St-Dunstan-in-the-East

The ruins of this medieval church can still be found in the eastern end of the City of London and now play host to a rather delightful little park.

Originally built around 1,100 in the Gothic style, the church – which stands between St Dunstan’s Hill and Idol Lane (off Great Tower Street) was enlarged and repaired in ensuing centuries before suffering severe damage in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Not enough to destroy the church, however, and it was repaired in the late 1660s with a new steeple and tower designed by Sir Christopher Wren to fit with the existing structure, was added in the late 1690s. Inside were carvings by Grinling Gibbons.

St-Dunstan-in-the-East-smallBut by the early 19th century, however, the weight of the roof had pushed the walls dramatically out of line and, after an unsuccessful attempt to repair the church, it was decided to demolish it (with the exception of Wren’s tower) and rebuild.

Built in the Perpendicular style to the designs of David Laing, the new church reopened in 1821.

The church lasted for more than 100 years before it was again severely damaged, this time during the Blitz of 1941. Wren’s spire and tower thankfully remained but other than that it was a shell with only the north and south walls remaining.

The Anglican Church decided not to rebuild – the parish was incorporated into that of All Hallows by the Tower – and the City of London Corporation opted to turn the (now) Grade I-Iisted remains into a public park. It was opened in 1971 by the then Lord Mayor of London, Sir Peter Studd.

It remains there today, with beautiful climbing foliage – including many exotic plants – and a fountain in the nave. The tower, meanwhile, is used by a complementary medical centre.

A great place to pass a lunch hour!

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Christmas is looming and at the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton that means the museum’s many period rooms have been transformed for the Christmas festivities. The rooms span 400 years of history, from 1600 until today, and show how the middle class have lived over that time. The Christmas display will also provide insights into such Christmas traditions as kissing under the mistletoe, hanging up stockings, sending Christmas cards and decorating trees. The Christmas theme carries through to the restaurant and gift shop. Entry to the exhibition is free. Runs until 6th January. For an online gallery showing some of the rooms, click here. For more on the museum, see www.geffrye-museum.org.uk.

• Meanwhile Kensington Palace is to be transformed into giant advent calendar in the lead-up to Christmas with a daily ‘reveal’ inspired by Princess Victoria’s Christmas diary entries and letters. The halls of the palace will be decorated with 24 specially designed mirrored baubles, Christmas music will be played throughout and a sparkling 25 foot high Christmas tree will be placed in the gardens. As part of the Christmas festivities, an evening of carol singing will be held on 5th December in the King’s Gallery with carols sung by the Hampton Court Palace Royal Chapel Choir. Other events include a Midwinter Masquerade Ball on 13th December and an Eerie Evening Tour on 20th December. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/.

• A new permanent furniture gallery opens at the V&A this Saturday. The Dr Susan Weber Gallery – the first at the museum dedicated to furniture – will display more than 200 pieces of British and European furniture, spanning a period stretching from the Middle Ages through to present day, as well as examples of American and Asian furniture. Each piece is examined in detail with information provided about the materials and techniques used in creating it. Among the designers represented will be Thomas Chippendale, Grinling Gibbons, Robert Adam, Ron Arad and Tom Dixon. Highlights include a 20th century Frank Lloyd Wright-designed dining chair, a gilded cassone made for the Duke of Urbino in about 1509, and a scagliola decorated table which was formerly at Warwick Castle and dates from 1675. Twenty-five ‘key’ pieces have been selected for a central chronological display including a storage unit by Charles and Ray Eames dating from 1949-50, a Gothic revival cradle dating from 1861 and designed by Richard Norman Shaw and one of the museum’s newest acquisitions, the 2011 ‘Branca’ chair, designed by Industrial Facility. The display includes the use of touch screen interfaces, films and audio recordings. Entry is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

• On Now: Bronze. Last chance to see this exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts which closes on 9th December. The exhibition brings together more than 150 of the finest bronzes in the world, spanning 5000 years of history, with many of the pieces on display never seen before in the UK. Among the earliest works are the 14th century BC bronze and gold Chariot of the Sun from Denmark, ancient Chinese ritual vessels including an elephant-shaped vessel dating from the Shang Dynasty (1100-1050 BC) and an Etruscan masterpiece – Chimera of Arezzo, dating from about 400 BC. Other highlights include a Roman cavalry helmet found in Cumbria in 2010 and the Portrait of King Seuthes III, dating from the early Hellenistic period, and found in Bulgaria in 2004 as well as a series of Renaissance bronzes and more recent works like Rodin’s The Age of Bronze (c 1876). Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

One of the most famous painters of his age, Dutchman Sir Peter Lely – currently the subject of an exhibition at London’s Courtauld Gallery – rose to become the foremost portrait painter at the English Court during the latter half of the 17th century.

