Life of a Queen – a look back…

We ran a special series to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, so in honour of the Queen’s memory we interrupt our current series to recap ‘Celebrating the Diamond Jubilee with 10 royal London locations’…

1. The Queen’s birthplace

2. The Queen’s childhood homes

3. Married life at Clarence House…

4. Westminster Abbey…

5. Buckingham Palace…

6. The Mall…

7. Silver Jubilee memorials…

8. Golden Jubilee memorials…

9. Royal chapels…

10. Royal relatives…

This Week in London – Month-long Thames celebration kicks off; glass vessels saved after Beirut’s port explosion; and, Chiswick House…in LEGO…

• Totally Thames – London’s month-long celebration of its river – kicks off Friday with a programme featuring more than 100 events across a range of locations. Highlights this year include Reflections, an illuminated flotilla of more than 150 boats that will process down the Thames to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee on 24th September; River of Hope, an installation of 200 silk flags created by young people across the UK and Commonwealth at the National Maritime Museum; and, of course, the Great River Race, London’s great river marathon on 10th September involving some 330 boats and crews from across the world. There’s also talks, walks, exhibitions and art and, of course, the chance to meet some mudlarks. For more, including the full programme of events, see https://thamesfestivaltrust.org.

Roman beaker, 1st century AD, The Archaeological Museum at the 
American University of Beirut, Lebanon

Eight ancient glass vessels, newly conserved after being damaged in the 2020 Beirut port explosion, have gone on show at the British Museum. Painstakingly pieced back together and conserved at the conservation laboratories at the British Museum, the vessels were among 72 from the Roman, Byzantine and Islamic periods which were damaged when a case fell over in Beirut’s AUB Museum. Six of the vessels at the British Museum date from the 1st century BC, a period which saw glass production revolutionised in Lebanon, while two others date to the late Byzantine – early Islamic periods, and may have been imported to Lebanon from neighbouring glass manufacturing centres in Syria or Egypt. The vessels can be seen in Room 3 as part of the Asahi Shimbun Display Shattered glass of Beirut until 23rd October before their return to Lebanon in late Autumn. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

• Chiswick House LEGO model. A brick model of Chiswick House is on show at the property in London’s west. The model, which uses 50,000 bricks and took two years to build, illustrates the dramatic architectural changes that Chiswick House has undergone in its 300-year history including the addition of two wings which were demolished in the late 18th century. On show until 31st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see https://chiswickhouseandgardens.org.uk/event/chiswick-house-lego-brick-model/.

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10 unusual parks or gardens in London…5. Tibetan Peace Garden, Imperial War Museum…

PICTURE: J Nathan Matias (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

A fitting location for such a place of reflection, the Tibetan Peace Garden can be found near the Imperial War Museum in Kennington.

The Language Pillar. PICTURE: Robert (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The circular garden, located in Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, was commissioned by the London based Tibet Foundation and opened by the Dalai Lama in May, 1999. It was named ‘Samten Kyil’, which is Tibetan for ‘Garden of Contemplation’.

The garden features several sculptural elements carved from Portland stone. The work of sculptor, Hamish Horsley, they include The Language Pillar – based on the historic 9th century treaty stone known as Sho Pillar in the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet – on which is carved a welcome message from the Dalai Lama in English, Tibetan, Chinese and Hindi.

There are also four “gateways” depicting the elements of air, fire, earth and water as well as a blue stone disk representing the fifth element of space. At the centre of the garden is a bronze cast depicting the Kalachakra Mandala which was designed by Tibetan monks in India.

The inner gardens are planted with herbs and plants from Tibet and the Himalayan regions, while the pergola is covered with climbing plants, including jasmine, honeysuckle and scented roses.

WHERE: Tibetan Peace Garden, Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, St George’s Road (nearest Tube stations are Lambeth North and Elephant & Castle); WHEN: Daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.southwark.gov.uk/parks-and-open-spaces/parks/geraldine-mary-harmsworth-park.

