January 24, 2017
November 28, 2016
We reintroduce an old favourite this month with our first ‘Where’s London’s oldest’ in a few years. And to kick it off, we’re looking at one of London’s oldest public clocks.
Hanging off the facade of the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West in Fleet Street is a clock which is believed to have been the first public clock to be erected in London which bears a minute hand.
The work of clockmaker Thomas Harris, the clock was first installed on the medieval church in 1671 – it has been suggested it was commissioned to celebrate the church’s survival during the Great Fire of London and was installed to replace an earlier clock which had been scorched in the fire. Its design was apparently inspired by a clock which had once been on Old St Paul’s Cathedral and was destroyed in the fire.
Like the clock it replaced, this clock sat in brackets and projected out into Fleet Street which meant it was able to be seen from a fair distance away (and being double-sided meant the black dials could be seen from both the east and the west). Like the Roman numerals that decorate it, the two hands, including the famous minute hand, are gold.
To the rear and above the clock dials are located the bells and striking mechanism. The bells are struck on the hours and the quarters by ‘automata’ – Herculean figures, perhaps representing Gog and Magog (although to most they were traditionally simply known as the ‘Giants of St Dunstan’s’), who do so using clubs and turn their heads.
Such was the attention these figures attracted that when the clock was first installed the area became notorious for pick-pockets who apparently went to work on unsuspecting passersby who had stopped to watch the giants at work.
This church was demolished in the early 1800s to allow the widening of Fleet Street and when it was rebuilt in 1830, the clock was absent. Having decided it couldn’t be accommodated in the new design, it had been auctioned off with the art collector, Francis Seymour-Conway, the 3rd Marquess of Hertford, the successful bidder.
He had it installed on his Decimus Burton-designed villa in Regent’s Park and there it remained until 1935 when Lord Rothermere, who had bought the villa in 1930, returned it to the church to mark the Silver Jubilee of King George V.
There are numerous literary references to the clock including in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Oliver Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield and a William Cowper poem.
November 7, 2016
Said to date from 1602, the Grade II-listed pub was apparently built as an alehouse, though the facade is 19th century as is much of the interior. Its location, just to the west of Temple Bar, meant it survived the Great Fire of London – though only just.
The name apparently relates to an appeal to Dutch sailors – it is said to have been so named in reference to the Seven United Provinces of The Netherlands (it’s also been said that the pub’s location is in the midst of an area of London in which Dutch settlers lived during the period).
It was apparently formerly known as The Log and Seven Stars or The Leg and Seven Stars, although it’s been speculated these are simply a corruption of The League and Seven Stars – a story which might make sense given the origins of the pub’s name (‘league’ referring to the union of the seven provinces).
The pub these days lies in the heart of the city’s legal community – the Royal Courts of Justice lies just to the south and Lincoln’s Inn, one of the four inns of court, to the north.
For more, see www.thesevenstars1602.co.uk.
September 26, 2016
Sir Thomas Bludworth (also spelt Bloodworth) is usually only remembered as the man who had the unfortunate job of being Lord Mayor of London when the Great Fire broke out in 1666. So, given the fire’s 350th anniversary this month, we thought it timely to take a more in-depth look at his life and career.
Bludworth was born in London in February, in about 1620, the second surviving son of John Bludworth, master of the Vintner’s Company and a wealthy merchant. Trained to succeed his father – his elder brother having joined the clergy, Bludworth was himself admitted to the Vintner’s Company in the 1640s and joined the Levant Company in 1648.
First elected an alderman in 1658, he was discharged when he refused to serve as a sheriff and the following year served as the master of the Vintner’s Company. In 1660, he was briefly arrested along with 10 other members of City of London’s common council after the body refused to pay taxes until a representative parliament was convened.
Elected MP for Southwark later that year, Bludworth among city and parliamentary representatives who sailed to The Netherlands to attend the king, Charles II, in exile, and invite him to return to England. It was while attending the king in The Hague that he was knighted. Re-elected in 1661, he was an active parliamentarian who served in numerous different capacities.
Sir Thomas was twice married and had a number of children including a formidable daughter Anne who eventually married the historically unpopular George Jeffreys, (later King James II’s Lord Chief Justice and Lord Chancellor).
In mid-1662, he was once again made a City of London alderman and appointed one of two sheriffs for the following year. He became Lord Mayor of London in November, 1665, but apparently there was no pageant as was customary due to the plague.