Born to Dutch parents on 14th September, 1618, in Westphalia (now part of Germany) where his father was serving as an infantry captain, Peter – originally named Pieter van der Faes – studied art as an apprentice in Haarlem in what is now The Netherlands. While there he is believed to have changed his name to Lely based on a heraldic lily which appeared on the gable of the house where his father was born in The Hague.

Lely appeared in London in the early 1640s and, while he initially devoted himself to the sort of narrative-style paintings inspired by classical mythology, the Bible and literature he had been working on in Haarlem but having found no great success there, soon turned his hand to portraiture.

The death of court portraitist Anthony van Dyck in 1641 had left a vacuum he stepped into the gap, soon becoming the most in-demand portrait painter at the Royal Court, his sitters including none other than King Charles I himself.

However, Lely, who was made a freeman of the Painter-Stainers Company in London in 1647, managed to straddle the political divide and after the beheading of King Charles I and the end of the English Civil War in 1651, was able to continue painting portraits of the most powerful people in the land including Oliver Cromwell – whom he painted “warts and all” as per the Lord Protector’s request – and his Cromwell’s brother Richard.

Already renowned as the best artist in the country, following the Restoration in 1660, Lely became Principal Painter of King Charles II, placed on an annual stipend as van Dyck had been before him during the reign of King Charles I.

Lely’s workshop was large and its output prolific, with his students and employees – who at one stage apparently included scientist and architect Robert Hooke – often completing his paintings after he sketched out some details, only painting the sitter’s face in any great detail.

Among his most famous works are a series of 10 portraits known as the Windsor Beauties (currently at Hampton Court Palace), a series of portraits of senior naval officers who served in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, known as the Flagmen of Lowestoft (most of the works at are the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich) and Susannah and the Elders (currently at Burghley House in Cambridgeshire) as well as some of the paintings in the current Courtauld exhibition including Nymphs by a Fountain (usually found at the Dulwich Picture Gallery) and Boy as a Shepherd (also the Dulwich Picture Gallery).

Lely was also known as an avid collector of art and is credited as being the first artist in England to do so in any serious manner – among his purchases were works which formerly formed part of King Charles I’s collection. At the time of his death, he is said to have owned more than 500 paintings, although more than half of these were works of his or his studio.

Sir Peter, who never married but had two children who survived him with a common-law wife Ursula, lived at a house in the north-east corner of Covent Garden from about 1650 until his death in 1680 (some sources have him knighted in this year, others in 1679) but also had a house at Kew and owned property outside of London including in Lincolnshire and The Hague.

He was apparently working at his easel in the studio of his Covent Garden house when he died on 30th November, 1680. He was buried at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden. The monument to him, the work of Grinling Gibbons, was destroyed by fire in 1795.

Peter Lely: A Lyrical Vision – which focuses on some of his early non-portrait works – runs at The Courtauld Gallery until 13th January. For more on the exhibition, visit www.courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/exhibitions/2012/peter-lely/index.shtml. Running alongside the exhibition is a display of some of the drawings from Sir Peter’s own collection, Peter Lely: The Draughtsman and His Collection.

A late 17th and early 18th century wood carver and sculptor, the curiously named Grinling Gibbons is remembered for his magnificent carvings in numerous English buildings including such London icons as St Paul’s Cathedral and Hampton Court Palace.

Not much is known about Gibbons’ early life. The son of English parents (his father was apparently a draper), he was born in Rotterdam in The Netherlands on 4th April, 1648, and, as a young man, is believed to have undertaken an apprenticeship as a sculptor in that country.

Around the age of 19, he moved to England – first to York and to Deptford in the south. It was the quality of his work which led diarist John Evelyn, having discovered Gibbons working on a limewood relief of Tintoretto’s Crucifixion in a small cottage near Deptford in early 1671, that led him to introduce him to Christopher Wren, the architect of the age, and fellow diarist Samuel Pepys and to eventually present him (and his relief) to King Charles II at Whitehall Palace on 1st March the same year.

