December 19, 2016
The practice of sending Christmas cards really began in the Victoria era and it was in London, in 1843, that the first commercial Christmas cards are widely said to have been designed and printed.
The idea had come from Sir Henry Cole, the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, who, overwhelmed with the volume of correspondence he was receiving, conceived it as answer to his problem, allowing him to send Christmas greetings to a wide group of people – all at once.
He asked his friend, artist John Callcott Horsley, to design the card and an edition of 1,000 were printed by Jobbins of Warwick Court in Holborn.
The hand-coloured card, published by Summerley’s Home Treasury Office in Old Bond Street, showed a family gathered for a Christmas celebration with two side images showing people engaged in charitable acts and a message, ‘A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You’. Designed as a single flat card (not foldable like they are today), it came complete with ‘To’ and ‘From’ spaces for the sender to fill in.
The cards which Sir Henry didn’t need for his personal use were placed on sale for a shilling each but it was a fairly steep price and that – and the fact that the image of people drinking at the festive season apparently roused the ire of temperance campaigners, helped to ensure the cards weren’t an immediate success.
Nonetheless, further cards were produced in the following years and within a couple of decades, they were being mass produced.
One of Sir Henry’s original cards was reportedly sold at an auction in 2013 for £22,000.
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.
April 11, 2016
A street and small district based just to the north of Holborn in the Borough of Camden, the origins of Hatton Garden’s name stem from the Elizabethan-era courtier Sir Christopher Hatton.
Sir Christopher, Lord Chancellor during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and one of her favourites, acquired land here in the 1570s after the Queen forced the bishops of Ely to rent him some of the land they owned which was attached to their London residence, Ely Palace (commemorated today in nearby Ely Place, still home to London’s oldest Catholic church).
Hatton, whose annual rent was apparently fixed at £10, 10 stacks of hay and a red rose at midsummer, subsequently built a property, Hatton House, on the garden.
This survived until the mid-1600s when a series of properties were laid out on the site, centred on what is now the street known as Hatton Garden (Sir Christopher, who was buried in Old St Paul’s Cathedral, had died in 1591). Wren House, originally apparently a chapel and later a charity school, which still stands in Hatton Garden, was built around this time.
The houses were mostly replaced in the mid 18th century with new homes built for prosperous merchants but, as the years passed, while the street itself remained home to some of the wealthy, the same could not be said of some other streets nearby, like Saffron Hill, which became notorious slums.
In the early 1800s artisans started moving into Hatton Garden – London’s Little Italy was born around this time just to the north when Italian craftsmen started moving in (the St Peter’s Italian Church opened in 1863 in Clerkenwell Road) – and the area was gradually transformed into a commercial district.
Jewellery and watch-makers, who had long been based in Clerkenwell, started moving in and the street soon became particularly noted as a centre for cutting diamonds, initially those from India. It was an association which only grew stronger following the discovery of diamonds in South Africa’s Kimberley diamond field in the 1870s.
Today, the street known as Hatton Garden – which runs between Holborn and Clerkenwell Road – still contains the most concentrated cluster of jewellery retailers in the UK (as well as apparently an extensive subterranean network of tunnels and passageways as well as many heavily guarded underground vaults) and is still the centre of London’s diamond trade.
Incidentally, the street was also home to workshops at number 57 which, from 1881, produced the rapid firing Maxim Gun following its invention by Sir Hiram Maxim (and, of course, it was also the location of last year’s safe depository robbery and another famous jewellery robbery back in 1993).
A short side note – it was the wife of Sir Christopher Hatton’s nephew, Lady Elizabeth Hatton, who become associated with Bleeding Heart Yard (you can revisit that story in our earlier post here).
November 16, 2015
There’s a couple of different suggestions as to how Bleeding Heart Yard – a small courtyard located in the Farringdon area of the City of London, just north of Ely Place – obtained its rather descriptive – and gory – name.
The more prosaic answer is that it was named after an inn which, from the 16th century, stood on the yard and had a sign showing the heart of the Virgin Mary pierced by five swords.
The more interesting answer, on the other hand, is that the name commemorates the horrible murder of Lady Elizabeth Hatton (of the famed Cecil family), second wife of Sir William Hatton (formerly known as Newport), and, after his death, wife of Sir Edward Coke.
