The future of the Kingdom – which legend says will fall should the resident ravens leave the Tower of London – seems secure for now. Three new raven chicks have been born since the country went into lockdown, securing their presence at the Tower for years to come.

The offspring of Huginn and Muninn, who were named after the ravens of the Norse God Odin, the chicks have yet to be named. Born in secrecy, they spent the first couple of weeks with their parents but are now under the care of the Tower’s Ravenmaster, Yeoman Warder Chris Skaife.

The Tower is usually home to six ravens but with eight ravens already in residence, the new chicks will apparently be moving on from the Tower to live with raven breeders in the country, ensuring the future of the Tower ravens bloodline.

They’re not the first chicks to be hatched by Huginn and Muninn – they’re already the parents of Poppy, named for the Tower’s famous 2014 display commemorating the centenary of World War I, and George, who was born on St George’s day at the Tower last year.

The tradition surrounding the special place of the ravens at the Tower is generally attributed to King Charles II following a warning he received that the Kingdom and Crown would fall should they leave.

PICTURES: Top – One of the new chicks; Below – Ravenmaster Chris Skate attends to the birds (© Historic Royal Palaces)

A forgotten door built for festivities surrounding the coronation of King Charles II in 1661 has been rediscovered in the Houses of Parliament. 

The door, hidden behind panelling in cloister formerly used as offices by the Parliamentary Labour Party, was originally constructed to allow guests at the coronation to make their way to his celebratory banquet in Westminster Hall.

It was subsequently used by the likes of Robert Walpole, often referred to as the first Prime Minister as well as architect-led rivals Charles James Fox and William Pitt the Younger, and diarist Samuel Pepys.

The door and passageway behind it survived the fire which destroyed much of the Palace of Westminster in 1834 but it was thought the passage had been filled in during restoration works after the Palace of Westminster was bombed in World War II.

Liz Hallam Smith, an historical consultant from the University of York who is working with the team undertaking the renovations, said they were trawling through “10,000 uncatalogued documents relating to the palace at the Historic England Archives in Swindon, when we found plans for the doorway in the cloister behind Westminster Hall”.

“As we looked at the paneling closely, we realised there was a tiny brass key-hole that no-one had really noticed before, believing it might just be an electricity cupboard,” she said. “Once a key was made for it, the paneling opened up like a door into this secret entrance.”

In the small room behind the door, the team discovered the original hinges for two wooden doors some three-and-a-half meters high that would have opened into Westminster Hall. They also found graffiti, scribbled in pencil by bricklayers who worked on the restoration of the palace in 1851 following the 1834 fire.

One section reads “This room was enclosed by Tom Porter who was very fond of Ould Ale” and another, “These masons were employed refacing these groines…[ie repairing the cloister] August 11th 1851 Real Democrats”, the latter a reference suggesting the men were part of the working class male suffrage Chartist movement.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the House of Commons Speaker, described the find as “part of our parliamentary history”: “To think that this walkway has been used by so many important people over the centuries is incredible.”

PICTURE: Sir Lindsay Hoyle and the door (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

 


Lying just to the south of Greenwich Park, this famous common apparently derives its name from the colour of the soil (although some suggest it was the colour of the bracken or even the “bleakness” of the location).

On the route from Canterbury and Dover to London, the sometimes windswept locale has seen its share of historical events over the centuries. As well as hosting remains dating to both the Saxon and Roman eras, Blackheath was where the Danes set up camp in 1011-13 (it was during this time that they murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury, Alfege, probably on the site where St Alfege’s Church in Greenwich now stands).

It’s also where Wat Tyler assembled his peasant army during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, where Jack Cade and his followers camped in 1450 during the Kentish Rebellion, and where King Henry VII defeated Michael Joseph and his Cornish rebels in 1497.

As well as uprisings, the heath has also seen its share of more joyous events. King Henry IV apparently met Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos here in 1400 before taking him back to Eltham Palace, King Henry V was welcomed by the Lord Mayor of London and aldermen here after his momentous victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, and King Charles II was welcomed here on his return to London during the Restoration. Less happily, in 1540 King Henry VIII met Anne of Cleves here for the first time.

During the 18th century, both John Wesley and George Whitefield preached to crowds on Blackheath. Meanwhile, legend has it that King James I founded England’s first golf club here in 1600s (the club joined with the Eltham Golf Club in the 1920s).

The heath, which also had a notorious reputation for highwaymen prior to residential development of the area in the late 18th century, has also been the site of fairs since at least the late 17th century.

But it wasn’t until the early 1800s that the “village” of Blackheath really formed, attracting the moderately well-to-do. The area received a significant boost as a residential locale close to London when the railway opened in 1849.

Significant buildings include All Saints’ Church which dates from 1857 and the entertainment venue known as the Blackheath Halls, built in 1895. The Georgian mansion known as the Ranger’s House – which parks on to Greenwich Park – is just to the north.

Notable residents have included early 20th century mathematician and astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington, 19th century philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill, seaside cartoonist Donald McGill and polar explorer Sir James Clark Ross. American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne lived at 4 Pond Road in 1856.

