eon-house2This address would have been one to avoid. In Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic novel, Dracula, the evil Count Dracula owns a mansion on Piccadilly, one of numerous homes he purchases in London.

The address believed to be that of the mansion, based on information and architectural details given in the book, has apparently been identified – by people reportedly including Bernard Davies, co-founder of The Dracula Society, no less – as a property at number 138.

After arriving in England – landing at Whitby, Dracula had first moved into a property called Carfax House located at Purfleet on the River Thames, just to the east of London.

But after he was spotted in London, it is discovered that he has a property in Piccadilly (identified, though never named in the book, as 138). Those hunting him – including the unfortunate Jonathan Harker and vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing – break in to the property with the intent of destroying some of the many boxes filled with earth Dracula brought to England with him from Transylvania (he needs them to keep alive). They do so and there find keys to numerous other properties in the city as well, dispatching two of their number to go and destroy any boxes they find there.

They then wait in ambush for the Count at the “vile smelling” Piccadilly property but he manages to elude their attack and escape. Their chase then leads them to leave London and to pursue Dracula across Europe before he is finally defeated back at his home in Transylvania.

The Grade II-listed, three storey property at 138 Piccadilly, located opposite Green Park, is now known as Eon House and is located next door to the Hard Rock Cafe. It originally dates from the late 18th century and was remodelled in the early 1890s – just before the book was written.

The book, Dracula, is, of course, also associated with other London locations – including the London Zoo and Hampstead Heath.  And Stoker himself lived in London for much of his life, spending 27 years as an acting manager and business manager at the Lyceum Theatre in the West End. An urn containing his ashes is at the Golders Green Crematorium.

PICTURE: Google Maps

 

The-Mall

A view down Constitution Hill looking toward Whitehall, taken from the top of Wellington Arch at Hyde Park corner. To the left is Green Park and to the right, the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Constitutional Hill apparently has nothing to do with a document of any sort but takes its name from the fact that, considered to be a fine “constitutional” walk from St James’s Park to Hyde Park (King Charles II is rumoured to have been among those said to have taken their “constitutional” along this route while Queen Victoria survived a couple of assassination attempts on the road). The pillars at the near end are symbolic gates commemorating those who served Britain in World War I and II from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and the Caribbean (more on them in an upcoming post).

Green-ParkA stroll through the green oasis of the aptly named Green Park in central London. For a look at the history of Green Park, see our earlier post here.

 

Triton-Fountain

Located in Queen Mary’s Gardens in The Regent’s Park, this round fountain features a bronze centrepiece depicting a sea triton blowing on a conch shell with two mermaids (also sometimes referred to as dryads or nereids) springing out of the water at his feet. 

Designed by William McMillan (he also designed one of the fountains in Trafalgar Square), the sculpture was offered to the gardens by the painter and sculptor Sigismund Goetze when the gardens were redesigned. 

Goetze lived in Grove House (now Nuffield House) on the northern perimeter of the gardens for 30 years until his death in 1939 and had a studio within the grounds; this sculpture was one of a number of features he donated to Queen Mary’s Gardens.

The sculpture, however, was not finished due to the interruption of World War II and it was only in 1950, long after Goetze’s death that it was erected and dedicated by his wife Constance to Sigismund’s memory – “painter, lover of the arts and benefactor of this park”.

The site on which the fountain – which received a gold medal for being the best sculpture exhibited in London that year – was located was formerly occupied by a conservatory which belonged to the Royal Botanical Society.

Incidentally, in 1944 Constance Goetze founded the Constance Fund which funded fountains in Green Park and Hyde Park.

WHERE: Queen Mary’s Gardens, The Regent’s Park (nearest Tube stations are Regent’s Park, Great Portland Street and Baker Street); WHEN: 5am to 7pm daily (closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/the-regents-park.

Prolific early 19th century architect Sir John Soane designed many public buildings in London including, famously, the Bank of England (since considerably altered) and the somewhat revolutionary Dulwich Picture Gallery. He also designed a number that were merely fanciful works and never commissioned nor constructed.

Royal-PalaceForemost among them was a sprawling royal palace which would occupy part of Green Park off Constitution Hill.