Famous Londoners – Jumbo…

Jumbo greets some visitors as they pass by his den in London Zoo. PICTURE: From ‘Jumbo: This Being the True Story of the Greatest Elephant in the World’ by Paul Chambers

With his name a byword for things of a large size, Jumbo was an African bush elephant who was once one of London Zoo’s most popular residents (but whose life makes for sad reading).

Born in Sudan in about 1860, Jumbo – whose name is apparently a corruption of ‘jumbe’, the Swahili word for chieftain – was captured by hunters after his mother was killed and transported north to Europe. There he was apparently first exhibited in Germany before being sold to the Jardin des Plantes, a zoo in Paris.

In 1865, he was transferred to London Zoo in England where his keeper was Matthew Scott who went on to detail his care of Jumbo in his 1885 autobiography.

Jumbo quickly became a popular exhibit and was trained to give rides to children, including those of Queen Victoria (Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill were apparently also among those who rode the elephant).

But out of public view, Jumbo, particularly as he matured, was growing increasingly destructive, smashing his den and breaking his tusks (it’s said Matthew Scott would pacify him with large quantities of alcohol).

In 1882, protests broke out when, apparently concerned over Jumbo’s growing aggression, then zoo superintendent Abraham Bartlett announced plans to sell Jumbo to American circus founder PT Barnum for £2,000. Some 100,000 school students wrote to Queen Victoria begging her to stop the transaction and a lawsuit was launched to stop the sale. It was unsuccessful.

Despite the protests, the sale went ahead and in March, 1882, Jumbo and Matthew Scott, who had decided to go with the elephant, went to America. In New York, Jumbo was exhibited at Madison Square Garden in a 31 week season. In 1884, he was one of 21 elephants who crossed the Brooklyn Bridge to prove it was safe following the death of 12 people during a collapse caused by a stampede few years earlier.

Jumbo with his keeper Matthew Scott, pictured in June, 1882. PICTURE: From Bierstadt, E ‘Jumbo and trainer.’

Jumbo died on 15th September, 1885, when he was hit by a train as he and other elephants were being led back to their boxcar. According to Barnum, Jumbo was attempting to lead a young elephant Tom Thumb to safety.

Following Jumbo’s death, a postmortem revealed his stomach contents included five English pennies, keys, rivets, and a police whistle.

Sadly, PT Barnum had the body parts separated for display before Jumbo’s skeleton was eventually donated to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The elephant’s heart was sold to Cornell University and its hide stuffed and eventually donated to Tufts University where it was destroyed in a fire in 1975 (Jumbo remains the university mascot).

There is a statue of Jumbo near where he died in St Thomas, Ontario, and a six-storey, elephant-shaped building in Margate City, New Jersey, which was built in 1881 is said to be inspired by him. He is also said to have inspired the Disney film, Dumbo.

This Week in London – The Royal Family through the camera’s lens, and ‘Virtual Veronese’…

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in Buckingham Palace gardens © Cecil Beaton Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Some of the most iconic images of the Royal Family can be seen in a new exhibition opening at Kensington Palace on Friday. Life Through A Royal Lens features images taken by renowned photographer Cecil Beaton, Norman Parkinson, Rankin and Annie Leibovitz as well as images taken by members of the Royal Family such as celebrated photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones – later Lord Snowdon, husband of Princess Margaret. The display includes an examination of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s patronage of photography during its infancy, how Beaton’s work helped create a fairytale-like image of the young Queen Elizabeth II as both a sovereign and modern mother, and how, with reference to iconic magazine photoshoots including the Duke of Cambridge’s cover of Attitude Magazine and the Duchess of Cambridge’s centenary issue of British Vogue in 2016, photography and image remain central to the public’s perception of the modern Royal Family today. Juxtaposed with these images will be select photos taken by members of the public as they captured members of the Royal Family performing their official duties. Runs until 30th October. Included in palace admission. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/whats-on/life-through-a-royal-lens/.

