Trafalgar-Square

It’s Trafalgar Square but not as we know it. In a new Wednesday series we’re looking at eight proposed structures in London that were never realised and first up, is a proposal which would have seen a 300 foot high pyramid on what has become one of the city’s most iconic sites.

The stepped pyramid was the brainchild of an early 19th century Tory MP, Colonel (later General) Sir Frederick William Trench, and was designed in 1815 as a grand military and naval memorial to the Napoleonic Wars with each of the structure’s 22 steps apparently dedicated to a different year of the war.

Apparently drawn up by architects Philip and Matthew Cotes Wyatt – of the famous Wyatt architectural dynasty, the pyramid – which would have been taller than St Paul’s Cathedral and pretty much covered the entire space now occupied by the square – was, according to Nick Rennison’s The Book of Lists, costed at £1 million, a figure Sir Frederick – a veteran of the wars – apparently thought was not unreasonable.

But it didn’t prove a popular design with the public and got no further than the drawing board.

Among Sir Frederick’s other unrealised dreams was an elevated railroad running between London and Hungerford Bridges, an immense new royal palace which would have covered much of the West End, and an embankment – ‘Trench’s Terrace’ – along the north bank of the Thames. An embankment was, of course, later built, but not until after his death in 1859.

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The honour of being London’s oldest winebar goes to Gordon’s Wine Bar at 47 Villiers Street in the West End (just up from Embankment Tube Station or down from Charing Cross Station, whichever you prefer).

Gordon's-Wine-BarThe venerable establishment – still a favoured place to stop for a drink for many Londoners – opened its doors in the 1890s and still conveys a powerful sense of old world charm with the decor pretty much unchanged (there’s been no fancy makeover here) and the wine still served from wooden casks behind the bar.

The site on which the bar is located was once occupied by York House (home to, among others during its centuries of life, Robert Devereaux – 2nd Earl of Essex and favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Francis Bacon – Lord Chancellor during the reign of King James I) and then, later on, by a large house lived in by diarist Samuel Pepys in the late 1600s before, thanks to its position close to the river, a building was built upon it in the 1790s which served as a warehouse.

The usefulness of the warehouse came to an end when Victoria Embankment was built and the river pushed back and the building was subsequently used for accommodation. Writer Rudyard Kipling was among tenants who lived here (from 1889-1891 during which wrote The Light that Failed – in fact, the building was renamed after him, Kipling House, in 1950.

It was Angus Gordon, a “free vintner” meaning he didn’t have to apply for a licence thanks to the largesse of King Edward III in 1364, who established the premises in the vaults here in the 1890s (interestingly the current owners are also Gordons, but not related). Among the other uses of the building, of which Gordon’s only occupies a part, was apparently as a brothel in the 1920s.

For more on Gordon’s head to www.gordonswinebar.com.

• The 2012 Lord Mayor’s Show is just about upon us and while you may not have a grandstand seat, there’s still plenty of places you can stand and watch the parade of more than 6,500 people pass by. Saturday’s parade – which celebrates the election of the 685th Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Roger Gifford – leaves Mansion House at 11am and travels via Poultry and Cheapside to St Paul’s Cathedral where it pauses for the Lord Mayor and his officials to receive a blessing – before continuing on via Ludgate Hill and Fleet Street to the Royal Courts of Justice, arriving there at about 12.30pm. There the Lord Mayor gives his oath of loyalty to the Crown (while in the surrounding streets the participants and 125 horses are fed and watered) before the parade reassembles and sets off from Embankment at 1pm, heading back to Mansion House via Queen Victoria Street – the Lord Mayor arrives sometime between 2pm and 2.30pm. (The website has a terrific one page map of the route you can download and print). There’s no fireworks display after the parade – although there’s a host of other activities taking place in the City of London – but if you’re up and about early enough, you may want to watch the Lord Mayor as he boards the barge QRB Gloriana at the Westminster Boating Base in Vauxhall at 8.30am and, escorted by a flotilla, makes his way up the Thames to HMS President, just below St Katharine Docks, arriving at about 9.35am after Tower Bridge opens in salute. For more, head to www.lordmayorsshow.org.

• The annual Remembrance Sunday service – commemorating the contribution of British and Commonwealth servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts – will take place at the Cenotaph on Whitehall at 11am this Sunday. While no tickets are required to watch the event, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, who organise the service, advise arriving early if you wish to secure a good viewing space (and leave time for security checks at the entrance to either end of Whitehall). Whitehall opens at 8am. For more details, see www.culture.gov.uk/what_we_do/honours/3333.aspx.

A new exhibition of the work of US photographic pioneer Ansel Adams opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich tomorrow (Friday). Ansel Adams: Photography from the Mountains to the Sea, which comes from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, will feature more than 100 original prints, many of which have never been exhibited before in the UK. It is said to be the first exhibition to focus on his “lifelong fascination” with water and the display features some of Adams’ finest images based on this subject including what are some of the most famous photographs of the 20th century. Highlights include the first photograph Adams’ ever image – taken at age 14 – which features a pool located at the Panama Pacific Exhibition at the 1915 World’s Fair, the three American Trust murals produced in the 1950s on an “unprecedented scale”, Adam’s favorite work – Golden Gate before the Bridge – which hung above his desk, and iconic images such as Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite and Stream, Sea, Clouds, Rodeo Lagoon, Marin Country, California. There is an admission charge. Runs until 28th April. For more details on the exhibition, see www.rmg.co.uk.

