For the final in our series on 10 of London’s greatest Victorian projects, we’re taking a quick look at some of the great Victorian projects that we’ve previously examined on Exploring London…
• Tower Bridge – An eight year project which opened in 1894. For more, see our earlier post, Treasures of London – Tower Bridge.
• Albert Memorial – Completed in 1876, the memorial to the Prince Consort is a masterpiece of the Gothic Revival style. For more, see Curious London memorials – 2. The Albert Memorial.
• Trafalgar Square – While plans were drawn up by John Nash, it was Sir Charles Barry who designed the basic layout we see today. See our earlier post – What’s in a Name?…Trafalgar Square for more.
You can see all the previous entries in this series here.
What do you think is the most iconic Victorian building in London?
Apologies for the delay in posting this piece – next week we’ll post the final in this series!
The first underground railway system in the world, the London Underground – fondly known as the ‘Tube’ – is this year celebrating the 150th anniversary of its creation.
Born out of an idea to link the inner city with the various large rail termini on the outskirts, the first section of what is now the underground system – a six kilometre stretch between Paddington and Farringdon – opened on 9th January, 1863, and was run by the Metropolitan Railway, known less formally as the ‘Met’.
It was constructed using the ‘cut and cover’ method in which streets were dug up and tracks laid in a trench before being covered by brick-lined tunnels and the street above replaced (the method was later abandoned, apparently due to the disruption it caused to traffic). The first trains were steam-driven locomotives and drew gas-lit wooden carriages behind them (the first journey was re-enacted earlier this year – see our earlier post here. Other events commemorating the 150th included a visit to Baker Street Station by Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip and the Duchess of Cambridge).
The idea proved a success – 26,000 people used the new railway every day during the first six months of its operation – and the Metropolitan District Railway opened a new line between Westminster and South Kensington (station is pictured) in December, 1868, while the first Tube tunnel under the Thames, from the Tower of London to Bermondsey, opened in 1880, and what is now the Circle Line was completed in 1884.
In December 1890, the world’s first deep-level electric railway opened, running between King William Street in the City and passing under the Thames to Stockwell. Ten years later the ‘Twopenny Tube’, more formally known as the Central London Railway, opened between Shepherd’s Bush and Bank (it was from this that the use of the word ‘Tube’ to describe the Underground system caught on).
The uniting of the system began the following year with the creation of the Underground Electric Railway Company of London and by World War I, all but the Met were within a single group organisation. The name Underground first appeared on stations in 1908, the same year electric ticket machines were introduced.
In 1933, the Underground came under the control of the London Passenger Transport Board – the same year that Harry Beck’s first diagrammatic map of the underground system appeared.
Stations in the system were used as air raid shelters during World War II – part of the Piccadilly Line was closed and used as a storage site for treasures from the British Museum. Following the war, the organisation running the system went through various name changes until the formation of London Underground in 1985.
The system has since expanded – the Victoria Line was opened in the late 1960s and the Jubilee Line a decade later – and now consists of more than 408 kilometres of railway lines and 275 stations which serve more than three million passengers a day – equating to more than a billion a year, the same as the entire national rail network.
For more on the history of the Underground, see our earlier 10 Questions with London Transport Museum curator Simon Murphy. Poster Art 150 – London Underground’s Greatest Designs runs at the London Transport Museum until October. Admission charge applies. For more (including the many events around the exhibition), see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/events/events-calendar#posterart150.
For more, check out David Bownes’ Underground: How the Tube Shaped London or Andrew Martin’s Underground, Overground: A Passenger’s History of the Tube.
London’s railway network stands out as one of the greatest achievements of the Victorian age for it was during the 19th century that much of the railway infrastructure still in use today was first established.
The first railway line in London opened in February 1836 (six years after the UK’s first line opened) and ran between Spa Road in Bermondsey and Deptford on the south bank of the River Thames. The line was extended to London Bridge in December that same year and again to Greenwich, from cross-Channel steamers left – in April the following year.
That same year – 1837 – the station at Euston opened as the final stop for trains from Birmingham (an earlier terminus as Chalk Farm was deemed too far out). It was followed by Paddington in 1838, Fenchurch Street – the first permanent terminus in the City – in 1841, Waterloo in 1848 and King’s Cross in 1850.