While Soane had been designing royal palaces as far back as the late 1770s when in Rome on his Grand Tour, in 1821 he designed one, apparently as a new home for the newly crowned King George IV.

Birds-eye view drawings show a triangular-shaped palace with grand porticoes at each of the three corners as well as in the middle of each of the three sides. Three internal courtyards surround a large central dome.

Despite Soane’s hopes for a royal commission, the king appointed John Nash to the job of official architect and so Soane’s palace never went any further than the drawing board.

He also designed a grand gateway marking the entrance to London at Kensington Gore through which the monarch would travel when heading to the State Opening of Parliament in Westminster – it, too, was never realised.

 PICTURE: Wikipedia

Deckchair-dreams

Summer is fading fast but until the end of October, there’s still time to sit back and relax in one of the 550 “designer deckchairs” which have been placed in five central Royal Parks this summer. Designed by the likes of Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, comedian Harry Enfield and actor Miranda Richardson and artists Michael Craig-Martin, Susan Stockwell and Maggi Hambling under the theme of ‘Nature’s Grand Designs’, the deckchairs can be found in Hyde Park, Green Park, St James’s Park, Kensington Gardens and the Regent’s Park. The chairs join the more than 6,700 deckchairs already in the five Royal Parks which are available for hire (they can also be bought at the Royal Park’s online shop). For more on hiring a deck chair in the Royal Parks, check out http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/facilities-in-hyde-park/park-deck-chairs.

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.

Lego-Tube-map

Six-year-old James Apps gets a close-up look at a map of the Tube as it will look in 2020, one of five LEGO Tube maps currently on display in London. The maps depict the evolution of the Tube network from 1927 through what it will look like in 2020, including Crossrail, and the proposed Northern Line extension and proposed Croxley Rail Link. The maps – each of which contains more than 1,000 bricks and took professional LEGO builder Duncan Titmarsh four days to build – can be found in the ticket halls of the following stations – South Kensington (1927), Piccadilly Circus (1933), Green Park (1968), Stratford (2013) and King’s Cross (2020). Visit the Transport for London website for more on the Underground’s 150th anniversary here (the website includes downloadable instructions for building your own Underground roundel out of LEGO bricks). PICTURE: Transport for London.

Regent-Street-turns-purple-to-celebrate-The-Queen’s-Coronation-

Regent Street is adorned with flags in celebration of the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, among the many ways in which London has been celebrating the occasion. The official anniversary was on Sunday – it was 2nd June, 1953, some 16 months after the 25-year-old Queen took the throne following the death of her father King George VI, that Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in Westminster Abbey. In celebrations yesterday, the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery fired a 41-gun salute in Green Park at midday followed an hour later by a 62-gun salute fired by the Honourable Artillery Company across the River Thames from the Tower of London. The Queen and other members of the royal family (along with some 2,000 guests) is attending a special service at Westminster Abbey today (for more on how the abbey is celebrating the event, see our earlier post here). More than 8,000 people attended the coronation which was watched by an estimated 27 million people across the country. PICTURE: RegentStreetOnline

 

• It includes everything from the iconic Lloyd’s Building in the City to the former Strand Union Workhouse in Fitzrovia which may have inspired scenes in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and the red phone boxes which sit outside the British Museum in Bloomsbury. English Heritage this week released it’s London List 2011 which documents the more than 100 sites in London which have been awarded listed status by the organisation last year. They include 19 Underground stations (among them that of Oxford Circus, St James’s Park and Aldwych), four war memorials (including the grand Central Park War Memorial in East Ham) and two schools as well as various cemetery monuments (including at Highgate and Brompton Cemeteries, and Bunhill Fields Burial Ground) and parks (the status of Green Park was upgraded to Grade II*), religious and commercial premises, public libraries and homes. To download a copy, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/london-list-2011/.

It’s just one week to go until the Open House London weekend when more than 750 buildings of all sorts open their doors to you. We’ll be talking more about some of the special places open this year in next week’s update – this is, after all, one of our favorite London events of the year, and while, if you haven’t already entered, you’ve missed on the balloted openings, there’s still plenty of places where you can simply turn up on the day (and entry to all is free). If you haven’t already bought one, you can buy the Guide online – just follow the links from www.openhouselondon.org.uk. It can also be picked up free at some participating London libraries.