The story goes that her corpse was found here on 27th January, 1626, with the beating heart torn from the body.
A version of the legend – albeit with a slightly different protagonist – appears in a story published in Bentley’s Miscellany in 1837 which told of how the wife of Sir Christopher Hatton (he was actually the uncle of Sir William Hatton), made a somewhat ill-conceived pact with the Devil to secure wealth, position and a mansion in Holborn. The Devil dances with her during the housewarming party at the new home and then tears out her heart, found beating in the yard the next morning.
The yard also features in Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit where it is the location of the home of the Plornish family.
October 12, 2015
The Grade II*-listed pub, which has been described by Peter Haydon and Tim Hampson in their book London’s Best Pubs as a “national treasure” and “the finest, most complete, most original, best preserved, most authentic high-Victorian pub interior in London”, was apparently built in the early 1870s and then remodelled in 1891.
While rather plain externally, this “monument to 19th century craftsmen” boasts a much-vaunted, richly detailed Victorian interior dating from this remodelling which features polychromatic tile work, stained and etched glass and mahogany bar fittings as well as a staggering amount of decoration. The heritage listing even makes reference to the men’s toilets and its marble urinals in the basement.
The pub, at 208 High Holborn, is part of the Samuel Smith Brewery chain who restored it to its former glory in 2007 (including reintroducing glass walled cubicles). It’s also been notable, apparently, for its significant role in hosting folk clubs as part of a revival which occurred in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Why exactly the pub was named after Princess Louise is something of a mystery and it has been suggested that, thanks to the fact pubs aren’t usually named after living members of the Royal Family, the pub must have originally had a different name.
Princess Louise, meanwhile, is notable for having briefly lived in Canada when her husband served as the Governor-General of that nation. She spent her retirement years at Kensington Palace.
For more, see www.princesslouisepub.co.uk.
Not much remains today of the original early medieval home of the Templar Knights which once existed just west of the City of London. While the area still carries the name (as seen in the Underground station, Temple), most the buildings now on the site came from later eras. But there are some original elements.
First though, a bit of history. The Templar precinct which become known as the Temple area of London was the second site in the city given to the military order, known more completely as the Knights of the Temple of Solomon (thanks to their Jerusalem HQ being located near the remains of the Temple of Solomon).
The first was in Holborn, located between the northern end of Chancery Lane and Staple Inn, and was known as the ‘Old Temple’ after which, in the latter years of the 12th century, the Templars moved their headquarters to the new site – ‘New Temple’ or Novum Templum – on unoccupied land on the bank of the River Thames.
This new precinct included consecrated and unconsecrated areas. The consecrated part was a monastery and was located around what is now Church Court with the monastic refectory built on the site of what is now Inner Temple Hall – the medieval buttery is the only part of the original building which survives.
The lay or unconsecrated part of the precinct lay east of Middle Temple Lane, where a second hall was built on the site of what is now the Middle Temple Hall (you’ll find more on that here) which was used to house the lay followers of the order.
The original buildings also included the still existing Templar Church (pictured, along with a monument depicting the Templars outside the church), which was consecrated in 1185 during the reign of King Henry II by Heraclius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, on a visit to London. Like all other Templar churches, its circular design was based on the design of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (the chancel was added later and consecrated in the presence of King Henry III in 1240 – for more on the Temple Church, you can see our earlier post here.
The New Temple become an important site in London (and the kingdom as a whole – the Masters of the Temple were the heads of the order in England) and was used by many of the nobility as a treasury to store valuables (and to lend money). It also had close connections with the monarchy and was, as we saw earlier this week, a power base for King John and from where he issued what is known as the King John Charter in 1215. He also used it for a time as a repository for the Crown jewels.
In an indication of the Temple’s prominence in state affairs, some of the great and powerful were buried here during this period including William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, who died in 1219, and his sons William and Gilbert (for more on those buried in the Temple, see our earlier post here). There were also apparently plans to bury King Henry III and his Queen here – this apparently spurred on the building of the chancel on the church – but they were eventually buried in Westminster Abbey instead.