During his year in the office – “the severest year any man had” – he faced both the plague and the Great Fire and his reputation has been largely formed out of his response to the latter thanks in large part his alleged response when woken and told of the fire as being: “Pish, a woman might piss it out!”.
Bludworth was heavily criticised at the time and over the years since his reaction to the fire – including not pulling down homes to create a firebreak and thus prevent the spread of the fire, but it should be noted that had he done so before he had received the king’s permission, he would have found himself personally liable.
Diarist Samuel Pepys’ who, following two encounters in the months before the fire had already described Bludworth as “mean man of understanding and despatch of any public business”, recorded that when he finally brought a message from the king ordering the creation of a firebreak, Sir Thomas seemed like “a man spent”.
“To the King’s message (to create a firebreak by pulling down houses), he cried, like a fainting woman, ‘Lord, what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses, but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it’.”
Another eyewitness describes him as looking like he was “frighted out of his wits” during the fire.
Sir Thomas’ own property at Gracechurch Street was among the casualties of the fire but he later built a new mansion in Maiden Lane.
He continued to serve as an MP after the fire and was, perhaps ironically, appointed to a committee working on a bill to provide “utensils” for the “speedy quenching of fire”. In the mid-1670s, he become one of the governing members of the Royal African Company.
Sir Thomas died on 12th May, 1682, aged around 60. He was apparently buried in Leatherhead.
September 6, 2016
London blazed again on Sunday night when a 120 metre long wooden replica of the city as it was in Restoration times was set alight to mark 350th years since the Great Fire of London. London 1666 was designed by US “burn artist” David Best for London’s Burning – a festival of events in the City of London produced by Artichoke to mark the anniversary. It had been placed on a barge moored in the River Thames before it was lit up to ensure that the fire didn’t spread anywhere it wasn’t wanted. The actual Great Fire of London broke out in a bakery on Pudding Lane shortly after midnight on 2nd September, 1666, and blazed across the city for four days, destroying more than three quarters of the old City of London as it render tens of thousands of Londoners homeless and devastated iconic structures like Old St Paul’s Cathedral. You can see a video of the burn here. PICTURES: © Matthew Andrews.
August 30, 2016
Albury Street in Deptford, 1911. The image, taken by the London County Council, is just one of thousands which form part of a new free, online resource, Collage – The London Picture Archive. The world’s largest collection of images of London, the archive contains more than 250,000 images of London spanning the period from 1450 to the present day. It includes more than 8,000 historical photographs of life on the capital’s streets as well as major events – everything from the Great Fire of London in 1666 to the construction of Tower Bridge in the late 19th century. The photographs, maps, prints, paintings and films in the collection are all drawn from the collections of the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Art Gallery and the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell. Other images shown here include (above right) ‘Street Life in London’, 1877 (taken by Adolphe Smith and John Thomson, this image was an early use of photography); (below) ‘Construction of the Metropolitan Railway (the first tube line)’, 1862 (taken at King’s Cross Station); and (far below), ‘The Construction of Tower Bridge’, 1891-1892 (taken from Tower Embankment). Collage – The London Picture Archive is free to access and available at www.collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk.
All images © London Metropolitan Archives (City of London).
This Week in London – The Notting Hill Carnival turns 50; St Paul’s marks the Great Fire’s 350th; and, London’s subcultures captured on film…
August 25, 2016
• The Notting Hill Carnival, the largest street festival in Europe, is celebrating its 50th birthday this Bank Holiday weekend. Events at the west London-based celebration of Caribbean culture, music, food and drink include a Children’s Day on Sunday with a parade for children, performances on the World Music Stage at Powis Square as well as food and drink (runs from 10am to 8.30pm); and, the main event, the 3.5 mile long Monday Parade and Grand Finale featuring 60 bands, performances at the World Music Stage as well as food and other activities (runs from 10am to 8.30pm). For more, see www.thenottinghillcarnival.com.
• St Paul’s Cathedral, created after Old St Paul’s was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, has been marking the 350th anniversary of that event with a special programme of walks, talks, tours, special sermons and debates. Running until next April, they include special ‘fire tours’ of the cathedral, a special ‘family trail’ through the cathedral (which you can download for free), and Triforium tours in which you can see carved stones from Old St Paul’s and Sir Christopher Wren’s ‘great model’ of the new cathedral. In addition, an exhibition featuring a collection of pre-Great Fire artefacts, Out of the Fire, opens on 1st September (admission included in cathedral admission charge) and the cathedral will be kept open for two nights next week until 9pm, on 2nd and 3rd September. For the full programme of events, bookings and more information, head to www.stpauls.co.uk/fire.