3D Capture Mesh Optimisation of the Chapel of Saint Nicholas in the Church of San Benedetto al Po, Mantua, Italy created by ScanLAB projects, commissioned by The National Gallery

A 16th century altarpiece is being reunited with the Italian chapel for which it was originally created through a new digital experience at The National Gallery. Using virtual reality headsets, visitors will be able to see Veronese’s painting, The Consecration of Saint Nicholas, in its original setting in the Church of San Benedetto al Po, near Mantua, in 1562. There is a choice of two virtual guides – National Gallery curator, Dr Rebecca Gill, who explores the painting and frescoes, or the historical figure of Abbot Asola, who commissioned the painting from Veronese and in his discussion reveals the threat facing the monastery at the time. Admission is free but a ticket is required. Virtual Veronese until 3rd April. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/virtual-veronese.

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This Week in London – Welcoming the Lunar New Year; the royals on film; and, new ‘benches of reflection’…

Festivities to celebrate Chinese New Year in London’s Chinatown area and surrounding streets in 2018. PICTURE: Ben Gingell/iStockphoto.

The Lunar New Year will be celebrated at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich this Saturday. The free programme of events includes family workshops on dragon and lion dancing, a talk on some of the objects from the museum’s collection that have Chinese collections and a Tea Ceremony demonstration. The event is free but booking advised. The London Chinatown Chinese Association announced earlier that for the second year running, the usual celebrations will not take place in the West End. For more on events at the National Maritime Museum, head to www.rmg.co.uk/whats-on/national-maritime-museum/lunar-new-year-2022.

Three ‘benches of reflection’ have been installed at Hampstead Heath, Highgate Wood and Queen’s Park in association with suicide prevention charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) to encourage people to talk and get advice if they’re struggling. The bench installations are part of a campaign under which Netflix has donated 25 benches to local authorities and the City of London Corporation to coincide with the release of the third series of Rick Gervais’ After Life which has regularly been filmed at Hampstead Heath. Each bench is inscribed with a quote from season three – “Hope is Everything” – each also has a QR code which will lead them to resources from CALM.

PH301-1987 HRH Princess Margaret (1930 – 2002), aged 19, full-length portrait with studio backdrop; by Sir Cecil Beaton (1904 – 80) English; 1949. C-Type colour print.

Members of the public are being asked to share photographs taken during royal engagements, including those which may show what it’s like to be part of one of the famous ‘royal walkabouts’. Up to 20 of the photographs will be selected by Kensington Palace curators and a guest judge from royal jewellers Garrard to be shown alongside those taken by the likes of Cecil Beaton, Norman Parkinson, Rankin and Annie Leibovitz in a new exhibition – Life Through a Royal Lens – opening at the palace on 4th March. You’ll have to be quick – photographers only have until 31st January to submit their photos via the Historic Royal Palaces website

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

10 most popular posts for 2021 – Numbers 2 and 1…

And so we reach the end of our countdown to our two most popular posts of 2021…

2. 10 Questions – John Brodie Donald, Lost London Churches Project

1. Lost London – Gunter’s Tea Shop…

10 most popular posts for 2021 – Numbers 4 and 3…

We’re almost there!

4. Lost London – Prison hulks on the Thames…

3. LondonLife – Tunnel of colour…

10 most popular posts for 2021 – Numbers 6 and 5…

6. 10 London hills – 1. Ludgate Hill…

5. LondonLife – Tunnel of colour…

10 most popular posts for 2021 – Numbers 8 and 7…

8. Where’s London’s oldest…tree?

7. Lost London – William Blake’s birthplace, Soho…

10 most popular posts for 2021 – Numbers 10 and 9…

It’s that time of year again – our annual countdown of our 10 most read posts for the year! First up are numbers nine and ten…

10. London Pub Signs – Dirty Dicks…

9. 10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 1. Cheapside…

LondonLife – Opening of the first new major extension of the Tube this century…

A TfL roundel floats above Battersea Power Station for the launch of the new Northern Line extension. PICTURE: © Transport for London.