Numerous relics were also apparently housed here during the Templar times including a phial believed to contain Christ’s blood and pieces of the true Cross.
The Templar era came to an end in 1312 when the order was dissolved on the authority of Pope Clement V amid some heinous allegations of blasphemy and sexual immorality which had the support of King Philip IV of France. While the pope awarded their property to the rival order, the Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem (also known as the Hospitallers), King Edward II had other ideas and ignored their claims with regard to the London property and instead, claimed it for the Crown (a dispute which went on for some years).
It later became associated particularly with lawyers, although lawyers would have certainly been at work in the New Temple given its role as banker to the wealthy (but more on its later associations with lawyers in later post).
For more on the history of the Templars, see Malcolm Barber’s The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple.
April 20, 2015
Located in a former bank at the corner of Chancery Lane and Carey Street, this pub takes its name from the Crusader order known as the Knights Templar who once owned the land upon which the lane was constructed.
The Knights Templar was founded in Jerusalem in 1118 to protect Christian pilgrims and took its name from the Temple of Solomon upon the remains of which its headquarters in Jerusalem was built.
The order arrived in London later that century and Chancery Lane was created to connect the site of their original headquarters in Holborn with their subsequent home which lay between Fleet Street and the Thames – with the latter centred on a chapel (consecrated in 1185) which still stands and is now known as the Temple Church.
The pub, which opened in 1999, was formerly the home of the Union Bank of London Ltd, built in 1865 to the design of architect FW Porter.
Original features inside the Grade II-listed building – built in the ‘high Renaissance’-style – include cast iron columns and ornate detailing.
It is now part of the Wetherspoon’s chain. For more information, see www.jdwetherspoon.co.uk/home/pubs/the-knights-templar-chancery-lane.
December 12, 2014
Contained in a glass cabinet within the walls of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, this bell was traditionally rung 12 times outside the condemned cell in nearby Newgate Prison at midnight on the eve of an execution (ensuring, no doubt, that no-one had a good night’s sleep before their final morning).
According to an inscription on the cabinet, the sexton of St Sepulchre – who reached the condemned cell from the church via a tunnel under the road – recited the following verse (other sources have a longer a version thereof) while standing outside the cell:
“All you that in the condemned hole do lie,
Prepare you for tomorrow you shall die;
Watch all and pray: the hour is drawing near
That you before the Almighty must appear;
Examine well yourselves in time repent,
That you may not to eternal flames be sent.
And when St Sepulchre’s Bell in the morning tolls
The Lord above have mercy on your soul.”
The tradition of ringing the bell apparently dates from 1605 and has its origins in a bequest of £50 made by one Robert Dow(e), a prominent member of the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors. (Dow had apparently wanted a clergyman to be the one to ring the bell but his money didn’t stretch that far).
A rather grim piece of London’s history.
WHERE: St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, Holborn Viaduct (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s, Blackfriars and Farringdon); WHEN: Check website for service times; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.stsepulchres.org
December 1, 2014
The origins of the name of this part of central London, to the west of the City, lie in the fact that the Fleet River runs through the area (albeit, since the 18th century, underground).
Mentioned as far back as the 950s, the name Holborn comes from the Old English “hol” or “holh” (“hollow”) and “burne” or “bourne” (“stream”) and means the “stream in the hollow” with the hollow in this case being the valley over which the Holborn Viaduct was built in the 1860s.
The term ‘Holburne’ was either used to refer to a tributary of the Fleet or part of the river itself. There was a bridge which apparently bore the same name and spanned either the Fleet or its tributary up until the river was covered.
The street now known as High Holborn – the main street in the area – was originally a Roman road and by the 19th century had become a centre for the entertainment industry featuring theatres, restaurants and pubs (including one of our favorites, the Cittee of Yorke).
The street is also home to the Holborn Bar, which marked the boundary of the City of London and was once site of a toll gate – it’s now the site of the Royal Fusilier’s War Memorial.
Other famous monuments in the area include an equestrian statue of Prince Albert – the City of London’s official statue of him – which was removed from its position in the centre of Holborn Circus in the east of the area to a new position on the western side of the intersection during a renovation last year.
