This Fleet Street pub has an intriguing history. Its name comes from the fact it is housed in what was, until 1975, the former Law Courts branch of the Bank of England.

Sold to a building society, it was transformed into a rather spectacular pub after it was purchased and refurbished by Fuller, Smith and Turner in 1994.

The-Old-Bank-of-EnglandGo further back to the 16th and 17th centuries and the site was occupied by two taverns, The Cock and The Haunch of Venison.

They were both demolished in 1888 to make room for the new bank branch, located, as the name suggests, just up the street from the Royal Courts of Justice.

While it’s been reworked to suit a pub instead of a bank, the remains of the opulent “High Victorian” interior of the bank can still be seen when you step through the doors – no more so than from the upstairs gallery which overlooks the pub.

It also plays a role in the story of legendary 18th century figure Sweeney Todd, the ‘demon barber’ of Fleet Street.

The site stands between Todd’s barber shop at number 186 Fleet Street and the pie shop on Bell Yard owned by his lover, Mrs (Margery) Lovett. As such, it’s said that it was in tunnels below the building on the site that the bodies of Todd’s victims were dismembered and used for pie filling before the pies were sold by Mrs Lovett.

The basement now contains what’s left of vaults which were formerly used to store gold bullion – they were also apparently briefly used to store the Crown Jewels during World War I.

The pub is located at 194 Fleet Street. For more on the pub – which also has an outdoor eating area, see www.oldbankofengland.co.uk.

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Cupola-Room

On Sunday, Princess Charlotte, daughter of Prince William and Princess Kate, was christened at Sandringham. So we thought we’d take a quick look at another christening that took place in London almost 200 years ago, that of Princess Victoria.

The future Queen Victoria was born on 24th May, 1819 – the daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent (fourth son of King George III), and his wife, Princess Victoria Mary Louisa of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.

At the insistence of the Prince Regent (later King George IV), the christening was a small affair and was held a month after the birth on the afternoon of 24th June in the magnificent Cupola or Cube Room of Kensington Palace (pictured as it is now, above).

The guest list was small and included the Prince Regent, Prince Frederick, the Duke of York, and his wife Princess Frederica, Princess Augusta Sophia, Princess Mary, the Duchess of Gloucester, and her husband, Prince William, and Prince Leopold, who had recently become a widower after the death of Princess Charlotte.

The ceremony was conducted by Charles Manners-Sutton, the archbishop of Canterbury, and, thanks to the intransigence of the Prince Regent, her name was apparently only decided at the last minute.

The Prince Regent has earlier forbidden the use of such ‘royal’ names including Charlotte, Elizabeth, Georgina or Augusta and when asked by the archbishop what she would be named, he replied brusquely that she would be named Alexandrina in honour of the Russian Tsar Alexander, one of the new princess’s godparents.

Her second name was Victoria in honour of her mother, and while Victoria was often called “Drina” while a girl, she herself apparently preferred her second name to her first.

The gold font used in the ceremony formed part of the Crown Jewels and its origins go back to the time of King Charles II.

Interestingly, there were a couple of significant Victorian connections during Princess Charlotte’s christening – the font used at this christening was known as the Lily Font (like its predecessor, it is usually found with the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London).

It was commissioned by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for the christening of their first daughter, Princess Victoria, in 1841, apparently due to Queen Victoria’s dislike for the gold font used at her own christening – it had been used by King Charles II to christen his illegitimate children.

The Lily Font has apparently been used at every royal christening since except that of Princess Eugenie who had a public baptism in Sandringham in 1990.

Princess Charlotte also wore a replica of the christening gown worn by Princess Victoria.

WHERE: The Broad Walk, Kensington Gardens, Kensington (nearest Tube stations are High Street Kensington or Queensway); WHEN: Daily 10am to 6pm (until 31st October); COST: £17.50 adult/£14.10 concession/children under 16 free (online booking discounts available, Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace.