The doors to two new stations – Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station – located on the extension of the Northern Line opened this week in the first major expansion of the Tube this century. The opening of the two new Zone 1 stations, which extend the line past Kennington, is the culmination of efforts which began in 2015 to construct new new three kilometre twin-tunnel railway between Kennington and Battersea Power Station, via Nine Elms. Tube services started running on the line at 5:28am on Monday with inaugural passengers including Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, and Andy Byford, London’s Transport Commissioner, as well as councillors and Simon Murphy, CEO of the Battersea Power Station Development Company. Six services per hour are running on the line during peak increasing to 12 by mid-2022.

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, and Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, alight from the Tube. PICTURE: © Transport for London.

LondonLife – Remembering the London Games…

PICTURE: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford as seen in 2020. PICTURE: Bex Walton (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

With the world’s eyes focused on the Olympic Games in Japan, memories of the Games of the XXX Olympiad held in London nine years ago come flooding back.

This Week in London – ‘Hidden Highlights’ at Westminster Abbey; food and Black entrepreneurship; and, ride the Dodgems at Somerset House…

Westminster Abbey Library, part of of the ‘Hidden Highlights’ tour. PICTURE: Dean and Chapter of Westminster.

A lost medieval sacristy used by Westminster Abbey’s monks in the 13th-century which has been revealed in the abbey grounds has been opened to the public. A visit to the dig uncovering the former sacristy is one of the stops on new ‘Hidden Highlights’ tours which also take in other areas not usually open to the public including the Jerusalem Chamber where King Henry IV died in 1413 and, the Library, formerly part of the monk’s dormitory which features a 15th century oak roof and 17th century bookcases (pictured above). The tour, which finishes in the Diamond Jubilee Galleries which have been closed since the start of the pandemic, is part of a summer of events at the abbey which also includes open air cinema, visits to the abbey after dark, live music performances and a chance to look behind the scenes at the abbey’s role in the 2011 wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-news/lost-medieval-sacristy-opens-to-public-for-summer-festival-of-events.

A new exhibition looking at the central role food plays in Black entrepreneurship and identity in the city’s south east has opened at the Museum of London Docklands. Feeding Black: Community, Power & Place puts four businesses in the spotlight – Livity Plant Based Cuisine in Croydon, Woolwich businesses African Cash & Carry and Junior’s Caribbean Stall, and Zeret Kitchen in Camberwell – and tells their stories through objects, recipes and videos as well as newly commissioned photography by Jonas Martinez and original oral histories and soundscapes by Kayode ‘Kayodeine’ Gomez. The free display can be seen until 17th July next year in the London, Sugar & Slavery gallery. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

Ride the dodgems at Somerset House. Dodge, described as a “thrilling open air experience” that takes an “inventive twist on the traditional fairground”, features dodgem cars and installations from acclaimed artists as well as food and drink and DJ sets. The event runs until 22nd August. There is free entry to the site but charges apply for the dodgem rides. For more, see www.somersethouse.org.uk. The event is part of the #LetsDoLondon campaign, described as the “biggest domestic tourism the capital has ever seen”.

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New Year’s greetings from Exploring London!

Looking forward to a better year ahead in 2021! Don’t forget to check the site on New Year’s Day for the final two in top 100 posts countdown!

Four unusual London Christmas traditions…2. The Smithfield Meat Auction…

Reportedly cancelled for this year, the boisterous Christmas Eve meat auction at Smithfield usually draws a considerable crowd eager to snag a bargain.

The origins of the tradition, which apparently started at least 30 years ago, stems from the fact that most of the market butchers take at least a week off over Christmas, generally not returning to their stalls until the new year.

As a result, they would auction off their remaining stock on Christmas Eve to those keen enough to brave the cold and come out.

There has been a market at Smithfield since the 12th century – the premises was rebuilt in the mid-19th century after being formally established by the 1860 Metropolitan Meat and Poultry Market Act.

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 40 and 39…

40. 10 sites commemorating the Great Fire of London – 1. Thomas Farriner’s plaque

39. 10 iconic London film locations…8. The Tube and Sliding Doors’ defining moment…

Treasures of London – The Diana Fountain…

No, it’s not a memorial to that Diana, but a bronze statue depicting a mythological figure which forms the centrepiece of the Great Basin in Bushy Park.