Now dominated by offices and some shopping precincts (these include a street market in Leather Lane), among other notable buildings are pre-Great Fire of London survivor Staple Inn (see our earlier post here), churches including St Andrew Holborn, and St Alban the Martyr, Holborn, and, to the east, St Etheldreda’s Church (see our earlier post here) and Ye Olde Mitre pub (see our earlier post here).
The area is also home to the Inns of Court Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn and the Grade II*-listed Prudential Assurance Building (pictured above), constructed on the former site of Furnival’s Inn in the late 19th century/early 20th century, as well as Hatton Garden, famous for being the centre of London’s jewellery trade.
10 sites from Shakespearean London – 7. Shakespearean connections in the Elizabethan world – St John’s Gate and Staple Inn…
July 16, 2014
Following on from our post last week, we take a look at a couple more of London’s buildings that had some sort of association with William Shakespeare…
• St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell (pictured): This former gatehouse into Clerkenwell Priory was at the time of Shakespeare home to the Master of the Revels and where the playwright would have had to have brought his plays for official government approval. Thirty of the Bard’s plays were licensed here and the Master of Revels during all but the final few years of Shakespeare’s career was Edmund Tilney (or Tylney), who served in the post under both Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. The gatehouse was later used as a coffee house and pub among other things and is associated with everyone from artist William Hogarth (his father Richard ran the coffee house), Dr Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens. These days, the gatehouse is part of the Museum of the Order of St John (for more on that, see our earlier post here).
• Staple Inn, Holborn: OK, there’s no direct link at all between Shakespeare and this building on High Holborn but it was built during his lifetime – in 1585 – and as such is one of very few surviving examples of buildings of his era. Its name comes from the fact the site where it stands was originally a covered market where wool was weighed and taxed (the word ‘staple’ apparently relates to the duty on wool introduced in 1275). It later became an Inn of Chancery – a medieval school for lawyers which fed students through to the Inns of Court (in this case mostly Gray’s Inn), and it was members of the Society of Staple Inn who built the new building here in the 1580s. The building – which still boasts a grand hall – survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 and, albeit with considerable damage, the Blitz. Since the late 1800s, it has been home to what’s now known as the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. The building, which was restored in the 1990s, is a great example of an Elizabethan-era structure and gives some sense of what Shakespeare’s London was like.
January 27, 2014
The name of this central London thoroughfare – which runs from Fleet Street to a dead-end just shy of Holborn, with New Fetter Lane forking off to continue the journey to Holborn Circus – has nothing to do with fetters, chains or prisoners.
Rather its name – a form of which apparently first starts to appear in the 14th century – is believed to be a derivation of one of a number of possible Anglo-French words – though which one is anyone’s guess.
The options include the word fewtor, which apparently means an idle person or a loafer, faitor, a word which means an imposter or deceiver (both it and fewtor may refer to a colony of beggars that lived here) feuterer, a word which describes a ‘keeper of dogs’, or even feutrier, another term for felt-makers.
Buildings of note in Fetter Lane include the former Public Records Office (now the Maughan Library, part of King’s College, it has a front on Chancery Lane but backs onto the lane), and the former Inns of Chancery, Clifford’s Inn and Barnard’s Inn (current home of Gresham College).
It was also in Fetter Lane, at number 33, that the Moravians, a Protestant denomination of Christianity, established the Fetter Lane Society in 1738 (members included John Wesley). The original chapel was destroyed in bombing in World War II ( a plaque now marks the building where it was)
And there’s a statue of MP, journalist and former Lord Mayor, John Wilkes, at the intersection with New Fetter Lane (pictured).
December 4, 2013
Once at the heart of one of London’s most infamous rookeries or slums, Saffron Hill – located between Holborn and Clerkenwell – is forever associated with Charles Dickens’ 1838 novel, Oliver Twist, and in particular with the arch criminal Fagin.
In the text, Fagin’s den is located “near Field Lane” (the southern extension of Saffron Hill beyond Greville Street) and it is here that Fagin’s young associate, Jack Dawkins (better known as the Artful Dodger), takes Oliver after first encountering him.
