December 13, 2016
Kinson Leung captures the vibrant colours of the annual Winter Wonderland fair in Hyde Park. PICTURE: Via Unsplash.
This Week in London – Saxons camp out in Hyde Park on the way to battle; “ordinary punks” at Museum of London; and, Bridget Riley meets Seurat…
October 6, 2016
• A temporary ‘Saxon’ camp will appear in Hyde Park this Saturday as Battle of Hastings’ re-enactors pause on their journey south to meet the forces of William, the Duke of Normandy, in an event marking the battle’s 950th anniversary. English Heritage is recreating the hurried march south of the Saxon King Harald and his followers following the Battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire to Battle Abbey where they will join in an annual re-enactment of the world famous Battle of Hastings on 15th and 16th October. Having already visiting British landmarks like Lincoln’s Roman arch, Peterborough Cathedral, and Waltham Abbey, they will be found at a free “pop-up living history encampment” near Apsley House in Hyde Park between 11am and 3pm on Saturday. People are invited to visit the encampment and meet the re-enactors, learn how the armies lived and ate while on the march, discover which weapons they used and play some Norman games as well as see the Battle of Hastings recreated using vegetables. Later on Saturday, the re-enactors will head across London to the Jewel Tower in Westminster and then on, Sunday, on to Eltham Palace in the city’s south-east, before setting off for Battle to the south. For more – including a day-by-day calendar of the march – head to www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/1066-and-the-norman-conquest/the-1066-march/. PICTURE: An earlier re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings/David Adams.
• A free exhibition celebrating all things punk has opened at the Museum of London to mark the end of a year long festival commemorating 40 years of the movement’s influence. Punks, which tells the stories of “ordinary punks” living in London in the late 1970s, features artefacts like handmade mixtape sleeves, DIY fanzines and the radical clothes sold on the King’s Road. The exhibition, which runs until 15th January, is accompanied by what is promised to be a “no holds barred” debate centred on the punk phenomena in November. For more information, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk and for more about other events related to the 40th anniversary of punk, see www.punk.london.
• On Now – Bridget Riley: Learning from Seurat. This exhibition at The Courtauld Gallery explores Riley’s breakthrough encounter with Georges Seurat’s 1887 work Bridge at Courbevoie. For the first time, it brings together a copy Riley made of the painting in 1959 with the original work as well as presenting a small group of Riley’s seminal works to show how her understanding of Seurat’s art led her to create what are described as “some of the most radical and original abstract works of the past five decades”. Part of the gallery’s ongoing series of displays focusing on major contemporary artists, it runs until 17th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.courtauld.ac.uk/gallery.
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June 27, 2016
Sir Joseph Paxton was one of the pre-eminent landscape gardeners and architects of the Victorian age, although his name is remembered today in great part because of his role in creating one of the most famous buildings of the era – London’s Crystal Palace.
Paxton was born to a large Bedfordshire farming family on 3rd August, 1803 (although the year has been a matter of dispute at times, apparently because, wanting to appear older than he was, early on in his career he claimed that he had been born in 1801).
He attended school locally before venturing into the gardening profession (a number of other family members were already involved in gardening), taking on a number of gardening-related jobs before his first break came in 1823 when he was admitted by the Horticultural Society of London to work as a student gardener in the experimental gardens of Chiswick House in London’s west – then leased by the society from the Duke of Devonshire.
His work was soon noticed and, in 1826, the duke, with whom Paxton would come to have a close friendship, was apparently so enamoured that he appointed him to the position of head gardener at Chatsworth House, his family pile in Derbyshire.
It was something of a dream job for the then still young Paxton, who, over the ensuing years would be responsible for designing gardens as well as fountains (including the Emperor Fountain, named after Emperor Nicholas I of Russia), an arboretum, a model village, a conservatory of unprecedented size – known as the Great Conservatory, and a lily house, the latter featuring a design based on the leaves of the giant Victoria amazonica water lily.
Paxton’s ties to Chatsworth were strengthened further when he married the niece of Chatsworth’s housekeeper, Sarah Bown, in 1827. They would have eight children, six of whom survived.
