Gun-salute

Guns fired a royal salute in Hyde Park on Monday to mark the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s new daughter (and Prince George’s new sister), named Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana (or more formally, Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte of Cambridge). Seventy-one horses pulling six World War I-era 13-pounder field guns from the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery rode out in procession with the Royal Artillery Band from Wellington Barracks, past Buckingham Palace, up Constitution Hill to Wellington Arch, and into Hyde Park to fire the salute. The 41 gun salute was fired at the same time as a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. By custom, gun salutes are fired for the birth of every prince or princess, regardless of where they sit in the order of succession. A basic salute is 21 rounds with an additional 20 rounds fired because Hyde Park is a Royal Park while at the Tower of London an extra 20 rounds are fired because it is a royal palace along with a further 21 because of its City of London location. The princess, fourth in line to the throne, was born at 8:34am on Saturday at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, and weighed 8lbs, 3oz (3.7kg). PICTURE: © Courtesy of Ian Wylie Photo.

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Buckingham-Palace

As we all know by now, Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, are proud parents of a new born son with news of the new arrival provoking celebrations across Britain and, indeed, the world.

To celebrate the royal birth, here are 10 interesting facts about some previous royal births in London…

• The last time a Home Secretary attended a royal birth was in 1936 for the birth of Princess Alexandria, cousin of the Queen. The practice was officially stopped before the birth of Prince Charles in 1948.

• Such was the doubt over whether Mary of Modena, wife of King James II, was really pregnant that more than 40 eminent people were invited to witness the birth of their son Prince James in 1688 (and even then the rumours of that the stillborn baby had been swapped for another were rife).

• Queen Anne, who ruled from 1702-1714, went through 17 pregnancies but, tragically, outlived all of her children, her last surviving child – the Duke of Gloucester – dying in 1700.

• The tradition of firing a 41 gun salute on the news of the birth of a future monarch dates from the birth of the future King Edward VII. Twenty-one shots are fired in honour of the birth with an additional 21 fired because the guns are located in Green Park, a Royal Park.

• Queen Elizabeth II was born by caesarean section at 2.40am on April 21, 1926, at the home of her mother’s parents – 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair. (See our previous post on this here).

• Such was the animosity between Frederick, Prince of Wales, and his father, King George II, that when Frederick’s wife Augusta went into labour at the king’s home of Hampton Court Palace, he bundled her into a coach and had her taken to his home of St James’s Palace. With no preparations made there, his newly born daughter had to be wrapped in a tablecloth (the story is retold in detail in Lucy Worsley’s terrific book, Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court)

• Queen Victoria, who had nine children, used chloroform for pain relief during later births, despite the concept being frowned upon by some officials.

• Buckingham Palace (pictured above) has been the birthplace of numerous Royal Family members. Of course, Prince Charles was born here in 1948 as was his brother Prince Andrew (1960) and Prince Edward (1964) but so too – somewhat earlier – were 14 of King George III and Queen Charlotte’s 15 children when the property was known as Buckingham House and, later, the Queen’s House. King Edward VII was the only monarch who both was born and died in the building.

• Such was the desperation of King Henry VIII for a son, that a document announcing the birth were drawn up to that effect prior to Anne Boleyn giving birth to a daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I. The document was still issued – the only concession being an ‘s’ added to the end of the word prince.

• The oldest English king to father a child was King Edward I – he was 66-years-old when his last child, Princess Eleanor, was born in 1306. Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of King Henry II, was the oldest queen to father a child when she gave birth to the future King John at 44-years-of-age in 1166.

Apologies for the delay in posting this piece – next week we’ll post the final in this series!

The first underground railway system in the world, the London Underground – fondly known as the ‘Tube’ –  is this year celebrating the 150th anniversary of its creation. 

Born out of an idea to link the inner city with the various large rail termini on the outskirts, the first section of what is now the underground system – a six kilometre stretch between Paddington and Farringdon – opened on 9th January, 1863, and was run by the Metropolitan Railway, known less formally as the ‘Met’.

