Americus-Backers-piano

The oldest surviving English grand piano, built in London in 1772 by Americus Backers, has gone on display at Apsley House in London, home of the 1st Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley.

Known to have been played by the Iron Duke’s wife Kitty (nee Pakenham), it has been suggested (although remains unconfirmed) that the piano belonged to the Iron Duke’s father, Lord Mornington, who was politician and a composer.

The piano, which has been loaned to English Heritage by Lord and Lady Douro and is expected to remain at the house for the foreseeable future, is the earliest example of a piano with loud and soft pedals and is illustrative of the impact Backers, described by some as “the father of the English grand pianoforte style”, had on the development of piano design.

While much of the detail of Backers’ life  remains obscured, he was apprenticed to a piano builder in Saxony before coming to England in the 1750s and taking up residence in Jermyn Street in 1763 where he apparently lived until his death in 1778. He is known to have built both pianofortes and harpsicords.

The piano, the only known pianoforte by Backers still existing, was previously on loan to the Russell Collection in Edinburgh.

In celebration of the return of the piano to Apsley House, the residence is hosting a special concert this Tuesday (21st May), between 7pm-9pm – the first time the piano will have been heard for at least 5o years (albeit for a short period only with most of the concert performed on a 1781 Ganer. ‘The Duke of Wellington’s Music of the French Wars’ will be held in the Waterloo Gallery. Tickets are £45 each and limited seats are available. Call English Heritage Customer Services on 0870 333 1183 for bookings or see www.english-heritage.org.uk. PICTURE:  Professor David Owen Norris, who has researched and devised the programme has been devised the programme for the evening, playing the piano.He will be joined by the soprano Amanda Pitt. Image courtesy of English Heritage.

With former PM Margaret Thatcher’s funeral held in London today, we take a look at five prominent funerals in the city’s past…

Queen Eleanor of Castile: King Edward I was lavish in his funeral for Queen Eleanor (perhaps in an effort to restore her reputation given suggestions she had been unpopular among the common people although it may well have simply been because of the king’s level of grief) and when she died at Harby, a village near Lincoln, on 28th November, 1290, he ordered her body to be transported from Lincoln Cathedral to Westminster Abbey where the funeral was held, with a series of elaborate memorial crosses to be built close to where-ever her body rested for the night. Twelve of these were built including at Westcheap in the City of London and Charing (hence Charing Cross, see our earlier post here), the latter thanks to her body “resting” overnight at the Dominican Friary at Blackfriars. Her funeral took place on 17th December, 1290, with her body placed in a grave near the high altar until her marble tomb was ready. The tomb (one of three built for the queen – the others were located at Lincoln – for her viscera – and Blackfriars – for her heart) still survives in the abbey.

St-Paul's-CathedralVice Admiral Lord Nelson: Heroic in life and perhaps seen as even more so after his death, Nelson’s demise at the Battle of Trafalgar was a national tragedy. His body, preserved in brandy, was taken off the HMS Victory and transported to Greenwich where he lay in state for three days in the Painted Hall. Thousands visited before the body was again moved, taken in a barge upriver to the Admiralty where it lay for a night before the state funeral on 9th January, 1806, more than two months after his death. An escort said to comprise 10,000 soldiers, more than 100 sea captains and 32 admirals accompanied the body through the streets of the city along with seamen from the Victory to St Paul’s Cathedral (pictured)  where he was interred in a marble sarcophagus originally made for Cardinal Wolsey located directly beneath the dome. The tomb can still be seen in the crypt of St Paul’s.

Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington: Given the last heraldic state funeral ever held in Britain, the Iron Duke’s funeral was held on 18th November, 1852, following his death on 14th September. His body, which had been brought to London from Walmer where it had laid in state by rail, lay in state a second time at Chelsea Hospital. On the morning of the funeral, the cortege set out from Horse Guards, travelling via Constitution Hill to St Paul’s. The body was conveyed in the same funeral car used to convey Nelson’s and accompanied by a guard of honour which included soldiers from every regiment in the army. Masses – reportedly more than a million-and-a-half people – lined the streets to watch funeral procession pass through the city before a service was held in St Paul’s Cathedral under the great dome and he was interred in a monumental sarcophagus alongside that Vice Admiral Lord Nelson. Like Nelson’s, it can still be seen there today.

Sir Winston Churchill: Widely regarded as one of the great wartime leaders of the 20th century, the former British Prime Minister died in his London home on 24th January, 1965, having suffered a stroke nine days earlier. His funeral (plans for which had apparently been code-named ‘Hope-Not’), was the largest state funeral in the world at the time of his death with representatives of 112 nations attending and watched on television by 25 million people in Britain alone. His body lay in state for three days (during which more than 320,000 people came to pay their respects) before on 30th January, it was taken from Westminster Hall and through the streets of London to a funeral service at St Paul’s Cathedral. After the service, a 19 gun salute was fired and the RAF staged a flyby of 16 fighter planes as the body was taken to Tower Hill and then by barge to Waterloo Station. From there it was taken by a special funeral train (named Winston Churchill) to Bladon near Churchill’s home at Blenheim Palace.