Chatsworth became the most famous garden in England under Paxton’s watch but for many, it is his instrumental role in the Great Exhibition pavilion which stands out as his greatest achievement.
His involvement was really that of an opportunist – all of the original 245 plans for the main exhibition hall had been rejected when Paxton, on hearing of this while in London on business with regard for his role as a director of the Midland Railway, delivered his own design.
Inspired very much by the lily house he had designed (and which had yet to be completed) at Chatsworth, the design was innovative for a number of reasons, including its modular and prefabricated nature and the copious amounts of glass it used (only possible due to recent technological developments concerning the use of iron and glass).
Following its acceptance (this despite the fact it apparently breached the design competition’s rules), it took some 2,000 men eight months to build the 500 metre long building which, despite some criticism, was such a success at the Great Exhibition that in October of 1851 – some five months after its opening – Paxton was knighted by Queen Victoria. (For more on the Crystal Palace, see our earlier entry here).
Following the Great Exhibition, the building, with Paxton’s aid, was relocated to Sydenham in south London after the exhibition where it remained until it burned down in 1936.
Paxton, meanwhile, returned to his post as head gardener at Chatsworth (a role he fulfilled until 1858), but he is also credited with numerous other projects including the design of public parks in places as far afield as Liverpool and Glasgow, and the design of the London Road Cemetery in Coventry.
He was also involved in the commission charged with improving the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and designed numerous residences, the most famous being Mentmore Towers which he designed for Baron Mayer de Rothschild (among his other contributions to the world of design was a plan for an ‘atmospheric railway in London’ which was never built – for more on that, see our previous post here).
Paxton, who also acted as a Liberal MP for Coventry for the last 11 years of his life and was for many years involving in publishing various gardening-related magazines, general newspapers and writing a couple of books, became wealthy by speculating on the growing railway industry.
He died on 8th June, 1865, at his home, Rockhills, in Sydenham and was buried in St Peter’s Churchyard at Edensor on the Chatsworth Estate. His wife Sarah continued to live at Chatsworth until her death in 1871.
PICTURE: Via Wikimedia Commons.
May 31, 2016
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).
March 18, 2016
The test dates back to 1865 and involves drivers memorising 320 routes, 25,000 street names and some 20,000 landmarks and places of public interest including museums, theatres, churches, police stations, schools and parks within a six mile radius of Charing Cross.
The routes through central London – which previously numbered as many as 468 – are contained within the Blue Book (there’s also a series of ‘Knowledge schools’ to help would-be drivers prepare for the test).
The test includes a written exam and a series of one-to-one interviews, known as appearances, in which the prospective driver is given start and finish points and expected to describe the shortest route between them. It is overseen by the Public Carriage Office, once part of the Metropolitan Police Force, but now part of Transport for London.
It was introduced by Sir Richard Mayne, First Joint Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, after thousands of complaints were received about the lack of knowledge of London cabbies from visitors to the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851.
It apparently takes on average between two and four years to learn all you need to know to pass the test and you can often spot what are fondly known as ‘knowledge boys (or girls)’ riding scooters around the city with a clipboard attached to the handlebars as they learn what they need to know for the test.
July 7, 2015
May 5, 2015
Guns fired a royal salute in Hyde Park on Monday to mark the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s new daughter (and Prince George’s new sister), named Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana (or more formally, Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte of Cambridge). Seventy-one horses pulling six World War I-era 13-pounder field guns from the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery rode out in procession with the Royal Artillery Band from Wellington Barracks, past Buckingham Palace, up Constitution Hill to Wellington Arch, and into Hyde Park to fire the salute. The 41 gun salute was fired at the same time as a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. By custom, gun salutes are fired for the birth of every prince or princess, regardless of where they sit in the order of succession. A basic salute is 21 rounds with an additional 20 rounds fired because Hyde Park is a Royal Park while at the Tower of London an extra 20 rounds are fired because it is a royal palace along with a further 21 because of its City of London location. The princess, fourth in line to the throne, was born at 8:34am on Saturday at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, and weighed 8lbs, 3oz (3.7kg). PICTURE: © Courtesy of Ian Wylie Photo.
