Berkeley-Square

Located in the south-west of Mayfair in London’s West End, Berkeley Square was originally laid out by architect William Kent in the mid 1700s.

It takes its name from the Berkeley family of Gloucestershire (the first Lord Berkeley of Stratton was a Royalist commander in the Civil War) whose London residence, Berkeley House, stood on what is now the south side of the square until it was destroyed in a fire in 1733 (Devonshire House, whose residents included the 5th Earl of Devonshire and his somewhat notorious wife Georgiana, was subsequently built on the site and remained there until it was demolished in the 1920s).

The gardens, which feature some of the city’s oldest London Plane trees (dating from 1789), have a pump house at the centre which was built in 1800 and is now Grade II listed (it stands on the site of an earlier equestrian statue of King George III). Other features including the statue Lady of Sumaria (Water Carrier) – pictured above – which was made by Pre-Raphaelite sculptor Alexander Munro in 1858 and stands at the garden’s southern end.

Among notable buildings which face onto the square are Lansdowne House – located on the south-west corner of the square, it was designed by Robert Adam and now home of the Lansdowne Club – and number 50 Berkeley Square, home of short-lived early 19th century PM George Canning (and said to be the most haunted house in London). The square was also the home of society favorite, Gunter’s Tea Shop, which dated from the mid-1700s.

Famous residents have included wartime PM Sir Winston Church (he lived at number 48 as a child); Horace Walpole, some of the first Prime Minister Robert Walpole (he lived at number 11 during the 1700s), Robert Clive (more famously known as Clive of India, he committed suicide in number 45 in 1774), and the fictional Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves (creations of author PG Wodehouse). The square also featured in the famous wartime song, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.

The square is open from 8am daily with closing times varying based on the season.

A collection of furniture originally belonging to the 5th Duke of Devonshire and his wife, Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, has been returned to the Palladian masterpiece, Chiswick House, in west London. The furniture – which includes four French fauteuils (open arm chairs) by the leading Parisian chair maker Jean-Baptiste Tilliard, four neo-classical chairs with caned backs and seats and a ladies’ roll-top writing desk – was purchased by English Heritage at an auction in 2010 with the assistance of Art Fund. It had been removed from the house to the family estate in the late 1800s. Extensive conservation work on the furnishings was carried out thanks to the support of The Art Fund, Chiswick House Friends and The Pilgrim Trust prior to their being restored to the house. They are now displayed in the bedchamber while a mahogany pole-screen – designed in about 1730 by William Kent, protégé and collaborator of the house’s first owner and architect, Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington – has also been acquired and will be displayed in Lord Burlington’s Blue Velvet Room. Admission charge applies. For more information, see  www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/chiswick-house/ or www.chgt.org.uk.

German miniature picture Bibles are the subject of a new exhibition at The Courtauld Gallery. The third display in the gallery’s Illuminating Objects programme, the display centres on Bibles created by two sisters who belonged to a family of printmakers, Johanna Christina (Or Christiana) and Maria Magdalena Kusel, in Augsburg in the late 17th century. While many of the 17th century ‘thumb’ Bibles were created for children, the Kusel sisters most likely made theirs for private devotion. It is believed this is the first time the two Bibles have gone on public display. Visitors to the Courtauld website are also able to turn the Bible’s pages. Runs until 22nd July. For more, see www.courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/exhibitions/2013/illuminating/bible.

Royal Parks are offering free travel to the newly improved Isabella Plantation – a 40 acre ornamental woodland garden in Richmond Park – this Sunday. The minibus service, which will travel from the traffic lights on Ham Common to the plantation, will be running between 10am and 4pm. The plantation, which features azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, magnolias, daffodils and bluebells, has recently been the subject of a £1.5 million improvement project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and BIG Lottery Fund. Improvements have included enhancements to ponds and streams and upgrades to the existing path network. For more, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park.

A display commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Profumo Affair has opened at the National Portrait Gallery. Scandal ’63: The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Profumo Affair looks in depth at the scandal in which Secretary of State for War John Profumo was found to have had a brief affair with nightclub hostess and model Christine Keeler who happened to also romantically involved with Yevgeny Ivanov, a senior Russian naval attache (rather controversial during the Cold War). The display features a vintage print of one of Lewis Morley’s seated nude portraits of Keeler as well as press images of other key protagonists in the matter including her friends Mandy Rice-Davies and Paula Hamilton-Marshall. Also featured is on-set photographs of Keeler taken to publicise The Keeler Affair, a film which was banned in Britain (and later remade in 1989), images of a now lost work of pop art by Pauline Boty featuring four of the key players (it was titled Scandal ’63), and a pastel of Keeler by Stephen Ward (pictured). Admission is free. Runs until 15th September. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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