Commissioned by King Charles I for his wife Queen Henrietta Maria, the statue (and other statuary on the monument) was the work of sculptor Hubert Le Sueur (he was also the sculptor of the famous equestrian statue of King Charles I which sits at the top of Whitehall).

While the 2.38 metre tall bronze statue, which weighs some 924 kilograms, is commonly referred to as Diana – the Roman goddess of hunting, she has none of the usual attributes of Diana, such as a bow, and is believed by some to actually represent Arethusa, a nereid or sea nymph from Greek mythology.

The statue is set on a marble and stone fountain carved with depictions of shells and sea life, and is surrounded, at a lower level, by groups of bronze statues -depicting boys holding fish or dolphins and water nymphs or mermaids astride sea monsters – through which water is discharged into four bronze basins.

The bronze figures were originally commissioned for a fountain, designed by Inigo Jones and built in the 1630s, in the Queen’s garden at Somerset House. Oliver Cromwell had the statues moved to the Hampton Court Palace’s Privy Garden in 1656 where they were incorporated into a fountain designed by Edward Pearce the Younger in 1689-90.

In 1713 the ensemble was moved again, this time to onto a new purpose-built podium in the middle of the Great Basin, located at the end of Bushy Park’s Chestnut Avenue, a grand avenue of trees designed by Sir Christopher Wren. While most of the statuary is believed to be from the original fountain designed by Inigo Jones, it’s thought some of the statues of the boys were recast for the new fountain.

The Grade I-listed monument was restored in 2009 and and during this process a stone which uncovered on its base which had a crown and the date AR 1712 (AR for ‘Anne Regis’) which would have been added when the statue and fountain were installed in the basin.

WHERE: The park lies north of Hampton Court Palace, just west of Kingston and Hampton Wick and south of Teddington (nearest train station is Hampton Wick or Hampton Court). WHEN: 24 hours except in September and November when it’s open between 8am and dusk; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/bushy-park

PICTURE: The Diana Fountain. PICTURE: It’s No Game (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

LondonLife – Oxford Street…

Looking east down Oxford Street from Oxford Circus. PICTURE: Joe Stubbs/Unsplash

Famous Londoners – William Marshal (part II)…

We published part I of this two-part article last week. Part II follows…

Marshal had made his name as a knight and, was still in the retinue of Henry, the Young King, heir of Kind Henry II, when he again rebelled against his father (and brother, the future King Richard I).

This was despite a brief rift with the Young King following an accusation that Marshal had slept with Henry’s wife Marguerite (the truth of which remains something of a mystery). Despite their falling out, William and Henry had repaired their relationship to at some degree when, still in rebellion against his father, on 7th June, 1183, the Young King died of dysentery at just the age of 28.

In a dying wish, Henry had asked William to fulfil his vow to go on crusade to the Holy Land. This Marshal duly did, undertaking a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and spending two years in the Middle East before returning to England at around the end of 1185.

On his return, he entered the household of King Henry II and was on campaign with him in France in 1189 when the King died at the age of 56.

Marshal’s allegiance was now with his son and heir, King Richard I, the “Lionheart”. He subsequently confirmed his father’s permission for Marshal to marry his ward, the wealthy heiress the 16-year-old Isabel of Clare which Marshal, now 42, quickly did, returning to London to claim his bride who was then living at the Tower of London. It’s believed they may have married on the steps of St Paul’s.

Somewhat controversially, when Richard I set off on the Third Crusade, Marshal remained behind in England, appointed as co-justiciar to govern in the king’s absence. Thanks to his marriage, Marshal was now a major landholder with his base at Striguil Castle (now Chepstow) in the Welsh Marches and he assembled a household befitting of his status. In 1190 his wife Isabel gave birth to a son, ‘Young’ William.

Marshal managed to successfully navigate the dangerous politics of the time as, in the absence of King Richard, his younger brother John manoeuvred to gain power and, following news that Richard had been captured on the way home from the Holy Land and was now imprisoned in Austria, went so far as to open ally himself with the French King Philip Augustus.

