There’s been about 40 successful escapes from the Tower of London over the centuries but the first recorded one was of Ranulf Flambard. 

Flambard, the bishop of Durham, was the chief minister of King Willam Rufus (William II) (and, among other things, oversaw the construction of the inner wall around the White Tower at the Tower of London, the first stone bridge in London and Westminster Hall).

When William died in 1100, William’s younger brother Henry became king. William’s rule had been increasingly harsh and characterised by corruption and when Henry assumed the throne, Flambard was made a scapegoat for the previous administration’s failings. He was arrested on 15th August, 1100, and imprisoned on charges of embezzlement in the White Tower.

Flambard managed to escape on 3rd February, 1101. The story goes that he had lulled his guards into getting drunk by bringing in a barrel of wine for them to drink and then climbed out of a window and down a rope, which he’d had smuggled into the tower in the wine. It’s also said that the man charged with his care, William de Mandeville, allowed the escape.

Flambard subsequently escaped England to Normandy where he incited Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy (and elder brother of Henry), to attempt an invasion of England.

The invasion was unsuccessful but the warring brothers reconciled and Flambard was restored to royal favour. He regained his bishopric, although he never again served as chief minister.

PICTURE: Amy-Leigh Barnard/Unsplash

A Roman Catholic located in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the Sardinian Embassy Chapel went through several incarnations prior to its destruction in the early 20th century.

A Franciscan chapel was founded on the site in the mid-17th century – it was sacked during the Glorious Revolution – but by the early 18th century the chapel which stood here served the Embassy of the Kingdom of Sicily.

Because embassy chapels – of which this was apparently the oldest in London – were viewed as the sovereign territory of the state they belonged to, Catholic worship was permitted there (despite being illegal elsewhere in England) and English Catholics were among those who attended services (among those said to have done so was James Boswell).

Those English subjects who attended were on occasion harassed for doing so and the chapel itself was attacked several times over its existence including in the Gordon Riots of 1780 which left it significantly damaged (but following government compensation, it was restored and reopened in 1781).

In 1798, the Sardinian Ambassador closed the chapel but thanks to a generous Catholic purchaser, it – and the embassy itself – passed into the hands of Bishop John Douglass, vicar-apostolic of the London district.

Repaired, the chapel was reopened in 1799 (although it was no longer part of the Sardinian Embassy, it continued to be under the patronage of the King of Sardinia until the 1850s). In the mid-1850s, the name of the chapel was changed to the Church of St Anselm and St Cecilia.

The chapel building was demolished in 1909 due to the creation of the Kingsway. A new site for the church was created a little further north on Kingsway where it remains today.

Inside the church are some of the fittings from the Sardinian Embassy Chapel including a marble font, an organ dating from 1857, the coat-of-arms of the House of Savoy, a large painting of the ‘Deposition’ (Christ’s descent from the cross), and the Lady Altar. The plate from the Sardinian Embassy Chapel is now in the V&A.

PICTURE: Sardinia Street, on the corner with Kingsway. The name of the street commemorates the site of the Sardinian Embassy and chapel.

Two World War II spies, one of the 20th century’s greatest artists and and a leading figure in the British military’s women’s corps in World War I are among women being honoured with Blue Plaques this year. English Heritage unveiled plans this week for six female-focused plaques with the first to celebrate Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan (1879-1967), a botanist and leader of women in the armed forces during the ‘Great War’. Others will honour Christine Granville (1908-1952) – who served as Britain’s longest-serving female SOE agent in World War II, Noor Inayat Khan (1914-1944) – Britain’s first Muslim war heroine and the first female radio operator working in Nazi-occupied France, and ground-breaking 20th century sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975). Blue Plaques will also be unveiled at the former headquarters of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in Westminster and the Women’s Social and Political Union in Holborn. While only 14 per cent of the more than 950 Blue Plaques in London commemorate women, English Heritage’s ongoing ‘plaques for women’ campaign has seen a dramatic rise in the number of public nominations for women since it launched in 2016. This year will be only the second the organisation has unveiled as many as six plaques honouring women. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The brief career of controversial artist Aubrey Beardsley (1872-98) is the subject of a new exhibition which opened at Tate Britain this week. Aubrey Beardsley features some 200 works in the largest display of his original drawings in more than 50 years and the first exhibition of his work at the Tate since 1923. Highlights include key commissions that defined Beardsley’s career – a new edition of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (1893-4), Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé (1893) and Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock (1896) – as well as bound editions and plates of the literary quarterly The Yellow Book, of which he was art director. There’s also a collection of Beardsley’s bold poster designs and his only oil painting. The exhibition runs until 25th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) The Peacock Skirt – illustration for Oscar Wilde’s ‘Salome’ (1893), lineblock print on paper, Stephen Calloway Photo: © Tate

