July 8, 2016
Held in the collections of the London Metropolitan Archives, the Great Parchment Book of The Honourable the Irish Society was recently inscribed upon the UK register of the UNESCO Memory of the World.
Described as a “hugely significant record of the Ulster Plantation of the early 17th century”, the book was compiled in 1639 by a commission instituted under the Great Seal of King Charles I and is a survey of all the estates in Derry managed by the City of London Corporation through the Irish Society and City of London livery companies.
As such, manuscript and provides a unique insight into this important period in the history of Northern Ireland, containing key data about landholdings and the population in Ulster at the time of its creation including for both English and Scottish settlers and the native Irish population (as well as, exceptionally, for many women at all levels of society).
The Great Parchment Book was badly damaged in a fire in 1786 and as a result was unavailable to researchers for more than 200 years until its successful reconstruction using cutting edge digital imaging technology.
It is the fourth item in the care of the London Metropolitan Archives to be inscribed to the UK register of the UNESCO Memory of the World, a programme which aims to facilitate preservation of the world’s documentary and audio-visual heritage, to assist universal access and to increase awareness worldwide of the existence and significance of this documentary heritage.
The three other objects inscribed on the list which are in the LMA’s care include the Charter of William I to the City of London, London County Council Bomb Damage Maps and Robert Hooke’s Diary 1672-83.
WHERE: London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, Clerkenwell (nearest Tube stations are Farringdon and Angel); WHEN: Open Monday to Thursday and selected Saturdays (check website for times); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/london-metropolitan-archives/Pages/default.aspx.
PICTURE: Courtesy London Metropolitan Archives.
December 22, 2015
Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of one of five highly ornate towers, luxurious banqueting houses from which the court would view tournaments in King Henry VIII’s walled tiltyard at Hampton Court Palace.
Built in the 1530s, the multi-storey towers were largely demolished by the 1680s and, with the exception of one of the towers which still stands at the palace (and is now a Grade I listed building), their precise location eventually lost.
Until now, that is. The green-glazed tiled floor of one of the ‘lost’ towers were unearthed earlier this month during works taking place as the tiltyard undergoes a family-oriented makeover by award-winning landscape architect, Robert Myers (to be known as ‘The Magic Garden’, it will be unveiled next Easter).
The richly decorated towers – where the king entertained dignitaries and ambassadors – are thought to slightly predate the tiltyard which was apparently laid out in 1537 – perhaps, it’s been suggested, to mark the birth of King Henry VIII’s son, the future King Edward VI.
The first recorded tournament at Hampton Court took place in 1557 when Queen Mary I held one to celebrate Christmas. Her sister Queen Elizabeth I continued the tradition by occasionally holding tournaments there but most days the tiltyard was used to train the young men of the court in warfare.
When tournaments gradually fell out of fashion, the towers were used as multi-purpose storage facilities housing, according to Historic Royal Palaces, everything from pigeons to two Catholic priests in service to King Charles I’s queen, Henrietta Maria, who were spent time ‘quarantined’ there after an outbreak of plague.
For more on Hampton Court Palace, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.
December 9, 2015
Yes, we’re a bit out of order here given we looked at the subsequent Battle of Turnham Green last week, but today we’re taking a look at the Civil War fight known as the Battle of Brentford.
As recounted last week, having taken Banbury and Oxford in the aftermath of the Battle of Edgehill, the Royalist army marched along the Thames Valley toward London where a Parliamentarian army under the Earl of Essex waited.
Having arrived at Reading to the west of London, King Charles I, apparently unconvinced peace talks were heading in the right direction, ordered Prince Rupert to take Brentford in order to put pressure on the Parliamentarians in London.
On 12th November, 1642, up to 4,600 Royalists under the command of the prince engaged with two Parliamentarian infantry regiments at Brentford, one of the key approaches the City of London. The Parliamentarians were under the command of Denzil Hollis (who wasn’t present) and Lord Brooke – various estimates put their number at between 1,300 and 2,000 men.
Prince Rupert’s men – consisting of cavalry and dragoons – attacked at dawn under the cover of a mist. An initial venture to take a Parliamentarian outpost at the house of Royalist Sir Richard Wynne was repulsed by cannon fire but Sir Rupert ordered a Welsh foot regiment to join the fight and the outpost was quickly taken.
The Cavaliers then pushed forward across the bridge over the River Brent (which divided the town) and eventually drove the Parliamentarians from the town and into the surrounding fields (part of the battle was apparently fought on the grounds of Syon House – pictured at top).
