The-Town-of-Ramsgate2

Best known as the “Hanging Judge” thanks to his role in the so-called Bloody Assizes of 1685, George Jeffreys climbed the heights of England’s legal profession before his ignominious downfall.

Born on 15th May, 1645, at the family home of Acton Hall in Wrexham, North Wales, Jeffreys was the sixth son in a prominent local family. In his early 20s, having been educated in Shrewsbury, Cambridge and London, he embarked on a legal career in the latter location and was admitted to the bar in 1668.

Town-of-RamsgateIn 1671, he was made a Common Serjeant of London, and despite having his eye on the  more senior role of Recorder of London, was passed over. But his star had certainly risen and, despite his Protestant faith, he was a few years later appointed to the position of solicitor general to James, brother of King Charles II and the Catholic Duke of York (later King James II), in 1677.

The same year he was knighted and became Recorder of London, a position he had long sought, the following year. Following revelations of the so-called the Popish Plot in 1678 – said to have been a Catholic plot aimed the overthrow of the government, Jeffreys – who was fast gaining a reputation for rudeness and the bullying of defendants – served as a prosecutor or judge in many of the trials and those implicated by what turned out to be the fabricated evidence of Titus Oates (Jeffreys later secured the conviction of Oates for perjury resulting in his flogging and imprisonment).

Having successfully fought against the Exclusion Bill aimed at preventing James from inheriting the throne, in 1681 King Charles II created him a baronet. In 1683 he was made Lord Chief Justice and a member of the Privy Council. Among cases he presided over was that of Algernon Sidney, implicated in the Rye House Plot to assassinate the king and his brother (he had earlier led the prosecution against Lord William Russell over the same plot). Both were executed.

It was following the accession of King James II in February, 1685, that Jeffreys earned the evil reputation that was to ensure his infamy. Following the failed attempt by James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth and illegitimate son of the late King Charles II, to overthrow King James II, Jeffreys was sent to conduct the trials of the captured rebels in West Country towns including Taunton, Wells and Dorchester – the ‘Bloody Assizes’.

Of the almost 1,400 people found guilty of treason in the trials, it’s estimated that between 150 and 200 people were executed and hundreds more sent into slavery in the colonies. Jeffreys’, meanwhile, was busy profiting financially by extorting money from the accused.

By now known for his corruption and brutality, that same year he was elevated to the peerage as Baron Jeffreys of Wem and named Lord Chancellor as well as president of the ecclesiastical commission charged with implementing James’ unpopular pro-Catholic religious policies.

His fall was to come only a couple of years later during Glorious Revolution which saw King James II overthrown by his niece, Mary, and her husband William of Orange (who become the joint monarchs Queen Mary II and King William III).

Offered the throne by a coalition of influential figures who feared the creation of a Catholic dynasty following the birth of King James II’s son, James Francis Edward Stuart, William and Mary arrived in England with a large invasion force. King James II’s rule collapsed and he eventually fled the country.

Remaining in London after the king had fled, Lord Jeffreys only attempted to flee as William’s forced approached the city. He made it as far as Wapping where, despite being disguised as a sailor, he was recognised in a pub, now The Town of Ramsgate (pictured above).

Placed in custody in the Tower of London, he died there of kidney problems on 18th April, 1689, and was buried in the Chapel Royal of Saint Peter ad Vincula (before, in 1692, his body was moved to the Church of St Mary Aldermanbury). All traces of his tomb were destroyed when the church was bombed during the Blitz (for more on the church, see our earlier post here).

Seven-Dials---bigStanding at the junction of seven streets in London’s West End is a pillar topped with six – that’s right, six – sundials, giving the intersection and the surrounding area its name.

The layout of the area was originally designed by Thomas Neale, an MP and entrepreneur, in the early 1690s – it was part of the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666 – and initially had the pillar standing at the centre of six streets before it was later increased to seven. The streets which radiate out from the hub include Earlham, Mercer and Monmouth Streets and Shorts Gardens.

Seven-dialsWhile Neale, who designed the street layout to maximise street frontages and thus his return, had hoped the area would attract the well-to-do, it was not be and by the 19th century the area had become one of the cities most notorious slums, considered part of the infamous rookery of St Giles.

That has since changed and today the area is at the heart of a bustling commercial district, the streets which run off it housing stylish shops and offices.

The pillar itself apparently never had seven faces – there is the suggestion that the column itself was the seventh – and while the original column was removed in 1773, apparently by city authorities keen to rid the area of undesirables, it was replaced with a replica column in the late 1980s and unveiled by Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands to commemorate the tercentenary of the reign of King William III and Queen Mary II in June, 1989.

