Armchair_for_Devonshire_House_ca._1733-40__Devonshire_Collection_Chatsworth._Reproduced_by_permission_of_Chatsworth_Settlement_Trustees._Photography_by_Bruce_WhiteThe life and work of William Kent, the leading architect and designer of early Georgian Britain, is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the V&A on Saturday. William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain covers the period 1709 to 1748 which coincides with the accession of the first Hanoverian King George I. the tercentenary of which is being celebrated this year. The display features more than 200 examples of Kent’s work – from architectural drawings for buildings such as the Treasury (1732-37) and Horse Guards (1745-59), to gilt furniture designed for Houghton Hall (1725-25) and Chiswick House (1745-38), landscape designs for Rousham (1738-41) and Stowe (c 1728-40 and c 1746-47) as well as paintings and illustrated books. The exhibition, the result of a collaboration between the Bard Graduate Center, New York City, and the V&A,  features newly commissioned documentary films and will have a section focusing on designs Kent created for the Hanovarian Royal family including those he produced for a Royal Barge for Frederick, the Prince of Wales (1732) and a library for Queen Caroline at St James’ Palace (1736-37). Runs until 13th July. Admission charge applies. See www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: Armchair for Devonshire House ca. 1733-40, © Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth. Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees.

A new City Visitor Trail has been unveiled by the City of London, taking visitors on a 90 minute self-guided tour of some of the City’s main attractions (or longer if you want to linger in some of the places on the itinerary). The trail – a map of which can be picked up from the City Information Centre – goes past iconic buildings such as St Paul’s Cathedral, Guildhall, Mansion House, Monument, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge as well as lesser-known sites. As well as the main route, there’s also five specially themed routes – ‘Law and literature’, ‘London stories, London people’, ‘Culture Vulture’, ‘Skyscrapers and culture’, and ‘Market mile’ – and a City Children’s Trail, provided in partnership with Open City, which features three self-guided routes aimed at kids. As well as the map, the City has released an app – the City Visitor Trail app – which provides a commentary at some of the city’s main attractions which can either by read or listened to as it’s read by people closely associated with the locations (available for both iPhone and Android). For more, follow this link.

The works of the 16th century Venetian artist known as Veronese (real name Paolo Caliari) are being celebrated in a new exhibition, Veronese: Magnificence in Renaissance Venice at the National Gallery. More than 50 of his works are featured in the display including two altarpieces never before seen outside Italy: The Martyrdom of Saint George (about 1565) from the church of San Giorgio in Braida, Verona, and The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine (1565-70) from the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice. Others include early works like The Supper at Emmaus (about 1565), the beautiful Portrait of a Gentleman (c 1555) and the artist’s last autograph work, the altarpiece for the high altar of San Pantalon in Venice (1587). Runs until 15th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

Send all items of interest for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

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.

In the first of a new Wednesday series looking at historic London garden squares, we take a look at what next to Trafalgar Square, is the most famous square in the entire city – Leicester Square.

Located in the heart of the West End, Leicester Square’s history finds its origins back in the 17th history when Robert Sidney, the 2nd Earl of Leicester acquired property on the site where the square now stands. Then known as St Martin’s Field and located within the parish of St Martin’s, Sidney purchased four acres in 1630 and constructed Leicester House on land now located at the square’s northern end.

Leicester-SquareThe earl raised the ire of locals, however, when – having subsequently fenced off the land to prevent people from wandering on to his property – he enclosed what had previously been common land.

The people appealed to King Charles I who appointed three members of the Privy Council to look at the issue. Their decision? That the earl keep a section of his land open for the use of the parishioners of St Martin’s.

First known as Leicester Field, it was this land which later became known as Leicester Square. Fine homes were built around the square (its proximity to the Royal Court and centre of government made it a desirable place to live for the well-to-do and those seeking influence) with the centre enclosed with rails (it’s pictured here in 1750).