Fighting continued into the late afternoon before the arrival of a Parliamentarian infantry brigade under the command of John Hampden allowed the Roundheads to withdraw.
About 170 are believed to have died in the battle (including a number who drowned fleeing the fighting). Followed by the sack of the town, the battle was a success for the Royalists who apparently captured some 15 guns and about 400 prisoners. The captured apparently included Leveller John Lilburne, a captain in Brooke’s regiment.
The Royalists and Parliamentarians met again only a few days later – this time at Turnham Green (for more on that, see last week’s post).
Incidentally, this wasn’t the first battle to be fought at Brentford. Some time over the summer of 1016, English led by Edmund Ironside clashed with the Danes under the soon-to-be-English king Canute. Edmund was victorious on the day, one of a series of battles he fought with Canute.
Meanwhile, more than 1000 years earlier, it was apparently at Brentford that the British under the King Cassivellaunus fought with Julius Caesar’s men in 54 BC on their approach to St Albans (Verulamium).
A pillar stands High Street in Brentford commemorating all three battles while there is an explanatory plaque about the battle in the grounds of Syon Park.
For more the Battles of Brentford and Turnham Green, see www.battlefieldstrust.com/brentfordandturnhamgreen.
December 2, 2015
Part of the English Civil War, this battle – really no more than a skirmish – between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians which prevented the Royalists from attacking London which ultimately forced the Royalists to spend winter in Oxford.
Having taken Banbury and Oxford in the aftermath of the inconclusive Battle of Edgehill, a Royalist army had marched along the Thames Valley toward London.
On the 12th November, 1642, the Royalists had defeated two Parliamentarian regiments at Brentford to the west of the City of London. Under the command of Patrick Ruthven, Earl of Forth, but with King Charles I among them, the Royalists, who numbered some 12,000 men, then camped overnight at a site believed to be at or near the village of Turnham Green, now in west London.
Meanwhile, a Parliamentarian army under command of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, joined up with London militia under the command of Major General Philip Skippon at Chelsea Field. Numbering some 24,000, they advanced upon Turnham Green where the Royalists awaited them.
By 8am on the 13th, the two armies had formed lines running roughly north to south across Turnham Green, Chiswick Common Field and Acton Green with the Parliamentarian line stretching from the site of what is now Turnham Green Tube station to the grounds of Chiswick House and the Royalist lines stretching from south of Chiswick Park Tube station to the Great West Road.
Both lines apparently had infantry at the centre with cavalry on the flanks. Essex, attempting to outflank the Royalists, sent troops to high ground at Action but, concerned about splitting his army, soon withdrew them.
The battle them became something of a stalemate – Essex, not seeking to do any more than block the Royalist advance, was happy to wait while the Royalists, outnumbered, short of ammunition and said to have been unwilling to put the Londoners offside, did likewise.
Eventually, late in the afternoon, the Royalists withdrew westward and Essex, who was much criticised for it afterward, gave a half-hearted pursuit. King Charles I then ordered his army back up the Thames Valley to Oxford where they ended up passing the winter.
Less than 50 men in total are said to have died in the indecisive clash which, it can be argued, helped to ensure that the Civil War would go on for another four long years.
While much of the site of the skirmish has been built upon, glimpses of the open ground which once stood here can still be seen. There is an information panel about the battle opposite Turnham Green Tube station.
For more on the English Civil War, see Blair Worden’s The English Civil Wars: 1640-1660.
A short-lived addition to Old St Paul’s Cathedral before it burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, the classical-style portico was designed by Inigo Jones as part of makeover King James I ordered him to give the cathedral in the first half of the 17th century.
St Paul’s, which was completed in the early 14th century in the Early English Gothic style (see our post here for more on its earlier history), had fallen into a state of disrepair by the 1620s, thanks in part to a fire caused by lightning which had brought the spire – 489 feet (149 metres) high when built – crashing down through the nave roof in 1561.
The spire wasn’t rebuilt and repair works undertaken to the cathedral roof were apparently shoddy, meaning that by the early 1600s, things were in a parlous state.
Jones started work in the 1620s, cleaning and repairing the massive structure and adding a layer of limestone masonry over the exterior to give the building a more classical look inspired by the temples of ancient Rome he had seen in that city and in Naples and the work of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio.
This was complemented by the grand portico he added to the west front in the 1630s (and which was paid for by King James’ son, King Charles I). Featuring 10 columns across its breadth and four deep (these, it has been suggested, stood about 45 feet tall), it was topped by a frieze of lions’ heads and foliage with plans for a series of statues which some say were to be saints and others kings to be placed along the top (in the end only statues of King Charles I and King James I were ever placed there). The facade also featured turrets at either side.