The original column, meanwhile, was apparently first acquired by an architect, James Paine, who kept it at his house in Surrey, before, in 1820, being taken to Weybridge where, in 1820, the column was re-erected as a memorial to Princess Frederica, Duchess of York (who had lived there). The dial-stone, meanwhile, was used as a mounting block before eventually being placed outside the Weybridge Library.

Apologies we didn’t post a new instalment in our Wednesday series yesterday – it will resume next week!

Inspired by a spectacular month of partying by King William III in December, 1699, Kensington Palace is celebrating Christmas with a month of family-friendly entertainment in the Georgian State Apartments. Historic Royal Palaces has joined with games makers Hide & Seek to create Game of Crowns, transforming Kensington into a play palace with games, mummery and the chance to proclaim yourself king or queen for a day. On the weekends, there’s also the chance to join in parlour games from 1700 onward and a Christmas Day sensory room which brings to life King William III and Queen Mary II’s Christmas morning (by which time they must have been exhausted!). The palace will also play host to its largest ever Christmas tree – 30 feet tall – and on December 16th, you can join in Carols by Candlelight. Admission charge applies. Runs until 6th January. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/.

Epping Forest is expanding and this weekend, you have a chance to help by planting some new saplings. The City of London Corporation, which runs the forest, is creating a new area of woodland, named Gifford Wood in honour of former Lord Mayor Roger Gifford, after purchasing 30 acres of land at Upshire last year. Members of the public are invited to join City of London staff and the Friends of Epping Forest at Upshire Village Hall, Horseshoe Hill (EN9 3SP) between 11am and 1pm on Saturday to plant 2,000 new oaks and hornbeam as well as a mix of alder, birch, beech, cherry, field maple, rowan, small lime, wild apple, wild service, holly and yew. Bring your spade. For more, phone 0208 532 1010 or email epping.forest@cityoflondon.gov.uk.

A memorial to the Long Range Desert Group was dedicated in Westminster Abbey this week.  The LRDG was formed in 1940 by Major Ralph Bagnold to act as the forward intelligence arm of the British army in North Africa. The group later shared their expertise in desert navigation with the fledgling SAS (Special Air Service) who also carried out offensives in the desert from 1941. The memorial is located in the west cloister below that of the SAS. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org.

Mostyn-ClockCreated by celebrated London clock-maker, Thomas Mostyn, the Mostyn Tompion Clock was produced to celebrate the coronation of joint monarchs King William III and Queen Mary II in 1689.

Currently on display in the British Museum in an exhibition coinciding with the 300th anniversary of Mostyn’s death, the clock – which shows the hours and minutes as well as the days of the week – continues to keep good time and runs for more than a year on a single wind.

Noted as much for being a work of art as for its mechanical works, the case features an ebony veneer, silver and gilt brass mounts and is crowned with a statuette of Britannia and a shield combining the crosses of St George and St Andrew while decorations on the four corners commemorate the union of the United Kingdom and depict a rose, thistle, lion and unicorn.

The clock was kept in the Royal Bedchamber until the death of King William III in 1702 after which it passed to Henry Sydney, the Earl of Romney and Gentleman of the Bedchamber and Groom of the Stole. It was later inherited by Lord Mostyn (hence the ‘Mostyn’ Tompion) and remained in that family until acquired by the British Museum in 1982.

Keep an eye out for upcoming famous Londoners on Thomas Tompion.

The clock, featured in the The Asahi Shimbun Display, is on display in Room 3 of the British Museum until 2nd February, 2014. Entry is free. 

WHERE: British Museum, Great Russell Street (nearest Tube stations are Russell Square, Tottenham Court Road, Goodge Street and Holborn); WHEN: 10am to 5.30pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.britishmuseum.org.

PICTURE:  © The Trustees of the British Museum

The_Rosebery_Tiara_QMA_Collection._Photo_c_SothebysA pearl-drop earring worn by King Charles I at his execution in 1649, pearl tiaras worn by European nobles and a pearl necklace given to Marilyn Monroe by Joe DiMaggio in 1954 are among the items on display as part of a new exhibition which opened at the V&A last Saturday. The V&A and Qatar Museums Authority exhibition traces the history of pearls from the early Roman Empire to now and features more than 200 pieces of jewellery and works of art. Other items on display include ‘Queen Mary II’ pearls dating from 1662-1664, a miniature portrait of Queen Charlotte wearing pearl jewellery and a set of buttons, finely enamelled and framed with pearls, worn by George III in 1780. There’s also the Dagmar necklace given to Princess Alexandra when she married the future King Edward VII in 1863. The exhibition is part of the Qatar UK 2013 Year of Culture. Admission charge applies. Runs until 19th January. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: Lady Rosebery’s pearl and diamond tiara (1878) © Christie’s Images.