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.
Throughout his life – as a child, bachelor, husband and family man, Sir Winston lived in many properties in London (although, of course, a couple of the most famous properties associated with him – his birthplace, Blenheim Palace, and the much-loved family home, Chartwell in Kent – are located outside the city). But, those and 10 Downing Street aside, here are just some of the many places he lived in within London…
• 29 St James’s Place, St James: Having been born at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and then having spent time in Dublin, at the age of five (1880) he came to live here with his family. He remained here until 1882 when he was sent off to school in Ascot (he later attended schools in Sussex and, most famously, Harrow School). The family, meanwhile, moved to a townshouse at 2 Connaught Place which backed on to Hyde Park.
• 33 Eccleston Square, Pimlico: The Churchills moved here in 1909 and it was here that their first two children Diana and Randolph were born in 1909 and in 1911. The family remained here until 1913. A blue plaque marks the property.
• Admiralty House, Whitehall: The Churchills first moved into Admiralty House – part of the Admiralty complex on Whitehall – in 1913 (from the aforementioned Eccleston Square) after Churchill was made First Lord of the Admiralty. They remained here until 1915 – years he would go onto to describe as the happiest in his life – before he resigned but returned in 1939 when he was once again appointed to the position.
• 2 Sussex Square, Bayswater: In 1920, the Churchills bought this property just north of Hyde Park which they kept until 1924 when they moved into 11 Downing Street (see below). The property is marked with a blue plaque.
• 11 Downing Street, Whitehall: The Churchills lived at 11 Downing Street when Sir Winston was Chancellor of the Exchequer, from 1925 to 1929. The property, located in Downing Street, is not accessible to the public.
• 11 Morpeth Mansions, Morpeth Terrace, Westminster: The Churchill family lived at this Westminster address between 1930 and 1939 (prior to him becoming Prime Minister). The property is marked by a brown plaque.
• 28 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington: Churchill died in this Grade II-listed, mid 19th century property on the morning of 24th January, 1965. The couple moved in after the end of World War II and, while it’s not clear whether they fully vacated the residence when he was prime minister between 1951-55, it remained their property until his death 10 years later. The property next door, number 27, provided accommodation for his staff. The property is marked with a blue plaque.
This Week in London – Hampton Court Palace lights up; doll house histories; more on Christmas; and, memories of a royal progress at The Queen’s Gallery…
December 11, 2014
• Hampton Court Palace’s world famous gardens have been transformed into an “illuminated wonderland” which can be explored using a specially created trail. From tomorrow, visitors can use a glow-in-the-dark map to follow the trail which starts at the palace’s hedge maze – the UK’s oldest – and meanders through various locations around the grounds – including the formal gardens – before ending up at the palace’s East Front where, through the use of interactive technology, visitors can ‘paint’ the building’s facade just by moving around. Allow about an hour. Entry is timed between 5pm and 8pm. Runs until 23rd December. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/.
• The stories behind some of the UK’s best-known dolls’ houses are the focus of a new exhibition which opens at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green on Saturday. Small Stories: At home in a dolls’ house tells the story of 12 dolls’ houses dating as far back as 300 years. Each of the houses – which are displayed chronologically – has been set up to represent a particular time of day and, using interactive technology, tells the story of those who live and work in the building in a series of stories featuring marriages, parties, politics and even crimes. Highlights include: the Tate Baby House – dating from 1760, it features original wallpapers and painted panelling in the style of Robert Adam; the Killer House (pictured) – a gift from surgeon John Egerton Killer to his wife and daughters in the 1830s, this Chinese-style cabinet has gilded wallpapers, a four poster bed and liveried servants; Whiteladies House – a Modernist country villa designed by artist Moray Thomas and built in the 1930s; the Hopkinson House – based on the homes built in the 1930s in the London County Council suburb, the St Helier Estate; and, the Kaleidoscope House – designed by Laurie Simmons to suit a “design conscious step-family living in the new millennium”. There’s a further 20 dolls’ houses, dating from 1673 to 2014, on display in the museum’s permanent galleries (just some of the more than 100 in the museum’s collection). Admission is free. Runs until 6th September, 2015. For more, see www.museumofchildhood.org.uk. PICTURE: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
• The V&A has unveiled its 2014 Christmas Tree at the grand entrance to its South Kensington building. Designed by Gareth Pugh, Ceremony stands at more than four metres in height and, along with a shape not unlike a traditional Christmas tree, features nine tiered gold pyramids located around a central beacon of light to represent the nativity. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/c/christmas-tree-installation-by-gareth-pugh/. Meanwhile Winter Wonderland continues to entertain in Hyde Park with rides, markets, ice-skating and all the usual attractions. Open 10am to 10pm every day until 4th January (closed on Christmas Day). For more, see www.hydeparkwinterwonderland.com.