Work on the repairs came to a halt in 1642 thanks to the Civil War, during which Parliamentarian forces famously used the cathedral’s great nave for stables.
Following the Restoration in 1660, with Jones now dead (he died in 1652), Sir Christopher Wren was invited by King Charles II to restore the grand old building but Sir Christopher proposed it be demolished instead, a decision which lead to an outcry among London’s citizens.
Wren then changed his plans to instead restore the existing build but replace the spire with a dome. His scaffolding was in place around the cathedral when the Great Fire broke out in 1666 and badly damaged the building (although the portico apparently remained standing until 1687-88 when Sir Christopher had it demolished to make way for his new western front).
Interestingly, it is said Wren used blocks from the portico to create the foundations for the building which now stands on the site.
PICTURE: Wenceslaus Hollar’s rendering of Inigo Jones’ West Portico/Wikipedia
For more on the history of St Paul’s Cathedral see Ann Saunders’ St Paul’s Cathedral: 1,400 Years at the Heart of London.
April 28, 2015
Greenwich icon, the Queen’s House, is set to close on 27th July this year to allow for refurbishment and upgrade ahead of the 400th anniversary of its commissioning and design in 2016. The landmark will be closed until 4th July, 2016, after which those visiting the house will be able to see Orazio Gentileschi’s Biblically-themed painting, Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife, displayed in the building for the first time since 1650. Part of the Royal Collection, the painting was one of a series commissioned for the building by King Charles I and his wife Queen Henrietta Maria. The Queen’s House was designed by Inigo Jones in 1616 for King James I’s wife, Anne of Denmark, and, acknowledged as a masterpiece of 17th century architecture, was the first classically-designed building in country. The makeover will see galleries refurbished, the introduction of new displays and the restoration of components including the ceiling in the King’s Presence Chamber (the Queen’s Presence Chamber was restored in 2013). For more, see www.rmg.co.uk.
This Week in London – Charles I’s overlooked artist; St George’s Day in Trafalgar Square; Indigenous Australia; prints from the Royal Collection on show; and, ‘What is Luxury’ at the V&A…
April 23, 2015
• The first ever display of works of overlooked 17th century artist Cornelius Johnson, court painter to Charles I, has opened at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square. Cornelius Johnson: Charles I’s Forgotten Painter features rarely viewed portraits of the king’s children including the future Charles II, James II and Mary (later Princess of Orange-Nassau) as well as a painting of Mary’s son William – all of which have been taken from the gallery’s collection. Overshadowed by Sir Anthony van Dyck, Johnson – who emigrated to The Netherlands when the English Civil War broke out – has been largely ignored by art historians despite the breadth of his work – from group portraits, such as his largest surviving English painting, The Capel Family, to tiny miniatures – and the fact that he is thought to be the first English-born artist who took to signing date his paintings as a matter of course, something he is believed to have picked up during his training in The Netherlands. The display features eight painted portraits and six prints from the gallery’s collection as well as three paintings from the Tate. Runs until 13th September in Room 6. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: King Charles II by Cornelius Johnson , 1639. © National Portrait Gallery, London.
• Trafalgar Square will be at the centre of London’s St George’s Day celebrations on Saturday with live music, celebrity chefs, a masterclass by leading tea experts and children’s games and activities. The musical lineup will feature the band from the West End musical Let It Be and the Crystal Palace Brass Band – one of the few traditional brass bands remaining in London. The free event runs between noon and 6pm on Saturday. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/stgeorges.
• Indigenous Australia, the first major exhibition in the UK to present a history of Indigenous Australia through objects, opens at the British Museum today. Drawing on the museum’s collection, Indigenous Australia features objects including a shield believed to have been collected in Botany Bay on Captain Cook’s voyage of 1770, a protest placard from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy established in 1972 and contemporary paintings and specially commissioned artworks from leading indigenous artists. Many of the objects have never been on display before. Runs until 2nd August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• Thirty prints from the Royal Collection will be on show at The London Original Print Fair to mark its 30th anniversary. The fair runs at the Royal Academy from today until Sunday and among the selected works from the more than 100,000 prints in the Royal Collection are the 2.3 metre long woodcut by Albrecht Durer entitled Triumphal Cart of the Emperor Maximillian (1523), Wenceslaus Hollar’s four etchings of tropical Seashells (c1650), a sequence of proofs of Samuel Reynolds’ portrait of King George III at the end of the monarch’s life, and lithographs produced by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert dating from 1842. For more on the fair, see www.londonprintfair.com. For more on the Royal Collection, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.