South-Kensington-stationIt was constructed using the ‘cut and cover’ method in which streets were dug up and tracks laid in a trench before being covered by brick-lined tunnels and the street above replaced (the method was later abandoned, apparently due to the disruption it caused to traffic). The first trains were steam-driven locomotives and drew gas-lit wooden carriages behind them (the first journey was re-enacted earlier this year – see our earlier post here. Other events commemorating the 150th included a visit to Baker Street Station by Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip and the Duchess of Cambridge).

The idea proved a success – 26,000 people used the new railway every day during the first six months of its operation – and the Metropolitan District Railway opened a new line between Westminster and South Kensington (station is pictured) in December, 1868, while the first Tube tunnel under the Thames, from the Tower of London to Bermondsey, opened in 1880, and what is now the Circle Line was completed in 1884.

In December 1890, the world’s first deep-level electric railway opened, running between King William Street in the City and passing under the Thames to Stockwell. Ten years later the ‘Twopenny Tube’, more formally known as the Central London Railway, opened between Shepherd’s Bush and Bank (it was from this that the use of the word ‘Tube’ to describe the Underground system caught on).

The uniting of the system began the following year with the creation of the Underground Electric Railway Company of London and by World War I, all but the Met were within a single group organisation. The name Underground first appeared on stations in 1908, the same year electric ticket machines were introduced.

In 1933, the Underground came under the control of the London Passenger Transport Board – the same year that Harry Beck’s first diagrammatic map of the underground system appeared.

Stations in the system were used as air raid shelters during World War II – part of the Piccadilly Line was closed and used as a storage site for treasures from the British Museum. Following the war, the organisation running the system went through various name changes until the formation of London Underground in 1985.

The system has since expanded – the Victoria Line was opened in the late 1960s and the Jubilee Line a decade later – and now consists of more than 408 kilometres of railway lines and 275 stations which serve more than three million passengers a day – equating to more than a billion a year, the same as the entire national rail network.

For more on the history of the Underground, see our earlier 10 Questions with London Transport Museum curator Simon MurphyPoster Art 150 – London Underground’s Greatest Designs runs at the London Transport Museum until October. Admission charge applies. For more (including the many events around the exhibition), see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/events/events-calendar#posterart150.

For more, check out David Bownes’ Underground: How the Tube Shaped London or Andrew Martin’s Underground, Overground: A Passenger’s History of the Tube.

We take a break from our regular series this week to bring you some images from the second half of the Olympic Torch Relay as it made it’s way around London toward tonight’s Opening Ceremony…


Day 67 (24th July): Tennis player Oliver Golding holds the Olympic Flame in between the Olympic Rings at Kew Gardens, London.

London Underground employee John Light carries the Olympic Flame onto an underground train at Wimbledon Station.

Day 68 (25th July): Former World Cup winning footballer Gordon Banks carries the Olympic Flame down Wembley Way, at Wembley Stadium.


Prince Charles, Duke of Cornwall, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, pose with  young entrepreneur Jay Kamiraz and Paralympian Scott Moorhouse as they kiss together Olympic torches in Tottenham.

Day 69 (26th July): Disaster mapping charity volunteer Wai-Ming Lee passes the Olympic Flame to mountain rescue team leader John Hulse in front of Buckingham Palace in the presence of Prince William, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

Wheelchair basketballer Ade Adepitan carries the Olympic Flame on Millennium Bridge.

Student Ifeyinwa Egesi holds the Olympic Flame inside the Globe Theatre.

For more on the Torch Relay, see www.london2012.com/torch-relay/

ALL PICTURES: LOCOG.

• Epping Forest’s historic Butler’s Retreat has reopened its doors as a cafe following a refurbishment project to restore the building to its former glory. The building was constructed in the 19th century and is one of the last remaining Victorian-era ‘retreats’ within the forest. Named for its 1891 occupier, John Butler, it was one of a number of retreats built to serve refreshments as part of the Temperance movement – said to have been “extremely popular” with visitors from the East End. The building, which now forms part of the Epping Forest visitor hub, is expected to host a range of events this summer and will have its opening hours extended with the slated opening of a restaurant upstairs in the evenings. Owned by the City of London, Epping Forest is the largest public open space in the London area, stretching across 12 miles from Manor Park in East London to a spot past Epping in Essex. The cafe, the refurbishment of which was carried out with funding provided via the Heritage Lottery’s Branching Out project, will be open from 9am to 5pm weekdays and 8am to 5pm weekends. For more on the cafe, see www.worldslarder.co.uk. For more on Epping Forest, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/eppingforest