Correction: Wesley and Whitefield  preached in the 18th century, not the 19th as originally stated. Apologies for any confusion!

PICTURES: Top – Aerial view of Blackheath (foshie; licensed under CC BY 2.0; image cropped); Below – Looking towards All Saints (Herry Lawford; licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The Queen’s birthday was marked on Saturday with the annual Trooping the Colour in central London. More than 400 soldiers, close to 300 horses and 400 musicians took part in the event, believed to have first been performed during the reign of King Charles II. As well as Queen Elizabeth II, other members of the Royal Family in attendance included Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex (see image below). ALL PICTURES: US Department of Defence photo by US Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A Pineiro (Via Flickr account of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/licensed under CC BY 2.0).

 

 

 

 

 

This grand mansion, which once stood on the south side of Soho Square (then called King’s Square), was built for James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth (and ill-fated illegitimate son of King Charles II) in the early 1680s during the early development of the square.

The duke only lived in the property briefly before he headed off to the Netherlands (and was later, in 1685, was executed on Tower Hill for his failed rebellion against the king).

The three storey brick house stood around three sides of a courtyard (some suggest it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren).

The house, which was left unfinished, stood empty for some time after the duke’s death before, in 1689, part of it was briefly turned into a chapel for Huguenot refugees, known as the L’Église du Quarré (they located in 1694).

The house was sold by the Duchess of Monmouth to Sir James Bateman, Lord Mayor of London and a Sub-Governor of the South Sea Company, in 1716, and subsequently remodelled, apparently to the designs of architect Thomas Archer.

Bateman died in 1718 and his eldest son, William (later 1st Viscount Bateman), lived here until 1739. The property was late let to a succession of dignitaries – including the French and Russian ambassadors – and briefly was under consideration for use as a boy’s school.

It was eventually demolished in 1773 and Bateman’s Buildings now occupy the site. A plaque identifies the site as the former location of the mansion.

PICTURE: An 18th century engraving of Monmouth House.

A new exhibition celebrating the role of the court of King Charles II in promoting the arts in England has opened at The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace. Charles II: Art and Power highlights the key role Charles II played in developing the Royal Collection following the Restoration in 1660 as a means of decorating royal apartments and, perhaps more importantly, of glorifying the restored monarchy and helping it to take its place back on the European stage. The display features works ranging from John Michael Wright’s monumental portrait of the king in coronation robes (pictured) to Henry Greenway’s silver-gilt dish that adorned the high altar of Westminster Abbey and Wenceslaus Hollar’s The Coronation of King Charles the II in Westminster Abby the 23 of April 1661. Other paintings on show include Titian’s Madonna and Child in a Landscape with Tobias and the Angel (c1535-40), Antonio Verrio’s The Sea Triumph of Charles II (c1674), Pieter Brugel the Elder’s The Massacre of the Innocents (c1565-67), and Sir Peter Lely’s Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland (c 1665) as well as tapestries and silver-gilt furnishings. The exhibition, which will be accompanied by a major exhibition in the Royal Academy of Arts in January and a series of documentaries on various BBC channels under the banner of a BBC Royal Collection Season, runs until 13th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: John Michael Wright, Charles II, c.1676 Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017.

The lives of convicts in 18th and 19th century London are the subject of a new exhibition opening at the London Metropolitan Archives. Criminal Lives, 1780-1925: Punishing Old Bailey Convicts includes original documents from the Old Bailey archives and items such as a policeman’s truncheon, a reproduction Millbank Prison uniform and convicts’ photographs drawn from collections in Britain and Australia to provide insights into the lives of offenders, from the time of the Gordan Riots in 1760 to the early 20th century. Among those whose lives are featured are prostitute and pickpocket Charlotte Walker, notorious receiver of stolen goods Ikey Solomons and serial thief Thomas Limpus. The exhibition, created in collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Research Council Digital Panopticon Project, opens on Monday and runs until 16th May. Admission is free. There is an accompanying programme of events. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/lma.

The National Gallery is running a season of events aimed at exploring the theme of ‘gold’ in its collection in the run-up to Christmas. Running until 1st January, the programme includes free lunchtime talks, a life drawing session this Friday, a workshop on the traditional intaglio printmaking technique of drypoint, drawing sessions and a series of films. For the full season of events, check out www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/christmas-at-the-gallery/christmas-events.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Located beneath the Banqueting House – a remnant of the Palace of Whitehall, the undercroft was originally designed by Inigo Jones (who designed the building as a whole) as a private drinking den for King James I.

French landscaper and architect Isaac de Caus was commissioned to decorate one end of the vaulted undercroft as a shell grotto where the king could relax with his friends. In 1623, it received a dedication from Ben Jonson:

“Since Bacchus, thou art father
Of wines, to thee the rather
We dedicate this Cellar
Where now, thou art made Dweller.”

Following the Restoration, during the reign of King Charles II, the basement was used to hold lotteries – John Evelyn describes one such event taking place in 1664 in his famed diary, although soon after this was moved into a purpose-built facility nearby.