• On Now: Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East. This exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, features objects collected by the 20-year-old Prince of Wales, Albert Edward (later King Edward VII), during an educational tour of the Middle East in 1862. The display, which also features photographs taken by Francis Bedford – the first photographer to join a royal tour, follows the prince as he progresses through Egypt, Palestine and the Holy Land, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece. The exhibition is being show alongside Gold, a display of 50 gold items drawn from the Royal Collection. They include the Rillaton Cup, found in a Bronze Age burial dating from between 1700 and 1500 BC, a gold crown from Ecuador that predates the Incas, and an 18th century tiger’s head made from gold and rock crystal and taken from the throne of the Tipu Sultan of Mysore in India. Both run until 22nd February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.
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July 11, 2014
An iconic location in one London’s most well-known Royal Parks, the history of Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner as a site of public oratory dates back to at least the mid 1800s (although thanks to the site being located close to where Tyburn Tree once stood, its arguable that the tradition goes further back, to when condemned prisoners were able to have a final word on the gallows – but for more on the Tyburn Tree, see our previous post here).
Located near Marble Arch on the north-east corner of Hyde Park, the area was the scene of massive protests by the Reform League in the mid 1800s which were aimed at extending the voting franchise to the working class. In 1866, protestors tore up the railings and rioted for three days after they approached the area and found themselves locked out of Hyde Park. They returned en masse the following year in defiance of a government ban but were allowed to protest without intervention.
While there was some opposition to the idea of public protests in the area, in 1872, the passing of the Parks Regulation Act meant the park’s authorities could issue permits for speakers (while it didn’t enshrine the right to speak in law, it did establish the general principle of speaking in parts of the park). The area covered by the act is much larger than Speakers’ Corner but tradition has established that as the site where people gather to speak (and listen).
Anyone can now turn up to address the public at Speakers’ Corner whenever the park is open but tradition has meant most of the speaking happens on a Sunday morning (when you’ll certainly encounter some very regular speakers). The only condition is that the speech be considered “lawful”.
Among the more notable speakers who have attended are Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, George Orwell, George Bernard Shaw and William Morris. The suffragettes also held meetings there in the early 1900s and, in 2003, it was the scene of a massive rally against the taking of military action in Iraq.
Numerous other countries have since adopted the idea and created their own version of a “speakers’ corner” including Australia, Singapore, Canada and the US.
London’s Speakers’ Corner has undergone a makeover in recent months (somewhat controversial to some) and was last month reopened by the Culture Secretary Sajid Javid who described Speakers’ Corner as a “deeply symbolic space that celebrates freedom of speech”.
The refurbishment included new trees and plantings, resurfacing and the installation of railings, designed by Royal Parks landscape architect Ruth Holmes and landscape architects Burns + Nice and carried out by award-winners Bowls and Wyer.
June 30, 2014
The origins of the name of this inner west London location on the northern side of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens go back to at least the 14th century when it was recorded as Bayard’s or perhaps Baynard’s watering place.
Bayard was the word for a bay-coloured horse but it is thought that instead the name here comes from a local landowner – it’s been suggested he may be the same Baynard whose name is was remembered in the long gone Norman fortification Baynard’s Castle in the City.
The name probably referred to a site where people on their way out of or headed to London stopped for a rest and some water; the water aspect may relate to springs or to the Westbourne Stream which ran through the area.