• The question of what is meant by the concept of luxury is under examination in the V&A’s new exhibition What is Luxury? Opening at the South Kensington museum Saturday, the exhibition will feature a range of luxury objects – from the George Daniels’ Space Travellers’ Watch to a Hermés Talaris saddle, and Nora Fok’s Bubble Bath necklace. Also on show in a section of the exhibit looking at what could determine future ideas of luxury is American artist Gabriel Barcia-Colombo’s DNA Vending Machine (complete with prepackaged DNA samples) and Henrik Nieratschker’s installation The Botham Legacy which tells the fictional story of a British billionaire who sends altered bacteria into space in an attempt to find valuable metals on distant plants. Runs until 27th September. Admission charge applies. See www.vam.ac.uk/whatisluxury.
Send all items for inclusion to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Still on designs for royal palaces and today we’re looking at two designs for the same palace. Both Inigo Jones (1573-1652) and Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) drew up designs for the remodelling and expansion of Whitehall Palace.
First up was the neo-classical architect Jones who drew up plans for a vast complex of buildings (pictured left) which would replace the Tudor palace King Henry VIII had created when he transformed the grand house formerly known as York Place into a residence suitable for a king (York Place had previously been a residence of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and prior to that, the London residence of the Archbishops of York).
Jones’ complex – which apparently featured seven internal courts – covered much of what is now known as Whitehall as well as neighbouring St James’s Park with a magnificent River Thames frontage.
The first part of Jones’ grand scheme – the Banqueting House (see our earlier post here) – opened in 1622. It still survives today – pictured above – and gives a taste of the grandeur of his overall scheme.
Yet, despite the eagerness of King James I for the project, it failed to materialise. English Heritage chief executive Simon Thurley told the BBC in 2012 that the hall represented only five per cent of what Jones had planned.
King James I died in 1625 and his son King Charles I was apparently keen to continue the project – so much so that Jones submitted new plans in 1638 – but he didn’t find the funds the project needed (and, of course, as we know, then became consumed by the events of the Civil War before being beheaded outside the Banqueting House in 1649).
Following the Restoration, in the 1660s King Charles II apparently had Sir Christopher Wren quietly draw up plans to redevelop the palace but these weren’t follow through on although during the reign of King James II he did work on several projects at the palace including a new range of royal riverside apartments, terrace (remains of which can still be seen) and a chapel.
In 1698, much of the bloated Whitehall Palace – then the largest palace in Europe with more than 1,500 rooms – burnt down although the Banqueting House, though damaged, survived basically intact (in fact there’s an interesting anecdote, its veracity questionable, which has it that on hearing of the fire Wren rushed to the site and had an adjacent building blown up to create a firebreak and ensure the Banqueting House was saved).
The then king, King William III, approached Wren and he again submitted plans for its rebuilding (prior to the fire, he had already worked on several aspects of the palace including a new range of royal apartments and a chapel for King James II).
But Wren’s plans – images show a grand domed building – were largely never realised (although he did convert the Banqueting House into a chapel) and the destroyed palace never rebuilt (no doubt in large part due to the fact that King William III preferred a more rural and less damp location – such as that of Kensington Palace – thanks to his asthma).
For more on the history of the Palace of Whitehall, see Simon Thurley’s Whitehall Palace: The Official Illustrated History.
September 5, 2014
While the history of the General Post Office dates back to the reign of King Charles I, London’s first purpose-built facility for mail was constructed on the east side of St Martins-le-Grand in the 1820s.
The post office headquarters had hitherto been located in the area of Lombard Street but in 1814 it was decided that the site here couldn’t be developed any further. The site in St Martins-le-Grand was subsequently acquired and plans for the building commenced.
Designed by Sir Robert Smirke (famous for his design of the British Museum), the grand structure was built on the site of what were slums between 1825 and 1829 and featured a 400 foot long “Grecian-style” street frontage. The exterior of the building was lit with 1,000 gas burners at night.
As well as serving as the post office’s administrative headquarters, the building also contained the sorting office and the main London public post office. Along with a grand public hall and offices, it contained rooms – including an armoury – for the guards who protected mail coaches and accommodation for clerks charged with receiving foreign mail (obviously at all hours!).
A new building was added to house the telegraph department on the west side of the street in the 1870s and further buildings followed, leading Smirke’s initial building to become known as ‘GPO East’.