The square’s reputation also had a royal boost when, in 1717/1718, Leicester House became home to Prince George (later King George II) and his wife Princess Caroline along with their court after the prince fell out with his father King George I and was banished from St James’ Palace (this story is recounted in marvellous detail in Lucy Worsley’s terrific book, Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court).

The prince remained at the house for 10 years and was proclaimed King George II after his father’s death at its gate. Interestingly, King George II’s eldest son, Prince Frederick, also lived here for a time after he too fell out with his father (King George II). Apparently their relationship was even worse than the previous generation’s had been.

Despite its royal attractions, even at this stage the square apparently had it’s darker side with some less than savoury characters attending the hotels and livery stables that were built there. But things were to get worse as the wealthy moved out – a situation not helped when Leicester House was demolished in the 1790s.

Leicester Square became known as an entertainment venue in the 19th century (among attractions was the short-lived Royal Panopticon of Science and Art which showcased the best in science and art and Wyld’s Great Globe which contained a gigantic model of the earth) and received a new injection of life when theatres and music halls moved in, bringing the crowds back with them.

Shakespeare-StatueMeanwhile, the status of the square – and whether it could be built upon – remained a matter of debate well into the 19th century. That ended in 1874 when businessman Albert Grant bought the freehold of the land, had the garden created upon it and then donated it to the Metropolitan Board of Works as a gift to the city.

Responsibility for the management of the square now rests with the City of Westminster. The square area – which is now known for hosting film premieres as well as the tourists who inevitably gather there – was pedestrianised in the 1980s and has just undergone a redevelopment and modernisation which was unveiled last year.

Meanwhile, work to restore the 19th century Shakespeare statue and fountain in the square’s centre is about to be completed (pictured). The square also contains a statue of actor Charlie Chaplin in the square as well as busts of scientist Sir Isaac Newton, painter and first president of the royal Academy Sir Joshua Reynolds, 18th century pioneer surgeon John Hunter, and painter William Hogarth.

The tradition of the entertainment continues in the modern era through the cinemas which now stand in the square and regularly host film premieres (an interesting, if oft-repeated, film-related anecdote connected to the square is that it was in a phone booth located at the square that during the 1960s a young actor Maurice Micklewhite saw a poster for The Caine Mutiny and decided to change his name to Michael Caine).

PICTURES (top) Wikipedia and (below) City of Westminster.

Given this week’s release of English Heritage’s The London List 2011 – which lists all properties given a new or upgraded heritage listing last year, we thought it was only appropriate to look at one of the properties listed, in this case the Royal Kitchens in Kew Gardens.

Upgraded to a Grade I listing in 2011, the kitchens were opened to the public for the first time in May this year following a £1 million restoration. The origins of the kitchens go back to the 1730s when they were built to the designs of William Kent to serve the White House, the grand mansion of Frederick, Prince of Wales (eldest son and heir of King George II).

While the White House was demolished in 1802, the Georgian kitchens – built in a separate building to mitigate the risk of fire – were kept to serve the nearby premises of Kew Palace (formerly known as the “Dutch House”, it had been originally built in 1631 for a Flemish merchant).

But after the death of Queen Charlotte (wife of King George III) in 1818, members of the Royal family only stayed occasionally and so the kitchen fell into disuse. While the upper floors were given over to accommodation, the lower floor remained untouched, allowing it to survive in a considerable degree of intactness.

The kitchens centre on the double storey ‘Great Kitchen’ featuring three charcoal stoves as well as a rare cooking range with “smoke jack” and fan. Other rooms include a scullery, a bakery, larders and stores for silver and spices while among the surviving furnishings is a preparation table or dresser, cupboards, shelves and baking ovens. Upstairs, the office of the clerk who oversaw the feeding of the Royal Household has been restored.

Historic Royal Palaces, who look after the kitchens, have installed a new permanent exhibition at the site which focuses life on the 6th February, 1789, the date when King George III, having suffered his first bout of ‘madness’ (believed to be porphyria), was given back his knife and fork. William Wybrow was the Master Cook at this time and William Gorton the Clerk of the Kitchen.