But Gibbons’ work apparently failed to initially impress at court and it was only following his ‘discovery’ later that year by the court artist Sir Peter Lely that he began to receive major commissions.

It’s apparently not known when Gibbons married his wife Elizabeth and moved to London they were living there by 1672 and were having the first of their at least 12 children (while at least five of their daughters survived into adulthood, none of their sons did).

In 1672, they were living in an inn, called La Belle Sauvage or The Bell Savage, located on Ludgate Hill near St Paul’s, and, while Gibbons continued to maintain a workshop here into the 1680s, the family moved to Bow Street in Covent Garden around the end of the 1670s (the house here apparently collapsed in 1702 and was subsequently rebuilt in brick).

Gibbons, who was admitted to the Draper’s Company in 1672 and held various posts within it over ensuing years, reached the pinnacle of his success when he was made master sculptor and carver in wood to King William III in 1693, and was later made master carpenter to the king, then King George I, in 1719.

Having worked mostly in limewood, Gibbons, recently called the “British Bernini”, is known for his distinct and exuberant style which features cascading foliage, fruit, animals and cherubs. While he worked on numerous important buildings outside of London – including carvings in the Chapel Royal and king’s dining room at Windsor Castle, in a chapel at Trinity College in Oxford, at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and a famous ‘carved room’ at Petworth House in Sussex – and beyond (he also created two presentation panels – known as the ‘Cosimo’ and ‘Modena’ panels which were sent to Italy as royal gifts), Gibbons is also noted for his work on a number of prominent buildings in London.

Among the buildings he worked on or in around London are the churches of St James’s in Piccadilly, St Mary Abchurch, St Michael Paternoster Royal and, famously, St Paul’s Cathedral (where he carved choir stalls, the bishop’s thrones and choir screen) as well as Hampton Court and Kensington Palaces.

While he is primarily remembered for his limewood carvings, Gibbons’ workshop was also responsible for sculpting statues, memorials and decorative stonework. A couple of the workshop’s statues can still be seen in London – one of King Charles II in Roman dress at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea and another of King James II outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square – while the magnificent Westminster Abbey memorial to Admiral Sir Clowdisley Shovell is also attributed to him.

Gibbons died at his Bow Street home on 3rd August, 1721, and was buried in St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden (his wife had been buried there several years before).

For more on Grinling Gibbons, check out David Esterly’s Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving.

Where is it?…#38

July 20, 2012


The latest in the series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken and what it’s of. If you think you can identify this picture, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!

No-one managed it this time. This gilded bronze statue depicts King Charles II dressed as a Roman general and is located in the Figure Court of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. The king founded the hospital in 1682 to provide a home for retired soldiers (the grand buildings you see are the work of Sir Christopher Wren – see our earlier entry here for more). The 7’6” tall statue, which was re-gilded to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, was presented to the king in 1682 and moved to the hospital after his death in 1685. Although generally attributed to Grinling Gibbons, according to Walking London’s Statues and Monuments, it’s probably actually the work of Arnold Quellin, who worked in Gibbons’ studio. The statue is covered in oak branches on a date around 29th May each year – on a day known as Founders Day or Oak Apple Day – in commemoration of the legendary escape of the future king (by concealing himself in an oak tree) after the Battle of Worcester in 1651, the last battle of the English Civil War. For more on the hospital see www.chelsea-pensioners.co.uk.

Palaces aside, the Queen also owns a series of chapels – the Chapels Royal – in London which, although not as grand as Westminster Abbey, have each played an important role in the history of the monarchy. 

The term Chapel Royal originally referred to a group of priests and singers dedicated to serving the Sovereign’s personal spiritual needs and as such would follow the monarch around the country. It was in Stuart times that they became more settled establishments with the two main Chapels Royal – the Chapel Royal and the Queen’s Chapel – located in St James’s Palace.