The first major UK exhibition on the kimono – described as the “ultimate symbol of Japan” – has opened at the V&A. Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk examines the sartorial and social significance of the kimono spanning the period from the 1660s to today. Highlights include a kimono created by ‘Living National Treasure’ Kunihiko Moriguchi, an Alexander McQueen-designed dress worn by Björk on the cover of the album Homogenic, and original Star Wars costumes modelled on kimono by John Mollo and Trisha Biggar. There are also designs by Yves Saint Laurent, Rei Kawakubo and John Galliano. The exhibition features more than 315 works including kimonos but also paintings, prints, films and dress accessories. Can be seen in Gallery 39 and the North Court until 21st June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/kimono.

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The National Trust is this year celebrating its 125th anniversary so we though we’d take a look at some of the lesser-known National Trust properties and gardens in London. First up, it’s Rainham Hall, one of the finest examples of an early 18th century merchant’s home in the UK.

Located at Rainham in the London Borough of Havering, the Queen Anne-style property was built in 1729 for sea merchant Captain John Harle. Harle came from a family South Shields that supplemented their farming income with shipping. He’d settled in London sometime after 1704 and in 1719 married a widow, Mary Tibbington (it’s speculated her name may have been the inspiration for his ship, the Mary).

Following his marriage, John went less to sea and handed command of the ship to a cousin while he managed the business in London becoming a frequent visitor to the Royal Exchange and coffee houses to gather information on shipping and make trading deals.

Harle moved to Rainham in 1728 and built the house the following year with a design more akin to a London townhouse than a country villa. After his wife died without any children in 1739, John remarried and his new wife, a widow named Sarah Gregory, gave birth to their only child – a son named John – in 1740.

Harle died in late 1742 and was buried in Rainham Church. Sarah died seven years later and their orphaned son John was cared for by family members – during this period the contents of the hall were auctioned and the building leased out.

The house remained in family ownership until 1895 when it was purchased by a clergyman and then, in 1917, by art historian and property developer Colonel Herbert Hall Mulliner who never resided at the property but conducted significant restoration works including in the garden.

During World War II, the property was requisitioned for use as a nursery for children so mothers could go out to work – it remained a nursery until 1954. It was during this period – in 1949 – that both the house and gardens, of which almost three acres remain – were given to the National Trust.

Now Grade II* listed, the property recently underwent a £2.5 million restoration project and opened to the public for the first time in 2015. Current displays includeThe Denney Edition: Celebrating an icon of 20th century style, which celebrates the life and work of Anthony Denney (1913-90), Vogue photographer, interior designer and all round style icon who lived at the hall between 1964 and 1969, during which he set about an extensive programme of interior refurbishment (only some of which still remains).

The property has appeared in films and TV productions including, most recently the 2019 BBC production of A Christmas Carol. A cafe now occupies the stables.

WHERE: Rainham Hall, The Broadway, Rainham, Havering (nearest train station is Rainham); WHEN: 10.30am-4.30pm, Wednesday to Sunday; COST: £9.50 adults; £4.75 children; £23.75 family (National Trust members and under fives free); WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/rainham-hall.

PICTURES: Rainham Hall from the front (shirokazan/licensed under CC BY 2.0)/Right – Rainham Hall from the rear (David Merrett/licensed under CC BY 2.0).

A forgotten door built for festivities surrounding the coronation of King Charles II in 1661 has been rediscovered in the Houses of Parliament. 