• On Now – Designs of the Year Exhibition: The London Olympic Torch and the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress are among 90 objects nominated as one of the “best designs in the world” in this year’s Design of the Year competition. The objects, which go on display at the Design Museum today, have been entered in seven categories – architecture, digital, fashion, furniture, graphics, product and transport – with winners to be announced on 24th April. Among the other objects nominated are a wind-propelled landmine detector, a pop-up cinema in Hackney, the London 2012 velodrome and the first Tesco virtual store. An admission charge applies for the exhibition which runs until 15th July.  For more information, see designsoftheyear.com.

On Now – Lucian Freud Portraits. The last work of the late artist Lucian Freud is on show for the first time in this exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. The unfinished painting, Portrait of the Hound 2011, which depicts Freud’s assistant assistant David Dawson and his dog Eli, is a highlight of the exhibition which also includes works dating back as far as the 1940s. The 130 paintings and works on paper – which feature sitters including artists Francis Bacon and David Hockney along with the likes of Andrew Parker Bowles and Baron Rothschild – have been loaned from museums and private collections around the world. Runs until 27th May, 2012. Admission charge applies. See www.npg.org.uk.

We’re getting down to the pointy end of the countdown now. Here’s numbers four and three in Exploring London’s list of our most popular posts for 2011…

4. Curious London Memorials – 4. The Suffragette MemorialOne of our series on curious London memorials, this looked at a memorial in St James, erected in the 1970s to mark the contribution of those who fought for women’s right to vote;

3. The Royal Wedding – London’s royal reception venue: Another of our Royal Wedding themed posts, this looked at the history of Buckingham Palace, location of the reception which took place after the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge.

Sixteen London Underground stations were this week listed as Grade II heritage buildings. The Tube stations – several of which were designed by Leslie Green, known for his pioneering use of ‘ox-blood’ red tiles on the exterior of stations to create a consistent brand for the stations – include the now-closed Aldwych (pictured) along with Oxford Circus (originally two stations), Covent Garden and Russell Square as well as Belsize Park, Brent Cross, Caledonian Road, Chalk Farm, Chesham, Perivale, Redbridge, St John’s Wood, West Acton and Wood Green. Three other stations – Arnos Grove, Oakwood and Sudbury Town – have had their status upgraded from Grade II to Grade II*. These three were all designed by modernist architect Charles Holden for the extension of the Piccadilly Line in the 1930s. The new listings were made by Tourism and Heritage Minister John Penrose on the advice of English Heritage.

A new permanent exhibition showing would-be sailors what it is like to fight at sea opens at the HMS Belfast this weekend. Gun Turret Experience: A Sailor’s Story, 1943, is an immersive experience using lights, imagery, sound, smoke effects, movement and smell to recreate the atmosphere and conditions of a gun turret tower when a crew was at battle stations. Visitors are encouraged to follow the story of a young sailor on Boxing Day, 1943 when the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst is sighted leading to the Battle of the North Cape. The Gun Turret Experience, housed within the original triple gun turrets overlooking the quarterdeck, was developed with the help of Royal Navy veterans and eye-witness accounts from the Imperial War Museum (of which the HMS Belfast is part). Entry is included in normal admission price. For more information, see www.hmsbelfast.iwm.org.uk.

• Now On: See the dress the Duchess of Cambridge wore when she was married to Prince William in April at this year’s summer opening at Buckingham Palace. The gown, which features a nine foot long train, will be displayed along with the Halo Tiara until 3rd October in the palace ballroom (the same room used for the newly married couple’s reception). The exhibition features video footage of designer Sarah Burton, explaining how the dress was made. This year’s summer opening also features a display of the work of Carl Faberge – including his magnificent jewel-encrusted Imperial Easter Eggs as well as bejewelled boxes and miniature carvings of favorite pets of the royal family. More than half a million people are expected to visit the exhibition. For more information, see www.royalcollection.org.uk/default.asp?action=article&ID=30