Diana, Princess of Wales: Having died in a car crash in Paris on 31st August, 1997, her body was flown back to London and taken to St James’s Palace where it remained for five days before being transported to her former home of Kensington Palace. More than a million people crowded London’s streets on 6th September, 1997, to watch the funeral procession as it made its way from the palace to Westminster Abbey. Among those present at the funeral (which was not a state funeral) were members of the royal family as well as then Prime Minister Tony Blair, former PMs including Margaret Thatcher and foreign dignitaries and celebrities, the latter including Elton John who sang a rewritten version of Candle in the Wind. After the service, Diana’s body was taken to her family’s estate of Althorp in Northamptonshire where the “People’s Princess” was laid to rest.

Our new series will be launched next week due to this week’s events…

Where is it?…#43

September 14, 2012

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

This image is one of many found in a subterranean tunnel surrounding Hyde Park Corner Underground Station and depicts, of course, the 1st Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, enjoying his latter years. The ‘Iron Duke’ has strong connections to Hyde Park Corner – his former home, Apsley House, No 1. London, is located there as is the Wellington Arch, the Decimus Burton memorial to him. For more on the Duke, see our earlier post here and for more on Wellington Arch, see our earlier ‘Where is it?’ post here.

Having just been cleaned as part of a renovation of the State Dining Room at Apsley House (pictured) – the former London residence of Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, the silver-gilt Portuguese Centrepiece  was presented as part of a complete service to the duke in 1816.

The gift of the Portuguese Regency Council, it was created in honor of the duke’s role in leading the armies of Spain, Britain and Portugal to victory over Napoleon’s forces in the Peninsular War of 1808-14.

The service, which consists of more than 1,000 pieces, was designed by Portuguese court artist Domingos Antonio de Sequeira who took three years to complete it with much of the work carried out in Sequeira’s house and neighbouring workshops. Subsequently damaged in the sea crossing to England, repairs had to be made before it was formally presented to the duke late in 1816.

The eight metre long centrepiece commemorates all the battles of the Peninsular War in which the allies were victorious. It was acquired for the nation in 1948 and is now permanently displayed on the duke’s original mahogany dining table, designed especially to support its weight.

WHERE: Apsley House, 149 Piccadilly, Hyde Park (nearest tube station is Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: 11am to 5pm Wednesday to Sunday (until 31st October); COST: £6.30 an adult/£5.70 concessions/£3.80 a child (English Heritage members free); WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/apsley-house/

In a new special, we’re taking a look at some of the key sites London landmarks designed by renowned 17th century architect Sir Christopher Wren. To kick it off, we’re taking a look at the building for which he is most known, St Paul’s Cathedral.

Wren’s involvement with the current St Paul’s came after the Great Fire of London in 1666 left the old medieval cathedral in ruins (there is believed to have been four previous cathedrals built on the site with the first dating from around the early 600s). He had already been involved in repairing the old cathedral and had even submitted plans for a new domed cathedral on the site when the Great Fire swept through the city.

Wren had already been appointed Surveyor to the King’s Works when, in 1668, he was asked to submit plans for the a new cathedral. After his first few designs were rejected and abandoned, Wren’s plans, albeit substantially altered, were finally approved and the first stone laid in 1677.

The design was ambitious and the church now features what is the second biggest dome in the world after that of St Peter’s in Rome as well as a monumental west-facing facade complete with two towers (the final form of the western facade wasn’t settled until 1707 and both of the towers were originally designed to hold clocks. In the end only the right tower did.)

Building took more than 30 years and it wasn’t until 1710 that the new cathedral was officially declared completed. Interior features include the Whispering Gallery (located 30 metres above the floor below the central dome, it gets its name from the fact that a person whispering into the wall can be heard across the dome by someone who puts their ear to the wall), choir stalls which feature the work of renowned woodcarver Grinling Gibbons, and poet/preacher John Donne’s memorial from 1631, the only pre-Great Fire monument to survive intact. There are spectacular views over London from the Stone Gallery or the highest point of public access, the Golden Gallery.

Since its opening, St Paul’s has hosted the burials of numerous of Britain’s luminaries – the tombs of Admiral Horatio Nelson and the Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, are both in the crypt as are those of 18th century painter Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered penicillin along with a host of memorials. Others events hosted at the cathedral include Winston Churchill’s funeral and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981.

Wren, who died in 1723, was the first person to be interred in the crypt. His tomb bears an inscription in Latin which says: “Reader, if you seek a monument, look around you.”

WHERE: Ludgate Hill. Nearest tube is St Paul’s; WHEN: Monday to Saturdays, 8.30am to 4pm. COST: £12.50 adults/£11.50 seniors/£9.50 students/£4.50 children (aged 6-16)/£29.50 family; WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk