transmission of the plague.

Among the many more curious stories about Dr Mead is one concerning a ‘duel’ (or fistfight) he apparently fought with rival Dr John Woodward outside Gresham College in 1719 over their differences in tackling smallpox and others which concern experiments he conducted with venomous snakes to further his knowledge of venom before writing his text on poisons.

Dr Mead was also known for his philanthropy and became one of the founding governors of the Foundling Hospital (as well as being its medical advisor) – a portrait of him by artist Allan Ramsay (for whom he was a patron), currently hangs at the museum.

Dr Mead, who by this stage lived in Great Ormond Street in Bloomsbury (the property, which backed onto the grounds of the Foundling Museum and which Mead had moved into after his first wife’s death, later formed the basis of the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children), is also noted for the large collection he gathered of paintings – including works by Dürer, Holbein, Rembrandt, and Canaletto, a library of more than 10,000 books, antiquities and classical sculpture as well as coins and jewels, all of which scholars and artists could access at his home (it took some 56 days to sell it all after his death).

While Dr Mead – who died on 16th February, 1754 – was buried in the Temple Church, there is a monument to him – including a bust by Peter Scheemakers – in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey.

Dr Mead is currently being honoured in an exhibition at the Foundling Museum – The Generous Georgian: Dr Richard Meadwhich runs until 4th January. There’s an accompanying blog here which provides more information on his life and legacy.

Queen-Anne

While much attention is being paid this year to the fact it’s the 300th anniversary of the accession of King George I (and the House of Hanover), we thought we’d take a quick look at the event which precipitated that moment – the death of the last Stuart monarch, Queen Anne, on 1st August, 1714.

The queen (depicted here in Richard Belt’s copy of a Francis Bird original outside St Paul’s Cathedral), who had ruled since 1702 and was the first monarch of Great Britain thanks to the 1707 Act of Union, died at Kensington Palace at about 7.30am. She had apparently suffered a series of strokes, having experienced declining health for the previous couple of years (this included gout which had severely limited her mobility and saw her carried in a chair even at her coronation). She was 49.

Her body was so swollen at the time of her death that she had to be placed in a large square-shaped coffin which was carried by 14 men.

Following her funeral, on 24th August she was laid to rest next to her husband, George of Denmark (he’d died at Kensington six years before), in the Stuart vault on the south side of King Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey.

Many of the bones of her infant and stillborn children lie nearby (Anne was pregnant 18 times) and apparently due to a lack of space, only a “small stone” marks her grave site. Anne’s seated wax funeral effigy, modelled from her death mask, can be seen in the abbey’s museum.

The idiom “Queen Anne is dead” – used as a response to someone who brings old news or who states the obvious – is thought to have its origins in the idea that while news of her death was officially kept quiet so the Hanoverian succession could be shored up, news of it nonetheless leaked quite quickly meaning that by the time it was officially announced, it was already well known.

Gardens1

Historic Royal Palaces has reopened Hampton Court Palace’s royal kitchen garden, having recreated it according to a plan dating from 1736. The  six acre garden – constructed on the site of King Henry VIII’s tiltyard on the orders of Queen Anne in 1702 – was used to supply the table of monarchs from the early 1700s through to the 1840s. The recreated version showcases rare and heritage varieties of fruit and vegetables including Italian celery, borrage, skirret and swelling parsnips as well as apricots, nectarine and peaches while on site displays showcase some of the techniques used by the royal gardeners. The gardens are open to the public free-of-charge and it’s hoped that as they mature, vegetable growing classes will be held there. The gardens have been opened as part of celebrations marking the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian accession. For more on Hampton Court Palace, see www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/. PICTURES: Courtesy Historic Royal Palaces.

Gardens2

Gardens3

This oddly located church on the Strand is the work of acclaimed architect James Gibbs – the first public project he embarked upon after returning from Italy where he had trained.

St-Mary-le-StrandWhile the history of St Mary le Strand goes at least back to the Middle Ages (and it initially stood just south of the current churches’ position on land currently occupied by Somerset House), the construction of the current church – the first of 50 built in London under a special commission aimed at, well, seeing more churches built in the capital to meet the needs of the growing population – began around 1715 (the foundation stone was laid on 25th February, the year after the accession of King George I.)