The undercroft was subsequently used for storage including during the reign of King James II when it was apparently used to store furnishings from the Privy and Council Chambers of Whitehall Palace while they were being rebuilt.

From the late 1890s until the 1960s, it became part of the museum of the Royal United Services Institute (which also used the hall upstairs) but following a restoration in 1992, is now open to the public and also used for special events at the building.

WHERE: Undercroft, Banqueting House, Whitehall (nearest Tube is Westminster or Charing Cross); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily (check if there is a private function); COST: £5.50 adults (16+)/children under 16 free/Historic Royal Palaces members free; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/banqueting-house/

PICTURE: alh1/Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Seventeenth century politician, diplomat and royal courtier, Henry Jermyn’s influence can still be seen in London’s West End today.

Jermyn was born as the fourth, but second surviving, son of courtier Sir Thomas Jermyn, of Rushbrook, Suffolk, and his wife Catherine, in early 1605. He was baptised soon after at St Margaret’s Lothbury in London in late March of that year.

Having already been among several diplomatic missions, he entered the political world at about the age of 20 in 1625, when he was elected member for Bodmin in Cornwall – the first of several seats he (and his brother Thomas) would hold around the country.

He joined the household of Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, in 1627, becoming her vice-chamberlain in 1628, and Master of the Horse to the Queen in 1639 (although he apparently spent a couple of years in exile in France during this period when he refused to obey the King and marry another courtier).

An ardent royalist, in 1641, he participated in a plot against Parliament and was forced to flee to France. In 1642, he joined the Queen in The Hague and returned to England with her in 1643 as the Civil War raged.

His loyalty was rewarded on 6th September that year when he was raised to the peerage as Baron Jermyn of St Edmundsbury (he was apparently wounded just 10 days later at the Battle of Aldbourne Chase). He was made the Queen’s Lord Chamberlain in early 1644 and in April that year accompanied the Queen to France where he helped her raise money for the Royalist cause.

He was made Governor of Jersey in 1645 (a post in which he succeeded his father), although it was a role he apparently had little interest in, at one point proposing selling the island to France.

In 1649, it was apparently Jermyn who had to give the Queen the news of King Charles I’s execution. Her closest advisor, it was subsequently falsely rumoured that he had secretly married the Queen – some even went so far to suggest he had fathered her children.

Jermyn became a member of King Charles II’s Privy Council in 1652 and, in 1659, just before the Restoration, he was created the Earl of St Albans. Created ambassador to France in 1661, he would go on to play a key role in helping King Charles II negotiate the secret 1670 Treaty of Dover with the French King Louis XIV.

In the early 1660s he was rewarded with land grants including land located to the north of St James’s Palace in London. He encouraged the development of the area, centred on St James’s Square and surrounding streets including Jermyn Street – such was his impact on the area that he became known as the “Father of the West End”.

He returned to France with Queen Henrietta Maria in 1665 and was present when the Queen died on 31st August, 1669, at Colombe in France. He subsequently returned to England and served as Lord Chamberlain to King Charles II between 1672-74 as well as, in 1672, being invested as a Knight of the Garter.

Jermyn, who never married, was generally said to have been a prolific gambler (and, some said, a glutton) and while he attempted to retire more than once to Rushbrook, the lure of London’s gaming tables proved too strong.

He died in his house in St James’s Square on 2nd January, 1684, and was buried at Rushbrook. While his earldom became extinct, his barony passed to his nephew Thomas Jermyn.

PICTURE: A City of Westminster Green Plaque located at the site of Henry Jermyn’s former home in St James’s Square.  (Simon Harriyott/licenced under CC BY 2.0

Famous for being the site of the Bank of England – “the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street” – since 1734, there’s a couple of explanations for the origins of Threadneedle Street’s name – and both relate to livery companies associated with textile industries.

The first is that of the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, initially granted livery by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell in 1656 and then again by King Charles II in 1664. The company has a coat-of-arms featuring Adam and Eve holding up a shield on which can be seen three needles, hence Three Needles Street, the corruption of which is Threadneedle Street.

The second is that of the Merchant-Taylors’ Company, one of the 12 great livery companies, which was founded by Royal Charter in 1327. Its livery hall has been based in Threadneedle Street since the 14th century.

Either or both could be the reason for the unusual name of this City of London street, which runs from Mansion House north-east to Bishopsgate.

Other famous properties located in the street have included the headquarters of the infamous South Sea Company and the first site of the Baltic Exchange (formerly in the Virginia and Baltick Coffee House) which is now in St Mary Axe.

NOTE: The article initially said it was playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan who first coined the phrase Old Lady of Threadneedle Street. To clarify – it was actually a speech by Sheridan, an MP, in the House of Commons in which he described the bank as “an old woman” which is thought to have prompted satirist James Gillray to produce a cartoon ‘Political Ravishment of the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street in Danger’ which in turn is believed to have coined the phrase.

nonsuch-palaceThe earliest and most detailed depiction of King Henry VIII’s famed Nonsuch Palace, a watercolour by the celebrated Flemish painter Joris Hoefnagel, has been recently acquired by the V&A. 