It’s now known for its culturally diverse population and high concentration of hotels. It’s also known for Georgian terraces – many of which have been converted into flats, mansion blocks and garden squares.
Notable residents have included Peter Pan author JM Barrie and former PM’s Tony Blair and Winston Churchill while landmarks include Whiteleys, a department store which first opened in the mid 19th century (and was later rebuilt after burning down).
October 4, 2013
Can you identify where in London this picture was taken and what it’s of? If you think you can, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!
Well done to Renate, John, Diego and José who all correctly named this as the Boy with a Dolphin fountain in Hyde Park’s Rose Garden. The fountain, which is the work of Alexander Munro and dates from 1862, was once the centrepiece of the Victoria-era sunken garden which stood on the site of a former reservoir but was removed to make way for the widening of Park Lane. The fountain was moved to The Regent’s Park in 1960 but returned to Hyde Park in 1995. The Rose Garden, located close to Hyde Park Corner, also contains an older fountain – the Artemis Fountain, which dates from 1822.
September 24, 2013
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.
August 21, 2013
It’s not immediately obvious what this series of upright stainless steel pillars standing on the eastern edge of Hyde Park has been placed there for.
But look a little closer and you’ll see inscribed upon a date which any long-term Londoner immediately recognises – 7th July, 2005: the day when a series of bombs claimed 52 lives on three trains and a bus at various locations around central London.
The memorial, designed by architects Carmody Groarke and engineering team Arup working in consultation with victims’ representatives, Royal Parks and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, consists of 52 pillars – one for each victim of the bombings.
The 3.5 metre high, 850 kilogram pillars are clustered together in four groups representing the four locations of the bomb attacks – Tavistock Square, Edgware Road, King’s Cross and Aldgate. They are marked with the times, dates and locations of the bombings and there’s also a 1.4 tonne stainless steel plaque upon which are written the names of the victims located nearby.
The RIBA award-winning memorial, which is located just to the north of the colossal statue Achilles and Hyde Park Corner, was unveiled by Prince Charles and Lady Camilla on the fourth anniversary of the attack in 2009.
For more, see the Royal Parks website www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/hyde-park-attractions/7-july-memorial.
This week we take a look at another of London’s war-related memorials but unlike the vast majority, this one, as its name says, commemorates animals, not humans.
Located in the middle of Park Lane near the intersection with Upper Brook Street on the eastern side of Hyde Park, the memorial is dedicated “to all the animals that served and died alongside British and Allied Forces in wars and campaigns throughout time”. Another inscription on the memorial reads “They had no choice”.
A further dedication at the memorial pays tribute to the “millions” of animals who have died in wars. “From the pigeon to the elephant, they all played a vital role in every region of the world in the cause of human freedom,” it says. “Their contribution must never be forgotten.” It’s been said that as many as eight million horses were killed in World War I alone.
It features a couple of bronze pack mules making their way through a gap in a curved, 58 foot wide Portland stone wall – themselves carrying reliefs of various animals including an elephant, horses, camels and pigeons – while on the other side is a bronze horse and a dog, looking ahead.
The memorial is the work of Somerset-based sculptor David Backhouse and was unveiled by Princess Anne in November 2004, the 90th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. It was apparently inspired by Jilly Cooper’s book, Animals in War, and commissioned by the Imperial War Museum. It was paid for by £2 million in public donations.
For more, check out www.animalsinwar.org.uk.
July 5, 2013
This former fixture of Leicester Square featured a giant globe containing in its innards a detailed physical relief map of the earth’s surface.
The globe was the brainchild of James Wyld (the Younger), a Charing Cross cartographer and map publisher as well as an MP and Geographer to Queen Victoria, who originally planned on exhibiting it at the Great Exhibition of 1851.
At more than 60 feet high, its proposed dimensions, however, meant it would be too big to be housed inside the Crystal Palace being erected in Hyde Park (besides which, Wyld did want to use the globe to promote his map business, something which was frowned upon by the exhibition’s organisers).