While building was briefly delayed by the Jacobite rising which broke out in 1715, the church was finally consecrated for use on 1st January, 1723.

Gibbs, who trained under a baroque master – a style which contrasted with the Palladian-style favoured by Lord Burlington and others, had apparently originally intended the church to be in the Italianate style with a campanile over the west end instead of the steeple  but this scheme also included a 250 foot high column surmounted by a statue of Queen Anne located to the west of the church which would celebrate the work of the commission (it’s also worth noting that the churches built by the committee – and they didn’t get close to building 50 – were known as “Queen Anne Churches” despite their construction taking place largely after her death).

However, plans for the column were abandoned on the queen’s death on 1st August, 1714, and instead Gibbs – a Roman Catholic who thanks to his supposed Jacobite sympathies apparently finished the project without pay, was ordered to use the stone which had been gathered to build the steeple and, thanks to that, amend his plans for the church into an oblong form rather than the square form he had initially intended. The work shows the influence of Sir Christopher Wren as well as churches in Italy.

The interior has been remodelled several times since its creation. The white and gold plastered ceiling was apparently inspired by the work of Italian sculptor and architect Luigi Fontana on two Roman churches and other features include paintings by American artist Mather Brown (these were put in place in 1785 and are located on panels on the side walls of the chancel – they were restored in 1994), while the crucifix behind the altar was presented by parishioners in 1893.

It the late 1800s, the London County Council proposed demolishing the church so it could widen the Strand for traffic but this plan was abandoned after an outcry led by artist Walter Crane (although the graveyard was removed).

Famous faces associated with the church include Charles Dickens’ parents, John and Elizabeth, who were married here in 1809, and there’s a story that during a secret visit to London in 1750, Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart) renounced the Roman Catholic Church by receiving Anglican communion here. The parish currently includes that of nearby St Clement Danes after the church was bombed in 1941 (it’s now central church of the Royal Air Force).

WHERE: St Mary le Strand, Strand (nearest tube stations are Temple, Covent Garden, Holborn, Charing Cross and Embankment); WHEN: Usually open 11am to 4pm from Tuesdays to Thursdays and 10am to 1pm Sundays; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.stmarylestrand.org.

Queen-Charlotte

This rectangular-shaped square in Bloomsbury, known for its association with the medical profession, was first laid out in the early 1700s and was named for Queen Anne.

Originally known as Devonshire Square, the space was largely laid out between 1716 and 1725 on land owned by Sir Nathaniel Curzon of Kedlestone and, as with so many of London’s squares, attracted it’s fair share of the well-to-do. Among early residents were several bishops and members of the aristocracy.

Queen-SquareOne of the most interesting early associations with Queen Square is that of King George III and his consort Queen Charlotte. The king – better known to many as ‘Mad King George’ – was treated for mental illness in a house on the square and there’s a tradition that Queen Charlotte, stored some of the food to be consumed by the king during his treatment in the base of what is now the pub known as the Queen’s Larder (see our previous entry on the pub here).

There’s a statue of a queen in the central gardens which was thought to be of Queen Charlotte. Since it was erected in 1775, there has been some confusion over the statue’s identity – it has been thought at different stages to be of Queen Anne, Queen Mary (co-ruler with King William III), and Queen Caroline (consort of King George II) – a fact which has led to some confusion as to which queen the square was named after (although general consensus now seems to be that it was indeed Queen Anne whom the square was named after).

The houses in Queen Square – which was later associated with artists and literary types – were gradually replaced by institutional buildings relating to, among other things, education and the practice of medicine and today it remains a hub for the medical establishment – the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery and the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine (formerly known as the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital) are both located on the east side of the square and there are several other medical-related buildings located around it including the former Italian Hospital (Ospedale Italiano) which was founded by Italian businessman Giovanni Battista Ortelli in 1884 for poor Italian immigrants and since about 1990 has been part of the Great Ormond Street Hospital.

SamOther prominent buildings located on the square include the Church of St George the Martyr Holborn (number 44) which, built in 1706, predates the square’s formation. The church is known as the ‘sweep’s church’ due to the practice of a parishioner who provided Christmas dinners for 100 chimney sweep apprentices each year.