In 1910, the facility was bursting at the seams and so the headquarters was moved to the King Edward VII Building. Smirke’s grand building was somewhat controversially demolished in 1912. A fragment – one of the capitals which topped one of the external columns – is apparently located in Vestry Road in Walthamstow.
For more on London’s postal heritage, visit the British Postal Museum & Archive.
PICTURE: Thomas Shepherd/Wikipedia
July 28, 2014
No, the name of the famous Bond Street in Mayfair has nothing to do with James Bond. Rather, the street – in fact, two streets named Old and New Bond Street – takes its name from a 17th century courtier, Sir Thomas Bond.
Bond was the comptroller of the household of Queen Henrietta Maria, then the Queen Mother thanks to being the widow of King Charles I and the mother of King Charles II. He was also something of a land developer – the head of a consortium that purchased Albermarle House from Christopher Monck, the 2nd Duke of Albermarle, in 1683.
The house was promptly demolished and the area redeveloped with what is now Old Bond Street – which runs from Piccadilly to Burlington Gardens – laid out in 1686 and given Sir Thomas’ surname (he’d died the previous year).
The northern extension of Old Bond Street (which runs from Burlington Gardens to Oxford Street) – named New Bond Street – was developed in the 1720s. Caroline Taggart, in The Book of London Place Names, says it was residents of Old Bond Street who insisted on the use of ‘new’ in the name, no doubt to differentiate between themselves and the newcomers or, as Taggart suggests, ‘upstarts’.
Traditionally known as a location for art dealers (Sotheby’s auction house – identified by an ancient Egyptian bust of the goddess Sekhmet which sits on the facade – has stood there for more than a century), the street has become increasingly known for its luxury fashion and accessories retailers such as Asprey’s, Chanel, Cartier, Dolce & Gabbana, Bulgari and Tiffany & Co (see the Bond Street Association for more). Other landmark buildings in the street include the home of the Fine Art Society and the Royal Arcade.
Bond Street is also home to US sculptor’s Lawrence Holofcener’s work, Allies (pictured above), depicting former British PM Winston Churchill and US President Franklin D Roosevelt, and at the northern end stands the Bond Street Underground Station which opened in 1900.
Famous residents have included Admiral Horatio Nelson – who stayed at number 147 in 1797-98 while he recovered after losing his arm at Tenerife, eighteenth century satirist Jonathan Swift and politician William Pitt the Elder, as well as twentieth century spy Guy Burgess, who lived at Clifford Chambers before his defection to USSR.
Around Christmas, the street plays host to a rather special display of lights (pictured top).
July 21, 2014
While for many Tower Green inside the Tower of London is synonymous with beheadings, only seven people, including Anne Boleyn, were ever actually executed there. Far more people were executed outside the Tower’s walls at nearby Tower Hill, just to the north.
Some of the names of those executed here are recorded on a memorial at the site – everyone from Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was beheaded here by an angry mob in 1381, through to Sir Thomas More in 1535 (gracious King Henry VIII commuted his sentence from being hung, drawn and quartered to mere beheading), and Simon Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat, a Jacobite arrested after the Battle of Culloden and the last man to be executed here when his head was lopped off in 1747.
While, as you can see above, many of those executed at Tower Hill were beheaded (and most were of the nobility), there were some executions there which did involve the guilty party being hung, drawn and quartered – a punishment reserved for those being convicted of high treason and also enforced at other sites in London including at Tyburn and Smithfield. Among them was William Collingbourne in 1484 for supporting the cause of Henry Tudor against that of King Richard III.
A plaque on the external wall of the nearby pub quotes a passage from the famous diarist Samuel Pepys after he witnessed an execution in Charing Cross on 13th October, 1660: “I went to see Major General Harrison. Hung drawn and quartered. He was looking as cheerful as any man could in that condition”.
Thomas Harrison fought with Parliament during the Civil War and was among those who signed the death warrant of King Charles I. Found guilty of regicide after the Restoration, he was hung, drawn and quartered (though as Pepys tells us, not here).
The pub, located at 26-27 Great Tower Street, is part of the Fuller’s chain. For more, see www.hung-drawn-and-quartered.co.uk.
June 23, 2014
No, this pub on Moorgate is not related to William Shakespeare. Its name actually comes from the globe which was used as the emblem of Portugal and advertised the fact that fine Portuguese wines were on sale at the premises.
According the pub’s website, there were eight pubs with the sign of the Globe in London during the reign of King Charles I (when this pub was apparently founded). By the middle of the 19th century, the number had risen to more than 30.