PICTURE: HRP/newsteam

Martin-Tower

London has been making headlines around the world recently thanks, in part, to the estimated £200 million  heist which took place in Hatton Garden last week. So we thought it was a good time to take a look back to one of London’s most famous robberies (or attempts at least)…

The attempt dates back to 1671 when a self-styled colonel, Irish adventurer Thomas Blood, made an attempt to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.

The Irishman – whose history included fighting on both sides in the English Civil War, first with the Royalists and then with the Parliamentarians when he saw the tide was turning – visited the Tower of London several times in the lead-up to the attempt as he, disguised as a parson, cultivated a relationship with Talbot Edwards, an elderly keeper of the jewels, and his family.

On the night of 9th May, he and a group of accomplices, including his son, attended a dinner put on by the Edwards at the Tower. While waiting for the meal, Blood asked to see the jewels which were housed behind a grille in the basement of the Martin Tower (pictured above) above which the Edwards had an apartment.

Edwards complied and once in the Jewel House, Blood and his accomplices attacked him, knocking him to the floor with a mallet and then stabbing him before binding and gagging him.

They then turned their attention to the jewels – Blood used a mallet to flatten St Edwards Crown so he could hide it beneath his coat while his brother-in-law Hunt filed the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross in two to fit it in his bag and a third man, Robert Perot, stuffed the Sovereign’s Orb down his trousers.

Things didn’t go smoothly after that and the alarm was raised before the gang could make their getaway. It has been suggested it was Edwards who raised the alarm – that despite efforts to shut him up he managed to remove his gag and raise the alarm  – but other versions say it was his son, returning from service in Flanders, who raised the alarm on seeing the gang.

In any event, the gang fled, evading efforts of the warders to stop them, before Blood, Hunt and Perot were captured on the Tower of London wharf. The crown, globe and orb were all recovered, albeit damaged.

Blood refused to speak after his capture and was eventually taken before King Charles II for interrogation. But he was evidently so impressed with his captive that he not only pardoned Blood but also rewarded him with land in Ireland.

Blood did later end up briefly in prison after a dispute with the Duke of Buckingham and died soon after his release in August, 1680, but in the intervening years he had become something of a celebrity around London including the Royal Court.

Security around the Crown Jewels, meanwhile, was upgraded somewhat in the wake of the attempt. While others have tried to steal them, none have ever been successful.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station is Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Saturday and Monday (last admission 5pm); COST: £24.50 an adult/£11 a child (5-15 years)/£18.70 concession/£60.70 a family of four (discount applies to online bookings); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/.

• A revamped Crown Jewels display opens today at the Tower of London to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The new display features graphics, music and newly restored film footage and will focus on the coronation ceremony as its central theme, exploring how the regalia are used in the ceremony. The regalia – which includes some of the most extraordinary diamonds in the world such as the Star of Africa and Koh-i-Nur – is being displayed in the order in which it is used at the coronation ceremony. The Crown Jewels have been on show to the public at the Tower of London since at least 1661 after they were remade for King Charles II’s coronation. The previous collection had been largely destroyed in the Civil War although some pieces survived including a gilt silver spoon probably made for King Henry II or King Richard I (the “Lionheart”). For more information, see www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/.

Five dresses worn by Diana, Princess of Wales, have gone on display at Kensington Palace  which re-opened to the public this week following a £12 million overhaul. The five dresses include a black silk taffeta gown (designed by Emanuel) which Diana wore to a fundraising event at the Goldsmith’s Hall in 1981 – her first official engagement with Prince Charles as well as a formal dinner dress of ivory silk (Catherine Walker) created for a State Banquet for the King and Queen of Malaysia in 1993 and a black ribbed silk shift evening dress (Gianni Versace) worn to the London premiere of Apollo 13 in Hammersmith in 1995. For more on the revamp of the palace see our earlier post. Or visit www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/.

