This Week in London – Russia’s finest portraiture on show, Scottish art from the Royal Collection; and photographer/film-maker Paul Strand revisited…
March 17, 2016
• The “most important exhibition of Russian portraits ever to take place at a British museum” opens at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square today. The portraits of key figures from Russia spanning the period from 1867 to 1914 come from Moscow’s State Tretyakov Gallery which is simultaneously displaying a selection of portraits of famous Britons from the National Portrait Gallery in a joint event being held to mark the 160th anniversary of both institutions. Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky features portraits of the likes of Akhmatova, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky, Tolstoy and Turgenev by artists including Nikolai Ge, Ivan Kramskoy, Vasily Perov, Ilia Repin, Valentin Serov and Mikhail Vrubel. The majority of the works featured were commissioned directly from the artists by Pavel Tretyakov, a merchant, philanthropist and founder of the State Tretyakov Gallery, whose own portrait by Repin opens the exhibition. The exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery runs until 26th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk/russia. PICTURE: Ivan Morozov by Valentin Serov (1910) © State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
• The best Scottish art in the Royal Collection goes on show at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, from tomorrow. Scottish Artists 1750-1900: From Caledonia to the Continent brings together more than 80 works collected by monarchs since King George III. It tells the story of the emergence of a distinctly Scottish school of art through works painted by the likes of Allan Ramsay – who in 1760 was commissioned to paint King George III’s State portrait and subsequently became the first Scot appointed to the role of Principal Painter in Ordinary to His Majesty, and Sir David Wilkie – whose works depicting small-scale scenes of everyday life attracted the attention of the Prince Regent (later King George IV) in the early 17th century. Other artists represented in the collection include Sir Joseph Noel Paton, David Roberts, James Giles, John Phillip, William Leighton Leith, and William Dyce. Runs until 9th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.
• The work of American photographer Paul Strand is on show at the V&A from Saturday in the first retrospective showing of his art in the UK in 40 years. One of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, Strand (1890-1976) was instrumental in defining the way fine art and documentary photography is understood and practiced today. He is also credited with creating the first avant-garde film, Manhatta. The exhibition, Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century, features more than 200 objects including vintage photographic prints, films, books, notebooks, sketches and Strand’s cameras and includes newly acquired photographs from his only UK project – a 1954 study of the island of South Uist in the Scottish Hebrides. Can be seen until 3rd July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/paulstrand.
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February 19, 2016
The Royal Mews – a stables and carriage house – is these days located at Buckingham Palace but prior to being moved there, the Royal Mews, previously usually referred to as the King’s and Queen’s Mews depending who was on the throne, was located on the site where the National Gallery (pictured) and Trafalgar Square now stand.
The name ‘mews’ actually refers to the fact that, from at least the reign of King Richard II in the late 14th century (although official records suggest there may have been a mews on the site as far back as the reign of King Edward I), the royal hawks were initially housed on the site – then in the village of Charing Cross – (the word ‘mew’ refers to the moulting of the birds and originally referred to when they were confined here for that purpose but later come to simply mean the place were the birds were caged).
The title of Keeper of the King’s Mews became a sought-after honour during the 15th century (although largely honorary with the actual work done by deputies) but among those who held the honour were Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known, during the Wars of the Roses as the ‘Kingmaker’.
In 1534, the King’s Mews was destroyed by fire and when it was rebuilt a few years later, it took the form of a stable but kept the original name of mews (although it has been suggested the change of use took place before the fire).
During the Civil War, the Mews were apparently used as a prison by the Parliamentarians for captured Royalists and during the Commonwealth, soldiers were apparently quartered here. Diarist Samuel Pepys also apparently visited several times.
In 1732 the building was again rebuilt, but this time it was to the grand designs of William Kent – images show a grand building with turrets and a great open square before it. In the 1760s, King George III had some of his horses and carriages moved to facilities on the grounds of Buckingham Palace (he had purchased this from the Duke of Buckingham for his wife’s use) but the bulk remained on the Charing Cross site.