There are still a few other Globe pubs in London – as well as this one, others include the Globe in Marylebone Road and The Globe Bow Street (although we’re not sure whether their names were derived in the same way).
The pub, which is located at 83 Moorgate – close to where Moorgate once punctured London’s city wall and gave access to the fens known as Moorfields. In 2008, the pub merged with the neighbouring pub, the John Keats, now commemorated in the name of the bar (that pub was named for the Romantic poet John Keats, who it has been speculated was born in a pub on the site in 1795).
The pub is now part of the Nicholson’s group. For more, check out its website at www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/theglobemoorgatelondon/.
June 6, 2014
Located on the site of the former Blackfriars Monastery which has closed during the Dissolution (see our earlier post here), the origins of the Blackfriars Playhouse or Theatre go back to the mid-1570s when children connected with the Queen’s Chapel Choir performed plays in part of the former monastery.
While those plays were performed in order to practice for those performed before Queen Elizabeth I, the organisers did also apparently use the theatre for paying audiences. This first theatre ceased operation in 1584.
In 1596, part of the priory and an adjoining building were bought by James Burbage in 1596 who created a playhouse within them. It was used by the Children of the Chapel, a group of choristers and other boys, until 1608 when the King’s Men took over – with Burbage’s son Richard and Shakespeare among those who had a share in the theatre – and used it as their winter playhouse.
The theatre – where Shakespeare himself is believed to have performed – was apparently the first commercial premises of its type to used artificial lighting and, usually for the time, featured music between acts.
The wife of King Charles I, Queen Henrietta Maria, is known to have attended the theatre later in its life in 1634 and again a couple of years later.
The theatre closed with the commencement of the English Civil War and the theatre was demolished in 1655.
The candle-lit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which opened in January at the Globe Theatre on Bankside, was designed based on drawings of indoor theatres of the era (there’s also a recreation of the Blackfriars Playhouse in the US which is home to the acting troupe of the American Shakespeare Center).
While nothing remains of the playhouse today, it lives on in the name Playhouse Yard.
February 28, 2014
Can you identify where in London this picture was taken? If you think you can, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!
Sorry about the delay in getting the answer to you! But yes, as Baldwin and Jennifer both answered, this bust of King Charles I does indeed sit on the wall of St Margaret’s Church opposite the Houses of Parliament, above a blocked doorway. There is a story that the statue of Oliver Cromwell which stands opposite, outside Westminster Hall, has his eyes deliberately averted from the King (after all, he did help him lose his head). But Cromwell statue, by Hamo Thornycroft, was placed in position well before the bust – it’s placement dates from the turn of the 19th century while the bust (one of a pair) wasn’t placed on the church until 1956 (a gift of The Society of King Charles the Martyr which annually commemorates the king’s death). Still, it’s a fitting placement.
November 25, 2013
Often noted as the second greatest English dramatist of his generation (after that Shakespeare guy), the playwright Ben Jonson stands tall in his own right as one of the leading literary figures of the late 16th and early 17th century.
Born in 1572, Jonson was educated at Westminster School in London and possibly went on to Cambridge before he started work as a bricklayer with his stepfather and later served as a soldier, fighting with English troops in The Netherlands.
It was on his return to London that he ventured into acting – among his early roles was Hieronimo in Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedie – and by 1597 he was employed as a playwright.
While one of his early play-writing efforts (The Isle of Dogs, co-written with Thomas Nashe) led to a term of imprisonment in Marshalsea Prison in 1597 (he was also briefly imprison about this time for killing another actor in a duel, escaping a death sentence by pleading “benefit of the clergy”), the following year – 1598 – the production of his play Every Man In His Humour established his reputation as a dramatist. Shakespeare, whom some suggest was a key rival of Jonson’s during his career – is said to have been among the actors who performed in it.
Further plays followed including Every Man Out Of His Humour (1599), his only tragedy Sejanus (1603), the popular Volpone (1606) and The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614) and it was during these years, particularly following the accession of King James I in 1603, that he became an important figure at the royal court).
His political views continued to cause trouble at times – he was again imprisoned in the early 1600s for his writings and was questioned over the Gunpowder Plot after apparently attending an event attended by most of those later found to be co-conspirators – but his move into writing masques for the royal court – saw his star continue to rise.
All up he wrote more than 20 masques for King James and Queen Anne of Denmark including Oberon, The Faery Prince which featured the young Prince Henry, eldest son of King James, in the title role. Many of these masques saw him working with architect Inigo Jones, who designed extravagant sets for the masques, but their relationship was tense at times.