As Oliver is led down Saffron Hill, Dickens records his thoughts and it’s worth quoting to get a flavour of the place as he saw it: “A dirtier of more wretched place he had never seen. The street was very narrow and muddy, and the air was impregnated with filthy odours. There were a good many small shops; but the only stock in trade appeared to be heaps of children, who, even at that time of night, were crawling in and out at the doors, or screaming from the inside. The sole places that seemed to prosper amid the general blight of the place, were the public-houses; and in them, the lowest orders of Irish were wrangling with might and main. Covered ways and yards, which here and there diverged from the main street, disclosed little knots of houses, where drunken men and women were positively wallowing in filth; and from several of the door-ways, great ill-looking fellows were cautiously emerging, bound, to all appearance, on no very well-disposed or harmless errands.” (Oliver Twist, p. 55, Vintage, 2007)
Saffron Hill, known as London’s Italian quarter in the 19th century, takes its name from the saffron which was once grown here but which was not to be seen by the time Dickens’ wrote his book. As well as Fagin’s lair, the street is also home to salubrious pub The Three Cripples, Bill Sikes’ favoured watering-hole (The Three Cripples was apparently the name of a lodging house in Saffron Hill during Dickens’ time – it was located next to a pub called The One Tun) .
It’s worth noting that this is only one of many addresses in London associated with Dickens’ characters but the ill-fated Fagin does stand out as one of his most memorable.
PICTURE: Saffron Hill as it is now.
For more on Dickens’ London, check out Alex Werner’s Dickens’s Victorian London: The Museum of London.
While higher education may something we generally associate with more recent historical eras, London’s oldest higher educational institution in fact was founded in the dying years of the 16th century.
Gresham College was founded in 1597 by Sir Thomas Gresham (pictured, right) – son of Lord Mayor Sir Richard Gresham and the man behind the construction of the Royal Exchange (see our earlier post on Sir Thomas Gresham here) – according to instructions in his will (Sir Thomas died in 1579).
Under the terms of the will, part of his estate was left to the City of London Corporation and the Mercer’s Company and it is these who founded the organisation according to his request and still operate via the Joint Grand Gresham Committee.
According to the will’s terms, the corporation were to appoint professors in divinity, astronomy, geometry and music while the Mercer’s Company were given the responsibility of appointing professors in law, physic and rhetoric (a chair in commerce was added in 1985). There are also currently a number of visiting professorships.
The college – which was founded to provide free public lectures on subjects of scientific interest – is governed by a council with the Lord Mayor of London as its president.
Sir Thomas’ mansion in Bishopsgate (now the site of what was formerly known as the NatWest Tower) was the college’s first home. Professors, whose salaries were met by rental income from the Royal Exchange, continued giving lectures there until 1768.
Various locations around the city were later used for the college before the opening of a new college building in Gresham Street in 1842. It moved again in 1991 and is now based at Barnard’s Inn Hall in Holborn.
Among the professors who have held chairs at the college are architects Sir Christopher Wren (astronomy) and Robert Hooke (geometry) as well as Richard Chartres, current Bishop of London (divinity).
The college, which doesn’t enrol students as such and doesn’t award degrees, continues to provide more than 100 free public lectures every year and is also involved in running seminars and conferences and other initiatives.
For a detailed history of Gresham College, check out Richard Chartres’ and David Vermont’s book on the college’s history – www.gresham.ac.uk/greshamftp/historygreshm_bk2.pdf. For more on the college and its programme of events, see www.gresham.ac.uk. Lectures are available online.
April 8, 2013
Hidden away to the north-west of the City of a quiet cul-de-sac, the oldest still-in-use Roman Catholic church in London (indeed, in England) is St Etheldreda’s Church in Holborn.
Located in Ely Place, this atmospheric church – named for Etheldreda, seventh century female abbess of Ely – opened as a Roman Catholic Church in 1878, although the building in which it is lodged is much older, indeed a rare survivor from the 13th century. It was built in 1290 by John De Kirkeby, the Bishop of Ely and Treasurer of England during the reign of King Edward I, as a chapel to a residence he constructed on the site.