The gardens themselves are protected by an Act of Parliament passed in the 1830s and the gardens are to this day maintained by trustees appointed under that act. Aside from the statue of the queen, monuments in the gardens include a small plaque commemorating the bomb which landed in the square during a Zeppelin raid in World War I (no one was killed), benches commemorating 16 doctors from the homeopathic hospital who died in the Trident air disaster of 1972, and some lines of poetry on a flower bowl and surrounds by Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes in honor of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee of 1977. Statues include a 2001 bronze of Mother and Child and, (this one we love), a sculpture of Sam the cat, apparently a local resident (pictured)!

Perhaps not so much a sign as a pub name, the strangely monikered Doggett’s Coat and Badge in South Bank is named after a rowing race – said to be the oldest continuous sporting event in the country – in which apprentice waterman traditionally competed for a prize consisting of waterman’s coat and badge and named after Irish-born actor and theatre manager, Thomas Doggett.

The race – which is held in July and runs over a course of four miles and seven furlongs from London Bridge to Chelsea (the starting and finishing points were originally both marked by pubs called The Swan) – was first held in 1715 when it was first organised by Doggett who financed it up until his death in 1721 after which he left instructions in its will for it to be carried on by The Fishmongers’ Company (which it still is today).

While there’s a nice story that Doggett, who managed the Drury Lane Theatre and later the Haymarket Theatre and carving out a name for himself as a ‘wit’, started the race as thanks to Thames watermen for rescuing him when he fell off a watercraft while crossing the Thames, Doggett – a committed Whig – actually started the race to commemorate the ascension of King George I – the first ruler of the House of Hanover – on 1st August, 1714, following the death of Queen Anne.

This year’s race winner was Merlin Dwan (London Rowing Club) who beat four others to finish in 24 minutes, 28 seconds.

The pub, one of the Nicholson franchise, is located in a multiple storey modern building complex and sits along the course of the race in South Bank. It features a range of bars including Thomas Doggett’s Bar and the Riverside Bar as well as a dining room and other function rooms.

For more on the pub, see www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/doggettscoatandbadgesouthbanklondon/. For more on the race (which we’ll be mentioning, along with more on Thomas Doggett, in more detail in upcoming posts), see www.DoggettsRace.org.uk.

Daytripper – Avebury…

October 12, 2012

One of Britain’s most significant pre-historic sites, the small village of Avebury in Wiltshire – to the west of London –  sits in the midst of a stunning series of standing stones, the remains of three vast stone circles built around 2,600 BC.

A World Heritage Site, the vast outer circle of stones – which contains two smaller circles of stones and other associated stones – is around 3/4 of a mile in circumference and about 1,115 feet across the middle. It stands inside a three to four metre deep ditch which despite, the millenniums of weathering, still looks impressive to the eye.

It remains a matter of speculation what the purpose of the ditch and the standing stones was, although some have suggested there was a religious purpose in their creation.

The stone circle (pictured) is now managed by the National Trust – see their website for opening times.

Stretching away to the south-east and south-west from the stone circle are two great “avenues” of pairs of stones, known as the West Kennet and Beckhampton Avenues – perhaps the last of what were originally four avenues. West Kennet is by far the best preserved of the two.

It’s worth having a car for there are several other Neolithic sites nearby including the stunning Silbury Hill (pictured below), located almost directly south of Avebury. At around 37 metres high it is the largest prehistoric mound in Europe (while you can’t access the site of the hill itself, you can get some stunning views from a carpark). Work on the hill is said to have started at about 2,400 BC but its not known conclusively when it was finished.

Further to the south (1.2 miles from Avebury village) is the West Kennet Long Barrow, one of the longest burial mounds in Britain. Dating from about 3,700 BC, remains of 36 people were placed in here soon after it was first built. The barrow is open for inspection. To the east stands The Sanctuary, once site of a double stone circle.

Back to Avebury village – which was originally founded in Anglo-Saxon times (a Romano-British settlement had stood further to the south) – and here, as well as exploring the stone circles, it’s worth taking the time to visit Avebury Manor.