• On Now – Stomping Grounds: Photographs by Dick Scott-Stewart. This free exhibition at the Museum of London features images taken by the relatively unknown London-based photographer in the late 1970s and early 1980s, depicting everyone from the New Romantics of Covent Garden and Rockabillies of Elephant and Castle to wrestling matches at the Battersea Arts Centre and punks congregating on the Kings Road. The exhibition features 38 photographs and other “ephemera”. Entry is free. Closes on 18th September. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
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August 15, 2016
It’s the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London ands we thought we’d take a quick look at what happened in the aftermath.
With much of the city razed in the four day fire of early September, 1666, attention quickly turned to the rebuilding of the City and within just a few days, proposals began coming in for the recreation – and transformation – of London.
Christopher Wren, John Evelyn and Robert Hooke were among those who put forward new designs for the city along with the likes of one Richard Newcourt, whose proposed rigid grid featuring churches set in squares wasn’t adopted for London but was eventually for the streets of Philadelphia in what is now the United States of America.
None of these plans – Wren’s vision had apparently been inspired by the Gardens of Versailles while Evelyn’s was an Italianate city with wide piazzas – were eventually adopted, however, thanks largely to the difficulty in working out who owned which properties in the city (people had more on their mind, such as survival perhaps).
In October, 1666, King Charles II – who had encouraged many of those left homeless to move out of the City out of fears that a rebellion was in the offing – joined with the City authorities in appointing six commissioners to regulate the rebuilding (a key factor in which was the mandatory use of brick in place of wood).
Their actions were supported by a couple of parliamentary acts – drawn up to regulate the rebuilding and allow for the opening and widening of roads, among other things – and the establishment of specially convened Fire Courts to deal with property disputes (owners had to clear roadways of debris and establish their rights of ownership before they could start reconstruction).
Rebuilding was, not surprisingly, to take years – after all, almost 400 acres had been burned within the City walls and 63 acres outside them with more than 80 churches, 44 livery halls and more than 13,000 houses among the casualties. And it was patchy with new buildings standing alongside empty blocks awaiting reconstruction.
Construction of the many grand public buildings destroyed in the fire, such as St Paul’s Cathedral, would also take years (the cathedral, Wren’s Baroque masterpiece, wasn’t completed until 1711).
PICTURE: The Monument, which commemorates the Great Fire of London, is among the works of Sir Christopher Wren (for more on the Monument, see our earlier post here).
August 5, 2016
Originally built in the late 1670s by John Keeling in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London, the engine was acquired by the Museum of London in 1928.
Then only consisting of the central barrel and pump, it has been restored for the current exhibition, Fire! Fire!, being held to mark the 350th anniversary of the fire which wiped out much of the City of London.
Based on a 19th century photograph (pictured) which showed it still intact with undercarriage, wheels, tow bar and pumping arm, the restoration was carried out by the museum in partnership with Kent-based Croford Coachbuilders using traditional techniques and materials over a three month period.
Meriel Jeater, curator of the Fire! Fire! exhibition, said the reconstruction had revealed new insights into how the fire engine worked and shows that, weighing more than 500 kilograms without water, it would have been extremely difficult to manoeuvre along London’s narrow streets.
“Also, the relatively crude pump mechanism was only able to squirt out about six pints of water over a rather short distance, so it would have been perilously close to the flames to have had any chance of putting them out.”
Fire! Fire! can be seen at the Museum of London until 17th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/fire-fire.
PICTURES: © Museum of London.
July 29, 2016
One of the achievements of the short-lived reign of King Edward VI, son of King Henry VIII, was the establishment of this hospital for orphans in 1552 in what were once buildings used by the Greyfriars Monastery (for more on the history of Greyfriars, see our earlier post here).
Located in Newgate Street, the hospital soon had a school attached which became known as the Blue Coat School thanks to the distinctive long blue coats the students wore (and still do, the school is now located near Horsham in West Sussex).
Many of the hospital buildings were destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666 but most were later rebuilt under the supervision of Sir Christopher Wren, although the actual work was apparently carried out by others.