Richard was finally released for the exorbitant ransom of 150,000 silver marks and when he arrived back in England, Marshal returned to his side, joining the King as he dealt with the fallout, both in England and France, from John’s treachery (John, meanwhile, was back in his brother’s camp, having begged his forgiveness).

His kingdom largely restored, Richard died in April 1199 after being struck with a crossbow bolt while campaigning in Limousin. Following his death, Marshal supported John’s claim to the throne over his ill-fated nephew Arthur and at John’s coronation he was rewarded by being named, thanks again to his marriage, the Earl of Pembroke – the title of earl being the highest among the English aristocracy.

Pembroke  in southern Wales now became his base but following John’s coronation Marshal spent considerable time fighting for the King on the Continent in an ultimately unsuccessful campaign that ended with the English largely driven from France. When Marshal then tried to keep his lands in Normandy by swearing an oath to King Philip, not surprisingly he fell from John’s favour.

Marshal then turned his attention to his own lands in Wales and in Ireland which he visited several times to assert his claim by marriage to the lordship of Leinster. But he again crossed John when he visited in early 1207 without the King’s permission and when John summoned Marshal back to England to answer for his impudence, his lands in Leinster were attacked by the King’s men. John’s efforts to seize Marshal’s Irish domains, however, failed and the King was eventually forced to back down, leaving Marshal to strengthen his position in Ireland.

John and Marshal’s relationship deteriorated even further in 1210 after Marshal was summoned to Dublin to answer for his role in supporting William Briouze, a one-time favourite of the King who had dramatically fallen out him (and who eventually died in exile in 1211 while his wife and eldest son were starved to death in Windsor Castle on John’s orders).

Despite the fact Briouze’s had apparently been on his lands in Ireland for 20 days after they’d fled England to escape the wrathful King, Marshal managed to come out relatively unscathed by the affair – but he was forced to relinquish a castle and place some of his most trusted knights and eldest sons in the King’s custody.

By 1212, however, Marshal was back in royal favour – his sons were freed the following year – and in 1213 he led his forces in support of King John who was facing revolt in England and a possible invasion from France (Marshal subsequently remained in England to guard against attack from the Welsh while the King was in France).

In 1215, Marshal was involved in the creation of the Magna Carta – his name was the first the English lords to appear on the document – and some have even suggested he was one of its principal architects (although this may be overstating his role).

He remained loyal to John in the subsequent strife but he was in Gloucester when King John died in 1216.

Marshal subsequently supported the claim of King John’s son, King Henry III, to the throne and, named as a ‘guardian of the realm’ (a role which was essentially that of a regent), he played an instrumental part in taking back the kingdom for Henry, including successfully leading the royalist forces against a French and rebel force on 20th May, 1217, at Lincoln – a battle which brought about a quick resolution to the ongoing war.

Marshal spent the next couple of years working to restore the King’s rule but in early 1219, at the age of 72, fell ill and retreated to his manor house at Caversham.

He died around noon on 14th May. His body was taken to London via Reading and after a vigil and Mass at Westminster Abbey, he was interred in the Temple Church.

Marshal’s place of burial was due to an agreement he had made with the Templars back in the 1180s in which he agreed to enter their order before his death in exchange for the gift of a manor. The master of the Templars in England, Aimery of St Maur, had apparently travelled to Caversham before his death to perform the rite.

Marshal’s wife Isabel died the following year and sadly, while he had five sons, the Marshals gradually faded from history, the lack of male heirs in the family eventually leading to the break-up of the family lands.

A towering figure of his age – seen by many as the epitome of what a knight should be, Marshal’s story – despite a minor mention as Pembroke in Shakespeare’s King John – has largely been forgotten. But his influence on the world in which he lived – and hence the shaping of our world today – was significant.

With thanks to Thomas Asbridge’s The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones

PICTURES: Top – An effigy believed to be that of William Marshal in the Temple Church, London (Michael Wal –  licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0). Lower – The Temple Church in London in which William Marshall was buried. PICTURE: David Adams