The door, hidden behind panelling in cloister formerly used as offices by the Parliamentary Labour Party, was originally constructed to allow guests at the coronation to make their way to his celebratory banquet in Westminster Hall.

It was subsequently used by the likes of Robert Walpole, often referred to as the first Prime Minister as well as architect-led rivals Charles James Fox and William Pitt the Younger, and diarist Samuel Pepys.

The door and passageway behind it survived the fire which destroyed much of the Palace of Westminster in 1834 but it was thought the passage had been filled in during restoration works after the Palace of Westminster was bombed in World War II.

Liz Hallam Smith, an historical consultant from the University of York who is working with the team undertaking the renovations, said they were trawling through “10,000 uncatalogued documents relating to the palace at the Historic England Archives in Swindon, when we found plans for the doorway in the cloister behind Westminster Hall”.

“As we looked at the paneling closely, we realised there was a tiny brass key-hole that no-one had really noticed before, believing it might just be an electricity cupboard,” she said. “Once a key was made for it, the paneling opened up like a door into this secret entrance.”

In the small room behind the door, the team discovered the original hinges for two wooden doors some three-and-a-half meters high that would have opened into Westminster Hall. They also found graffiti, scribbled in pencil by bricklayers who worked on the restoration of the palace in 1851 following the 1834 fire.

One section reads “This room was enclosed by Tom Porter who was very fond of Ould Ale” and another, “These masons were employed refacing these groines…[ie repairing the cloister] August 11th 1851 Real Democrats”, the latter a reference suggesting the men were part of the working class male suffrage Chartist movement.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the House of Commons Speaker, described the find as “part of our parliamentary history”: “To think that this walkway has been used by so many important people over the centuries is incredible.”

PICTURE: Sir Lindsay Hoyle and the door (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

 

No, the name of this City of London street, which runs between Godliman Street and Addle Hill just to the south of St Paul’s Cathedral, has nothing to do with the TV series of the 1980s starring David Hasselhoff (although there is a very tenuous connection – more on that in a moment).

In fact, according to the 16th century historian and antiquarian John Stow, the explanation for its name is believed to be quite simple – knights once rode along this street on their way to Smithfield where tournaments were held in the 12th century.

Much of the street was demolished in the 1860s to make way for Queen Victoria Street and many of the buildings which once graced it are along gone. These include the German Church, which dated from the mid 1660s, the law society known as Doctor’s Commons,  and the Church of St Mary Magdelen – which were all demolished in the 1860s.

Other famous premises include number five, which was the site of a house where Thomas Linacre founded the Royal College of Physicians. The street is still home to The Centre Page pub (apparently David Hasselhoff’s favourite pub).

PICTURE: Google Maps.

An exhibition which traces the history of surrealist art in Britain has opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Featuring more than 70 works, British Surrealism marks the official centenary of surrealism – which dates from when founder André Breton began his experiments in surrealist writing in 1920 – and features paintings, sculpture, photography, etchings and prints. Among the 40 artists represented are Leonora Carrington, Edward Burra, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Ithell Colquhoun, John Armstrong, Paul Nash and Reuben Mednikoff as well as lesser known but innovative artists like Marion Adnams, John Banting, Sam Haile, Conroy Maddox and Grace Pailthorpe. Highlights include Armstrong’s Heaviness of Sleep (1938), Burra’s Dancing Skeletons (1934), Adnams’ Aftermath (1946), Nash’s We Are Making a New World (1918), Colquhoun’s The Pine Family (1940), Pailthorpe’s Abstract with Eye and Breast (1938) and Bacon’s Figures in Garden (c1935). Also featured are works and books by some of the so-called ‘ancestors of surrealism’ including a notebook containing Coleridge’s 1806 draft of poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and a playscript for Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1859). Admission charge applies. Runs until 7th May. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Edward Burra, Dancing Skeletons,1934, (1905-1976). Photo © Tate