It and the adjoining palace remained in use by subsequent bishops and other nobles (including John of Gaunt who lived here after his own residence, Savoy Palace , was burnt down during the Peasant’s Revolt) up to and after the Reformation – the first reformer Bishop to use it was Thomas Goodrich, who built the nearby Mitre Tavern. (Worth noting is that the church also has some strong links to Shakespeare – there’s a great article on the church’s website exploring these).
In 1620, the Spanish Ambassador, the Count of Gondomar, moved into Ely Place and the chapel was used once again for Catholic masses (the residence was considered part of Spanish territory) – this was a relatively short-lived development for, thanks to deteriorating relations between England and Spain following a failed match between Prince Charles (later King Charles I) and the Infanta of Spain, the next ambassador was refused permission to live there.
Having escaped destruction in the Great Fire of London, the chapel was requisitioned by Parliament as a prison and hospital during the Civil War and subsequently fell into disuse before in 1772, the property – including the chapel – was sold to the Crown who in turn sold it to a surveyor and builder, Charles Cole.
Cole demolished the palace buildings with the exception of the chapel and had the current Ely Place built with neat rows of Georgian homes, modernising the chapel for the use of residents as an Anglican place of worship. The church attracted few worshippers, however, and in 1820 was taken over by the National Society for the Education of the Poor.
In 1873, the chapel was again to be sold and following a somewhat controversial auction was bought by the Catholic Institute of Charity (aka the Rosminians) and restored under the eye of Father William Lockhart (the Catholic Emancipation Act had been passed in 1829, allowing Catholics to have churches and say mass).
Interestingly, it was during this work that 18 bodies were discovered buried in the crypt – they had died in the ‘Fatal Vespers’ of 1623 when, during a secret meeting of Catholics at the French ambassador’s house in Blackfriars, the floor collapsed and more than 100 were killed. Not able to be buried publicly due to anti-Catholic feeling, they were buried in secret with some of them buried here.
A mass commemorated the completion of the restoration work on 23rd June, 1878, and the church has been in use as a Roman Catholic Church ever since (although years of repairs were needed following significant bomb damage in World War II). Further restoration work was carried out in the 1990s when Flemish tiles from the original cloister were discovered.
These days the church – which features a relic of St Etheldreda contained in a bejewelled cask sitting by the altar – is a quiet oasis in the midst of the bustling city – a great place to take some time out in the midst of a busy day. Also of note is the east window – the work of Joseph Edward Nuttgens, it was completed in 1952 and, like all the other windows, replaced a Victorian window destroyed in the Blitz (look for the image of St Etheldreda) – and the west window – the work of Charles Blakeman, it is apparently the largest stained glass window in London and depicts a series of English Catholic martyrs.
WHERE: St Etheldreda’s Church, Ely Place (nearest Tube stations are Chancery Lane and Farringdon); WHEN: 8am to 5pm Monday to Saturday; 8am-12.30pm Sunday; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.stetheldreda.com.
November 2, 2012
Eight days from now, the Lord’s Mayor’s Show will be winding its way through the streets of the City London with star of the show, the new Lord Mayor of London, Roger Gifford, riding in a spectacular gilt State Coach.
The coach’s origins go back to the mid 18th century although the reason why a coach is used go back some years earlier – to 1711, in fact, when then Lord Mayor Sir Gilbert Heathcote fell off the horse he was riding in the procession and broke his leg. It’s worth noting that up until the 1420s, the Lord Mayor rode all the way to the Palace of Westminster to swear fealty to the monarch – after that they went on a river barge down the Thames, a practice which continued until 1857 (although they still had to ride to and from the watercraft which is when Sir Gilbert had his accident).
While a stand-in coach was used for some years after Sir Gilbert’s fall, in 1757 Sir Charles Asgill, a banker who was set to be the next Lord Mayor, commissioned Joseph Berry of Leather Lane in Holborn to make the splendid vehicle still in use today (the coach was designed by architect Sir Robert Taylor). Built at a cost of £1,065.0s.3d, the substantial sum was met by the Aldermen. It’s now apparently worth more £2 million.
Richly ornate, many of the four ton coach’s features emphasise the role of the City of London as a centre of world trade – the cherubs at each of the coach’s four corners, for example, represent the four continents of Asia, Africa, America and Europe. The City’s coat-of-arms is on the back of the coach, the front panel has an image of Hope pointing at St Paul’s Cathedral and the side panels are decorated with representations of moral virtues.