The painting, made in 1568, is the most faithful only six surviving images of the palace which was located in Cheam, Surrey. The fanciful building was commissioned by the king in 1538 and featured a facade decorated with elaborate plasterwork in Franco-Italianate style with the aim of rivalling the Fontainebleau residence of French King Francois I.

One of the most important buildings of the English Renaissance period, it was unfinished when the king died in 1547 and was subsequently purchased from Queen Mary I by Henry Fitzalan, 12th Earl of Arundel, in 1557 – it was he who finished the building and most likely commissioned the Antwerp-born Hoefnagel to paint it. Later acquired by Queen Elizabeth I, it became one of her favourite residences and was eventually demolished by King Charles II’s mistress, the Duchess of Cleveland, between 1682 and 1688 to pay off gambling debts.

Nonsuch Palace from the South, which is the first major work of Hoefnagel to enter the collection, can be seen in the museum’s British Galleries in South Kensington. Entry is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

PICTURE: Nonsuch Palace from the South, Joris Hoefnagel, 1558, Watercolour © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

fireSir Thomas Bludworth (also spelt Bloodworth) is usually only remembered as the man who had the unfortunate job of being Lord Mayor of London when the Great Fire broke out in 1666. So, given the fire’s 350th anniversary this month, we thought it timely to take a more in-depth look at his life and career.

Bludworth was born in London in February, in about 1620, the second surviving son of John Bludworth, master of the Vintner’s Company and a wealthy merchant. Trained to succeed his father – his elder brother having joined the clergy, Bludworth was himself admitted to the Vintner’s Company in the 1640s and joined the Levant Company in 1648.

First elected an alderman in 1658, he was discharged when he refused to serve as a sheriff and the following year served as the master of the Vintner’s Company. In 1660, he was briefly arrested along with 10 other members of City of London’s common council after the body refused to pay taxes until a representative parliament was convened.

Elected MP for Southwark later that year, Bludworth among city and parliamentary representatives who sailed to The Netherlands to attend the king, Charles II, in exile, and invite him to return to England. It was while attending the king in The Hague that he was knighted. Re-elected in 1661, he was an active parliamentarian who served in numerous different capacities.

Sir Thomas was twice married and had a number of children including a formidable daughter Anne who eventually married the historically unpopular George Jeffreys, (later King James II’s Lord Chief Justice and Lord Chancellor).

In mid-1662, he was once again made a City of London alderman and appointed one of two sheriffs for the following year. He became Lord Mayor of London in November, 1665, but apparently there was no pageant as was customary due to the plague.

During his year in the office – “the severest year any man had” – he faced both the plague and the Great Fire and his reputation has been largely formed out of his response to the latter thanks in large part his alleged response when woken and told of the fire as being: “Pish, a woman might piss it out!”.

Bludworth was heavily criticised at the time and over the years since his reaction to the fire – including not pulling down homes to create a firebreak and thus prevent the spread of the fire, but it should be noted that had he done so before he had received the king’s permission, he would have found himself personally liable.

Diarist Samuel Pepys’ who, following two encounters in the months before the fire had already described Bludworth as “mean man of understanding and despatch of any public business”, recorded that when he finally brought a message from the king ordering the creation of a firebreak, Sir Thomas seemed like “a man spent”.

“To the King’s message (to create a firebreak by pulling down houses), he cried, like a fainting woman, ‘Lord, what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses, but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it’.”

Another eyewitness describes him as looking like he was “frighted out of his wits” during the fire.

Sir Thomas’ own property at Gracechurch Street was among the casualties of the fire but he later built a new mansion in Maiden Lane.

He continued to serve as an MP after the fire and was, perhaps ironically, appointed to a committee working on a bill to provide “utensils” for the “speedy quenching of fire”. In the mid-1670s, he become one of the governing members of the Royal African Company.

Sir Thomas died on 12th May, 1682, aged around 60. He was apparently buried in Leatherhead.

Sure, it’s quite obvious that this well-known thoroughfare through Chelsea and Fulham in west London was named for a king but which king and why?

kings-roadIt was the Stuart king Charles II who first starting using the road’s course as part of his route to Hampton Court which meant it was closed to the public.

Access was granted only to those whom the monarch permitted – initially via ticket and from the 1720s via a copper pass stamped with the king’s monogram. Entry was controlled by a series of gates located along its length.

King George III was also known to use the route to travel to his palace at Kew and it was only in 1830 that it was finally opened to the public.

The road, which now runs west from Sloane Square for two miles through Chelsea, transforming into the New King’s Road after entering Fulham, is now known for its shopping (not to mention the site of the UK’s first Starbucks in 1999) although in the 1960s and 1970s it served as something of a hub for London’s counter-culture.

The road has been associated with many famous figures over the years – the king aside. Composer Thomas Arne lived at number 215 and apparently composed Rule Britannia while he did, actress Ellen Terry lived in the same property from 1904-1920 and bon vivant Peter Ustinov after her.