The Prince of Wales’ investiture coronet has gone on show in the Jewel House at the Tower of London for the first time. Made of 24 carat Welsh gold and platinum and set with diamonds and emeralds with a purple velvet and ermine cap of estate, the coronet – which was designed by architect and goldsmith Louis Osman – features four crosses patee, four fleurs-de-lys and an orb engraved with the Prince of Wales’ insignia. The coronet was presented to Queen Elizabeth II by the Goldsmiths’ Company for the Prince of Wales’ investiture at Caernarfon Castle on 1st July, 1969. It’s being displayed alongside two other coronets made for previous Princes of Wales as well as the ceremonial rod used in the 1969 investiture which, designed by Welsh sculptor Sir William Goscombe John (1860-1952), is made of gold and is decorated with the Prince of Wales’ feathers and motto Ich Dien. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/.

The first major exhibition devoted to David Hockney’s drawings in more than 20 years opens at the National Portrait Gallery today. David Hockney: Drawing from Life features more than 150 works with a focus on self portraits and his depictions of a small group of sitters including muse Celia Birtwell, his mother, Laura Hockney, and friends, curator Gregory Evans and master printer Maurice Payne. Previously unseen works on show include working drawings for Hockney’s pivotal A Rake’s Progress etching suite (1961-63) – inspired by the identically named series of prints by William Hogarth, and sketchbooks from Hockney’s art school days in Bradford in the 1950s. Other highlights include a series of new portraits, coloured pencil drawings created in Paris in the early 1970s, composite Polaroid portraits from the 1980s, and a selection of drawings from the 1980s when the artist created a self-portrait every day over a period of two months. Runs until 28th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

 

Before we move on from our recent series on animal monuments, we pause for a recap…

10 (lesser known) monuments featuring animals in London – 1. Dick Whittington’s cat…

10 (lesser known) monuments featuring animals in London – 2. Tom Sayer’s dog, Lion…

10 (lesser known) monuments featuring animals in London – 3. Hodge…

10 (lesser known) monuments featuring animals in London – 4. Trump…

10 (lesser known) monuments featuring animals in London – 5. Jamrach’s Tiger…

10 (lesser known) monuments featuring animals in London – 6. Sam the cat…

10 (lesser known) monuments featuring animals in London – 7. Jim and Tycho…

10 (lesser known) monuments featuring animals in London – 8. The elephants of the Tower…

10 (lesser known) monuments featuring animals in London – 9. Old Tom…

10 (lesser known) monuments featuring animals in London – 10. Jacob the horse…

We kick off a new Wednesday series next week…

A cyclist negotiates Regent Street in central London. PICTURE: Luke Stackpoole/Unsplash

With origins dating back to a cheese stall established by Stephen Cullum in Aldwych in 1742, Paxton & Whitfield are generally said to be the oldest cheesemongers still operating in London (and one of the oldest in the UK).

Cullum’s business was successful enough that in the 1770s he opened a shop in Swallow Street. By 1790 his son Sam had taken over the business and took two new partners – Harry Paxton and Charles Whitfield.

In 1835 – with Swallow Street demolished to make way for the construction of Regent Street – Sam moved the business to new premises at 18 Jermyn Street (Sam died the following year).

In 1850, the business received the Royal Warrant of Queen Victoria and just three years later finally settled on the name Paxton and Whitfield which the company still bears to this day.

In 1896, the business moved to its current premises at 93 Jermyn Street and a flurry of Royal Warrants followed – that of King Edward VII in 1901, King George V in 1910, King George VI in 1936, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother in 1972, Prince Charles in 1998 and Queen Elizabeth II in 2002.

The firm, meanwhile, has since passed through several hands but continued on at the same premises (albeit becoming, during the period between the two World Wars, an ordinary grocery shop due to the lack of supply of eggs, butter and cheese).

Business picked up after World War II and the company opened shops in Stratford-upon-Avon and Bath. In 2009 formed a partnership with Parisian cheese mongers, Androuet, and in 2014 it opened a new shop in Cale Street, Chelsea.

For more, see www.paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk.