The Big Brother house – located in Elstree Studios in north London – opens to the public tomorrow and on Saturday as part of a partnership between Initial – an Endemol Company, Channel 5 and the National Trust. Some two million people tuned in to watch the final night of the show this summer leading one TV critic to describe the property as “the most important house in Britain”. The opening is being preceded by an Opening Gala featuring housemates past and present as well as celebrities – but that’s an invitation only event. Sadly, tickets for the opening are already sold out – for returns and your last chance of getting in, follow this link.

The UK’s first aircraft manufacturers – Horace, Eustace and Oswald Short – have been commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque placed on their former workshop in Battersea. Unveiled this week by Jenny Body – the first female president of the Royal Aeronautical Society, the plaque can be found at the railway arches near Queen’s Circus where the brothers, who lived nearby in the Prince of Wales Mansions, worked on ballooning and first made the transition to aircraft construction. Among their firsts was the construction of the first British powered aircraft to complete a circular mile of flight and the creation of Britain’s first ever purpose-built aircraft factory (it was located on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent). For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

On Now: Jonathan Yeo Portraits. New and previously unseen works including a six foot high portrait of controversial artist Damien Hirst and a portrait of Kevin Spacey as King Richard III feature in this exhibition running at the National Portrait Gallery. Other subjects featured in the painted works include media mogul Rupert Murdoch, model Erin O’Connor, artist Grayson Perry and actor Sierra Miller. Runs until 5th January. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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)!

Queen-Henrietta-Maria-(Royal-Collection)A landmark exhibition looking at fashion in the Tudor and Stuart eras opens at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, tomorrow. In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion features everything from a diamond ring given by King Charles I to his then 19-year-old wife Henrietta Maria, an ornate set of armour which belonged to 13-year-old Henry, Prince of Wales (the older brother of King Charles I – he died of typhoid fever at the age of 19), and a diamond-encrusted box in which Queen Mary II kept black fabric patches worn to conceal blemishes or highlight the creaminess of skin. A 58.5 carat pearl, named ‘La Peregrina’ (‘The Wanderer’) and given to Queen Mary I as an engagement gift from Philip II of Spain (and later presented to Elizabeth Taylor by Richard Burton on Valentine’s Day, 1969), is also among the objects on show along with a pendant featuring a miniature of Queen Elizabeth I. The exhibition also features more than 60 portraits from the Royal Collection showing the fashions of the time, including a portrait by Sir Peter Lely of court beauty Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond, who famously refused to become King Charles II’s mistress. Admission charge applies. Runs until 6th October. For more, see www.royalcollection.co.uk. PICTURE: Sir Anthony van Dyck, Queen Henrietta Maria, 1609-69. Royal Collection Trust/© 2013, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

A medieval crozier and bejewelled ring discovered in Cumbria in 2010 are on public display for the first time in a new exhibition at Wellington Arch. The artefacts, which were discovered at Furness Abbey, are featured in an English Heritage exhibition, A Monumental Act: How Britain Saved Its Heritage, which explores how the Ancient Monuments Act of 1913 helped protect Britain’s historical fabric. Other objects in display include some of the historic artefacts found in the 20 years following the act – a Roman bronze weight from Richborough Roman Fort in Kent and a 13th century sculpture of Christ found at Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire. Admission charge applies. The exhibition runs until 7th July. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/wellington-arch/.

The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons is celebrating its bicentenary this year and to mark the occasion, they’re holding a free exhibition focusing on the museum’s collections of human anatomy and pathology; natural history and artworks. The display will consider how the objects in the collection have informed the medical world and fallen under the gaze of visitors who have included surgeons as well as monarchs. The exhibition in the Qvist Gallery at the museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields opens on Tuesday, 14th May, and runs until 9th November. For more, see www.rcseng.ac.uk/museums/hunterian.

The world comes to Regent Street this Sunday with the ‘InsureandGo The World on Regent Street’ festival. Representatives from countries including Argentina, Egypt, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey and China as well as the UK will showcasing the best of each country’s culture, music and dance, art, food and fashion. Activities will include tango lessons from Argentina, professional henna drawing from Egypt, a steel band from Trinidad and Tobago, and a Chinese drumming performance and lion dancing. The street will be closed for the day. For more, see www.regentstreetonline.com.

On Now: Kaffe Fassett – A Life in Colour. This exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey Street celebrates the work of American-born artist Kaffe Fassett and features more than 100 works including nine foot wide knitted shawls, coats and throws, patchwork quilts and a ‘feeling wall’ where visitors can touch the textiles on display. Admission charge applies. Runs until 29th June. For more, see www.ftmlondon.org.

