The Chelsea Flower Show returned to London this week with King Charles III making his first visit to the show as monarch and tributes in honour of his coronation and the passing of Queen Elizabeth II last year. The show runs until 27th May. For more, see www.rhs.org.uk/chelsea.
Four unusual London Christmas traditions…1. The Ceremony of the Christmas Cheeses…
This tradition, the origins of which go back centuries, centres on a ceremony at the Royal Hospital Chelsea which involves the blessing and cutting of a ‘Christmas Cheese’ with a sword.
The origins of the tradition go back to 1692 when a local cheesemonger donated cheese to the Chelsea Pensioners – retired members of the British Army – for Christmas. Since 1959, it’s been organised by industry body Dairy UK and sees cheesemongers from across the UK donate cheeses to the hospital.
The ceremony involves the largest cheese among those donated being blessed and then cut with a sword by a selected pensioner. The cheese is then distributed to the pensioners at meal times in the run-up to Christmas.
This year a special COVID-safe ceremony was held and some 258 kilograms of cheese were donated to the hospital. The largest cheese – a 25 kilogram Montgomery Cheddar – was cut by Chelsea Pensioner George Reed who had a 25 year career in military as well as a career at the BBC.
As well as last year’s 60th anniversary ceremony aside, other milestones have taken place in 2016 – when Chelsea Pensioner Mary Johnston became the first woman to cut the ceremonial cheese – and in 2009, when two members of Territorial Army London Regiment bound for Afghanistan joined the ceremony for the first time.
LondonLife – Brompton’s new memorial for those lost in World War I…
A new permanent World War I memorial was unveiled at Brompton Cemetery earlier this month dedicated to the 24 members of the Royal Parks and Palaces staff who died in the Great War. The inscribed memorial stone, placed on one of the chapel’s colonnades (pictured above), also commemorates all the parks, gardens and grounds staff from across the UK who never returned from the war. It was unveiled at a service conducted by Reverend Canon Anthony Howe, Chaplain to the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace, the gardens of which were managed by the Royal Parks during World War I. Meanwhile, the foundations for a new permanent wildflower meadow honouring the 2,625 Chelsea Pensioners buried in the cemetery were also laid near the Chelsea Pensioners’ monument (pictured below). The meadow will feature flowers which appeared in French fields after the Battle of the Somme including poppies, cornflowers, loosestrife, mallow and cranesbill. Two benches, positioned to either side of the Grade II-listed memorial, have been donated by the Royal Hospital Chelsea as a place for quite reflection. For more on the cemetery, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/brompton-cemetery. PICTURE: The Royal Parks/Paul Keene.
LondonLife – Blooming beauty at Chelsea…
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show opened in London’s west this week so we thought we’d take a look at some of the treasures on show. The show, which is in its 102nd year, has been held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea since 1913 (except during the two World Wars) and while its claim to be Britain’s largest flower show has been lost to the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, it remains the nation’s most prestigious. The five day show runs until Saturday. From the top – Chelsea pensioners look at ‘Peter Beales Roses’ in the Great Pavilion; the Inter-flora display in the Great Pavilion; a model poses in front of the Thailand, Land of Buddhism display; and, award-winning garden sculptor David Harber hosts the Mad Hatter’s tea party. For more on the show, visit www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show. PICTURES: RHS/Hannah McKay and RHS.
This Week In London: The London that might have been; the V&A’s Christmas tree; Christmas celebrations at the Geffrye; and, World War II recollections…
• A new exhibition looking at the London that might have been opened at Wellington Arch near Hyde Park Corner yesterday. Almost Lost: London’s Buildings Loved and Loathed uses digital technology to look at how several redevelopment proposals – including a 1950s conceptual scheme for a giant conservatory supporting tower blocks over Soho and a 1960s plan to redevelop Whitehall which including demolishing most of the Victorian and Edwardian buildings around Parliament Square – would have changed the face of the city. The exhibition also looks at how the latest developments in digital mapping can be used in the future and features ‘Pigeon-Sim’ which provides a bird’s-eye view of the city’s buildings with an interactive flight through a 3D photorealistic model of the city. The exhibition runs until 2nd February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/wellington-arch/.