• A plaque commemorating the site where the iconic image for the cover of David Bowie’s 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars was photographed has been unveiled in the West End. The plaque at the somewhat innocuous site at 23 Heddon Street, just off Regent Street, was installed by the Crown Estate and unveiled this week by Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet. The image for the album cover was shot by the late photographer Brian Ward who managed to persuade Bowie to step outside the ‘studio’ space he had rented upstairs despite the fact it was a cold, wet January night.

• On Now: At Home with the World. This exhibition at the Geoffrye Museum explores the cosmopolitan nature of London’s homes over the past 400 years and looks at how diverse cultures have helped shaped the homes – covering everything from Chinese porcelain and the tea craze of the 1700s to the use of Islamic and Indian patterns in the 1800s, the popularity of Scandinavian and American design in the 1900s and the globalism of today. The period rooms on show at the museum have been reinterpreted to highlight the international influences. This is one of a series of Stories of the World: London exhibitions taking place across the city which are exploring four aspects of life – home, identity, journeys and place – as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad program. Runs until 9th September. Entry is free. For more, see www.geffrye-museum.org.uk.

No series on the treasures of London would be complete without a mention of the Crown Jewels, housed – except when being used – under tight security in the same place they’ve been since the early 1300s – the Tower of London.

The jewels, which are described as a ‘working collection’, include the coronation regalia and feature some 23,578 gems  – the Imperial State Crown alone boasts 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and five rubies.

The regalia itself is made up of the crowns of the sovereigns, consorts and Princes of Wales as well as sceptres, orbs, rings, swords, spurs, bracelets, robes, and the oldest piece, a 12th century anointing spoon.

It and three steel coronation swords are the only pieces to survive the destruction of all the pre-Civil War regalia in 1649-50, carried out at the behest of Oliver Cromwell following the execution of King Charles I (many of the earlier crown jewels, dating from the Anglo-Saxon period, had already been replaced in the early 13th century after items were lost while being taken across The Wash during the reign of King John in 1216).

Following Cromwell’s destruction, new regalia was made on the orders of King Charles II. Modelled on that of his father, it was used in the king’s coronation on 23rd April, 1661, and cost more than £12,000.

Today, St Edward’s Crown – with which the sovereign is crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury – is the principal piece of the regalia. Other items include the Sovereign’s Sceptre, topped with 530 carat First Star of Africa – the largest flawless cut diamond in the world, Queen Victoria’s small diamond crown, and the Imperial Crown of India. There is also a crown made for Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, for her 1937 coronation which features the famous Koh-i-Nur (‘Mountain of Light’) diamond.

Until 1303, the Crown Jewels had been housed at Westminster Abbey. Following a successful robbery that year, however (after which most items were recovered), they were moved to the Tower.

The most famous attempt to steal the Crown Jewels was made by an Irishman, Colonel Thomas Blood, in 1671. He and his gang had arranged to see the jewels (this could be done for a fee) but when they arrived, used a mallet to knock out the jewel keeper before stabbing him.

Colonel Blood had hidden King Charles II’s crown under his cloak, squashing its arches of in the process, while his companion Robert Perot had stuck the coronation orb down his breeches and Blood’s son was in the process of sawing the sceptre in half when the keeper’s son returned unexpectedly and raised the alarm.

Arrested, Blood got off rather lightly – King Charles II decided, apparently for some unknown reason, to pardon him. Security around the jewels, however, was tightened – iron bars were used instead of wooden ones and people were thenceforth forbidden from handling the jewels.

The Crown Jewels are now housed in the Jewel House at the Tower, built in 1967 in the west wing of the Waterloo Barracks, and guarded by the Yeomen Warders.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4.30pm Sunday to Monday (until 28th February); COST: £18.70 adults; £10.45 children under 15; £15.95 concessions; £51.70 for a family (prices, which include a voluntary donation, are valid until 28th February); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/. For more on the Crown Jewels, see www.royal.gov.uk/MonarchUK/Symbols/TheCrownJewels.aspx or the Royal Collection website, http://bit.ly/i9FM3