The manor is the former home of Alexander Keiller, who was responsible for much of the excavation work that took place here in the early 20th century as well as the re-erection of many of the stones, and is also said to have once hosted Queen Anne for a meal. Now a National Trust property, it recently starred in the BBC series, The Manor Reborn. Check the National Trust website for opening times – an admission charge applies.

There’s also a museum, the Alexander-Keiller Museum, which was established by the man himself  in 1938 in the manor’s old stable to display some of his finds (it now also includes the threshing barn), and a cafe and National Trust shop.

While it is possible to reach Avebury by public transport, a car can be a good idea to get around to the various sites – particularly if under time constraints.

Where is it? #41….

August 24, 2012

The latest in the series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken and what it’s of. If you think you can identify this picture (and try and be as precise as possible), leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!

Yes, you guessed it, these are indeed the 3.7 metre high statues which sit above the south transept of St Paul’s Cathedral. The statues include those of St Andrew and St Thomas, both of which are attributed to Caius Gabriel Cibber (1630-1700) and Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721). We had originally said they were the work of Francis Bird (1667-1731), who also completed the famous panel depicting the Conversion of St Paul on the cathedral’s west front and the original version of the statue of Queen Anne outside the main entrance (more on that another time), but while he was responsible for other statues on the cathedral, turns out he wasn’t for these two. The image was taken from the viewing deck of One New Change on Cheapside.

We venture just to the west of London this week for a quick look at the five day horseracing event known as Royal Ascot which concludes tomorrow with the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, renamed to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee.

While Royal Ascot is now a highlight of the horse-racing calendar around the world (and all eyes this year on Frankel and Black Caviar), the origins of horse-racing at the 179 acre Ascot Racecourse, located at Ascot, adjacent to Windsor Great Park, go back some 300 years.

The first race meeting was held here on 11th August, 1711 – it was apparently Queen Anne who first spotted the potential of the site, then known as East Cote, as a suitable location for a racecourse when out riding from Windsor Castle earlier that year, hence she is celebrated as the founder of the event (today, the Queen Anne Stakes is run in memory of Queen Anne’s vital contribution).

The inaugural event was Her Majesty’s Plate, which carried a prize packet of 100 guineas. Seven horses, each carrying 12 stone of weight, took part in what were three separate heats, each four miles long, but there is apparently no record of who won.

While the racecourse was laid out by William Lowen and his team on the orders of Queen Anne, the first permanent building, constructed by a Windsor builder, wasn’t erected until 1794 – capable of holding 1,650 people, it remained in use until 1838. Meanwhile, the future of the course, which stands on Crown property, was pretty much guaranteed in 1813 when an Act of Parliament ensured the area on which the course stands would remain in use as a public racecourse.

It was the introduction of the Gold Cup in 1807 which is believed to have ushered in the race meet we now know. It remains the feature race of the third day of Royal Ascot which, known as Ladies Day, became the dominant day of the race meeting.

In 1825, King George IV established the first Royal Procession, which still occurs on each day of the meeting and makes its way from the Golden Gates and along the racecourse and into the Parade Ring.

Up until 1901, the racecourse was run on behalf of the Sovereign by the Master of the Royal Buckhounds – an officer in the Royal Household. In that year the situation changed when Lord Churchill was appointed as His Majesty’s Representative and made responsible for running the course and entrance to the Royal Enclosure.

In 1913, the Ascot Authority was established to handle the running of the racecourse and His Majesty’s Representative become the chairman of the new organisation. The chairman, who is currently Johnny Weatherby, remains at the head of Ascot Authority (Holdings) Limited today and is still referred to by the title Her Majesty’s Representative.

In 2002, Ascot Racecourse Ltd was incorporated and is now the organisation responsible for running the racecourse – this underwent a £200 million redevelopment in the mid 2000s which included construction of the spectator stand, reopening in 2006 (pictured in the last picture is the Queen arriving at the reopening).

