Prince-of-WalesAnother Drury Lane pub, the origins of this one go back to 1852 when it was established by Henry Wells on the site of what was once a potato warehouse. 

The name, in this case, comes from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s eldest son, Albert Edward.

Only about 11-years-old when this West End pub was first built, he remained Prince of Wales until succeeding his mother as King Edward VII (nonetheless, the location proved somewhat prescient – Albert Edward was to become known for his bon vivant lifestyle including his love of the theatre (along with, of course, his love of philandering.))

Located close to theatres and the Royal Opera House, the pub at 150-151 Drury Lane (on the corner of Long Acre) was rebuilt in Portland stone in the early 20th century when the street was widened.

Now part of the Taylor Walker group, it remains a popular pub for theatre goers (and even hosts its own events). For more, see www.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub/prince-of-wales-covent-garden/c0659/.

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St-Olave-Hart-StreetIt’s 350 years ago this year that the Great Plague broke out in London in 1665, bringing death on an unprecedented scale to the city.

The plague, which was apparently also known as the Poor’s Plague, is said to have broken out in early 1665 – perhaps February – with the first areas to be affected dockside districts and the crowded slum of St Giles in the Fields before it moved into the City proper. There are claims that the outbreak’s origins occurred a couple of months earlier at a property in Drury Lane where contaminated bales of goods imported from Holland were opened by Flemish weavers.

However it came to be in London, it soon spread and by July was running rampant with many of the nobility, merchants, and tradesmen choosing to flee the city in the hope of escaping its reach. They included King Charles II and his family and court who moved to Hampton Court in early July and then to Salisbury at the start of August before, following some cases there, to Oxford in September.

Those who did come down with the disease – generally thought to have been bubonic plague, a disease of rats which is transmitted to humans via fleas – were confined to their homes with red crosses and the words ‘Lord, have mercy on us’ painted on the door while gatherings in public – such as for the theatre – were banned to prevent the disease’s spread.

Other measures to contain the disease included the imposition of a curfew and the killing of an estimated 40,000 dogs and 200,000 cats, thought to be spreaders of the disease, on the orders of the mayor, Sir John Lawrence.

Bills of mortality recorded the number of deaths weekly – in the week of 19th to 26th September, the number peaked at 7,165 people before declining. By late in the year life in the capital had started returning to normal.

While the bodies were buried in mass graves, by September the growing numbers of dead meant many were simply left to rot where they fell.

The estimated numbers of those who died varies somewhat depending on the source but according to the Museum of London’s website, the Great Plague of 1665 is estimated to have killed 100,000 people – about a fifth of the population – within just seven months of its outbreak.

While the sheer number of dead is unprecedented, other plagues were proportionally deadlier, in particular the coming of the Black Death in 1348 which killed about half of all Londoners over an 18 month period (equating to an estimated 40,000 people).

The Great Plague was, thankfully, the last major plague to affect London. Among those who had survived was the diarist Samuel Pepys whose entries provide a valuable source of information on how the plague affected Londoners (pictured above is detail from the gateway into the church of St Olave Hart Street – Pepys’ parish church at the time of the plague – where a number of victims of the Great Plague were buried).

Famous for its associations with London’s theatreland, Drury Lane takes its name from the Drury family who once owned a mansion here.

Drury-LanePreviously known as the Via de Aldwych (apparently for a stone monument the Aldwych Cross which stood at the street’s northern end), Drury Lane – which runs between High Holborn and Aldwych – was renamed after Drury House which was built at the southern end of the street.

Some accounts suggest it was Sir Robert Drury (1456-1535), an MP and lawyer, who built the property around 1500; others say it was his son, Sir William Drury, also an MP and a Privy Councillor, who did so  in around 1600 – which may mean there were two versions of the one property.

The street, meanwhile, is said to have been briefly renamed Prince’s Street during the reign of King James I (1603-1625) but, following the Restoration in 1660, the name Drury once more gained supremacy.

The origins of the street’s famous theatre (London’s oldest), the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, dates from the same year (see our earlier post here). Other theatres in the street included the Cockpit Theatre which had been designed at one stage by Inigo Jones.

The street is also famous for being the site of the worst outbreak of the plague in London – the Great Plague of 1665, burned away the following year by the Great Fire – and by the 18th century was a slum noted for its seediness, in particular for prostitution (it features in William Hogarth’s work The Harlot’s Progress).