• The Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace. Constructed by King Henry VIII, the chapel was decorated by Hans Holbein the Younger in honor of the king’s (short) marriage to Anne of Cleves. Queen Mary I’s heart is said to be buried beneath the choir stalls and it was here that Queen Elizabeth I apparently prayed waiting for news of the progress of the Spanish Armada. King Charles I took the Sacrament of Holy Communion here before his execution in 1649 and the chapel was where Queen Victoria married Prince Albert (her marriage certificate still hangs on the wall). In more recent times, the coffin of Diana, Princess of Wales, was placed before the altar so family and friends could pay their respects before her 1997 funeral. Among the composers and organists associated with the chapel are Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Henry Purcell and George Frideric Handel. The chapel is not open to the public except for services.

• The Queen’s Chapel, St James’ Palace (pictured right). Now located outside the palace walls, this chapel was built by King James I for the Catholic Henrietta Maria, the bride of his son, then Prince Charles (later King Charles I). Designed by Inigo Jones, Grinling Gibbons and Sir Christopher Wren were also involved in its creation. The chapel was used by Henrietta Maria until the Civil War and later became the home of the Danish Church in London. The chapel is not open to the public except for services.For more on this chapel or the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace, follow this link.

• The Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy. Built in the Middle Ages to serve the now long gone Savoy Palace, London home of Count Peter of Savoy (uncle to King Henry III’s wife, Eleanor of Provence, the original building was destroyed in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. The current building, located in Savoy Hill, off the Strand, was built on the orders of King Henry VII in the late 15th and early 16th century to serve the hospital he founded on the site of the palace. The chapel since served many other congregations – including a German Lutheran congregation – but remains royal property via the Duchy of Lancaster, which is held in trust for the Sovereign and used to provide an income for the British monarch. It is officially the Chapel of the Royal Victorian Order. For more, see www.duchyoflancaster.co.uk/duties-of-the-duchy/the-queens-chapel-of-the-savoy/.

• Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace (pictured right). There has been a chapel here since the Knights Hospitallers occupied the site in the 13th century but it was Cardinal Wolsey who built the chapel to its present dimensions after acquiring the property in 1518. The current building, however, dates from the later ownership of King Henry VIII – Wolsey surrendered the property to him when he fell from favour – and further works in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many subsequent monarchs have worshipped here. The chapel, with its stunning ceiling, is open to the public when visiting Hampton Court Palace. For more, see www.chapelroyal.org. PICTURE: Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam.co.uk

• The Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London. Originally a parish church, this was incorporated into the walls of the Tower in the reign of King Henry III. It was subsequently rebuilt at least twice – in the reign of King Edward I and King Henry VIII – and is home to the graves of important personages executed at the Tower including Henry VIII’s one-time wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard as well as Jane Grey, the nine day queen, and Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher. The chapel can be accessed during a Yeoman Warder’s tour of the Tower of London. For more, including details of an appeal for its restoration, see www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/stories/thechapelproject.

• Chapel Royal of St John the Evangelist, Tower of London. Located within the White Tower, this beautiful chapel – arguably the oldest church in London – dates back to the construction of the tower by King William the Conqueror the late 11th century and remains one of the best preserved examples of Anglo-Norman architecture in England. King Henry III added stained glass windows but for much of its later history the chapel was used for records storage. Tradition records that King Henry VII’s wife, Elizabeth of York, was laid in state here following her death in childbirth and that it was here Queen Mary was betrothed by proxy to Philip of Spain. This can be visited as part of a visit to the Tower of London. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/Sightsandstories/Prisoners/Towers/ChapelofStJohns

For more on churches in London, check out Stephen Millar’s London’s City Churches
and Stephen Humphrey’s London’s Churches and Cathedrals: A Guide to London’s Most Historic Churches and Cathedrals, Leigh Hatt’s London’s 100 Best Churches: An Illustrated Guide or the Pevsner Architectural Guide London: City Churches.

This strangely named church has its origins at least as far back as the 12th century when it was under the jurisdiction of the Prior and Convent of Canterbury. 

The name St Vedast is in itself unusual – St Vedast (known as St Vaast elsewhere) is said to have been the Bishop of Arras in northern France during the late fifth and early sixth centuries. How his name came to be associated with a church in London remains a matter of speculation but one plausible explanation is that the church was founded in the twelfth century by a small group of French merchants who had emigrated from Arras.

The ‘alias Foster’ part of the name is perhaps easier to explain although it has led to considerable confusion over the years. While some have in the past suggested the name refers to a different obscure saint – that is, the church is dedicated to St Vedast and St Foster – Foster is actually just an corrupted Anglicised version of Vedast.