Other famous associations include one with Mary Quant, who opened her ground-breaking boutique Bazaar at number 138a in 1955 and Thomas Crapper, toilet entrepreneur, who had a premises at number 120.

PICTURE: Secret Pilgrim/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London ands we thought we’d take a quick look at what happened in the aftermath.

The-MonumentWith much of the city razed in the four day fire of early September, 1666, attention quickly turned to the rebuilding of the City and within just a few days, proposals began coming in for the recreation – and transformation – of London.

Christopher Wren, John Evelyn and Robert Hooke were among those who put forward new designs for the city along with the likes of one Richard Newcourt, whose proposed rigid grid featuring churches set in squares wasn’t adopted for London but was eventually for the streets of Philadelphia in what is now the United States of America.

None of these plans – Wren’s vision had apparently been inspired by the Gardens of Versailles while Evelyn’s was an Italianate city with wide piazzas – were eventually adopted, however, thanks largely to the difficulty in working out who owned which properties in the city (people had more on their mind, such as survival perhaps).

In October, 1666, King Charles II – who had encouraged many of those left homeless to move out of the City out of fears that a rebellion was in the offing – joined with the City authorities in appointing six commissioners to regulate the rebuilding (a key factor in which was the mandatory use of brick in place of wood).

Their actions were supported by a couple of parliamentary acts – drawn up to regulate the rebuilding and allow for the opening and widening of roads, among other things – and the establishment of specially convened Fire Courts to deal with property disputes (owners had to clear roadways of debris and establish their rights of ownership before they could start reconstruction).

Rebuilding was, not surprisingly, to take years – after all, almost 400 acres had been burned within the City walls and 63 acres outside them with more than 80 churches, 44 livery halls and more than 13,000 houses among the casualties. And it was patchy with new buildings standing alongside empty blocks awaiting reconstruction.

Construction of the many grand public buildings destroyed in the fire, such as St Paul’s Cathedral, would also take years (the cathedral, Wren’s Baroque masterpiece, wasn’t completed until 1711).

PICTURE: The Monument, which commemorates the Great Fire of London, is among the works of Sir Christopher Wren (for more on the Monument, see our earlier post here).

The-Mall

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

BT_Tower-1This West End district, located between Bloomsbury, Marylebone and Soho, probably owes its name to the Fitzroy Tavern, a public house which in turn is believed to owe its name to the Dukes of Grafton, whose family name was Fitzroy.

The Fitzroys (the name derives from  a Norman-French phrase and was typically associated with base-born royal sons), owned land in the area until the end of the 1800s.

The family first become associated with the area after the Manor of Tottenham (more on that name in an upcoming post) came into the possession of Henry Fitzroy, an illegitimate son of King Charles II who became the Earl of Euston and later Duke of Grafton.

Incidentally, the grand Fitzroy Square, developed by the duke’s great-grandson, and Fitzroy Street are both also named after the family as are numerous other locations in the area including Grafton Street.

Fashionable as a residential area in the 1700s, the houses were gradually transformed into workshops – the area was noted for furniture-makers in particular – or cheap tenements and it’s during this period in the early 1800s that artists like John Constable were living in the area.

The name Fitzrovia apparently became popularised for the district which in the inter-war years, due to the community of artists and writers that met at the pub; it is said to have first appeared in print in the 1940s. Among those who were associated with the area during this period were the likes of writers Dylan Thomas and George Orwell and artists like Roger Fry and Augustus John.

More recently the area has become home to numerous media companies, particularly TV-related companies, and still hosts ample pubs, restaurants and cafes.

Notable buildings in the area include the BT Tower, a communications tower completed in 1964 which was until 1980, the tallest building not only in London but in the UK (and from where panoramic views could once be had – sadly it’s been long closed to the public).

Fitzrovia is also home to the quirky Pollock’s Toy Museum.

PICTURE: David Castor (caster)/Wikipedia

Correction: Fitzroy Square was developed by the great grandson of the 1st Duke of Grafton, not grandson as was originally stated.

The-London-Gazette

An official public record of the British Government, The London Gazette, initially known as The Oxford Gazette, was first published on 7th November, 1665. 

But its publication didn’t take place in London – rather it was in Oxford (hence its being initially named – The Oxford Gazette) where King Charles II, having fled London due to the plague, ordered the publication to be printed at the University Press.

There’s several reasons behind its publication – one is that courtiers were apparently so worried about the plaque they didn’t even want to touch newspapers from London for fears of contagion of the plaque. But there was also a need, amid the swirl of rumours, gossip and sensationalism found in other publications, for a reputable publication of record (not the least because the introduction of censorship a few years before had suppressed other publications).

Published for the first couple of months under its Oxford masthead, it wasn’t until the following year – on 5th February, 1666 – that the gazette was first published in London (issue 24) after the royal court’s return.

The gazette had unparalleled access to government information – including reports from foreign embassies about what was happening abroad (important when news from overseas was limited), and official reports, including those ‘Mentioned in despatches’ from the War Office and Ministry of Defence.