Having seen a boom period during the 1840s, development of new lines took a back seat in the 1850s but resumed apace the following decade with the opening of Victoria Station, connecting the city to Brighton and Dover. Stations followed at Charing Cross, Ludgate Hill and Cannon Street and alongside the grand terminus’ around the outskirts of London where trains arriving from distant destinations arrived, numerous smaller railways began to be built, such as the West End of London and Crystal Palace Railway and the Victoria Station and Pimlico Railway, which took passengers on only short journeys across the city (these smaller railway companies all disappeared by 1923 when the 1921 Railways Act resulted in the creation of what are known as the “Big Four” British railway companies).
And, of course, the London Underground, has its first journey in 1863 but we’ll look at that in more detail next week.
Interesting to note that there were three classes of rail travel and while first and second class passengers had seats, this wasn’t always the case in third class where, writes Michael Paterson in Inside Dickens’ London, passengers, such as those on the Greenwich line, were initially forced to stand in open topped carriages known by some as ‘standipedes’.
Naturally, with the building of the railways came some spectacular stations – among the most spectacular is the late Victorian building which stood at the front of St Pancras Railway Station and housed the Midland Grand Hotel (pictured above). An exemplar of the Gothic Victorian style, it was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and, following a massive recent refurbishment, is now home to the five star Renaissance London Hotel and apartments.
We can, of course, only touch on the history of the railways in such a brief article – but we will be looking in more detail at some more specific elements of the system in later posts.
March 6, 2013
We’ve previously mentioned the home of the British Government – the Houses of Parliament – in this series but this week we’re looking at another government building – a gem of 19th century architecture.
In existence since 1782, the Foreign Office had originally been housed in two houses in St James and then, as the department grew, to properties in Whitehall – first in The Cockpit (this building has an interesting history we’ll look at in a later post) and then in Downing Street. Initially lodged in what had been Lord Sheffield’s house in Downing Street, the department soon spilled over into neighbouring properties.
The deteriorating quality of these abodes, however, was such that there were fears for their collapse and plans to build a new Foreign Office were mooted. But it wasn’t until the 1850s that it was decided the government announced plans for a competition to design new Foreign and War Offices on Downing Street. There was something of a heated debate over the style of the building between those favouring classical and those favouring gothic architecture but in 1858 George Gilbert Scott (knighted in 1872) was finally appointed as architect.
While Scott apparently originally favoured a building in the gothic style, this was opposed by then Prime Minister Lord Palmerston whose preferences for a classical building eventually won the day.
Work on the new building began in the early 1860s and it eventually opened in July, 1868. While the War Office was never constructed, other departments were located in adjoining premises within the same block. These included the India Office – while Scott oversaw the exterior design, the interior was designed by Matthew Digby Wyatt, surveyor of the former East India Company and subsequently Architect to the Council of India. It opened in November 1867 but was taken over by the Foreign Office in 1947 following India’s independence – and the Colonial and Home offices – designed by Scott, these were completed by 1875.
Plans to build a new Foreign Office were mooted in the mid-20th century and there was talk of demolishing the existing building but after a public debate, Scott’s building was protected after being given Grade I listed building status.
In 1968, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office merged (the latter had only been created two years before) and the Home Office moved out of its premises, meaning that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office now occupied all four original departmental premises. A modernisation program subsequently took place and there was also a significant restoration program which was completed by January 1997.
Stand out rooms in the complex include the grand Locarno Suite – three interlinked rooms designed by Scott to host dinners, receptions and conferences which gained its current moniker in 1925 when the Locarno Treaties were signed here; as well as the India Office Council Chamber – designed by Wyatt, it features a great marble chimney taken from the former Director’s Court Room in East India House located in Leadenhall Street in the City; and, Wyatt’s spectacular Durbar Court which features a glazed cast-iron roof added in 1868 (the name dates from 1902 when some of coronation celebrations of King Edward VII were held here). The many grand staircases in the building – including the beautiful Muses Stair with its octagonal lantern – are also worth noting.