Among the traditions associated with Royal Ascot is that the jockeys who ride the Queen’s horses wear purple with gold braid, scarlet sleeves and a black velvet cap with gold fringe – the same colors used by King Edward VII and King George IV when Prince Regent. It’s also the role of the Queen, who first attended Royal Ascot in 1945 and who, prior to this year’s race meeting has owned some 63 Ascot winners including 20 at Royal Ascot, to make a number of presentations to race winners, including the Gold Cup, the Royal Hunt Cup and The Queen’s Vase.

Royal Ascot today is Britain’s most popular race meeting attracting 300,000 spectators and holding the position of the most valuable horserace meeting in Europe with £4.5 million in prize money on offer over 30 races.

A key event on Britain’s social calendar, for many Royal Ascot has also become as much about fashion and people-watching as it has the horseracing. For those who can gain entry – including meeting strict dress code requirements – the Royal Enclosure, which traces its history back to King George IV who first commissioned a two-storey building to be constructed with surrounding lawn for the pleasure of his invited guests, remains the most exclusive of the spectator enclosures at the race meeting.

As well as the running of the Diamond Jubilee Stakes (previously known as the Golden Jubilee Stakes), Royal Ascot is also marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a photographic exhibition, 60 years of Royal Ascot during the reign of Her Majesty The Queen, located beside the pre-Parade Ring.

For more, see www.ascot.co.uk.

PICTURES: Courtesy of Ascot Racecourse – top and middle: (c) RPM; bottom: (c) Action Images/Scott Heavey.

A portrait of King Charles II’s mistress, Barbara Villiers, is put into place ahead of The Wild, The Beautiful and the Damned exhibition which opened at Hampton Court Palace earlier this month. The portrait, which dates from about 1662, was painted by Sir Peter Lely – he also painted a picture King Charles II’s other principal mistress, Nell Gwyn, which is being shown together with the Villiers portrait for the first time. The exhibition, which focuses on the beauty, mistresses and debauchery of the Stuart Court, spans the reigns of the Stuarts from Charles II to Queen Anne and looks at how kings, queens and courtesans “swept away the Puritanical solemnity of the mid-17th century, and attempted to rewrite the moral code of social behaviour”. Runs until 30th September (admission is included in entry ticket; free to Historic Royal Palaces members). There are late openings on the first Monday of each month and note that the exhibition includes adult content. For more, see http://bit.ly/HvyiOE.

PICTURE: Richard Lea-Hair/newsteam.

In the first of an occasional series looking at the story behind some of London’s pub signs, we take a look at The Queen’s Larder in Queen Square, Bloomsbury.

The origins of the pub go back to the early 18th century – around 1710 – when there was known to be an alehouse on the site now occupied by the tavern. The story goes that as King George III (aka the ‘Mad King George’ depicted in the film of the same name) began to be affected by mental illness he was brought to a house in Queen Square where he stayed and was treated by a Dr Willis.

While he was undergoing this treatment – which was apparently initially successful, his wife Queen Charlotte rented an underground cellar below the alehouse and there stored some of the king’s favorite delicacies.

When a tavern was later built on the site, it was named The Queen’s Larder in honor of the role it had played in providing a storehouse for his treats.

The square itself contains a statue which was believed to be of Queen Anne – after whom the square was renamed (it had previously been known as Devonshire Square) – but it is now thought that the statue may in fact be of Queen Charlotte.

Once the western part of King Henry VIII’s hunting ground, the 111 hectare Kensington Gardens is now primarily associated with the palace which sits at its heart.

The origins of the gardens go back to 1689 when King William III and Queen Mary II decided to make Kensington Palace (which, as we mentioned last week, was formerly known as Nottingham House) their home. Queen Mary oversaw the creation of a formal, Dutch-style garden featuring hedges and flower beds.

Queen Anne expanded the gardens after King William III’s death and commissioned landscape designers Henry Wise and George Loudon to create an English-style garden. She also ordered the construction of the Orangery which still stands to the north of the palace complex today (and houses a fine restaurant).

But it’s to Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, to whom Kensington Gardens owe its current form for it was she who in 1728, scythed off 300 acres of Hyde Park and employed Charles Bridgeman to create a new garden. His designs included damming the Westbourne stream to create the Long Water and the adjoining Serpentine in Hyde Park. He was also responsible for the creation of the Round Pond in front of the palace and, a landscape-history making move, used a ditch known as a ha-ha to separate the gardens from Hyde Park.