So he turned to Leicester Square and, after a rather complicated series of negotiations with the owners of the gardens, was granted permission locate the globe there for 10 years. An exhibition hall large enough to house the globe – and the globe itself – was hastily constructed in time for the Great Exhibition (and the increased visitor numbers it would draw). It opened on 2nd June, 1851, one month after the Great Exhibition.
Inside the gas-lit interior of the globe – entered through four loggias – were a series of galleries and stairways which people could climb to explore the concave surface of the earth depicted – complete with plaster-of-Paris mountain ranges and other topographical details, all created to scale – on the inner side of the great orb.
Initially a great success (visitor numbers are believed to have topped a million in its first year), its appeal faded after a few years amid increasing competition from other attractions such as Panopticon of Science and Art (more of that in an upcoming post) and Wyld was obliged to introduce other entertainments to keep the public satisfied. Wyld himself was among those who gave public lectures at the site.
When the lease expired in 1862, the exhibition hall and the globe were both demolished and the globe sold off for scrap. Wyld, meanwhile, apparently didn’t keep his promise to return the gardens to a satisfactory state but after much wrangling over their fate, they were eventually donated to the City of London.
PICTURE: The Great Globe in cross-section from the Illustrated London News, 7th June, 1851 (via Wikipedia).
Around London: Royal fashion at Kensington; Music in Hyde Park; celebrating African literature at the British Library…
July 4, 2013
• A new exhibition looking at the fashions of three royals over four decades last century opens at Kensington Palace today. Fashion Rules features five rooms of dress displays with a focus on the fashions of Queen Elizabeth II in the 1950s, Princess Margaret in the 1960s and 1970s and Diana, Princess of Wales, in the 1980s. Twenty-one dresses are included in the display which explores how the royal women negotiated how to dress fashionably while observing the “rules” of the Royal Wardrobe and includes film footage and photography. The dresses include five of the Queen’s evening dresses – one of which is a gown fashioned for the Queen by Norman Hartnell in the colours of the flag of Pakistan, a full-length kaftan and matching turban of ivory sari silk worn by Princess Margaret while on the island of Mustique (on display for the first time), and, two Eighties dresses worn by Diana which have never before been displayed in the UK. Admission is included in entry price. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/. PICTURE: HRP/Newsteam.
• The Rolling Stones are back in Hyde Park this weekend as part of a summer of music in the Royal Park. The concert will take place almost 44 years to the day since the Stones first played the park and comes in the wake of their ’50 and Counting’ shows last year. Their first performance in the park – on 5th July, 1969 – saw the live debut of guitarist Mick Taylor and was a tribute to founding member Brian Jones who has died only two days before. For the full programme of Barclaycard presents British Summer Time Hyde Park, head to www.bst-hydepark.com.
• The British Library is partnering with the Royal African Society to host the UK’s largest festival of African literature – Africa Writes – this weekend. Kicking off on Friday, the three day festival features Ngugi wa Thiong’o, described as “Africa’s greatest living novelist” (pictured), and his son, rising star Mukoma Ngugi, in a conversation chaired by Ellah Allfrey, deputy editor of Granta Magazine. Other programme highlights include a poetry evening, ‘Diaspora Writes Back’; a tribute to Chinua Achebe, the “father of contemporary African literature”; and the writers short-listed for The Caine Prize – the most prestigious prize for African short fiction. For more, see www.africawrites.org. PICTURE: Ngugi wa Thiong’o © Daniel Anderson.
July 2, 2013
Boating on the Serpentine in Hyde Park. The 40 acre lake was created in 1730 by the damming of the Westbourne River on the instruction of Queen Caroline, wife of King George II. It was one of the first lakes in England designed to look ‘natural’. There’s a couple of differing explanations for the name of the lake – that it was named for the body of water’s sinuous shape or that it was named for the colour of the water. For more on Hyde Park, check out www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park. PICTURE: David Adams
February 4, 2013
Arguably the greatest architect of Regency London, John Nash’s imprint can still be seen in numerous sites around the city, from the master-planning of Regent’s Park and Regent Street to the beautiful buildings of All Soul’s Church in Langham Place and Marble Arch on the edge of Hyde Park.