The coach, which has undergone many restorations (in an indication of this, it’s said there’s as many as 100 coats of paint and varnish on the ceiling), has since been used in every Lord Mayor’s Show and when not in use, can be seen in the Museum of London.
PICTURE: The State Coach at last year’s Lord Mayor Show/© David Adams
September 3, 2012
This small pub, found down a laneway – Ely Court – off Ely Place in Holborn, is considered by many one of London’s hardest to find. The name – which describes a bishop’s headwear – comes from the fact that the building was built by Bishop Goodrich of Ely, who lived in nearby Ely House, for his retainers.
The original premises dated from 1546 but the current building on the site reportedly dates from about 1773 (about the date on which the bishop’s residence nearby was demolished). Interestingly, the pub was actually part of Cambridge – the city of Ely, and the Bishopric, being based there – which meant that the licensees once had to go to Cambridge for renewal.
In 1576, part of the property, along with a substantial part of the bishop’s estate, was leased to Sir Christopher Hatton, favorite of Queen Elizabeth I (and the man after whom nearby Hatton Garden is named – more on that another time), on order of the Queen herself.
Indeed the bar still houses the remains of a cherry tree behind glass. The tree is said to have marked the border between Sir Christopher’s land and the Bishop’s land. Sir Christopher, incidentally, is said to have danced around it during a May Day celebration the Queen though this tale may simply by apocryphal.
Both Charles Dickens and Dr Johnson are said to have been customers here. The pub, which features dark panelling on the walls, still evokes a sense of the past with its olde world furnishings and fittings (and absence of more modern fittings like blaring TVs). Great place to pass a few hours in on a chilly day!
For more on the pub, see http://yeoldemitreholburn.co.uk.
July 13, 2012
Now housed in the British Museum, the Rosetta Stone, discovered in Egypt in 1799, provided the key to understanding hieroglyphics.
Created in 196 BC, the stone, which measures 112.3 by 75.7 centimetres, has inscribed upon it a priestly decree passed in support of the 13-year-old pharoah, Ptolemy V, and was issued on the first anniversary of his coronation.
Its discovery was a breakthrough in understanding hieroglyphics, which had fallen out of use around the 4th century, due to the fact that the decree was written upon it in three languages – hieroglyphic as well as the everyday Egyptian language of demotic and, importantly, Greek.
Scholars studying the stone were able to use the Greek to decipher the other two languages. Among them were Jean-François Champollion who announced the translation had been completed in Paris in 1822.
The stone was unearthed near the town of el-Rashid or ‘Rosetta’ by French soldiers in 1799 as they were digging out the foundations of an extension to a fort and following Napoleon’s defeat became the property of the British along with other antiquities under the 1801 Treaty of Alexandria. It has been on display since at the British Museum since 1802 (only briefly removed toward the end of the First World War when it was stored in a subterranean postal railway underneath Holborn).
The stone, said to be the most visited item in the British Museum, underwent a significant restoration and conservation process in 1999 which involved removing grease left by people touching the stone and materials used to create copies of it following its rediscovery – including printers ink from 1799.
WHERE: Room 4, Egyptian Sculpture, British Museum, Great Russell Street (nearest Tube stations are Russell Square, Tottenham Court Road, Goodge Street and Holborn); WHEN: 10am to 5.30pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.britishmuseum.org.
PICTURE: The Rosetta Stone © The Trustees of the British Museum
London is redolent with sites which appeared in the books of Charles Dickens and, having had a look at his life, it’s time we turn our attention to some of the sites relevant to his writing. For the next two weeks, we’re looking at just a few of the many, many sites which feature in his novels. So, here’s seven places to get us going…
• Saffron Hill, Clerkenwell. Once a notorious slum akin to St Giles (see last week’s entry) and the city’s Italian Quarter, Saffron Hill is where Fagin and his gang of thieves operate in Oliver Twist and have their den.