This didn’t change until the second half of the 19th century – author Charles Dickens had been among others who had commented on the poverty he had seen there – when gentrification took hold. Among the shops opened there during this time was the first Sainsbury’s, founded at number 173 in 1869.

Alongside the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (although the main entrance is in Catherine Street), other theatres in the street today include the New London Theatre and the London Theatre.

Nell-of-Old-DruryThis Covent Garden pub in London’s West End is named after Nell Gwyn, the 17th century orange seller turned actress who became most famous for being the mistress of King Charles II (for more on Nell, see our earlier post here)

‘The Nell’, as its known, is one of the area’s oldest pubs – a sign says there has apparently been a pub on the site since before 1660 when the Theatre Royal Drury Lane – located opposite – was built.

Nell-of-Old-Drury2There’s supposedly an underground tunnel that connects the theatre and the pub which is said to have been used by the king when he was visiting Nell (we’re not sure if it was Nell or the king who was in the pub). It was also apparently used by other theatre-goers who were warned to return to the theatre when intermission was over by a bell located inside the pub.

Now located at 29 Catherine Street pub (the street was formerly known as Brydges Street – we’ll deal with its renaming in an upcoming post), was apparently originally called The Lamb and then renamed the Sir John Falstaff in the nineteenth century, during which period it hosted exhibitions featuring a tattooed man from the South Seas and a Zulu warrior woman, before assuming its current moniker.

The pub was also apparently a regular for many prominent literary and theatrical figures, not to mention market traders from nearby Covent Garden. The exterior of the pub appears in the Alfred Hitchcock film, Frenzy.

For more on the pub, see www.nellofolddrury.com.

 

 

 

It’s probably a bit of a stretch to call Jane Austen a ‘famous Londoner’ (although the city does make a fairly regular appearance in her books) but she did have some strong associations. Given the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice earlier this year, we thought it was only fitting to take a quick look at a five places associated with the author in London…

10 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden: Austen stayed in a flat here during the summer of 1813 and during March 1814. The premises was the home of her older brother Henry, then a banker, who moved here after the death of his wife Eliza. While here, Austen visited theatres including The Lyceum and The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The building is now occupied by offices.

23 Hans Place, Belgravia: The home of her brother Henry (after he moved from Covent Garden), Austen lived for two years in a house here in 1814-15 and is said to have particularly enjoyed the garden. The current building on the site apparently dates from later in the 19th century. There’s a blue plaque located on the house.

50 Albemarle Street, Mayfair: The former office of publishers John Murray who counted Austen among their first clients were located here.

Westminster Abbey: Austen is not buried here but in Winchester Cathedral. However, you will find a small memorial to her in Poet’s Corner, put here in 1967. It simply reads ‘Jane Austen 1775-1817’.

The British Library, St PancrasAusten’s rather tiny writing desk can be found here, usually on display in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery. It was donated to the library in 1999 by her Canadian descendents.

Perhaps now best known as the most prominent of the many mistresses of King Charles II, Eleanor ‘Nell’ Gwyn – currently subject of a new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery – was a renowned actress in the years after the Restoration, known for her wit and beauty – “Pretty, witty Nell “as diarist Samuel Pepys called her.

Gwyn’s (variously spelt as Gwynn or Gwynne) origins remain something of a mystery – believed to have been born around 1651, her parents remain something of a mystery (some have suggested a Cavalier, Captain Thomas Gwyn, as her father) as does the place of her birth, variously claimed to be London, Hereford or Oxford – one source from 1715 claims she was born in Coal Yard Alley, off Drury Lane in Covent Garden.

Ascribed as having various jobs during her childhood – everything from helping at a bawdyhouse to a street vendor or cinder girl – around 1663, she was working as an “orange girl” at a theatre then known as the King’s Theatre in Bridge Street (now the site of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane).

She clearly made an impression for a year later she was working as an actress and is believed to have taken prominent actor Charles Hart as her lover. It has been suggested her first recorded stage appearance was in March, 1665. She wasn’t viewed as a brilliant dramatic actress but instead came into her own in comedies where her wit, as well as her beauty, could shine.

Having already been known to have had at least two lovers – Charles Hart and aristocrat Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst – by 1667 George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, had decided to bring her to the attention of the king as a possible new mistress and so increase his influence. By 1668 or 1669, Nell is believed to have succeeded in this, joining the growing number of women who could claim the title (Charles II ended up having at least 12 children by his many mistresses).