Students at the school have included antiquarian William Camden, Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and writer Charles Lamb.
New buildings for girls were opened in Hertford in 1704 and the school moved out to Sussex in 1902 with the General Post Office built over the top of the demolished buildings.
This Week in London – Remembering the Great Fire of 1666; rediscovering the Palace of Whitehall; and, the Queen’s dresses go on show…
July 21, 2016
• A new “theatrical” exhibition marking the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London is opening at the Museum of London on Saturday. Fire! Fire! takes visitors on an interactive journey from before, during and after the great fire, looking at how the fire started and spread and the personal stories of Londoners present at the time. Visitors will be able to step in Pudding Lane and see what life was like for 17th century Londoners, walk into the bakery where the fire started, and identify objects melted by the flames. Exhibits on show include a restored 17th century fire engine, originally built in London in the last 1670s, other firefighting equipment including a squirt, a leather bucket and fire hook, a pair of bed hangings, a burnt Geneva Bible, and letters written in the fire’s aftermath. Admission charges apply. Can be seen until 17th April next year. A series of events, including walks, tours, lectures, workshop and family activities, accompanies the exhibition. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/fire-fire. The museum has also commissioned a Minecraft building group recreate London as it was in 1666 with the first of three interactive maps to be released next week (available for free download from www.museumoflondon.org.uk) and further maps to follow in September and February. For more information on other events surrounding the anniversary, see www.visitlondon.com/greatfire350.
• The long lost Palace of Whitehall is the subject of a new visitor experience which kicks off at the last surviving part of the palace – the Banqueting House – today. Handheld devices, binaural 3D sound and haptic technology is being made available to guests as they stroll around the streets of modern Whitehall, allowing them to immerse themselves in the former palace during the time of the Tudors and the Stuarts. The Lost Palace experience, created in a collaboration between Historic Royal Palaces and Chomko & Rosier and Uninvited Guests, includes a chance to see the jousts which so delighted Queen Elizabeth I at Horse Guards Parade, accompany King Charles I as he walks through St James’s Park to his execution at the Banqueting House, meet Guy Fawkes following his arrest in the Gunpowder Plot, take part in a performance of King Lear and eavesdrop on an encounter between King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn before their doomed love affair began. The Palace of Whitehall was once the largest palace in Europe with 1,500 rooms spread across 23 acres. Tickets can be purchased at the Banqueting House. Runs until 4th September. For more details, see www.hrp.org.uk/thelostpalace.
• Dresses worn by Queen Elizabeth II during two of the most significant events in Her Majesty’s life – her wedding and her coronation – can be seen as part of the Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace from Saturday. The two dresses will form part of a special exhibition – Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe, the largest display of the Queen’s dress ever held. Alongside the two feature dresses, both designed by British couturier Sir Norman Hartnell, are around 150 outfits created by designers including Hartnell, Hardy Amies and Ian Thomas. The then Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress (pictured), made for her marriage to the Duke of Edinburgh on 20th November, 1947, was made in ivory silk, decorated with crystals and 10,000 seed pearls and attached to a 15 foot long train, while the Queen’s Coronation dress – created for the event on 2nd June, 1953, is made of white duchesse satin and encrusted with seed pearls, sequins and crystals (along with an extra four-leaf shamrock on the left side of the skirt, added secretly by Sir Norman, to bring her good luck). The exhibition, open to 2nd October, is being accompanied by special displays at both Windsor Castle and Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016.
• The world’s largest collection of London images – more than 250,000, dating from 1450 to now – are being made available on a free-to-access website hosted by the London Metropolitan Archives from today. Collage – The London Picture Archive features more than 8,000 historical photographs of capital’s streets as well as images of the Great Fire of London in 1666 and photographs of the construction of Tower Bridge along with maps, prints, paintings and films, all drawn from the collections at the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Art Gallery and the Clerkenwell-based London Metropolitan Archives. The collection can be accessed at www.collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk.
• It’s hands-on gaming at the Science Museum for two weeks from Friday with more than 160 systems and hundreds of games available to play on. Power UP spans 40 years of gaming with games ranging from classics like Pong and Pac-Man to modern games like Halo and systems from Atari and SEGA to PS4 and Xbox One. Ninety minute sessions are being held four times daily from 11am tomorrow until 7th August. Ticket charges apply. For more , see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/powerup.
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