A new exhibition opens at the Foundling Museum tomorrow (25th January) which tells the often heart-breaking stories behind the tokens left by mothers with their babies at the Foundling Hospital between 1741-1760. While hundreds of tokens were removed from the hospital’s admission files in the 1860s, Fate, Hope & Charity reunites the tokens – which range from coins and jewellery to playing cards, poems and even a nut – with the foundlings to whom they were given. A moving exhibition. Museum admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

The Duc and Duchesse de La Rochefoucauld-Doudeauville were among those who attended the dedication of a ledger stone marking the grave of their kinsman, Field Marshal Francois de La Rochefoucauld, the Marquis de Montendre, at Westminster Abbey last week. Born in 1672, de La Rochefoucauld served in the British Army during the reign of King William III and Queen Mary II after fleeing France as a Huguenot refugee (he had also succeeded his brother as marquis). He was promoted to field marshal in 1739 but died later that year and was buried in the abbey. The floor stone which was replaced by the new ledger stone will be sent to France for inscription and installation at Montendre. For more on the abbey, see www.westminster-abbey.org.

• One we should have mentioned with our piece on Royal Albert Hall last week. The Royal Albert Hall is running behind the scenes tours of the venue every Monday until 11th February as well as Tuesday 29th January (so you’ll have to be quick!). The tour – which runs as an extension of the front of house tour – takes in the loading bay located under the hall and one of the many dressing rooms (currently in use by Cirque de Soleil who are in residency with their new show KOOZA. The 90 minute Behind the Scenes tours cost £16. Booking in advance is strongly recommended. For more, see www.royalalberthall.com.

A pair of swimming trunks worn by diver Tom Daley during the 2012 Olympic Games has been donated to the Museum of London. The trunks join an ever increasing collection of Olympics and Paralympics-related outfits in the museum with others including a leotard worn by bronze-medal winning gymnast Beth Tweddle. A display featuring the Olympic kit is being planned for spring. Meanwhile, still aty the museum and an exhibition featuring a series of photographs exploring the city’s major arterial roadways opens on Saturday. The free exhibition, Highways: Photographs by John Davies, features six specially commissioned photographs taken by Davies in 2001-02 – just prior to the introduction of the Congestion Charge in 2003. Routes featured include the Elephant and Castle roundabout, the Hammersmith Flyover, Marble Arch and Hyde Park, St Pancras Station Midland Grand Hotel and the A501, the junction of Poultry and Queen Victoria Street and the Blackwall Tunnel entrance. Runs until 16th June. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.

• On Now: Murder in the Library: An A-Z of Crime Fiction. This exhibition at the British Library looks at the history of crime fiction and features never-before-seen manuscripts, printed books, rare audio recordings, artworks and artefacts. Highlights include Arthur Conan Doyle’s manuscript of the Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of the Retired Colourman (1926); the first appearance in print of Miss Marple (in Royal Magazine in 1929); John Gielgud’s annotated script for the film Murder on the Orient Express, crime novels from unlikely authors including Pele and burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee and the 1933 book, the Jigsaw Puzzle Murders in which readers had to complete a jigsaw puzzle to solve the crime. A series of events will be taking place alongside the exhibition. Entry to the library’s Folio Society Gallery is free. Runs until 12th May. For more see www.bl.uk.

While we’ve looked at some of the history of the Banqueting House during last year’s special on King James I’s London, we thought we’d take a more in-depth look as part of our Treasures of London series…

A perfect double cube with a sumptuous painted ceiling, this early 17th century building is the only remaining complete structure from the Palace of Whitehall which was destroyed by fire in 1698.

The building replaced an earlier banqueting hall built on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I and another, shorter-lived hall, built by King James I, which was destroyed by fire in 1619.

Following its destruction, King James had Inigo Jones design a new hall to provide, as the previous hall had, a location for state occasions, plays and masques – something of a cross between an organised dance, an amateur theatrical performance and just a chance to dress up.

Jones, who partnered with Ben Jonson to produce masques, designed the hall – which has a length double the width – with these performances specifically in mind. The first one – Jones and Jonson’s Masque of Augurs – was performed on Twelfth Night, 1622, even before the building was completed (the last masque was performed here, incidentally, in 1635, after which, thanks they were moved to a purpose built structure nearby, ostensibly to save the newly installed paintings from being damaged by the smoke of torches – see below).