• Dame Ida Mann, Oxford’s first female professor and a pioneering ophthalmologist, has been honored with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at her childhood home in West Hampstead. The plaque, which was unveiled by an Australian opthalmologist who worked with Mann, Donald F. Ezekial, last week, has been placed on a house at 13 Minster Road where Mann lived from 1902-1934. Mann was born in West Hampstead and lived there for 41 years before eventually emigrating to Australia. For more on blue plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk.

• On Now: Motya Charioteer at the British Museum. Best be quick for this one, the charioteer, on loan from the Museo Giuseppe Whitaker on Motya, is only around until 19th September (that’s next Wednesday). The stunning statue, displayed near the sculptures from the Parthenon, dates from about 460-450 BC and is generally credited as one of the finest examples of Greek marble sculpture to have survived down the ages. It is believed to depict the winner of a chariot race and is likely to have been commissioned to commemorate a victory by a participant from one of Sicily’s Greek cities. It was found in Sicily in 1979. Admission is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Now one of the world’s largest long distance running events, the first London Marathon was held on 29th March, 1981, and saw some 6,255 people lead across the finish line by American Dick Beardsley and Norwegian Inge Simonsen, who finished in a dead heat. The first woman to finish was the UK’s Joyce Smith.

The idea of holding such an event in London arose after John Disley and the late Chris Brasher (a former Olympian), both members of Richmond’s Raneleigh Harriers running club, decided to enter the New York Marathon in 1979. Returning to London exhilarated by their experience, they began investigating the possibly of holding such an event here and, meeting with a positive response from authorities, pushed ahead with it.

About 20,000 people applied to enter the first London Marathon but only 7,747 people were accepted to run. The course, which is still roughly the same, starts at various locations in Blackheath and passes through Charlton, Woolwich and Greenwich before crossing the Thames at Tower Bridge, looping around through the East End and Docklands before following the river into Westminster.

While the first race finished at Constitution Hill, between Green Park and Buckingham Palace, the race now finishes in The Mall (although for many years in between it finished on Westminster Bridge).

Such was the success of the first event – which was covered by the BBC – that the following year more than 90,000 people applied to run in the race from all around the world. Slightly more than 18,000 were accepted to run.

At the end of this year’s event – held on 22nd April (a runner from which is pictured) – more than 882,000 people have now completed the race. Now formally known as the Virgin London Marathon, a record high of 37,227 completed the run this year.

This year’s men’s race was won by Kenyan Wilson Kipsang who completed the race in  2:04:44 – the second fastest time over the London course – while the women’s was also won by a Kenyan – Mary Keitany – who, in taking back-to-back titles, completed the course in 2:18:37.

Since its inception, one of the key aspects of the race has been its fund-raising for a variety of charitable causes. Key among these is The London Marathon Charitable Trust which, established at the race’s outset, helps fund community sports facilities and develop recreational projects around the city.

For more on the Virgin London Marathon, see www.virginlondonmarathon.com.

PICTURE: © photocritical/istockphoto.com

A new memorial honoring the 55,573 airmen who died while serving in Bomber Command during World War II was formally dedicated by Queen Elizabeth II in Green Park last week. At the centre of a new Portland stone pavilion, designed by architect Liam O’Connor (the architect behind the Commonwealth Memorial Gates near Buckingham Palace), is a nine foot high sculpture – the work of Philip Jackson – depicting seven aircrew from a Lancaster bomber having just returned from an operation (detail of which is pictured). The roof of the pavilion, the design of which was inspired by construction techniques used in the Vickers Wellington bomber, incorporates aluminium which was recovered from a Handley Page Halifax III bomber shot down over Belgium on the night of 12th May, 1944. The eight crew were killed during the incident and three of them were found still at their stations when the aircraft was excavated from a swamp in 1997 (they were subsequently buried with full military honors alongside the other five members of the crew). Hundreds of RAF veterans and Commonwealth airmen turned out to see the £6 million publicly funded memorial officially unveiled. The event was also marked with a flyover by five RAF Tornado bombers followed by the RAF’s last Lancaster Bomber which dropped thousands of poppies over Green Park in a message of remembrance. About 125,000 men served in Bomber Command from 1939-1945. The memorial, created following a five year campaign, commemorates people of all nations who lost their lives in the bombing campaigns of that period. For more on the memorial, see www.bombercommand.com.