By the reign of King Charles II, the gardens had become fashionable for the elite to stroll in with the Broad Walk a popular promenade. But the gardens gradually fell from favour – a move exacerbated when Queen Victoria, who was born in Kensington Palace, moved to live at Buckingham Palace.

There were some changes made during the era, however. They included the creation of the ornamental Italian water gardens at the northern end of the Long Water and the Albert Memorial (see our previous story here) on the southern edge of the gardens.

Other highlights there today include the Peter Pan statue (see our earlier story on this), the Serpentine Gallery (with, in summer, a temporary pavilion), the Peter Pan-themed Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground (opened in 2000), and the Elfin Oak, a stump which originally came from Richmond Park and is carved with tiny figures of woodland animals and fairies.

There’s also a statue of Queen Victoria directly outside of Kensington Palace which, interestingly, was sculpted by her daughter Princess Louise in celebration 50 years of her reign, as well as statues of Edward Jenner, creator of the small pox vaccine, and John Hanning Speke, discoverer of the Nile.

Other facilities include a cafe and, next to the magazine, an allotment.

WHERE: Kensington Gardens (nearest tube stations are that of Queensway, Bayswater, Lancaster Gate, South Kensington, Gloucester Road and Kensington High Street); WHEN: 6am to dusk; COST: Free; WEBSITE: http://www.royalparks.gov.uk/Kensington-Gardens.aspx

PICTURE: Courtesy of Royal Parks. © Giles Barnard

An Ulster-Scots born physician, scientist and avid collector, Sir Hans Sloane served as doctor to no less than three British monarchs during the 17th and 18th centuries and during his life amassed a vast collection of natural specimens and curiosities which after his death were used to form the core of the British Museum’s collection.

Born on 16th April, 1660, at Killyleagh in County Down, Ireland, Sir Hans was the son of Alexander Sloane, a “receiver-general of taxes” who originally hailed from Scotland.

Even as a young man, he developed a keen interest in the natural sciences. Having suffered from some ill-health which, at the age of 16 is said to have kept him confined to a room for a year, in 1679, at the age of 19, he moved to London where he studied chemistry at the Apothecaries Hall and botany at the Chelsea Physic Garden – a period during which he befriended the botanist John Ray and chemist Robert Boyle.

Four years later, he travelled through France where he received his Doctorate of Physics. On his subsequent return to London in 1685, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society and in 1687 a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.

Given the chance to travel to Jamaica as physician to the new Governor, Christopher, the 2nd Duke of Albemarle, he only spent 15 months there (the Governor died soon after arrival). But it was an important period during which not only did he document and collect a vast amount of flora and fauna (bringing some 800 specimens back to London), he also came up with the idea of drinking chocolate with milk after witnessing locals drinking the dark chocolate with water but finding the mix made him “nauseous” (back in England, his concoction was first sold as a medicine and was later manufactured as a drink by Cadburys).

Having returned to London in 1689, he published the information he had gathered in Jamaica, and in 1693 he become secretary to the Royal Society.

In 1695 he married a Jamaican sugar planter’s widow, Elizabeth Langley Rose (with whom he had several children but of whom only two daughters, Sarah and Elizabeth, survived) and, thanks in part to an ongoing association with the duke’s widow, was able to set up a fashionable medical practice at 3 Bloomsbury Place on the northern end of Bloomsbury Square.

The house, not far from where the British Museum now stands, become something of an attraction in its own right, filled with objects and specimens he had collected on his travels as well as those – in some cases complete collections – given to him by others including friends and patients (in fact, he had to purchase the property next door, number four, to find room for them all – this property is now marked with a Blue Plaque).

The composer Handel is said to have been among those who visited the property and there is a delightful tale that says Sir Hans was outraged when Handel placed a buttered scone on one of his rare books.

With his services as a physician highly prized, in 1696, he was appointed physician to Queen Anne, the first of the three monarchs he would serve. In 1712-13, with his collection still growing, he purchased the Manor of Chelsea to help house it (four acres of which were leased to the Chelsea Physic Garden, which had been founded in 1673 with the idea of providing a training ground for apprentice apothecaries, in perpetuity).