Adopting the same model, official government gazettes followed in the coming years in Edinburgh (1699) and Dublin (1706 – later The Belfast Gazette). All three, from 1889, were published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. Today, The Gazette is published by The Stationary Office (TSO), on behalf of The National Archives (and is now online as well as in print).

Initially published only a couple of days a week, it is now published every weekday except on Bank Holidays.

Notable events published in The London Gazette include the Great Fire of London in 1665 (issue 85), the founding of the Bank of England in 1694 (issue 2982), the burial of Sir Isaac Newton in 1727 (issue 6569), the announcement of the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 (issue 11690), the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo in a “Gazette Extraordinary” in 1815 (issue 17028), and the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 (Supplement 40020).

You can see The London Gazette today and back issues as well as to order commemorative editions, head to www.thegazette.co.uk.

HamptonCourtPalace500thBirthday-3

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the building of Hampton Court Palace in Greater London’s south-west. We speak to Sheila Dunsmore, a State Apartment warder at Hampton Court Palace (pictured above in centre on the left)…

1. It’s Hampton Court Palace’s 500th anniversary – who first built the palace and why? “In 1514, Thomas Wolsey came to survey the land at Hampton Court. He wanted to find a suitable place to build a sumptuous country retreat away from the dirt of London, but close enough to the capital to travel back for meetings. It was also to be a place to entertain the important company his position as Archbishop of York provided, of which none were more important than young King Henry VIII.”

2. Where are the oldest parts of the palace today? “The oldest part of the palace is the Tudor kitchens, more specifically the area were the great fire is. This was once part of Sir Giles Daubeney’s original kitchen, and dates back to the manor already on the site when it was acquired by Wolsey. Sir Giles Daubeney was Lord Chamberlain to Henry VII, and acquired an 80 year lease on the property from the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, the then owners. The bell in the tower above the astronomical clock is also said to have come from the Knights Hospitallers’ original manor house.”

3. Hampton Court’s 500 years of history spans a number of definable eras – from Tudor to the 21st century. Which is your favourite and why? “My favourite era is the 1660s when Charles II came back to England to take up his rightful place as king. Although visitors do not really associate Charles with the palace, he did spend time here, most famously his honeymoon!”

4. With this in mind what is your favourite part of the palace? “I love the west front façade – it just looks so imposing and mysterious. Whether you are driving or walking past it it’s guaranteed to draw you in under its spell!”

5. Do you have a favourite anecdote from the palace’s history? “I love the story of Horace Beauchamp Seymour, a dashing military hero who had fought at the Battle of Waterloo. He came to live at the palace in 1827 and, as a handsome eligible widower, he caused quite a sensation amongst the ladies, especially when he joined the Sunday services at the Chapel Royal. It was not long before a series of fainting episodes began, with the strategically placed young lady fainting into the arms of the dashing Horace, who then proceeded to carry the lady out and stay with her until she regained her composure. After a third successive Sunday of fainting’s, the epidemic was brought to a swift halt by the aunt of Mr Seymour, herself also a palace resident. The feisty old lady pinned a sign to the chapel door warning any lady feeling faint that forthcoming Sunday that Bransome the dustbin man would be carrying her out. Needless to say the fainting ceased!”

6. A complex of buildings dating back as far as 500 years obviously requires considerable upkeep. What are the greatest challenges with regard to maintaining the palace? “I think the biggest challenge would have to be generating the money to keep restoring and conserving this historic palace. To do this we have to keep making sure that people want to visit, from international tour groups to local families who might visit again and again. To do this teams right across the palace work to create exciting exhibitions, immersive events and guided tours to ensure we’re offering people a memorable experience.”

7. Are there any areas of the palace which remain unseen by the public? And any plans to open further areas up? “The palace contains over 1,000 rooms, and visitors get to discover about a quarter of these during their visit. Some years ago we held a Servants, Soldiers and Suffragettes exhibition in a suite of rooms on the top floor of Fountain Court (previously unseen). It was incredibly popular so I’d imagine that in the future we’d look for other such opportunities to share other areas of the palace with our visitors. For anyone that can’t wait that long, on one night of the year (Halloween no less), our adults-only ghost tour offers the chance to peek behind the scenes and explore some areas of the palace off the beaten track!”

8. Are there any ‘secrets’ about the palace you can reveal to us? “A palace as old and as large as Hampton Court holds its fair share of secrets…When the fire took hold in 1986 it was devastating, but in a strange twist of fate some good came from it as well. As restoration of the damaged interiors took place little secrets were revealed to us; behind wood panelling in King William’s damaged rooms hand prints were found in the plaster from the palace’s builders, and sketches were found from the architects with designs for the rooms, all worked directly onto the bare walls. Most exciting of all, however, was the object found downstairs. During work to return King William’s private dining room (which had lost its original look over the years and been used as a function room for the grace and favour residents) to its former glory, a gun was found behind some wooden panelling. The gun dated from the late 1800s, and had a regimental dinner menu was wrapped around it. This is so intriguing – what was the story behind this gun? Who did it belong to? Why did they hide the weapon?”