Born the son of a Welsh millwright in Lambeth, London, on 18th January, 1752, Nash – who went on to work in a range of different architectural styles – trained as a draughtsman under the tutelage of architect Sir Robert Taylor and in 1777 established his own business as a builder and surveyor.
But he certainly didn’t meet with immediate success and, following failure as a building speculator (he built properties in Bloomsbury Square and Great Russell Street but failed to make enough money from the venture – there’s a blue plaque on one of the houses, which he lived in, at 66 Great Russell Street), was declared bankrupt in 1783.
Meanwhile, his personal life was also in turmoil during these years – in 1775 he had married, Jane Kerr, the daughter of a Surrey surgeon, but separated from her in the early 1780s after various troubles including her eventually apparently having a child with a Welshman named Charles Charles, who is said to have died in prison after he was jailed for adultery.
Brought down by his misfortune, in the mid 1780s Nash moved to Carmarthen in Wales where he had family. Taking up work here, by the late 1780s he was designing prisons – the first was at Carmarthen – and worked on a number of other prominent buildings including St David’s Cathedral and various country houses.
Rising to prominence in Carmarthen society, by 1797, however, Nash was again working in London, initially in partnership with the renowned landscape architect Humphrey Repton with whom he had formed a business relationship some years earlier (although the partnership had soured over finances by 1800).
He built a substantial home at 29 Dover Street in Mayfair and in 1798, his first wife presumably dead, he married his second wife, Mary Anne Bradley, and soon started work on building a Gothic-inspired residence for them, known as East Cowes Castle, on the Isle of Wight. It was completed in 1802 but enlarged some years later.
Nash designed numerous country properties in the early 19th century, inspired by everything from castles to Italianate architecture, both in England and Ireland and soon came to the attention of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV (there was a rumour his wife was one of the prince’s discarded mistresses).
In 1806 he was officially made Deputy Surveyor General in the Office of Woods and Forests – the office which managed the Crown estate, and from 1815 on, he largely worked for the prince alone. Among the major London commissions from his royal patron were the design of Regent Street (he and his wife moved into number 14 in 1823) and the development of Regent’s Park on land formerly known as Marylebone Park and surrounding housing estates (for more on The Regent’s Park, see our earlier entry here). He also redeveloped St James’s Park.
In 1815, he was commissioned to develop the Prince Regent’s Marine Pavilion in Brighton and by 1822 had transformed the building into the spectacular Royal Pavilion which can be visited there today.
Nash was also involved in the development of The Regent’s Canal – which linked the Grand Union Canal in London’s west to the River Thames in London’s east and was completed in 1820 – and built many of the grand villas which still line it (for more on Regent’s Canal, see our earlier entry here).
Becoming an official architect to the Office of Works in 1813 (an appointment which only ended in 1832, three years before his death), Nash went on to design churches – including All Soul’s in Langham Place (he’s depicted above in a bust at the church) – as well as West End theatres including the Haymarket Theatre and the Royal Opera House (which burnt down in 1867) as well as the adjacent Royal Opera Arcade and residences including Carlton House Terrace and Clarence House (for more on this, see our earlier entry here).
Other major commissions included the redevelopment of Buckingham Palace (parts of the current building are his work but the main facade isn’t – for more on the palace history, see our earlier entry here) and the Royal Mews, and the creation of Marble Arch, originally envisaged as the main gateway to the palace (see our earlier entry here). Nash also designed a conservatory for Kew Gardens.
Nash’s close relationship with the Prince Regent (who become King George IV on 29th January, 1820), meant that when the king died in 1830, he found himself on the outer (and his reputation took many years to recover thanks to his association with the unpopular king). With no knighthood forthcoming for his efforts (unlike many of his contemporaries) and the chance of further work unlikely (his work on Buckingham Palace had been left unfinished due to concerns over rising costs), Nash retired to his house on the Isle of Wight.
He died there on 13th May, 1835, and was buried in the churchyard at St James’s Church in East Cowes. He was survived by his wife who, having settled his debts, retired to Hampstead.
For an in-depth study of Nash, try Geoffrey Tyack’s book, John Nash: Architect of the Picturesque.