He subsequently moved his collection out to this property and his connection with Chelsea is still celebrated in place names such as name Sloane Square (not to mention Sloane Street, Sloane Gardens, Hans Street, Hans Crescent, Hans Road and Hans Place). There is also a statue of the bewigged man in Duke of York Square (pictured), not far from Sloane Square – this is a 2007 copy of 1737 original by John Rysbrack, another (older) copy of which can be found in the Chelsea Physic Garden.

Following Queen Anne’s death in 1714, in 1716 Sir Hans was appointed physician to her successor, King George I (he was also created a baronet the same year, becoming the first medical practitioner to receive a hereditary title).

Three years later, in 1719, he become president of the Royal College of Physicians, an office he held for 16 years, and in 1727, he was appointed physician to King George II. The same year he succeeded Isaac Newton as president of the Royal Society, an office which he held until 1741.

In 1742, Sir Hans retired to his property in Chelsea.

By the time of his death on 11th January, 1753 at the ripe old age of 93, Sir Hans had collected more than 71,000 objects including books, manuscripts, drawings, coins and medals and plant specimens which he bequeathed to King George II in exchange for a payment of £20,000 to his executors.

Parliament agreed, following a lottery to raise the money, his collection went on to form the basis of the British Museum, first opened to the public in 1759 in Bloomsbury. It was also to form the basis of the museum’s later offshoot, the Natural History Museum at South Kensington.

Sir Hans was buried at Chelsea Old Church with his wife Elizabeth who died in 1724.

Word is that Prince William and his soon-to-be wife, Catherine Middleton, have yet to formally decide where they will live when in London (they are expected to spend much of their first two-and-a-half years of marriage in North Wales). 

Their initial London base, however, will reportedly be Clarence House. Located in The Mall, just down the road from Buckingham Palace and beside St James’s Palace, the grand building is currently the home of William’s father Charles, the Prince of Wales, his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and, William’s brother, Prince Harry (it is also the home of William himself).

In years gone past, Clarence House served as the home of the newly married Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) and her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Prince Charles, who lived there with his parents until the age of three, returned to the property in August 2003 after the death of his grandmother Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who had lived in the building from 1953.

Clarence House was built between 1825 and 1827 to the designs of architect John Nash on the orders of Prince William Henry, the Duke of Clarence and later King William IV.

Choices for a permanent home in London for the soon-to-be married couple reportedly include Buckingham Palace (see yesterday’s entry), as well as Kensington Palace.

It was converted from a Jacobean mansion for King William III and Queen Mary II and has since been the home of many royals including, most famously, Diana, Princess of Wales. She and her then husband, Prince Charles, moved in following their wedding in 1981, and Princess Diana continued to live there after her divorce in 1996.

Other notable royal residents have included Queen Anne and Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth II.

Another option – St James’s Palace – was built in 1531 on the site of a medieval leper hospital by King Henry VIII. Used initially for state occasions and to house royal relatives (Tudor monarchs actually lived at Whitehall Palace), it became the official royal residence in 1702, when Whitehall Palace burnt down, and remained so until the 1830s when King George III moved to Buckingham Palace.

Still the address to have in London, the origins of the name Mayfair are just as they appear – this area to the west of the City was named for the annual May Fair which was held at what is now the trendy (and picturesque) cafe precinct of Shepherd Market during the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

The two week long annual fair was established by King James II as a cattle market on what was then known as Brookfield Market in the 1680s. Attracting other pleasure-related activities, it soon became known for its licentiousness and, having survived Queen Anne’s attempts to have it banned, was eventually stopped in the mid-1700s. Edward Shepherd, who today gives his name to the area on which Brookfield Market once stood, was an architect and developer who subsequently redeveloped the site.

These days Mayfair is generally taken to encompass an area bordered by Hyde Park to the west, Oxford Street to the north, Piccadilly to the south and Regent Street to the east. The area’s development really took off in the century following the mid 1600s (landowners included the Grosvenor family – whose name is reflected in landmarks like London’s third largest square Grosvenor Square and Grosvenor Chapel (pictured) – as well as the Berkeleys and Burlingtons) and it became a favored residential location among the wealthy – indeed, it was this very gentrification which indirectly put an end to the fair.