The incredible paintings on the ceilings, which celebrate the reign of King James I and will be the subject of their own Treasures of London article at a later date, were installed by March 1636. Produced by Flemish artist Sir Peter Paul Rubens, they had been commissioned by King Charles I, King James’ son, in commemoration of his father. Ironically, it was outside the building where the monarchy was so celebrated that King Charles I was beheaded in 1649 (this is marked in a ceremony held at the Banqueting House on 30th January each year).

Following the king’s execution, Whitehall Palace wasn’t used for several years until Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell took up residence there in 1654, using the Banqueting House as a hall if audience. It stood empty after Cromwell’s death in 1658 until the Restoration in 1660 when King Charles II again used it as a grand ceremonial hall for receiving foreign embassies and conducting court ceremonies (these including the ancient custom of what is known as ‘Touching for the King’s Evil’ to cure those afflicted with the disease of scrofula as well as the washing of the feet of the poor by the sovereign on Maundy Thursday.)

King James II was the last king to live at Whitehall Palace and during his reign, from 1685-88, it was used as a royal storehouse. But it was revived for formal use following his reign – it was here that King William III and Queen Mary II were officially offered the crown on 13th February, 1689.

During their reign, the court’s focus shifted to Kensington but the Banqueting House was used for Queen Mary to lay in state after her death in 1694.

Following the destruction of the remainder of Whitehall Palace in 1698 – the origins of this fire are apparently owed to a maid who had put some linen by a charcoal fire to dry – the Banqueting Hall was used briefly as a Chapel Royal and, following a renovation in the late 1700s, it was used for concerts and, from 1808, as a place of worship for the Horse Guards.

Further renovation works followed and in 1837, it was re-opened as a Chapel Royal and used as such until 1890 when this practice was formally discontinued. In 1893, Queen Victoria gave the Royal United Services Institute the use of the building as a museum – among the things displayed there were the skeleton of Napoleon’s horse, Marengo. In 1962, the exhibits were dispersed and the Banqueting House today is used for a range of royal, corporate and social events.

There is an undercroft underneath, designed as a place where King James I could enjoy drinking with his friends. It was later used for storage.

WHERE: Corner of Whitehall and Horse Guards Avenue (nearest Tube stations are Westminster and Embankment); WHEN: Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm; COST: £5 adults/£4 concessions/children under 16 free (Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/BanquetingHouse/.

PICTURE: Courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam.co.uk

The oldest of the royal parks, the 74 hectare (183 acre) Greenwich Park has been associated with royalty since at least the 15th century.

The area covered by the park had been occupied by the Romans (there are some remains of a building, possibly a temple, near Maze Hill Gate) and later the Danes, who raised protective earthworks here in the 11th century. After the Norman Conquest, it became a manor.

Its enclosure only happened in 1433 after the land came into the possession of Humphrey of Lancaster, Duke of Gloucester and brother of King Henry V. At the time regent to the young King Henry VI, Duke Humphrey also built a tower on the heights above the park – where the Royal Observatory now stands.

Following the duke’s death in 1447, the land was seized by Margaret of Anjou – wife of King Henry VI – and subsequently became known as the Manor of Placentia. King Henry VII later rebuilt the manor house, creating what was known as Greenwich Palace or the Palace of Placentia.

Not surprisingly, it was King Henry VIII, who, having been born at Greenwich Palace, introduced deer to the park. Indeed the park was to have strong associations with others in his family – the king married Catherine of Aragorn and Anne of Cleeves at Greenwich Palace, and his daughters, later Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I, were born there while his son, King Edward VI, died there in 1553 at the age of only 15. (There’s a tree in the park known as Queen Elizabeth’s Oak, which is said to be where she played as a child).

In 1613, King James I gave the palace and accompanying park – which he had enclosed with a high wall – to his wife, Queen Anne of Denmark, apparently as an apology after swearing at her in public when she accidentally shot one of his favorite dogs. Queen Anne subsequently commissioned Inigo Jones to design what is now known as the Queen’s House – for more on that, see our earlier post.

Following the Restoration, King Charles II ordered the palace rebuilt and while this work remained unfinished, the king did succeed in having the park remodelled – it is believed that Andre Le Notre, gardener to King Louis XIV of France, had a role in this.

The works included cutting a series of terraces into the slope – these were known as the Great Steps and lined with hawthorn hedges – as well as creating a formal avenue of chestnut trees (now known as Blackheath Avenue), and some woodlands. Work is currently taking place on restoring an orchard which dates from 1666 at the park.

King Charles II also commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to build the Royal Observatory that still stands on the hill overlooking the park – it stands on the site once occupied by the Duke Humphrey Tower (the Royal Observatory is home of the Prime Meridian – see our earlier post on the Royal Observatory for more).