PICTURE: Herry Lawford (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

 

 

 

A 1930s gold coloured telephone which once belonged to eccentric millionaire Virginia Courtauld has gone on show at Eltham Palace in London’s south-west. The recently donated phone, which was saved from a skip in the 1980s, is one of only two surviving Siemens Bakelite telephones of the original 19 which were installed at the palace in 1936 for Virginia and her husband Stephen (the other remaining phone, located in Stephen’s library, is plain black). The phones – which included five placed in bedrooms – were commissioned by Virginia and remained in the property even after the Courtaulds moved out in May, 1944, and passed the lease to the Army Educational Corps. Renamed the Royal Army Educational Corps, that organisation was relocating out of Eltham Palace in the 1980s when all of the original 1930s telephones were thrown away. This gold telephone was rescued from the rubbish by a passing member of the RAEC and was recently donated to English Heritage. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/eltham-palace-and-gardens/.

The first exhibition devoted exclusively to Dutch artist Nicolaes Maes – one of Rembrandt’s most important pupils – opens at the National Gallery on Saturday. Nicolaes Maes: Dutch Master of the Golden Age features more than 35 paintings and drawings by the Dordrecht-born artist including a selection of the intimate scenes of domestic daily life for which he is best known. Included are early history scenes, mostly on biblical subjects that Maes painted in the style of Rembrandt when he joined his studio in Amsterdam in about 1650, as well as lesser-known portraits he created from 1673 onward after he settled in Amsterdam. Admission is free. The display can be seen until 31st March. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Nicolaes Maes, Girl at a Window (1653–5) © Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

The works of early 20th century Belgian artist Léon Spilliaert are the subject of a new exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts opening on Sunday. Léon Spilliaert features some 80 works organised into four sections with highlights including Beech Trunks (1945), Young Woman on a Stool (1909), A Gust of Wind (1904), and Dike at night. Reflected lights (1908). Runs until 25th May. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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The statue of ‘Jacob’, a working dray horse, represents the horses who once worked at John Courage’s Anchor Brewhouse in Bermondsey near Tower Bridge.

The Courage horses – responsible for delivering beer from the brewery to pubs in London – were stabled beside the establishment, near where the monument now stands in Queen Elizabeth Street. Though the brewery buildings remain (and are now apartments), the stables do not.

Jacob, the statue, was installed by Jacobs Island Company and Farlane Properties in 1987 at the centre of the residential development known as ‘The Circle’ to commemorate the history of the site. The monument, which was delivered to the site by helicopter, is the work of artist Shirley Pace.

Jacob’s name apparently comes from Jacob’s Island which was formerly located in the area.

The area where the brewery stood was formerly part of the parish of Horsleydown – a moniker that is said by some to have derived from “horse-lie-down”, a description of working horses resting nearby on the south bank of the Thames before crossing London Bridge into the City of London.

PICTURES: Top – Nico Hogg (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0); Right – Marc Pether-Longman (licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 


A startling image revealing two mice battling it out over a crumb on a platform at a London Underground station has won the Natural History Museum’s ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year LUMIX People’s Choice award’.
Taken by Bristol-based photographer Sam Rowley, the image was voted the winner from a shortlist of 25 images selected by the Natural History Museum out of the more than 48,000 entries. Rowley, who visited multiple platforms over the course of week to get the image, said it the encounter between the two mice lasted for just a split-second before one scurried away, triumphant with the crumb. ‘I’m so pleased to win this award. It’s been a lifetime dream to succeed in this competition in this way, with such a relatable photo taken in such an everyday environment in my hometown,” he said. “I hope it shows people the unexpected drama found in the most familiar of urban environments.” Four other images were highly commended including Aaron Gekoski’s image of an Orangutan being exploited for performance, Michel Zoghzhogi’s picture of a mother jaguar and cub with a captured anaconda, Martin Buzora’s portrait of a special moment between a conservation ranger and a baby black rhino, and Francis De Andres’s image of a group of curious white arctic reindeer. The images can all be seen at the Natural History Museum until 31st March. For more, head to www.wildlifephotographeroftheyear.com.