While the buildings, which are officially entered off King Charles Street, are not usually open to the public, they have been opened for the past few years during London’s Open House weekend. There is an audio tour available which details much of the fine artwork in the building.
We’ve already mentioned these two riverside embankments as part of our previous piece on Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s revolutionary sewer system. But so important are they to the shape of central London today – not to mention a great place to take a stroll – that we thought they’re also worth a mention in their own right.
As mentioned, the Victoria and Albert Embankments (the latter is pictured right) – named, of course, for Queen Victoria and her by then late consort, Prince Albert, who had died in 1861 (see our previous post What’s in a name?…Victoria Embankment) – were located on opposite sides of the River Thames and involved reclaiming a considerable amount of the river so new sewers could be laid.
Construction of Victoria Embankment – which was also seen as a way to relieve traffic congestion in the central London area – started in the mid 1860s and was complete by 1870. Running along the north and western banks of the Thames between Westminster and Blackfriars bridges, its creation involved the demolition of many riverside buildings as a new walk and roadway were constructed behind a wall.
Numerous monuments have since been located along this promenade – they include the Battle of Britain Monument, RAF Memorial and the mis-named Cleopatra’s Needle (see our earlier post to find out why) – as well as a number of permanently berthed ships including the HQS Wellington – the base of the Honorable Company of Master Mariners – and the HMS President.
The walkway also features original decorative lamps – interestingly, Victoria Embankment was the first roadway in London to be permanently lit by electric-powered lighting (from 1878).
The parks, collectively known as Victoria Embankment Gardens, contain numerous statues and monuments (including one to Bazalgette himself – it’s located close to the intersection with Northumberland Avenue) as well as a bandstand. They also contain the remains of York Watergate – once fronting on to the river, it shows how much land was reclaimed for the project (you can also visit the riverside entrance to Somerset House to gain a feel for where the river once was – look through the glass floor and you’ll see the old riverbank below).
Albert Embankment, meanwhile, runs between Vauxhall and Westminster Bridges on the eastern side of the river. Constructed around the same time as Victoria Embankment, it was designed to prevent flooding of the low-lying areas of Vauxhall and Kennington and to help in Bazalgette’s sewage system plan (although it apparently doesn’t have the same large sewers as can be found on the other side of the river).
Sadly, the demolition did see the centre of what was once the village of Lambeth removed to make way for the new promenade and roadway. But like Victoria Embankment, Albert Embankment features delightfully decorative lamps along the riverfront promenade and is a great place for a walk in any weather.
February 13, 2013
Precipitated at last by the so-called ‘Great Stink’ of 1858, Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s subterranean sewer system was a remarkable feat of engineering and made radical new inroads in improving the health on Londoners during the Victorian age.
The state of the River Thames – basically an open sewer – and the city’s water supplies had become a growing cause for concern as the population of the city – and the amount of waste they produced – increased.
Not surprisingly in the mid-1800s this led to outbreaks of cholera which killed tens of thousands (the outbreaks were generally attributed to a miasma in the air until the work of Dr John Snow eventually proved otherwise – see our earlier entry on the Dr John Snow pub here for more). But it wasn’t until the hot summer of 1858 that – unable to escape the stink of the river under their noses at Westminster – politicians decided something had to be done.
Bazalgette (depicted right in a monument at Victoria Embankment) was chief engineer at the newly formed Metropolitan Board of Works (he was appointed in 1856) when legislation was passed which paved the way for the board to create a sewer system underneath London’s streets to serve the growing metropolis. He designed an ingenious system in which the flow from existing sewers and underground rivers was intercepted before it could reach the river and diverted along new low level sewers to treatment works.
All up, the £4.2 million project involved the construction of 1,100 miles of street sewers and five major brick-walled sewer tunnels which ran for some 82 miles along the banks of the Thames and were large enough to cope with the rising demand as the city grew. It also meant the creation of several massive embankments along the river, narrowing the Thames as land was reclaimed from the river.
The work proceeded apace and much of the system was completed by 1866 (it was officially declared open by Edward, the Prince of Wales in 1865). The Victoria and Albert Embankments – located on the northern and southern banks of the Thames respectively – were both open by 1870 and the Chelsea Embankment further upriver was completed in the mid-1870s. Bazalgette was knighted for his efforts in 1875.