9. If someone has just one day to visit the palace, what’s your ideal itinerary? “This is a tricky one, and depends very much on the individual…and the weather! I would say on a sunny day start by enjoying a historic welcome with our costumed interpreters, which really helps to set the scene. If it’s a bit chilly pick up a cloak to wear – you can choose between dressing as a Tudor or Georgian courtier. Heading inside, I’d start in the Tudor State Apartments to discover the rich opulence of Henry VIII’s Hampton Court, then visit the recently opened Cumberland Art Gallery, which contains masterpieces by Rembrandt, Canaletto and Van Dyck. Next I’d take in the baroque splendour of the Queen’s State Apartments, then explore the maze, East Front Garden and Privy Garden (weather permitting!). After a spot of lunch I’d suggest visiting the Mantegna Gallery, then the Young Henry exhibition which explores the life of the young Henry VIII, before finishing the day in King William III’s apartments.”

10. Finally, Historic Royal Palaces has already commemorated the 500th anniversary in numerous ways – from a spectacular fireworks display to a jousting tournament. Are there any more events coming up? “The beginning of September saw our costumed interpreters back with their own inimitable brand of entertainment, while at the end of September we’re hosting a sleepover inside the palace! As the evenings draw in, our popular ghost tours return for the winter season. Even further ahead we’ve got a series of carol evenings and even an ice rink for our visitors to enjoy!”

WHERE: Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey (nearest station is Hampton Court from Waterloo); WHEN: 10am to 6pm until 24th October after which it’s open to 4.30pm); COST: Adult £19.30, Concession £16, Child under 16 £9.70 (under fives free), family tickets, garden only tickets and online booking discounts available; WEBSITE:www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/.

The-Town-of-Ramsgate2

Best known as the “Hanging Judge” thanks to his role in the so-called Bloody Assizes of 1685, George Jeffreys climbed the heights of England’s legal profession before his ignominious downfall.

Born on 15th May, 1645, at the family home of Acton Hall in Wrexham, North Wales, Jeffreys was the sixth son in a prominent local family. In his early 20s, having been educated in Shrewsbury, Cambridge and London, he embarked on a legal career in the latter location and was admitted to the bar in 1668.

Town-of-RamsgateIn 1671, he was made a Common Serjeant of London, and despite having his eye on the  more senior role of Recorder of London, was passed over. But his star had certainly risen and, despite his Protestant faith, he was a few years later appointed to the position of solicitor general to James, brother of King Charles II and the Catholic Duke of York (later King James II), in 1677.

The same year he was knighted and became Recorder of London, a position he had long sought, the following year. Following revelations of the so-called the Popish Plot in 1678 – said to have been a Catholic plot aimed the overthrow of the government, Jeffreys – who was fast gaining a reputation for rudeness and the bullying of defendants – served as a prosecutor or judge in many of the trials and those implicated by what turned out to be the fabricated evidence of Titus Oates (Jeffreys later secured the conviction of Oates for perjury resulting in his flogging and imprisonment).

Having successfully fought against the Exclusion Bill aimed at preventing James from inheriting the throne, in 1681 King Charles II created him a baronet. In 1683 he was made Lord Chief Justice and a member of the Privy Council. Among cases he presided over was that of Algernon Sidney, implicated in the Rye House Plot to assassinate the king and his brother (he had earlier led the prosecution against Lord William Russell over the same plot). Both were executed.

It was following the accession of King James II in February, 1685, that Jeffreys earned the evil reputation that was to ensure his infamy. Following the failed attempt by James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth and illegitimate son of the late King Charles II, to overthrow King James II, Jeffreys was sent to conduct the trials of the captured rebels in West Country towns including Taunton, Wells and Dorchester – the ‘Bloody Assizes’.

Of the almost 1,400 people found guilty of treason in the trials, it’s estimated that between 150 and 200 people were executed and hundreds more sent into slavery in the colonies. Jeffreys’, meanwhile, was busy profiting financially by extorting money from the accused.

By now known for his corruption and brutality, that same year he was elevated to the peerage as Baron Jeffreys of Wem and named Lord Chancellor as well as president of the ecclesiastical commission charged with implementing James’ unpopular pro-Catholic religious policies.

His fall was to come only a couple of years later during Glorious Revolution which saw King James II overthrown by his niece, Mary, and her husband William of Orange (who become the joint monarchs Queen Mary II and King William III).

Offered the throne by a coalition of influential figures who feared the creation of a Catholic dynasty following the birth of King James II’s son, James Francis Edward Stuart, William and Mary arrived in England with a large invasion force. King James II’s rule collapsed and he eventually fled the country.

Remaining in London after the king had fled, Lord Jeffreys only attempted to flee as William’s forced approached the city. He made it as far as Wapping where, despite being disguised as a sailor, he was recognised in a pub, now The Town of Ramsgate (pictured above).