 


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

And this week’s “best of” posts are:

90. Lost London – The aviaries of Birdcage Walk…

89. LondonLife – Victorian London in photographs…

The grounds of Chiswick House in London’s west have been illuminated in spectacular fashion over the past few weeks in a winter light trail known as ‘Lightopia’ – but don’t worry, you still have until 1st March to take it all in. The event features acrobats, musicians, a 3D projection busting from the walls of Chiswick House and 47 groups of handmade, silk light installations, including the ‘Tree of Light’ centrepiece – a stunning, 18 metre peacock which moves in synchronisation with music. These silk installations combine ancient techniques of Chinese lantern making with modern technology and were made by people from the Chinese village of Zigong. An admission charge applies. For more, head to www.lightopiafestival.com . Here’s a sample of what’s on show…

ALL PICTURES: Courtesy of Lightopia Festival

Significant works from the private art collection of the Duke and Duchess of Bedford – including art by Anthony van Dyck, Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough – goes on show at the Queen’s House in Greenwich from today. Woburn Treasures will see more than 20 works from the collection hanging alongside the collection of Royal Museums Greenwich with highlights from the Woburn collection including a full-length portrait of Anne of Denmark – the Queen Consort of King James I and the person who commissioned Inigo Jones to build the Queen’s House – by Flemish artist Gheeraerts the Younger (the painting is pictured). There’s also a full-length portrait of Lady Elizabeth Keppel by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Canaletto’s large-scale Regatta on the Grand Canal, one of 24 paintings by the Italian artist commissioned for Lord John Russell, the fourth Duke of Bedford, following his visit to Venice in 1731. The paintings are accompanied by a selection of sculptures, ceramics and a silver-gilt toilette set from the Woburn collection, spanning the period from the 17th to 19th centuries. The display has been made possible due to the 18 month closure of Woburn Abbey, seat of the Earls and Dukes of Bedford since the 1620s, as a result of the biggest refurbishment and conservation project since the property first opened to the public in 1955. The exhibition can be seen at The Queen’s House until 17th January, 2021. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/woburntreasures. PICTURE: Anne of Denmark 1611-14 by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger Oil on canvas From the Woburn Abbey Collection.

The work of Turner Prize-winning British artist Steve McQueen is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Tate Modern today. Steve McQueen features 14 major works spanning film, photography and sculpture and includes his earliest film shot on Super 8 camera – Exodus (1992/97) as well as 7th Nov. (2001), in which the artist’s cousin Marcus recounts the tragic day he accidentally shot and fatally injured his own brother, large-scale video installations such as Western Deep (2002) and Static (2009) and the two-channel video installation Ashes (2002–15). Also on display is End Credits (2012–ongoing), McQueen’s homage to the African-American singer, actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson (1898–1976) and the exhibition, which coincides with the display of McQueen’s latest artwork Year 3 at Tate Britain, also features Weight (2016), a sculpture first exhibited by Artangel at the recently closed Reading Gaol, where Oscar Wilde had been imprisoned and wrote De Profundis in 1897. Runs until 11th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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Famously associated with Leadenhall Market, Old Tom was a gander who for several decades was a popular figure at the City of London marketplace.

Said to have been born in the late 1790s, he was brought to London among a massive contingent of birds from the Continent the aim of being fattened up for the market block.

The story goes that when the time came for the chop, however, Tom did a dash and apparently held off his pursuers for several days, avoiding becoming one of the 34,000 hapless geese which were apparently slaughtered in a two day period. His doggedness in defying the blade led to sympathy among the workers at the market who decided to let him be.

Feed on tidbits from local inns, Tom took up residence and became something of a favourite among those who worked there. He apparently lived to the the ripe old age of 37 or 38-years-old and when he died in 1835, such was the love for him, that Tom lay in state at the market to allow people to pay their respects before his burial at the market. His obituary was published in The Times, referring to him as the “chief of geese, the poulterer’s pride”.

Old Tom is mentioned on a plaque at the entrance to Leadenhall Market (pictured) which tells something of his story and there’s also a bar within Leadenhall Market itself which serves as a memorial – Old Tom’s Bar.

Some also believe that the two identical statues of a small boy grappling with a goose (pictured below) which sit atop the former Midland Bank headquarters building, located at 27 Poultry (and now hotel called The Ned) – just a few hundred paces from the market, also commemorate the gander.