But back to the church’s history. The medieval building was apparently replaced at the beginning of the sixteenth century and in the early 1600s this was enlarged and “beautified”. It escaped total destruction during the Great Fire of London but was badly enough damaged to require restoration and this was carried out, albeit not very well, so that in the late 1600s, Sir Christopher Wren was asked to rebuild it.

Given the demands of Wren’s time elsewhere, it’s not known if he personally designed the resulting church (the spire is possibly the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor), but the church was rebuilt and stood until 194o when the body of the building was ruined in the Blitz. The spire, however, survived and the restoration of the remainder of the church was completed in 1962.

It was also after World War II that the city parishes were reorganised and St Vedast-alias-Foster was united with three other former parishes – St Alban Wood Street, St Anne & St Agnes, St Lawrence Jewry, St Mary Aldermanbury, St Michael-le-Querne, St Matthew Friday Street, St Peter Chepe, St Olave Silver Street, St Michael Wood Street, St Mary Staining, St Mary Magdalene Milk Street, St John Zachary, and St Michael Bassishaw, of which only the buildings of St Lawrence Jewry and St Anne and St Agnes remain along with the tower of St Alban Wood Street).

Although the bulk of the building of St Vedast-alias-Foster is modern, the church does retain its seventeenth century Great West Doors and the font also comes from that century, having been designed by Wren and carved by Grinling Gibbons for the church of St Anne and St Agnes. The reredos which stands behind the altar, meanwhile, is inscribed with the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and The Creed, and originally stood in St Christopher-le-Stock Parish Church in Threadneedle Street. Other features to come from other churches include the seventeenth century pulpit (All Hallows, Bread Street) and swordrest (St Anne and St Agnes).

The church’s Fountain Courtyard features part of a Roman floor found under St Matthew Friday Street and a stone (actually baked brick) upon which is inscribed cuneiform writing. The latter, which comes from a Zigurrat in modern Iraq built in the 9th century BC, was presented to Canon Mortlock, rector of the church, marking his work with novelist Agatha Christie and her husband, archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan and was found during his 1950-65 dig on the site. The lump of stone bears the name of Shalmaneser who reigned from 858 to 834 BC.

Famous figures associated with the church include John Browne, sergeant painter to King Henry VIII, Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of King Henry VIII who was born in nearby Milk Street, and Thomas Rotherham, rector of the church from from 1463-48 and later Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of King Edward IV.

WHERE: 4 Foster Lane (nearest Tube station is St Paul’s). WHEN: 8am to 5.30pm weekdays/11am to 4pm Saturday (Mass is held between 12.15 and 12.45 weekdays and a sung Eucharist at 11am on Sundays) COST: Free but a donation of at least £1 per head is asked; WEBSITE: www.vedast.org.uk.

Hampton Court Palace in London’s outer south-west is known to many as the palace of Henry VIII. Yet a considerable part of the complex of buildings we see today was also created during the reign of some time joint rulers William III and Mary II.

It was to Christopher Wren – assisted by the able Nicholas Hawksmoor – that the rulers turned when looking to update the Royal Apartments. Wren’s designs for a domed baroque palace to rival Versailles in France were apparently so ambitious that they were only half-built (and built in haste – two workmen died and another 11 were injured when the main wall collapsed in 1689). The death of the queen in 1694 also meant work on the palace stopped – it was resumed in 1697 (under control of Wren’s deputy William Talman who had offered a lower price than Wren) but again stalled after the death of the king in 1702.

Wren’s imprint is on the palace we see today is nonetheless considerable and includes the Baroque-style South and East Front (the size of the formal gardens which radiate out from the latter give a glimpse into the grand plans Wren had for the palace), Fountain Court which replaced the Tudor Cloister Court and around which were located new state apartments for both the king and queen, and the Orangery.

Among those who worked on the interiors of were the famous woodcarver Grinling Gibbons and painter Antonio Verrio.

WHERE: Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey (nearest station is Hampton Court from Waterloo); WHEN: 10am to 6pm everyday (winter hours 10am to 4.30pm from 31st October to 26th March); COST: Adult £15.40, Concession £12.65, Child under 16 £7.70 (under fives free), family tickets, garden only tickets and online booking discounts available; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/