Also opening tomorrow (Friday) is the British Library’s major autumn exhibition – Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire. The exhibition focuses on the Mughal dynasty – which once ruled over much of the Indian sub-continent – and is the first to document the period spanning the 16th to 19th centuries. Featuring more than 200 manuscripts and paintings, most of which come from the library’s own collection, highlights include Akbar ordering the slaughter to cease in 1578 – a work attributed to the artist Miskina in 1595, Abu’l Hasan’s early 17th century painting Squirrels in a plane tree, the historically important illustration Prince Aurangzeb reports to the Emperor Shah Jahan in durbar, and a portrait of Prince Dara Shikoh, favorite son and heir-apparent of 17th century Emperor Shah Jahan. Runs until 2nd April. Admission charge applies. For more on the exhibition and accompanying events, see www.bl.uk.

• The British Library has paid £9 million for a 7th century text, the St Cuthbert Gospel, which is also the oldest intact European book. The acquisition follows the library’s most successful fund-raising effort ever – it included a £4.5 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. The book – a Gospel of John bound in beautifully tooled red leather – was produced in north-east England in the late 7th century and was placed in the saint’s coffin after his death on the Isle of Lindisfarne in 698. It was retrieved when the coffin was opened at Durham Cathedral in 1104. The Gospel is on display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery at the library in St Pancras and following a conservation review, it is anticipated it will soon be displayed with the pages open for the first time. There will be a public event celebrating the acquisition on 15th May. For more, see www.bl.uk/whatson/events/may12/index.html.

• London this week marked 100 days until the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games. This included unveiling the latest installation of the Olympic rings – made of 20,000 plants the 50 metre long rings are located in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in the city’s west and can be seen from planes on the Heathrow flight path. The organising committee also announced the Red Arrows aerobatic display team will perform a nine-ship flypast in ‘big battle’ formation on the day of the Opening Ceremony (27th July) and stated that the games motto will be ‘Inspire a Generation’. For more, see www.london2012.com.

• The Museum of London’s archaeological archive – known as the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC) – is officially the largest in the world according to Guinness World Records. The archive contains more than five million artefacts and the records of almost 8,500 excavations dating back to 1830. Items in the archive include shoes dating back to Roman times, a 200-year-old set of false teeth, ‘witching bottles’ including one with human hair and toenails, and coffin plates from London’s cemeteries. The world record has been recorded as part of World Record London, a series of world record breaking events being held in the run-up to the Olympics. Others have included the Faberge Big Egg Hunt.

• Thousands of people are expected to take part in the Virgin London Marathon this Sunday. The 26.2 mile route starts in Blackheath, passes through Woolwich and Greenwich and crosses the Thames at Tower Bridge before looping around the east end of London, through Canary Wharf, and the west along The Highway (formerly known as The Ratcliffe Highway) and Embankment to Parliament Square, Birdcage Walk and finally to Buckingham Palace. The first London marathon was run in 1981. For more, see www.virginlondonmarathon.com.

• On Now: Turner Inspired – In the Light of Claude. The first major presentation of 17th century artist Claude Gellée’s influence on the English romantic artist J M W Turner, the exhibition focuses on Claude-inspired themes which run through Turner’s work including “the evocation of light and air in landscape, the effect of light upon water and his often radical reworking of contemporary scenes”. The display includes works from large scale oils on canvas through to leaves from Turner’s pocket sketchbooks. Interestingly, the exhibition also explores the story behind the so-called Turner Bequest – that on his death, Turner linked himself to Claude forever by leaving the National Gallery two pictures – Dido building Carthage (1815) and Sun rising through Vapour: Fishermen cleaning and selling Fish (before 1807) –  on condition that they were hung between two pictures by Claude, Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba (1648) and Landscape with the Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca (1648). Runs until 5th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

The Queen visits the Chelsea Flower Show. PICTURE: Courtesy Royal Horticultural Society.

More correctly known as the Royal Horticultural Society Great Spring Show, the history of the Chelsea Flower Show traces its origins back to the 1820s when the society, then known as the The Horticultural Society in London, held a series of “floral fetes” at the Duke of Devonshire’s estate in Chiswick.

The fortunes of the society were on the wane when, thanks in part to its then president, Prince Albert, it was reborn with a new charter and name – the Royal Horticultural Society – and a new garden in Kensington.

The first Great Spring Show was held there in 1862 and continued to be so for the next 26 years until, in 1888, the site of the show was moved to Temple Gardens near Embankment in central London.

It was subsequently held there until 1912. During this year, the show was cancelled and the Royal International Horticultural Exhibition held instead in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. So popular did this prove that the Great Spring Show was subsequently moved there. It’s been held almost every since with cancellations during World Wars I and II.

Today, the show – claimed to be “the world’s most famous gardening event” – attracts 157,000 visitors from around the world who view the exhibits of 600 companies including nurseries, florists and floral arranges. This year’s show, which has sold out, features 17 show gardens, 15 smaller gardens and 100 of nurseries and growers. It runs from today until Saturday.

For more information on the show, see www.rhs.org.uk/chelsea.