• Chancery Lane, Holborn. Much of the novel Bleak House is set around this narrow street between High Holborn and Fleet Street – Tom Jarndyce kills himself in a coffee shop here in the novel and Lincoln’s Inn Hall – formerly home of the High Court of Chancery – also features.
• The Old Bailey. Some have suggested Dickens worked here as a court reporter although there is no compelling evidence he did so. But the the Old Bailey (the current building dates from the early 20th century, well after Dickens’ death) and Newgate Prison certainly featured in his books – it is here that Fagin is eventually hung in Oliver Twist.
• Child & Co’s Bank, Fleet Street. While the present building dates from 1878, Dickens is believed to have used the bank as the model for Tellson’s Bank in A Tale of Two Cities.
• St Dunstan-in-the-West, Fleet Street. In David Copperfield, David and his aunt, Betsy Trotwood, make a special trip to see the giants Gog and Magog strike the church bells. It also features in Barnaby Rudge and Dickens dedicated his Christmas story, The Chimes, to the church.
• Garden Court and Fountain Court (pictured), Middle Temple. Garden Court is where Pip lived in Great Expectations and where Abel Magwitch turned up to reveal himself as Pip’s benefactor. Fountain Court features in Martin Chuzzlewit as the site for the romance of Ruth Pinch and John Westlock.
• Golden Square, Soho. Mentioned in Nicholas Nickleby – Nicholas’ uncle, Ralph Nickleby, was thought to live in a previous building at number seven.
There’s some great books about London sites which appear in Dickens’ books – among them are Ed Glinert’s Literary London: A Street by Street Exploration of the Capital’s Literary Heritage and Michael Paterson’s Inside Dickens’ London as well as Paul Kenneth Garner’s
A Walk Through Charles Dickens’ London.
Around London – Website to showcase UK’s oil paintings; Arctic explorer John Rae gets Blue Plaque; sharing experiences of kindness; and Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril hit the Courtauld…
June 30, 2011
• A new website has been launched to showcase the UK’s vast national collection of oil paintings. While the website, which is a partnership between the BBC, the Public Catalogue Foundation, and participating collections and museums, currently hosts around 60,000 works, it is envisaged that by the end of 2012 it will carry digitised images of all 200,000 oil paintings in the UK (in an indicator of how many there are, the National Gallery currently has around 2,300 oil paintings, about one hundredth of all those in the nation). The works on the site will eventually include almost 40,000 by British artists. The 850 galleries and organisations participating so far include 11 in London – among them the National Gallery, the Tate Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Bank of England, the Imperial War Museum and Dr Johnson’s House. For more, see www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/
• Arctic explorer John Rae has had a Blue Plaque unveiled in his honor at his former home in Holland Park. Although his feats were relatively unsung in his lifetime, the explorer’s expeditions in the Canadian Arctic saw him travel 13,000 miles by boat and foot and survey more than 1,700 miles of coastline. He is also credited with having “signposted” the only north-west passage around America that is navigable without icebreakers. Rae, who died in 1893, lived at the property at 4 Lower Addison Gardens in Holland Park for the last 24 years of his life.
• Transport For London is calling on Londoners to share experiences of “kindness” that they have witnessed or participated in while travelling on the Underground. Artist Michael Landy has created a series of posters which are calling on people to submit their stories. Some of the stories will then be shown at Central Line stations (the first four posters go up on 23rd July at stations including Hollard Park, Holborn and Liverpool Street). For more, go to www.tfl.gov.uk/art.
• On the Olympic front, the City of London Corporation has announced Tower Bridge will be bedecked with a set of giant Olympic Rings and the Paralympic Agitos during the 45 days of next year’s Games. Meanwhile, the Corporation has also unveiled it will host next week the launch of a London-wide campaign to get people involved in sport and activity in the lead-up to the Games. More to come on that.
• On Now: Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril Beyond the Moulin Rouge. The Courtauld Gallery, based at Somerset House, is running an exhibition celebrating the “remarkable creative partnership” between Jane Avril, a star of the Moulin Rouge in Paris during the 1890s, and artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Lautrec created a series of posters featuring Avril which ensured she became a symbol of Lautrec’s world of “dancers, cabaret singers, musicians and prostitutes”. Runs until 18th September. See www.courtauld.ac.uk for more.