The website of The Ned, however, suggests the statues, designed by Sir William Reid Dick for the architect Edwin Lutyens was actually inspired by Boethus’ famous sculpture of a boy playing with a goose which can be found in the Vatican.

Maybe it’s both?

PICTURES: Google Maps

Looking down Brushfield Street towards Christ Church Spitalfields. Designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, the church was built between 1714 and 1729. PICTURE: Jack Bassingthwaighte/Unsplash

We’ve decided to tell William Marshal’s fascinating story over two weeks – tune in next Monday for part II, the latter part of Marshal’s life, when the connections of Marshal to London are more fully spelt out …

A knight who served five English kings and rose to become a significant force in late 12th and early 13th century England, William Marshal was one of the towering figures of his time and seen by many as a paragon of what a knight could be.

Marshal – who died 800 years ago last May, was born in about 1147, the second son from the second marriage of a minor noble, John Marshal, during the 15 year conflict between King Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Matilda.

Marshal had ascended to become Marshal to the King in the court of King Henry I but during the subsequent conflict which erupted after the king’s death in 1135 had, like many, attempted to exploit the situation for his own benefit (he is said to have initially supported Stephen but was, however, among the Empress’ forces during a battle at Wherwall in 1141, during which he lost an eye and suffered significant injuries after the lead roof of a church melted onto him).

Late in King Stephen’s reign, he personally attracted the ire of the King upon himself by building a new fortified outpost, Newbury Castle, to the west of London, leading the king to marshal his forces against him. Marshal apparently begged for a truce ahead of the surrender of the castle and it was here that William enters the story, offered up as a hostage for his father.

But John Marshal decided, having handed over the boy, that he would not surrender and abandoned William to his fate. Stephen, angered at the deception, ordered the boy William to the gallows but, in what was a seminal moment in William’s childhood, the king relented and Marshal was spared – the story goes that it was William’s innocence which stayed the King’s hand.

King Stephen eventually won the day – although John Marshal escaped, leaving his son with the King. William was to remain a captive for more than a year – only after peace was agreed between King Stephen and Empress Matilda in 1153 was he to return to his family.

Little else is known of Marshal’s early childhood but in around 1160, at the age of about 13, he went to live in the household of William of Tancarville in Normandy – a distant relative – to acquire skill at arms in order to become a knight. He was knighted at the age of about 20 by Tancarville and was soon involved in fighting to protect Normandy’s borders but shortly after that, found his time under Tancarville’s patronage at an end (although the exact reasons why he was let go are unclear).

Rather than returning to his family in England, the penniless Marshal instead spent the next year or so travelling Europe on the tournament circuit to try and make some money and indeed had some success before he did eventually return to England and enter the house of his uncle, Earl Patrick of Salisbury. When Patrick and his men were called up to campaign with King Henry II in south-western France in early 1168, William was among his men.

In April, William was with the Earl serving as a guard for King Henry II’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, when they were attacked. The Queen hastened to safety while Patrick and his men held back the attackers but during the fighting, the earl was killed while Marshal, despite his skill, was eventually run through the thigh was lance and taken prisoner.

Recovering from his wound, Queen Eleanor eventually paid a ransom for his release and he was subsequently offered a place in her retinue in what was to his first post in a long life of royal service. After just a couple of years in the Queen’s service, her husband, King Henry II, appointed William as tutor-in-arms to his son and heir, Henry “the Young King” who had already been crowned at Westminster Abbey despite his father still holding the reigns of power.

When Henry rebelled against his father in 1173, William remained among his men, and, after an uneasy peace between the Young King and King Henry II was restored, William was with the young Henry when he spent three years on the tournament circuit from 1176 to about 1179. The Young King and his men saw considerable success in tournaments before William branched out on his own, his skill with weaponry bringing him both fame and wealth in his own right to the degree that by the early 1180s, he was regarded as one of Europe’s greatest knights.

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

An effigy believed to be that of William Marshal in the Temple Church, London. PICTURE: Michael Wal  (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)