Placed in custody in the Tower of London, he died there of kidney problems on 18th April, 1689, and was buried in the Chapel Royal of Saint Peter ad Vincula (before, in 1692, his body was moved to the Church of St Mary Aldermanbury). All traces of his tomb were destroyed when the church was bombed during the Blitz (for more on the church, see our earlier post here).

St-Olave-Hart-StreetIt’s 350 years ago this year that the Great Plague broke out in London in 1665, bringing death on an unprecedented scale to the city.

The plague, which was apparently also known as the Poor’s Plague, is said to have broken out in early 1665 – perhaps February – with the first areas to be affected dockside districts and the crowded slum of St Giles in the Fields before it moved into the City proper. There are claims that the outbreak’s origins occurred a couple of months earlier at a property in Drury Lane where contaminated bales of goods imported from Holland were opened by Flemish weavers.

However it came to be in London, it soon spread and by July was running rampant with many of the nobility, merchants, and tradesmen choosing to flee the city in the hope of escaping its reach. They included King Charles II and his family and court who moved to Hampton Court in early July and then to Salisbury at the start of August before, following some cases there, to Oxford in September.

Those who did come down with the disease – generally thought to have been bubonic plague, a disease of rats which is transmitted to humans via fleas – were confined to their homes with red crosses and the words ‘Lord, have mercy on us’ painted on the door while gatherings in public – such as for the theatre – were banned to prevent the disease’s spread.

Other measures to contain the disease included the imposition of a curfew and the killing of an estimated 40,000 dogs and 200,000 cats, thought to be spreaders of the disease, on the orders of the mayor, Sir John Lawrence.

Bills of mortality recorded the number of deaths weekly – in the week of 19th to 26th September, the number peaked at 7,165 people before declining. By late in the year life in the capital had started returning to normal.

While the bodies were buried in mass graves, by September the growing numbers of dead meant many were simply left to rot where they fell.

The estimated numbers of those who died varies somewhat depending on the source but according to the Museum of London’s website, the Great Plague of 1665 is estimated to have killed 100,000 people – about a fifth of the population – within just seven months of its outbreak.

While the sheer number of dead is unprecedented, other plagues were proportionally deadlier, in particular the coming of the Black Death in 1348 which killed about half of all Londoners over an 18 month period (equating to an estimated 40,000 people).

The Great Plague was, thankfully, the last major plague to affect London. Among those who had survived was the diarist Samuel Pepys whose entries provide a valuable source of information on how the plague affected Londoners (pictured above is detail from the gateway into the church of St Olave Hart Street – Pepys’ parish church at the time of the plague – where a number of victims of the Great Plague were buried).

Cupola-Room

On Sunday, Princess Charlotte, daughter of Prince William and Princess Kate, was christened at Sandringham. So we thought we’d take a quick look at another christening that took place in London almost 200 years ago, that of Princess Victoria.

The future Queen Victoria was born on 24th May, 1819 – the daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent (fourth son of King George III), and his wife, Princess Victoria Mary Louisa of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.

At the insistence of the Prince Regent (later King George IV), the christening was a small affair and was held a month after the birth on the afternoon of 24th June in the magnificent Cupola or Cube Room of Kensington Palace (pictured as it is now, above).

The guest list was small and included the Prince Regent, Prince Frederick, the Duke of York, and his wife Princess Frederica, Princess Augusta Sophia, Princess Mary, the Duchess of Gloucester, and her husband, Prince William, and Prince Leopold, who had recently become a widower after the death of Princess Charlotte.

The ceremony was conducted by Charles Manners-Sutton, the archbishop of Canterbury, and, thanks to the intransigence of the Prince Regent, her name was apparently only decided at the last minute.

The Prince Regent has earlier forbidden the use of such ‘royal’ names including Charlotte, Elizabeth, Georgina or Augusta and when asked by the archbishop what she would be named, he replied brusquely that she would be named Alexandrina in honour of the Russian Tsar Alexander, one of the new princess’s godparents.

Her second name was Victoria in honour of her mother, and while Victoria was often called “Drina” while a girl, she herself apparently preferred her second name to her first.

The gold font used in the ceremony formed part of the Crown Jewels and its origins go back to the time of King Charles II.

Interestingly, there were a couple of significant Victorian connections during Princess Charlotte’s christening – the font used at this christening was known as the Lily Font (like its predecessor, it is usually found with the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London).

It was commissioned by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for the christening of their first daughter, Princess Victoria, in 1841, apparently due to Queen Victoria’s dislike for the gold font used at her own christening – it had been used by King Charles II to christen his illegitimate children.

The Lily Font has apparently been used at every royal christening since except that of Princess Eugenie who had a public baptism in Sandringham in 1990.

Princess Charlotte also wore a replica of the christening gown worn by Princess Victoria.

WHERE: The Broad Walk, Kensington Gardens, Kensington (nearest Tube stations are High Street Kensington or Queensway); WHEN: Daily 10am to 6pm (until 31st October); COST: £17.50 adult/£14.10 concession/children under 16 free (online booking discounts available, Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace.

PICTURE: HRP/newsteam