PICTURE: Courtesy of Mike Legend at Flickr.

For many Londoners, an opportunity to see the Queen means heading to Buckingham Palace to watch her wave from the balcony – or standing in the Mall to watch as her carriage goes by.

Given that, we thought we’d take the time to have a quick look at the history of The Mall, an important player in events like the annual Trooping the Colour.

This one kilometre long grand processional route which links Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace, was originally cut through St James’s Park in 1660 when King Charles II was looking for a new paille-maille pitch (see our earlier entry on Pall Mall for more on this). Two long avenues of trees were planted on either side, giving it a leafy feel that’s still in evidence today.

The Mall had become notorious by the 18th century and was spruced up in 1911 under the eye of Sir Aston Webb (who also designed other elements in the area including a new facade for Buckingham Palace, the Queen Victoria Memorial in front of the palace, and Admiralty Arch at the western end of the route) to become the grand avenue, complete with red-carpet like surface (this was done later), that it is today.

It is bordered by St James’s Park on the south side and on the north side is overlooked by various grand buildings – including Clarence House and the Institute of Contemporary Arts – as well as, toward the western end, Green Park.

These days the Queen publicly processes down The Mall for a number of events throughout the year – among them are the State Opening of Parliament (held earlier this month) as well as military ceremonies like Trooping the Colour and events like last year’s Royal Wedding when is it said that more than a million people were said to have filled the broad street.

The Mall is also the route along which Heads of State process in a horse drawn carriage during official visits (the road is then decorated with Union Jacks and flags of the visitor’s country). During the Olympics, it will be the start and end location of the marathons and cycling road races.

Apart from the Queen Victoria Memorial at the eastern end of The Mall, statues and monuments lining the road include the Queen Mother Memorial, a statue of explorer Captain James Cook, and a recently installed statue of cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin.

There are apparently a series of tunnels underneath with link Buckingham Palace with Whitehall.

We should also briefly mention Horseguards, which is at The Mall’s eastern end and where Trooping the Colour and Beating Retreat takes place. This was formerly the site of a tiltyard of the Palace of Whitehall and jousting tournaments were held here during the time of King Henry VIII. It has been used for parades and ceremonies since the 17th century. While cars were parked here for much of the 20th century, this practice was stopped in the mid-1990s.

Located in Hyde Park (not far from the Lido), this memorial to Diana, Princess of Wales, is designed as a ring of water – rather like a stream bed – with two cascades tumbling down to meet in a pool at the bottom.

The fountain, which was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in July, 2004, also features three bridges which lead into the heart of the fountain – a symbol, apparently, of Diana’s openness to people.

Designed by US architect Kathryn Gustafson, the fountain – which cost £3.6 million – is made of 545 pieces of Cornish granite, each of which was shaped using laser cutting technology before being pieced together using traditional skills.

Gustafson’s design was selected after more than 10,000 plans were submitted to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain Committee in 2002. The architect has been reported as saying she wanted the design to reflect Diana’s inclusive “personality”.

The fountain was briefly closed to the public shortly after opening in 2004 because of safety concerns but reopened with new guidelines soon after.

The fountain is located on the route for the the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Walk, which takes on four of the royal parks – Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Green Park and St James’s Park.

Diana, whose divorce from Prince Charles had only been finalised the previous year, died in a car crash in Paris in August, 1997, along with Dodi Al Fayed.

WHERE: Hyde Park (nearest Tube stations are Knightsbridge and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: 10am to 8pm until end of August (check website for times after that); COST: Free; WEBSITE: http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/diana-memorial-fountain

Perhaps the most overlooked and least celebrated of central London’s Royal Parks, Green Park (officially The Green Park) is a peaceful oasis of leafy trees between the bustle of Piccadilly and traffic of Constitution Hill and part of an unending swathe of green which connects Kensington Gardens with, eventually, St James’ Park.