• A specially commissioned Christmas tree has been unveiled at the V&A in South Kensington. The 4.75 metre high ‘Red Velvet Tree of Love’ is the work of artists Helen and Colin David and will stand in the museum’s grand entrance until 6th January. The design of the tree – which is coated in red flocking and decorated with 79 sets of hand cast antlers and 67 white, heart shaped baubles – was inspired by an 1860 HFC Rampendahl chair in the V&A’s collection which features a real antler frame and velvet upholstery. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.
• The annual Christmas Past exhibition is once again open at the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch. Festive decorations have transformed the museum’s rooms and give an insight into how the English middle classes celebrated in times gone past. The exhibition runs until 5th January. Admission is free. Accompanying the exhibition are a series of events including an open evening celebrating an Edwardian Christmas between 5pm-8pm tonight. For more, see www.geffrye-museum.org.uk/whatson/christmas-past-2013/.
• The World War II experience of Chelsea Pensioners are being commemorated in a new display in the White Space Gallery at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. The Old and the Bold is the culmination of a year long collaboration between the museum and the Royal Hospital Chelsea and features nine interviews with 14 In-Pensioners. Their accounts span iconic moments in World War II history – from D-Day to North Africa and the Falklands and are supported by items from the museum’s collection. Runs until 3rd January. Admission is free. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk.
Wren’s London – 5. Royal Hospital Chelsea
Known as the home of the scarlet-coated ‘Chelsea Pensioners’, the Royal Hospital Chelsea’s origins go back to December 1681 when King Charles II issued a Royal Warrant authorising the building of a royal hospital to care for old and maimed soldiers.
Sir Christopher Wren, then Charles II’s Surveyor-General of Works, was subsequently commissioned to design and construct the new buildings on a site next to the River Thames in Chelsea. Sir Stephen Fox, a commissioner of the Treasury, had the unenviable task of finding enough money to fund it – a task he managed through tapping a range of different sources.
Charles II didn’t live to see the completed project (although he did inspect the partially complete work just before his death in 1685) which was finally finished in 1692. The first pensioners were admitted in February that year.
Wren’s initial design comprised a single quadrangle with accommodation blocks for more than 400 veterans and their officers on the sides, and a chapel and great hall in a colonnaded building at the northern end while the southern end is open to the river (the picture above shows the ‘rear’ of the Hospital as seen from Royal Hospital Road). Known as Figure Court, it was named after a 7′ tall statue of Charles II which stands within it and which depicts the king as a Roman general.
Before the work was complete, however, Wren had realised that the design would not be large enough and added a two further quadrangles – one on each side of the original, they are known as Light Horse and College Courts – to the design.
There are some 300 ‘in-pensioners’ who still live in the hospital’s ‘berths’. When inside, they are encouraged to wear the Royal Hospital’s blue uniform while their famous scarlet coats with tricorne hats are worn on ceremonial occasions including Founder’s Day.
Held on a day close to 29th May – Charles II’s birthday and the date of his restoration – Founder’s Day commemorates his escape after the Battle of Worcester in 1651 and is known as Oak Apple Day in remembrance of the story that the fleeing Charles had to hide in an oak tree to avoid capture by parliamentary forces.
Women were first admitted to the hospital in 2009.
WHERE: Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea (nearest tube station is Sloane Square); WHEN: Entry to the courts, chapel and Great Hall is from 10am to 12pm, 2pm to 4pm; the museum is open Monday to Saturday, 10am to noon, 2pm to 4pm and Sundays 2pm to 4pm (closed Sundays from October to March); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.chelsea-pensioners.co.uk