Her acting work gradually decreased and in 1670, she gave birth to Charles, her first son and believed to be the king’s seventh illegitimate child. She briefly returned to the stage in 1670-71 before retiring from the theatre for good.

In February, 1671, Nell moved into a townhouse at 79 Pall Mall (she was granted freehold of the property five years later and the property, which still stands, remains the only one on the south side of Pall Mall not owned by the Crown) and in December, she gave birth to her second child by the king, another son James (he died in Paris while attending school there 10 years later).

Both sons were given titles – Charles was later named Duke of St Albans – and given the surname Beauclerk. In the 1670s, Charles granted Nell Burford House in Windsor where she resided when the king was resident there.

In the 1670s, Nell – who continued to maintain her friendships with the likes of Villiers – successfully fought off several rivals for the king’s affection and by the 1680s, her position as the king’s mistress was not in doubt. It was during this period that the story goes when her coach was mistaken by an angry to be that of the unpopular Duchess of Portsmouth, she put her head out the window to tell them “Pray good people be silent, I am the Protestant whore”.

When King Charles II died on 6th February, 1685, he left instructions she was to be looked after – his brother King James II both paid her debts and continued to pay her an annual pension.

Nell died less than three years later – still only aged in her thirties – on 14th November, 1687, have suffered strokes in previous years. She was buried in the church of St Martins-in-the-Fields.

Gwyn is seen as a key figure in London during the period after the Restoration and a symbol of the hedonism of the court of King Charles II, and her rise from apparently humble origins to the royal court has been the subject of numerous books, plays and films.

Gwyn is currently featured in an exhibition currently being held at the National Portrait Gallery: The First Actresses – Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons. The exhibition runs until 8th January (an admission charge applies). For more information visit www.npg.org.uk.

PICTURE: Eleanor ‘Nell’ Gwyn, by Simon Verelst, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Around London…

August 6, 2010

London’s bicycle hire scheme is up and running. The scheme was launched at the end of July and boasts 5,000 bikes which can be found at 315 docking stations. More than 21,000 people signed up in the first weeks and some of the early popular hire sites included Soho Square, Drury Lane in Covent Garden and Wardour Street. The bikes are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Members of the scheme must be 18 years old and you must be at least 14 years old to ride the bikes. A membership key costs £3 while the membership itself costs at £1 for a 24-hour membership, £5 for seven days and £45 for an annual membership. The first 30 minutes of any journey is then free (with fees applicable after that). As the bikes don’t come with a lock, it’s expected people will simply make a journey to another docking station before getting off. For more information on the Barclay’s Cycle Hire scheme, see Transport for London’s website at www.tfl.gov.uk. Meanwhile, in other transport news, the first air-conditioned Tube train is now in active service on the Metropolitan Line.

A cafe has been opened at Buckingham Palace, 173 years after Queen Victoria first moved in following her accession to the throne. Located on the West Terrace overlooking the lawn and lake, the Garden Café is open during visiting hours. The Palace’s State Rooms, meanwhile, are open to the public until 1st October. The palace this year hosts The Queen’s Year exhibition which features displays of ceremonial robes, gifts, uniforms, dresses and jewellery, as well as archive photography and film in an illustration of the monarch’s work throughout the year at everything from the State Opening of Parliament to the Garter Day ceremony at Windsor Castle and investitures, garden parties and State Visits. Entry to the State Rooms – which comprise just 19 of the palace’s 775 rooms – is £17.00 an adult, £15.50 concessions, £9.75 for under 17s and under fives are free. Family tickets are £45 and combined tickets – including the Royal Mews and the Queen’s Gallery – are also available. www.royalcollection.org.uk/default.asp?action=article&ID=30. For more on the special exhibition, see www.royalcollection.org.uk/microsites/thequeensyear/

The Tower of London was the most visited royal site in Britain last year, attracting 2.4 million tourists, according to a report from VisitBritain. The tourism agency found that while overseas tourists spent some £4.6 billion while in the UK last year, more than £500 million was spent on tourism associated with the Royal Family. The top 10 most visited sites included several royal attractions – Edinburgh Castle came in at number six with 1.2 million visitors, Windsor Castle at number seven with 987,000 and Buckingham Palace at number 11 with 402,000. Other top London sites included the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (#2 – 2.4 million), the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington (#3 – 2.3 million), St Paul’s Cathedral (#4 – 1.8 million), Westminster Abbey (#5 – 1.4 million) and Hampton Court Palace (#9 – 541,646).