King James II was the last monarch to use the palace and park – his daughter Queen Mary II donated the palace for use as a hospital for veteran sailors and the park was opened to the pensioners in the early 1700s. The hospital later become the Royal Naval College and the National Maritime Museum later moved onto the site (for more on this, see our earlier post).

As an aside, Royal Parks say the truncated shape of some of the trees in the park is apparently due to the fact that when anti-aircraft guns were positioned in the flower garden during World War II, the trees had to be trimmed to ensure a clear field of fire.

Facilities in the park today include a tea house, a children’s playground, sporting facilities such as tennis courts and, of course, the Wilderness Deer Park where you can see wildlife at large. Statues include that of Greenwich resident General James Wolfe, an instrumental figure in establishing British rule in Canada – it sits on the crest of the hill opposite the Royal Observatory looking down towards the Thames.

The park, which is part of the Greenwich World Heritage Site, is slated as a venue for next year’s Olympics – it will host equestrian events and the shooting and running events of the pentathlon.

WHERE: Greenwich Park (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark – other nearby stations include Greenwich, Maze Hill and Blackheath); WHEN: 6am to at least 6pm (closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx

Perhaps the most overlooked and least celebrated of central London’s Royal Parks, Green Park (officially The Green Park) is a peaceful oasis of leafy trees between the bustle of Piccadilly and traffic of Constitution Hill and part of an unending swathe of green which connects Kensington Gardens with, eventually, St James’ Park.

Originally meadowland used for hunting, the earliest known mention of the area where the park now stands was apparently in 1554 when it was believed to be a staging point for Thomas Wyatt (the younger) who led a group of rebels protesting against the marriage of Queen Mary I to King Philip II of Spain. The unfortunate – and unsuccessful (in terms of his rebellion at least) – Wyatt was later beheaded for treason.

In 1668, King Charles II had the park enclosed with a brick wall and stocked with deer, as well as having a ranger’s lodge and icehouse built (to keep his drinks cool when entertaining in summer). While it was initially known as Upper St James’s Park, by 1746 Green Park had its own name. It’s not really known what prompted the name change but the unofficial story is that Queen Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II, found out that her philandering husband had picked some flowers there for another woman – a milkmaid. In revenge, she had every flower in the park pulled up with orders they were not to be replanted. To this day, while some 250,000 daffodils bloom here in spring, there remain no formal flowerbeds in the park.

The 47 acre (19 hectare) park, which was also used on occasion as a duelling ground, underwent further development at the beginning of the following century with the creation of the ornamental Tyburn Pool near the centre of the park.

Queen Caroline, the wife of King George II, meanwhile, had a reservoir built to supply water to St James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace (it was known as the Queen’s Basin) as well as a library and the Queen’s Walk. Planted in 1730, this runs along the eastern side of the park and helped to turn it into a fashionable place in which to be seen (and led to the building of many a mansion in nearby Piccadilly).

Other buildings in the park have included two temporary ‘temples’ – the Temple of Peace (erected in 1749 to mark the end of the War of Austrian Succession) and the Temple of Concord (erected in 1814 to mark 100 years of the rule of the Hanoverian dynasty). Both of these, believe it or not, burnt down during the celebrations they were built for.

The park, which underwent a redesign in which the first trees were planted in the 1820s as part of architect John Nash’s grand plans for St James’s Park, was opened to the general public in 1826 but by then many of its earlier features – including the ranger’s house, Tyburn Pool and the Queen’s Basin – were already gone.

In more recent times, war memorials have been added to the park – the maple-leaf daubed, Pierre Granche-designed memorial to Canadian soldiers in 1994 (Canada is also remembered in Canada Gate on the park’s south side, installed in 1908 to mark the nation’s contribution to the Empire), and a set of memorial gates on Constitutional Hill at the park’s western end which is dedicated to the five million people from the Indian Sub-Continent, Africa and the Caribbean who served in World War II in 2004. The park also features the ‘Diana fountain’, installed in 1952 by the Constance Fund (and currently undergoing restoration).

On 14th June, a 41 royal gun salute is fired here to mark the Queen’s birthday. Salutes are also fired here for the State Opening of Parliament in November or December, Remembrance Sunday, and for State Visits.

WHERE: Green Park (nearest tube station is Green Park and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: http://www.royalparks.gov.uk/Green-Park.aspx

PICTURE: Courtesy of Royal Parks. © Anne Marie Briscombe 

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

This year marks the 160th anniversary of the transfer of the care of the Royal Parks to the government (meaning the public was freely able to enjoy access for the first time). To celebrate, over the next weeks we’ll be taking a look at the history of each of them. First up is the 142 hectare Hyde Park, perhaps the most famous of all eight Royal Parks.