In 1616 – his reputation well established – Jonson was given a sizeable yearly pension (some have concluded that as a result he was informally the country’s first Poet Laureate) and published his first collection of works the following year. Noted for his wit, he was also known to have presided over a gathering of his friends and admirers at The Mermaid Tavern and later at the Devil’s Tavern at 2 Fleet Street (Shakespeare was among those he verbally jousted with).
Jonson spent more than a year in his ancestral home of Scotland around 1618 but on his return to London, while still famous, he no longer saw the same level of success as he had earlier – particularly following the death of King James and accession of his son, King Charles I, in 1625.
Jonson married Anne Lewis – there is a record of such a couple marrying at St Magnus-the-Martyr church near London Bridge in 1594 – but their relationship certainly wasn’t always smooth sailing for they spent at least five years of their marriage living separately. It’s believed he had several children, two of whom died while yet young.
Jonson, meanwhile, continued to write up until his death on 6th August, 1637, and is buried in Westminster Abbey (he’s the only person buried upright in the abbey – apparently due to his poverty at the time of his death).
For an indepth look at the life of Ben Jonson, check out Ian Donaldson’s Ben Jonson: A Life.
August 9, 2013
One of five City of London swords, tradition holds that the sword was given to the City Corporation by Queen Elizabeth I when the Royal Exchange opened in 1571.
It takes its name from its pearl-encrusted scabbard – there’s said to be 2,500 of them sewn onto it – and was traditionally used in celebrations. These include a ceremony which takes place when the reigning monarch comes in State to the City.
Seen during last year’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the ceremony involves the Lord Mayor taking the sword from the Sword-Bearer and offering it hilt-first to the monarch to touch – a symbol of the monarch’s authority over the city. It is then borne aloft in front of the monarch by the Lord Mayor.
Interestingly, the tradition of the monarch touching the sword hilt is said to date from the reign of King Charles I when the king entered the City in 1641 and just touched the sword given to him and handed it back to the Lord Mayor. Prior to that, the sword was handed over to the sovereign for the during the visit.
The City’s other four swords include the State Sword, the Mourning Sword, the Old Bailey Sword and Mansion House Justice Room Sword.
Guided tours of Mansion House – official residence of the Lord Mayor of London and where the Pearl Sword can be seen – are conducted on Tuesdays at 2pm (although it’s closed for August for refurbishments and on selected dates after that). Head here www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/mansionhousetours details. PICTURES Courtesy City of London.
Around London – The ‘Line of Kings’ has a makeover; London captured from St Paul’s; and, cycles at the Museum of London…
August 8, 2013
• The Tower of London’s iconic exhibition, the Line of Kings, has had a makeover. Described as the “world’s longest running visitor attraction”, the Line of Kings features more than 500 objects including historic suits of armour – such as those worn by King Henry VIII, King Charles I and King James II – as well as life-sized wooden horses and individually carved king’s heads, many of which were made between 1685 and 1690. The exhibition was originally created following the Restoration in 1660 and was used as propaganda to promote the king’s rule (interestingly omitting queens and featuring only those deemed “good kings”). Rearranged and dispersed over the centuries, it’s been brought back together in the White Tower and reopened last month. Entry to the exhibition – a collaboration between Historic Royal Palaces and the Royal Armouries – is free as part of general admission to the Tower. For more, check out www.royalarmouries.org/line-of-kings. PICTURE: HRP/Newsteam
• Four cameras mounted on top of St Paul’s Cathedral’s Golden Gallery have captured a 360 degree time lapse video of the capital. The video, which was shot in early July, captured 36 hours in the life of London and is the work of specialist photographer Henry Stuart who previously completed two projects from the Golden Gallery – a GigaPixel image of London and a Day Meets Night image. The latest project captured some 8,000 panoramic images. The time lapse video, which is set to Kyrie from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Missa in C major ‘Missa solemnis’ K337 being sung by the St Paul’s Cathedral Choir, can be found at http://visualise.com/videos/london-360-time-lapse-from-st-pauls-cathedral.