Originally meadowland used for hunting, the earliest known mention of the area where the park now stands was apparently in 1554 when it was believed to be a staging point for Thomas Wyatt (the younger) who led a group of rebels protesting against the marriage of Queen Mary I to King Philip II of Spain. The unfortunate – and unsuccessful (in terms of his rebellion at least) – Wyatt was later beheaded for treason.

In 1668, King Charles II had the park enclosed with a brick wall and stocked with deer, as well as having a ranger’s lodge and icehouse built (to keep his drinks cool when entertaining in summer). While it was initially known as Upper St James’s Park, by 1746 Green Park had its own name. It’s not really known what prompted the name change but the unofficial story is that Queen Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II, found out that her philandering husband had picked some flowers there for another woman – a milkmaid. In revenge, she had every flower in the park pulled up with orders they were not to be replanted. To this day, while some 250,000 daffodils bloom here in spring, there remain no formal flowerbeds in the park.

The 47 acre (19 hectare) park, which was also used on occasion as a duelling ground, underwent further development at the beginning of the following century with the creation of the ornamental Tyburn Pool near the centre of the park.

Queen Caroline, the wife of King George II, meanwhile, had a reservoir built to supply water to St James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace (it was known as the Queen’s Basin) as well as a library and the Queen’s Walk. Planted in 1730, this runs along the eastern side of the park and helped to turn it into a fashionable place in which to be seen (and led to the building of many a mansion in nearby Piccadilly).

Other buildings in the park have included two temporary ‘temples’ – the Temple of Peace (erected in 1749 to mark the end of the War of Austrian Succession) and the Temple of Concord (erected in 1814 to mark 100 years of the rule of the Hanoverian dynasty). Both of these, believe it or not, burnt down during the celebrations they were built for.

The park, which underwent a redesign in which the first trees were planted in the 1820s as part of architect John Nash’s grand plans for St James’s Park, was opened to the general public in 1826 but by then many of its earlier features – including the ranger’s house, Tyburn Pool and the Queen’s Basin – were already gone.

In more recent times, war memorials have been added to the park – the maple-leaf daubed, Pierre Granche-designed memorial to Canadian soldiers in 1994 (Canada is also remembered in Canada Gate on the park’s south side, installed in 1908 to mark the nation’s contribution to the Empire), and a set of memorial gates on Constitutional Hill at the park’s western end which is dedicated to the five million people from the Indian Sub-Continent, Africa and the Caribbean who served in World War II in 2004. The park also features the ‘Diana fountain’, installed in 1952 by the Constance Fund (and currently undergoing restoration).

On 14th June, a 41 royal gun salute is fired here to mark the Queen’s birthday. Salutes are also fired here for the State Opening of Parliament in November or December, Remembrance Sunday, and for State Visits.

WHERE: Green Park (nearest tube station is Green Park and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: http://www.royalparks.gov.uk/Green-Park.aspx

PICTURE: Courtesy of Royal Parks. © Anne Marie Briscombe 

• The annual Museums at Night event returns to London (and Britain) this weekend with hundreds of museums and galleries across the country opening their doors for special after hours events. Among those places in London taking part is the Churchill War Rooms, which is hosting a 1940s evening on Friday night, the London Canal Museum which is hosting”candle-lit tours, atmospheric lighting, and exhibits of art and film in dark places”, and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology which is hosting a double hill of Hammer films and a “Gothic Egypt” trail. Other institutions taking part include the Sir John Soane Museum, the National Gallery, the Bank of England Museum, and Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham.  For more information about what’s on see www.museumsatnight.org.uk

King William the Conqueror celebrated at the Tower of London this week following the completion of a £2 million, three year project to clean the White Tower. First built shortly after the Norman Conquest of 1066, the tower had become blackened by pollution but has now been restored to its original color. For more information on visiting the Tower, see www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.

A foundation stone has reportedly been laid for a Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park. The memorial, which is due to be completed for the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations in 2012, will be constructed of Portland stone and will feature a nine foot tall statue of a bomber command aircrew. Bomber Command lost more than 55,000 airmen during World War II. The foundation stone was laid by the Duke of Gloucester. Supporters of the monument’s construction have included former Bee Gee Robin Gibb, Sir Michael Beetham, Marshal of the RAF, and  The Daily Telegraph newspaper which is running an appeal to help raise funds for the memorial.