WHERE: The Royal Kitchens, Kew Gardens, Kew (nearest Tube Station is Kew Gardens); WHEN: 11am to 5pm daily until 30th September, then Thursday to Sunday until 28th October, then daily again until 4th November; COST: Kew Gardens tickets must be purchased – £16 adults/£14 concessions/children under 16 free – and then tickets to Kew Palace – £6 adults/£4.50 concessions/children under 16 free (or free with annual Historic Royal Palaces membership); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/kewpalace/stories/palacehighlights/royalkewkitchens.

PICTURE: Forster/HRP

For more on Kew Palace, check out Kew Palace: The Official Illustrated History.

First laid out in the mid 17th century, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, on the east bank of the Thames just south of Lambeth, rose in fame to become one of London’s leading public entertainment venues.

The gardens, initially known as New Spring Gardens, are believed to have opened around the time of the Restoration of 1660 on a site which had been formerly an estate owned by vintners John and Jane Vaux (Jane was apparently widowed).

Initially apparently no more than an ale-house with a garden attached, the gardens grew to span several acres and featured a central hub and long avenues for strolling. Admission was initially free with money made from food and drink sold there. Among the earliest recorded visitors to the gardens was John Evelyn in 1661, describing it as a “pretty contrived plantation” and diarist Samuel Pepys, who wrote of a visit he made on 29th May, 1662 (he is known to have returned numerous times).

From 1729, the gardens came under ownership and management of John Tyers, entrepreneur, property developer and patron of the arts, and it was he who, until his death in 1767, oversaw the transformation of the area into an arts hotspot which included sculpture (in particular a fine statue of the composer Handel), music, painting and architecture. Thanks partly due to the patronage of Frederick, Prince of Wales, the gardens become the fashionable place to be seen.

The variety of entertainment on offer at the gardens – the name of which was only officially changed to Vauxhall Gardens in 1785 – grew substantially over the years: from concerts and fireworks displays to performances by tight rope walkers and lion tamers and even re-enactments of famous battles. The gardens became renowned as site for balloon ascents and, for its architecture – the number of buildings there grew over the years to include a rococo ‘Turkish tent’, Chinese pavilion, and, another rococo building, the Rotunda (where concerts could be held in wet weather). There was also a cascade and private ‘supper boxes’ for those who could afford them; those who couldn’t could dine at tables set under the trees.

From the outset, Vauxhall was known as a place where the sexes could mix freely and, therefore, for romantic assignations – in fact, one area of the gardens became known as the ‘Dark Walk’ for the fact it was, unlike other areas of the gardens, never illuminated by lamps and it was in this area, frequented by prostitutes, that many of the more illicit liaisons took place.

By the late 1700s and early 1800s, the gardens, one of a number of pleasure gardens in London, had reached the height of their popularity with reportedly more than 60,000 people said to have  attending a fancy dress party held one night in the late 1700s.

Those who attended events in the gardens included royalty as well as the likes of Samuel Johnson and James Boswell (see Thomas Rowlandson’s image above, Vauxhall Gardens, showing the likes of Johnson and Boswell, along with Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire, and the future King George IV, at the gardens in about 1779) as well as, much later, Charles Dickens (by the time Dickens visited, however, the heyday of the gardens was already well over).

The gardens closed in 1859 due apparently to declining popularity and were eventually replaced with housing. After being badly bombed in World War II, however, the site once again returned to being a garden, known as Spring Gardens. The gardens (pictured) still occupy the site not far from Vauxhall tube station – part of them is used by the Vauxhall City Farm as paddocks for horses and livestock and they also contain a multi-use games court.

For an authoritative and comprehensive work on the Vauxhall Gardens, try David Coke and Dr Alan Borg’s Vauxhall Gardens: A History. There’s also much more information on David Coke’s website here. There’s also a detailed history here.

David Coke is curating an exhibition at The Foundling Museum, The Triumph of Pleasure, which looks at the way in which the gardens and the establishment of the Foundling Hospital in 1739 “changed the face of British art forever”. Runs from 11th May to 9th September. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

PICTURES: Wikipedia and David Adams