The system, which also featured a series of ornately decorated pumping houses, has since been considerably extended and upgraded but at its heart is still that which was created by Sir Joseph and his team.
For more on the creation of Bazalgette’s sewer system, try Stephen Halliday’s The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis. For a mystery set against the backdrop of London in the mid-1800s, check out Clare Clark’s novel The Great Stink.
Commonly thought to be older than it actually is due to its Gothic stylings (although, to be fair, parts of it do date from medieval times), the Palace of Westminster – or, as it’s more commonly known, the Houses of Parliament – didn’t actually take on much of its current appearance until the latter half of the 19th century.
The need for a new building for parliament arose after 1834 when a fire, caused by the overheating of two underfloor stoves used to incinerate the Exchequer’s obsolete tally sticks, tore through the former complex, leaving only some structures from the old palace intact. They included the 11th century Westminster Hall (the largest in Europe when it was built), 14th century Jewel Tower and a chapterhouse, crypt and cloisters, all of which was once attached to the now gone St Stephen’s Chapel.
While King William IV offered the use of Buckingham Palace for Parliament, the idea – along with a host of other options – was rejected as unsuitable. Instead, a competition was held for a new design and after almost 100 entries were considered, architect Charles Barry and his design for a new palace in the perpendicular Gothic style was chosen. Interestingly, while Barry was a classical architect, under the terms of the competition, designs were required to be in a Gothic style, thought to embody conservative values .
Incorporating some of the remains of the old palace – including Westminster Hall but not the Jewel Tower which to this day stands alone – the design was based around a series of internal courtyards with the House of Commons and House of Lords located on either side of a central lobby (first known as Octagonal Hall). The design involved reclaiming some land from the Thames so the building’s main river-facing facade could be completed.
Towers stand at either end of the complex – the Victoria Tower over the Sovereign’s Entrance at the southern end of the complex (for many years the tallest square stone tower in the world) and the narrower tower formerly known as the Clock Tower which houses the bell Big Ben, at the northern end – and there is a central Octagonal Tower which stands directly over the Central Lobby. The Clock Tower, incidentally, was renamed the Elizabeth Tower last year in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee (for more on it and Big Ben, see our earlier entries here and here).
Other towers include the Speaker’s Tower (located at the northern end of the building on the waterfront, this contains a residence for the Speaker), the Chancellor’s Tower (located at the southern end, it too contained a residence originally used by the Lord Chancellor) and St Stephen’s Tower – located in the middle of the building’s west front, it contains the public entrance to the building. Significant other rooms in the palace complex include the Robing Room – where the Queen puts on her ceremonial robes and crown before the State Opening of Parliament – and the Royal Gallery, used for state occasions.
The foundation stone (the building was constructed out of sand-coloured limestone from Yorkshire) was laid in 1840 and construction of the monumental building – which features more than 1,100 rooms and two miles of passageways – wasn’t completely finished until the 1870s although most of the work had been completed by 1860 (the year Barry died). The House of Lords first sat in their new chamber in 1847 and the House of Commons in 1852 (it was at this point that Barry was knighted for his work).
The cost, meanwhile, originally estimated at less than £750,000, ended up coming in at more than £2 million.
Much of the interior decoration owes its appearance to the Gothic revivalist Augustus Pugin who designed everything from wallpapers, to floor tiles and furnishings. Pugin also helped Barry with the external appearance but like Barry died before the project was completely finished (in 1852).
The palace was bombed numerous times in World War II – in one raid, the Commons Chamber was destroyed as firefighters opted to save the much older Westminster Hall instead. It was later rebuilt under the direction of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and completed by 1950. Other aspects of the building have also been restored.
A Grade I-listed building classified as a World Heritage Site, Barry’s Houses of Parliament remain one of London’s most iconic structures. We’ll be looking in more detail at some of the building’s features in future posts.