Today, as well as being known for high end residential real estate, it’s one of London’s most expensive shopping precincts. Landmark buildings in the area today include the hulking bulk of the US Embassy at the western end of Grosvenor Square, the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly, the Handel House Museum (located in what was the home of composer George Frideric Handel), shopping arcades such as the Burlington and Royal Arcades, and various luxury hotels like Claridge’s and The Dorchester in Park Lane.

A 304-year-old institution, Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly is generally believed (depending, of course, on definition) to be London’s oldest department store.

Founded in 1707, it owes its establishment to the meeting of shopkeeper Hugh Mason and William Fortnum, a footman in the house of Queen Anne, who was his lodger. The story goes that their joint venture began when Fortnum began retrieving the half-used candles discarded by the royal family (they insisted on fresh candles each night) and they started selling them on to ladies at the Royal Court.

Initially founded as a grocery store, Fortnum & Mason, which moved to its current site on Piccadilly in 1756 (see picture to right), become known for its high quality and rare goods – in particular tea.

It has held numerous Royal Warrants since the mid 1800s with the first granted in 1863 when the firm was appointed as grocers to the then Prince of Wales.

A supplier of British officers during the Napoleonic Wars, it was also active during the Crimean War when Queen Victoria had shipments of “concentrated beef tea” sent to Florence Nightingale for use in her hospitals there.

Among its other claims to fame are that the first Scotch egg was created there in 1738 and that in 1886, it became the first store in Britain to stock tins of Heinz baked beans.

The massive clock which hangs on the facade of the building was commissioned in 1964 by Canadian businessman Garfield Weston who bought the business in 1951. Every hour models of Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason come forth and bow to each other.

The store, now famous for its luxury food hampers, underwent a £24 million restoration in the lead-up to its 300th anniversary in 2007. As well as the flagship store, there are now branches – “stores within stores” – in Japan. The firm also reportedly plans to open Fortnum & Mason stand-alone shops in locations like China, the Middle East and India (its last overseas stand alone store was opened on Madison Avenue in New York in the 1930s but the business was short-lived thanks to the Depression).

As well as its array of goods for sale, the Piccadilly store now houses a number of eateries including St James’s Restaurant, The Parlour, The Fountain, The Gallery and the 1707 Wine Bar.

See www.fortnumandmason.com.

We’re nearing the end of our series on Wren’s London (next week we’ll take a final look at some of the Wren designs we’ve not yet mentioned), so this week we look at one of his lesser known (and less accessible) designs – Marlborough House.

Tucked away behind high brick walls next to St James’ Palace just off Pall Mall, Marlborough House was built for Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough – a confidant of Queen Anne – and completed in 1711.

The duchess, who secured a lease of the site from Queen Anne, selected Sir Christopher as the architect in preference to Sir John Vanbrugh, but she later fell out with Wren and, after dismissing him, oversaw the completion of the building herself. It is believed that the design of the house was actually the work of Wren’s son, also named Christopher, although the plans were undoubtedly drawn up under Wren senior’s watchful eye.

The house, built of red Dutch bricks brought to England as ballast in troop transports, was noted for its plain design. But the walls of the central salon and staircases were decorated with scenes of battles the Duke had fought in.

The property remained in the hands of the Dukes of Marlborough until it was acquired by the Crown in 1817. The building – which was substantially extended in the mid 1800s to the designs of Sir James Pennethorne – was subsequently used by members of the royal family including Princess Charlotte (only daughter of the future King George IV) and her husband Prince Leopold (later the King of the Belgians), Queen Adelaide, widow of William IV, Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), George, Prince of Wales (later George V), King Edward VII’s widow, Queen Alexandra, and, lastly, Queen Mary, widow of  George V.

Following the death of the Queen Dowager in 1953, Queen Elizabeth II donated it for use by the Commonwealth Secretariat who still occupy the building today.

WHERE: Pall Mall (nearest Tube stations are Green Park and Piccadilly); WHEN: Two hour tours are usually held every Tuesday morning (check first); WEBSITE: www.thecommonwealth.org/Internal/191086/34467/marlborough_house/