• On Now: London Cycles. This free exhibition at the Museum of London looks at cycling in the capital with highlights including 10 large scale portraits by Ugo Gattoni, bikes including an 1880s “boneshaker”, a penny farthing, an 1930s Enfield cycle and a ‘Boris’ bike as well as head cam footage from riders including from the annual Tweed Run bike. The free display runs until 22nd September. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
Around London – Celebrating the coronation at Buckingham Palace; Royal births at the MoL; the Fourth Plinth unveiled; Menon remembered; and, manufacturing at the Design Museum…
July 25, 2013
• The Queen’s Coronation in 1953 is the subject of a special exhibition opening at Buckingham Palace as part of the palace’s summer opening. Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the coronation, the display features an array of outfits including uniforms and robes worn on the historic event on 2nd June, 1953, as well as a series of paintings recording the event, works of art and objects used on the day and film footage and sound recordings. Among the highlights of the exhibition will be sketches made by Norman Hartnell, the principal designer of the outfits worn at the coronation by the Queen, principal ladies of the immediate Royal Family and the Maids of Honour. The State Rooms of Buckingham Palace open on Saturday and remain open until 29th September. An admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: Her Majesty The Queen in her Coronation Dress, 1953, Norman Hartnell. Royal Collection Trust/All Rights Reserved.
• Meanwhile in this, the week of the birth of Prince George, it’s only fitting that we mention a small display at the Museum of London showcasing memorabilia relating to royal babies of years past. A Royal Arrival features baby clothes and other items worn by future monarchs. They include a embroidered skullcap worn by the future King Charles I, a tiny linen vest and mitten which once was worn by the future King George III and a dress emblazoned with the three feather insignia which belonged to the future King Edward VII, eldest son of Queen Victoria. The free display will be on show until October. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• The new commission for Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth will be unveiled today. The 4.7 metre high sculpture, Hahn/Cock, is the work of contemporary artist Katharina Fritsch. It will sit on the plinth for the next 18 months. For more details, see www.fourthplinth.co.uk.
• Indian statesman VK Krishna Menon has been commemorated by English Heritage with a blue plaque on his former residence in Highgate. A key campaigner for Indian independence, Menon lived at 30 Langdon Road from 1929 to 1931, having moved to England from Madras in 1924. In 1947, Menon was appointed India’s First High Commissioner in London and among his greatest achievements was his work in keeping the country in the British Commonwealth after independence. Having been a local councillor in St Pancras, he later returned to India and embarked upon a political career there. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blueplaques/.
• On Now: The Future is Here. A major new exhibition examining the changes taking place in manufacturing around the world, opened this week at the Design Museum. The Future is Here looks at how everything from “cars to shoes” is manufactured, funded, distributed and bought. Among highlights is a ‘Factory’ where visitors can discover how 3D printing works and see production in process. There will also be the chance to make your own ‘action doll’ and see a sofa designed through a crowd-sourcing process which involved members of the public. Runs until 3rd November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.designmuseum.org.
A quiet square at the heart of the area known as St James, the square’s origins go back to the 1660s when King Charles II granted what was initially a lease (and later the freehold) over a section of St James’s Field to Henry Jermyn, a favourite of King Charles I’s queen Henrietta Maria who was created the 1st Earl of St Alban.
The earl began developing the residential square (the original design had houses on the south-side fronting onto Pall Mall) and, thanks to its proximity to Whitehall and St James’s Palace, quickly attracted some of the who’s who of London to live there.
Indeed it’s said that by the 1720s, seven dukes and seven earls were in residence in the square – other residents included PMs William Pitt the Elder and William Gladstone (both lived in Chatham House, at numbers 9 and 10, albeit at different times) as well as two of James II’s mistresses, Arabella Churchill and Catherine Sedley, who apparently lived at number 21 in the late 1600s.
Among the architects who designed houses around the square were Robert Adam, Sir John Soane, and, in more recent times, Edwin Lutyens.
The square – which reached its final layout, designed by John Nash, around 1854 – remained a desirable place to live even as in the 19th century, some of the houses gave way to financial institutions, private clubs, offices and even lodging houses. These days it’s dominated by business and other institutional organisations.
Organisations located in the square today include the Naval and Military Club (number four – former home of Nancy Astor), the East India Club (number 16) and the London Library (located at number 14, it was founded by Thomas Carlyle in 1841) as well as the international headquarters of BP.
The gardens feature an equestrian statue of King William III at their centre (the work of John Bacon Sr and Jr, it was installed in 1808 and is pictured above). Other monuments include The Stag (located in the south-west corner, it is the work of Marcus Cornish and was installed in 2001) and, just outside the garden railings in the north-east corner, a memorial to WPC Yvonne Fletcher who was killed when a gun was fired from the Libyan Embassy (known as the Libyan People’s Bureau, it was located at number 5) during a demonstration on 17th April, 1984. The pavilion on the south side was designed by John Nash.
The gardens are private – managed by the St James’s Square Trust – but open to the public on weekdays from 10am to 4.30pm.