WHERE: Houses of Parliament (nearest Tube stations are Westminster, St James’s Park and Embankment); WHEN: Tours (75 minutes) are run from 9.15am to 4.30pm on Saturdays (also six days a week during summer opening); COST: £15 adults/£10 concessions/£6 children five to 15 years (children under five are free). Prices go up after 1st April – check website for details and to purchase tickets (tours for UK residents, including climbing the Elizabeth Tower, can also be arranged through your MP); WEBSITE: www.parliament.uk.
For more, see Robert Wilson’s guide to the The Houses of Parliament or David Cannadine’s indepth, The Houses of Parliament: History, Art, Architecture. For more on the story of the fire in 1834, see head parliamentary archivist Caroline Shenton’s recent book The Day Parliament Burned Down.
We head back before the creation of the grand buildings of Albertopolis for this week’s entry to the construction of the Palm House at Kew Gardens – widely considered the world’s most important surviving Victorian-era glass and iron structure.
Designed by the great architect Decimus Burton (his other works include Wellington Arch), the now Grade I-listed Palm House was built under the supervision of leading Irish glasshouse designer Richard Turner between 1844 and 1848 as a home for Kew’s collection of exotic palms. Turner borrowed from the ship-building industry to build the structure, which contains 16,000 panes of glass, with the design essentially that of an upturned ship’s hull.
Due to the fact that the palms needed a warm environment in which to live, coal-fed boilers were located in a basement below the Palm House which heated water pipes running throughout the building (the smoke from the boilers was diverted to the Italianate Campanile located a short distance away which acted as a smoke stack).
The Palm House (the earliest known picture is shown above) has been restored several times – first in the 1950s when the boilers were converted to run on oil and moved to a site behind the Campanile, and again in the 1980s, a complete overhaul which involved almost completely emptying the structure of its resident palms, dismantling and rebuilding the structure itself. It was officially reopened by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in 1990.
Among the many exotic plants inside the glasshouse – which rises to a height of 19 metres – highlights include the rare triangle palm (Dypsis decaryi) from Madagascar, a Mexican yam (Dioscorea macrostachya), used apparently in the development of the contraceptive pill, a double coconut palm (Lodoicea maldivica) which bears the largest seed in the world, and a cycad (Encephalartos altensteinii) which has been described as the “world’s oldest pot plant” and was brought to Kew from South Africa in 1775.
WHERE: The Palm House, Kew Gardens (nearest Tube station is Kew Gardens); WHEN: 9.30am to 3.45pm except Tuesday when it closes at 2pm (closing times change with the seasons); COST: £14.50 adults/£12.50 concessions/children 16 and under free; WEBSITE: www.kew.org.
PICTURE: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
Located in the South Kensington estate – known to some during the Victorian era as Albertopolis (see previous entry in this series) – each of the two museums mentioned here represents an architectural and cultural feat in its own right, for the sake of space (and to allow us to explore a wider range of buildings as part of this series) we’re grouping them together…
Initially known as the Museum of Manufactures, it was founded with the three aims of making art accessible, educating people and inspiring British designers and manufacturers.
Renamed the South Kensington Museum after moving to its current site in 1857, its collections – which now include everything from metalwork, furniture and textiles to fine art such as paintings, drawings and sculptures from a range of contemporary and historical periods – continued to expand.
Located in what were only meant to be temporary exhibition buildings – factory-like structures which become known as the ‘Brompton Boilers’, in 1899 Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone for the grand new facade and entrance that we see today (it was at this point that that the museum took on its current name).
The Science Museum – the third major museum of Albertopolis – initially formed part of this museum and only gained its independent status in 1909.
WHERE: Victoria and Albert Museum (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Knightsbridge); WHEN: 10am to 5.45pm daily (late opening Fridays); COST: Free (apart from special exhibitions); WEBSITE: www.vam.ac.uk.
• Natural History Museum: Created to house what was previously the natural history collection of the British Museum (itself founded out of the collections of Sir Hans Sloane), the museum was founded thanks largely to the efforts of Sir Richard Owen.
The superintendent of the natural history department at the British Museum and later the founder of the NHM, it was he led the campaign for a separate premises for the museum’s natural history collections which had outgrown the museum’s home in Bloomsbury.
It first opened its doors on Easter Monday, 1881, but the museum legally remained part of the British Museum until 1963 and continued to be known as British Museum (Natural History) until 1992.
