Where’s London’s oldest…embassy?

Another ‘oldest’ question that’s not as simple as it might seem.

Austrian Embassy, Belgrave Square. PICTURE: David Adams

Austria has occupied a building at 18 Belgrave Square in Belgravia since it moved there from Chandos House in Queen Anne Street in 1866.

But the embassy was vacated with the outbreak of World War I and the building entrusted, firstly to the protection of the ambassador of the United States, and following the severing of their relations in 1917, to the Royal Swedish Legation.

The Austrians returned in 1920 but following Hitler’s incorporation of Austria into the German Reich in 1938, it was used as a department of the German Embassy.

Following the outbreak of World War II, the Swiss legation room over protection of the building and following the end of the war the damaged building fell under the care of Britain’s Ministry of Works.

The Austrians returned in September, 1948, with the new ambassador arriving in 1952. It continues today to serve as the residence of the Austrian Ambassador.

Australia House. PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Not to be confused with the Austrians, the Australian High Commission resides in ‘Australia House’ which claims to be “the longest continuously occupied foreign mission in London”.

In 1912, the Australian Government bought the freehold of a site on the corner bounded by Strand, Aldwych and Melbourne Place. Following a design competition, Scottish architects A Marshal Mackenzie and Son were selected as the designers of the new Australia House with Commonwealth of Australia’s chief architect, Mr JS Murdoch, arriving in London to assist them.

Work began in 1913 – King George V laid the foundation stone – but was interrupted by World War I and in 1916, former Australian PM and now High Commissioner Andrew Fisher moved into temporary offices on the site even as the work continued around him. King George V officially opened Australia House on 3rd August, 1918, with then Australian Prime Minister, WM “Billy” Hughes, in attendance.

10 London memorials commemorating foreign leaders – 8. General Don José de San Martín..

PICTURE: Peter O’Connor/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Another of the many statues in Belgrave Square and surrounds, this statue depicts a giant of South American history.

Don José de San Martín was an Argentine general who was instrumental in the continent struggle for independence from the Spanish Empire and is regarded as a hero in Argentina, Chile and Peru.

The bronze statue, the work of Juan Carlos Ferraro, was cast in Buenos Aires in 1993 and unveiled in the northern corner of the square’s gardens by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1994 in the presence of dignitaries including Senator Eduardo Menem of Argentina, Lord Mayor of Westminster Angela Hooper, UK Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd and Argentine Ambassador Mario Campora. It was erected by the Argentine-British community in Argentina and is dedicated to the people of London.

San Martín is depicted standing in military uniform on top of a heavy plinth. It’s inscribed on the front with the words “General Don José de San Martín, 1778-1850, founder of the Argentine independence, he also gave freedom to Chile and Peru.” There are also some further inscriptions referring to its creation and one on the right side of the plinth saying “His name represents democracy justice and liberty”.

A plaque was added on the ground in front of the statue to mark the 150th anniversary of San Martin’s death – 17th August, 2000.

It’s not the only memorial to San Martín in London – there’s also a Blue Plaque, erected by the London County Council in 1953, at 23 Park Road in Marylebone (San Martín stayed here for a few months in 1824).

10 (more) historic London garden squares…7. Belgrave Square…

This expansive square in the centre of Belgravia is one of the largest 19th century squares in London.

The square, which along with nearby Chester Square, Eaton Square and Wilton Crescent stands on land once known as Five Fields, was laid out in the 1820s on the orders of Robert Grosvenor, 2nd Earl Grosvenor, whose subsidiary title was Viscount Belgrave and who later become the first Marquess of Westminster (and whose family seat is Eaton Hall in Cheshire, close to the village of Belgrave from whence the name comes).

Property contractor Thomas Cubitt was responsible for the masterplan and architect George Basevi, a pupil of Sir John Soane and cousin of Benjamin Disraeli, had the task of designing the original four terraces which surrounded the square.

Most of the houses were occupied by 1840. Today, the buildings – many of which are listed – are home to numerous embassies and official residences of ambassadors.

These include the Portuguese Embassy (11 to 12), the Austrian Ambassador’s official residence (18 – the Austrians have been there since 1866 when it was used by members of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s Foreign Service), the High Commission of Brunei (20), the German Embassy (21-23), the Spanish Embassy (number 24), the Norwegian Embassy (25), the Serbian Embassy (28) and the Turkish Embassy (43).

Famous residents have included the currently Duke of Kent – he was born at number three in 1935, Victorian politician Sir George Murray, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, who lived at number five up until his death in 1846, and shipbuilder, Lord Pirrie, chairman of Belfast-based Harland and Wolff – builder of the RMS Titanic (in fact it’s said that it was at a dinner here which Lord Pirrie hosted and J Bruce Ismay, owner of the White Star Line, attended where plans to build the ship were first discussed).

The two hectare garden in the centre, which remains closed to the public and is Grade II listed, had gravel walks laid out in the 1850s (the current design is a restoration of what was there in the 1860s). Behind the railings, the gardens features wooden pergolas and shelters and a tennis court.

Among the monuments around the external perimeter of the square are statues of of South American revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar (1783-1830), Argentinean national hero General Jose de San Martin (1778-1850), Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) and Prince Henry the Navigator. There’s also a 1998 statue of Robert Grosvenor by Jonathan Wylder on the corner of Wilton Crescent.

Within the gardens are Homage to Leonardo da Vinci, erected in 1982, and a bust of George Basevi, the architect of Belgrave Square.

Top – Statue of Prince Henry the Navigator; Below – The Spanish Embassy. PICTURES: David Adams

London Pub Signs – The Grenadier…

The-GrenadierThe name of the pub, like some many London pubs, comes from the building’s former purpose – in this case part of a barracks. 

The pub, located at 18 Wilton Row not far from Belgrave Square in Belgravia, was apparently first constructed in 1720 and, located in the barracks of the 1st Royal Regiment of Foot Guards, originally housed the officer’s mess.

It first opened as a pub in 1818 and was initially known as The Guardsman but subsequently renamed The Grenadier after the regiment was renamed – by Royal Proclamation – the First Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards in honour of their actions in fending off the French at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

A bright red painted sentry box – matching the patriotic red, white and blue of the pub –  stands outside the pub today in honour of its history.

Renowned around the world for its Bloody Mary, it has apparently attracted the patronage of some big names – back in the day these included King George IV and the Iron Duke Arthur Wellesley, and, in more recent times, Prince William and Madonna.

There is said to be ghost – known as ‘Cedric’ – which haunts the pub – it’s often referred to as the most haunted pub in London – and is apparently that of a young guardsman who was flogged a little over-enthusiastically after cheating at cards and ended up dead. He is apparently most active in September – said to be the time of year when he was killed.

A tradition of attaching money to the ceiling and walls has developed in an effort to pay off Cedric’s debt (and presumably stop the haunting). Along with the memorabilia relating to the pub’s history, the walls also feature a collection of newspaper clippings about the haunting.

For details, including opening times, head to the Taylor Walker website here.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 (image has been cropped).

Where is it? #37…

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!

Bit of a harder one this week but well done to Parktown for punting for an embassy in Belgravia. This is indeed in Belgravia – in fact it’s just off Belgrave Square. The panel is part of one of two which adorn the walls of the Norwegian Embassy in Belgrave Place. Dating from 1796, the two panels depicting cherubs in various activities – one of which represents ‘agriculture’ and the other, the one pictured above, ‘arts’ – are made of Coade Stone (a reconstituted material made in the late 1700s/early 1800s, also used to create the South Bank Lion) which originally adorned the Danish-Norwegian Consulate in Stepney and were moved to this listed Georgian terrace, in 1968.