Formerly owned by Westminster Abbey, King Henry VIII seized the land in 1536 for use as a private hunting ground. He had it enclosed with fences and the Westbourne Stream, which ran through the park – it now runs underground – dammed.

It remained the king and queen’s private domain (Queen Elizabeth I is known to have reviewed troops there) until King James I appointed a ranger to look after the park and permitted limited access to certain members of the nobility in the early 17th century.

The park’s landscaping remained largely unaltered until the accession of King Charles I – he created what is known as the ‘ring’ – a circular track where members of the royal court could drive their carriages. In 1637, he also opened the park to the public (less than 30 years later, in 1665, it proved a popular place for campers fleeing the Great Plague in London).

During the ensuring Civil War, the Parliamentarians created forts in the park to help defend the city against the Royalists – some evidence of their work still remains in the raised bank next to Park Lane.

After King William III and Queen Mary II moved their court to Kensington Palace (formerly Nottingham House) in the late 1600s, they had 300 oil lamps installed along what we know as “Rotten Row’ – the first artificially lit road in the country – to enable them and their court to travel safely between the palace and Westminster.

The natural looking Serpentine – the great, 11.34 hectare, lake in the middle of Hyde Park (pictured) – was created in the 1730s on the orders of Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, as part of extensive work she had carried out there. It was Queen Caroline who also divided off what we now know as Kensington Gardens from Hyde Park, separating the two with a ha-ha (a ditch).

The next major changes occurred in the 1820s when King George IV employed architect and garden designer Decimus Burton to create the monumental park entrance at Hyde Park Corner – the screen still remains in its original position while Wellington Arch was moved from a parallel position to where it now stands (see our previous posts for more on that). Burton also designed a new railing fence and several lodges and gates for the park. A bridge across the Serpentine, meanwhile, was built at about the same time along with a new road, West Carriage Drive, formally separating Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

While the basic layout of the park has been largely unchanged since, there have been some additions – among them, the establishment in 1872 of Speaker’s Corner as a place to speak your mind in the north-east corner of the park (near Marble Arch), the creation in 1930 of the Lido for bathing in warm weather, and, more recently, the building of the Diana, Princess of Wales’ Memorial Fountain (unveiled in 2004), and the 7 July Memorial (unveiled in July 2009).

Other sculptures in the park include Isis (designed by Simon Gudgeon, located on the south side of the Serpentine), the Boy and Dolphin Fountain (designed by Alexander Munro, it stands in the Rose Garden), and a monumental statue of Achilles, a memorial to the Duke of Wellington designed by Richard Westmacott, near Park Lane. There are also memorials to the Holocaust, Queen Caroline, and the Cavalry as well as a Norwegian War Memorial and a mosaic marking the site of the Reformer’s Tree (the tree was burnt down during the Reform League Riots of 1866).

The park has been integral part of any national celebrations for centuries – in 1814 a fireworks display there marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Great Exhibition – with the vast Crystal Palace – was held there in 1851 and in 1977 a Silver Jubilee Exhibition was held marking Queen Elizabeth II’s 25 year reign. Cannons are fire there on June 2nd to mark the Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and on 10th June for the Duke of Edinburgh’s birthday.

Facilities these days include rowing and pedal boats, tennis courts, deck chairs, a restaurant and cafe (the latter based in the Lido) and, of course, some Boris bikes. There is a heritage walk through the park which can be downloaded from the Royal Parks website.

WHERE: Hyde Park (nearest tube stations are that of Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner, Lancaster Gate, Knightsbridge and South Kensington); WHEN: 5am to midnight; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Hyde-Park.aspx?page=main

PICTURE: Courtesy of Royal Parks. © Indusfoto Ltd 

Founded in 1689, Ede & Ravenscroft is thought to be not only the oldest tailor in London but the world.

The origins of the business can be traced back to William and Martha Shudall, tailors who set up shop in Aldwych in London that year. Their work had soon caught the eye of royalty with the company winning the contract to create robes for the coronation of King William III and Queen Mary II after what is known as the Glorious Revolution.

As well as making robes for the clergy, government officials and those working in the legal and academic professions, the company’s relationship with the Royal Family continued and they have provided robes and tailoring for as many as 12 coronations including that of King George III.

Wig-making was added to the business in the 1800s when Joseph Ede (robe maker to Queen Victoria) married into the Ravenscroft family – already known for their wig-making (the business was renamed from Ede & Son to include the Ravenscroft name in 1902).

The company, headquartered at 93 Chancery Lane (they also have several other shopfronts including one at Burlington Gardens near Savile Row – see picture), currently holds three Royal Warrants, being official robe-makers to the Queen, Prince Philip and Prince Charles.

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.