Known as the Waterhouse Building (after Alfred Waterhouse, the young architect who designed it following the death of the original designer, engineer Captain Francis Fowke, who was also involved in the initial design of Royal Albert Hall), the museum’s main structure – faced in terracotta – is said to be one of the finest examples of a Romanesque structure in Britain.
The premises and collections of the Geological Museum – now the ‘red zone’ of the NHM – merged with the Natural History Museum in 1985.
WHERE: Natural History Museum (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Knightsbridge); WHEN: 10am to 5.50pm daily; COST: Free (apart from special exhibitions); WEBSITE: www.nhm.ac.uk.
January 16, 2013
The London Underground’s first railway journey took place on 9th January, 1863, and to celebrate we’re taking a look at 10 great Victorian-era projects in London. First up is Royal Albert Hall in South Kensington.
Opened on 29th March, 1871 (and in continuous use ever since), Royal Albert Hall was built in fulfilment of Prince Albert’s dream of creating a hall that would stand in the heart of the South Kensington estate and provide a focal point for the promotion of the arts and sciences.
It was on the back of the success of the Great Exhibition held in Hyde Park in 1851, that Prince Albert, Prince Consort to Queen Victoria, proposed the creation of a permanent arts and sciences precinct in South Kensington and advised the purchase of land for that purpose (the hall is located on land once occupied by Gore House). But it wasn’t until after his death in 1861 that his vision was actually realised.
Construction of the hall – which was to serve as the centrepoint of the cultural precinct which became known, somewhat derisively, as Albertopolis – started in April 1867 (initially to be known as The Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, the hall apparently had its named changed to the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences by Queen Victoria while she was laying the foundation stone on 20th May that year – around 7,000 people attended the event). It was designed by engineers Captain Francis Fowke and, after his death, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Darracott Scott, based on concepts put forward by the man described as the “driving force” behind the project, Henry Cole (later the first director of what is now the Victoria and Albert Museum). He had been inspired by the Roman amphitheatres he had seen while touring in southern France.
While initial proposals had suggested the hall would accommodate as many as 30,000 people, this was later scaled back to about 7,000 (and today the figure is apparently about 5,500 thanks to fire regulations).
The central auditorium, measuring 185 feet by 219 feet, is covered by a glazed dome constructed of wrought iron girders and was the largest structure of its kind in the world at the time of its building. The hall’s exterior was built from about six million red bricks and features an 800 foot long terracotta frieze showing figures engaged in a range of cultural pursuits. Much of the interior decorative detail was added later.
So overcome was Queen Victoria at the building’s opening in 1871 that Edward, the Prince of Wales, had to speak in her place, declaring it open on her behalf before a crowd which included then Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Her only reported comment on the hall was that it reminded her of the British constitution.
The Grade One listed hall – which thankfully only suffered minor damage during World War II bombing raids (the German pilots apparently used its bulk as a navigation aid) – has since undergone substantial modifications including works undertaken to improve the hall’s acoustics, the replacement of gas lighting (electricity was first demonstrated in the hall in 1873) and demolition in 1889 of an adjoining glass conservatory to its south. A massive programme of improvements was carried out between 1996 and 2004 at the cost of more than £69 million.
The list of those who have performed or spoken at the hall reads something like a who’s who – among them are classical composers Wagner, Verdi, Elgar and Rachmaninov, singers and musicians including Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Who, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Adele, and Jay Z as well as sports personalities including boxer Mohammed Ali and tennis player John McEnroe, explorers like Sir Ernest Shackleton, world figures such as Queen Elizabeth II, Sir Winston Churchill, former South African president Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and former US president Bill Clinton and other high profile personalities such as Albert Einstein, Alan Ginsberg and Paul Robeson.
Among the other events held in the hall have been a marathon race, Greco-Roman wrestling and two Welsh National Eisteddfod’s (in 1887 and 1909). One of the most popular series of events now held there each year are the BBC Promenade Concerts, known as The Proms they include more than 70 events, which have been held in the hall since World War II.
A Victorian masterpiece. For more on the hall, see www.royalalberthall.com.