Hunkering down on the south bank of the Thames, the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich is yet another Wren masterpiece and the centrepiece of the UNESCO-listed Greenwich Maritime World Heritage Site.

What is now known as the college was originally designed as a ‘hospital’ or retirement home for old or infirm sailors. Established by Royal Charter in 1694, it was King William III who pushed the project into fruition as per the wishes of his then late wife Queen Mary II.

Wren was selected to design the building and along with the diarist John Evelyn, who had been appointed treasurer, laid the foundation stone on 30th June, 1696.

Wren’s initial design – for a three side courtyard facing the river – was rejected by Queen Mary who insisted the view from the existing Queen’s House to the river be maintained. So, instead, the hospital was built as a series of four pavilions, each with its own court, with the Queen’s House standing as it’s centrepiece when viewed from the river.

Wren himself never lived to see the building’s completion – it was in the end completed by a number of other famous architects including Sir John Vanbrugh, Thomas Ripley, and Wren’s pupil Nicholas Hawksmoor. Fortunately Wren had laid out all the foundations which ensured the basic design conformed to his plans.

The first 42 pensioners moved in in 1706 and the numbers grew as buildings were completed to a peak of 2,710 in 1814. However, declining numbers of pensioners by the mid 1800s – thanks to a period of peace on the seas and the success of a program which saw more pensioners living with their families, eventually led to the hospital’s closure in 1860.

In 1873, the Royal Naval College took over the premises, assuming the role of both the former Naval College at Portsmouth and the School or Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering which had been based in South Kensington. The Naval Staff College opened on the site in 1919 and further navy departments including the Department of Nuclear Science and Technology moved there in later years. The Royal Navy left the college in 1998.

Now in the care of the Greenwich Foundation, the college is now used by the University of Greenwich and the Trinity College of Music as well as for public events. The public can also visit certain parts of the former college including the grounds, the spectacular Painted Hall and the Chapel.

The domed Painted Hall, which features a series of classically themed paintings with King William III and Queen Mary II at its heart, was originally planned by Wren to be the hospital’s dining hall but due to the length of time it took for Sir James Thornhill to complete – 19 years – his paintings it was never used as such. Instead it stood empty until the body of Admiral Lord Nelson was brought there to lie in state in January 1806. In 1824 it became the National Gallery of Naval Art but in the 1930s became a dining room again with the gallery’s contents transferred to the National Maritime Museum.

The Chapel of St Peter and St Paul, meanwhile was completed in 1751 to the design of Sir Thomas Ripley but was gutted by fire only 28 years later. It was then rebuilt, largely to the designs of James “Athenian” Stuart with some of the detailing designed by his Clerk of Works William Newton, and was reopened in 1789. Restored in the 1950s, it is said to look “almost as it was” when it opened in 1789. The chapel is still in use for services.

WHERE: Located adjacent to Greenwich Pier with entry from Cutty Sark Gardens, College Approach, Romney Road Gate, Royal Gate or Park Row, Greenwich (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich); WHEN: The Painted Hall and Chapel are open daily from 10am to 5pm (chapel used for worship on Sunday mornings, open for sightseeing  from 12.30pm); COST: Free (Booked guided tours are available for £5 an adult/children under 16 free); WEBSITE: www.oldroyalnavalcollege.org

A once favored residence of British monarchs, Kensington Palace’s connections with royalty date back to 1689 when, then a private country home known as Nottingham House, the building was purchased by King William III and Queen Mary II.

The royal couple turned to Sir Christopher Wren, then Surveyor of the King’s Works, who was charged with adapting the property into a suitably regal residence.

Wren’s work included the addition of four new pavilions – one at each corner – to provide extra accommodation for the king and queen. The King’s Apartments, approached by a Grand Staircase, were located in the south east, and the Queen Apartment’s in the north west. While many later additions were made, the basic layout of these buildings remains true to Wren’s original design.

Among the many spectacular original rooms is the King’s Gallery, built for William in 1695. It features an 1694 wind dial connected to a weather vane which turns according to the direction of the prevailing wind.

The property’s subsequent royal residents have included Queen Anne, King George I and King George II (it was King George III who made Buckingham Palace his primary London residence). Princess (later Queen) Victoria was born here in 1819 (it was she who first opened the State Apartments to visitors in 1899) while more recent residents in the palace’s private areas have included Princess Margaret and, of course, Diana, Princess of Wales.

WHERE: The Broad Walk, Kensington Gardens, Kensington (nearest tube stations are High Street Kensington or Queensway); WHEN: Daily 10am to 5pm (last admission 4pm); COST: £12.50 adult/£11 concession/£6.25 child/£34 family (online booking discounts available, Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace

PICTURE: Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam.co.uk