In the early 19th century they were opened to the public but in the 1820s, King George IV – making Buckingham Palace his main residence – had the entire stables moved (the Royal Mews which now stand at Buckingham Palace were designed by John Nash and completed in 1825).
The old mews were subsequently demolished and Trafalgar Square – another Nash design – built on the site between 1827 and 1835 while the National Gallery opened in 1838.
February 15, 2016
The pub, located at 18 Wilton Row not far from Belgrave Square in Belgravia, was apparently first constructed in 1720 and, located in the barracks of the 1st Royal Regiment of Foot Guards, originally housed the officer’s mess.
It first opened as a pub in 1818 and was initially known as The Guardsman but subsequently renamed The Grenadier after the regiment was renamed – by Royal Proclamation – the First Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards in honour of their actions in fending off the French at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
A bright red painted sentry box – matching the patriotic red, white and blue of the pub – stands outside the pub today in honour of its history.
Renowned around the world for its Bloody Mary, it has apparently attracted the patronage of some big names – back in the day these included King George IV and the Iron Duke Arthur Wellesley, and, in more recent times, Prince William and Madonna.
There is said to be ghost – known as ‘Cedric’ – which haunts the pub – it’s often referred to as the most haunted pub in London – and is apparently that of a young guardsman who was flogged a little over-enthusiastically after cheating at cards and ended up dead. He is apparently most active in September – said to be the time of year when he was killed.
A tradition of attaching money to the ceiling and walls has developed in an effort to pay off Cedric’s debt (and presumably stop the haunting). Along with the memorabilia relating to the pub’s history, the walls also feature a collection of newspaper clippings about the haunting.
For details, including opening times, head to the Taylor Walker website here.
PICTURE: Ewan Munro/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 (image has been cropped).
January 18, 2016
Famous around the world as the home of bespoke tailoring in London, Savile Row owes its name – like so many other streets in Mayfair – to landowner Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington.
Burlington (1612-98) resided at Burlington House (now home of the Royal Academy of Arts) on Piccadilly and after his death the land around his former home was developed and the streets named for Burlington and members of his family.
Among them was his wife, Lady Burlington, née Lady Dorothy Savile, after whom Savile Row was named. Laid out in 1695, the street was actually located on the site of the former kitchen gardens of Burlington House and was given its name (originally Savile Street) in the 1730s.
The first to reside here were apparently mostly military and politicians (these included PM William Pitt the Younger) and it was only in the early 19th century that the first tailors started to set up shop here. With clients including society dandy Beau Brummell (see our our earlier post here) and the Prince Regent (later King George IV), the street’s fame grew rapidly and continued into the 20th century when customers included some of the biggest names in Hollywood – Cary Grant, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra among them.
Among the famous tailoring firms still operating in Savile Row are Anderson & Sheppard (at number 30, it’s where the Prince of Wales has his suits made), Henry Poole (at number 15, Victorian-era owner Henry Poole is credited as the inventor of the tuxedo), and Hardy Amies.
Headquartered at number 14 (with a shop at number 8), Amies gained an international reputation when appointed dressmaker to Queen Elizabeth II in 1955/the address was previously owned by the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan and was also the address Jules Vernes gave Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days).
One last tailor worth a particular mention is that of Tommy Nutter, who set up shop at number 35 in the late Sixties with a nameplate out front simply reading Nutters and shocked traditionalists with his modern take on tailoring – this modern approach continues among some tailors in the street even today.
The street also has a famous claim in the story of the Beatles – the moved their company Apple Corps Company into number 3 in July, 1968, and it was on the roof of this building that they played their last live gig on 3rd January, 1969.
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.
June 5, 2015
News this week that Historic Royal Palaces and the Royal Botanic Gardens are embarking on a two year project to restore eighty decorative dragons to the Kew Pagoda has led us to take a look at the history of the exotic tower set amid the trees.
Designed by architect Sir William Chambers (one of his drawings is depicted here), the pagoda was built in 1762 during the eighteenth century craze for Chinoiserie and was probably commissioned by Princess Augusta as part of the ongoing works she undertook in the gardens after the death of her husband Prince Frederick, eldest son of King George II and Queen Caroline.
Standing 163 feet (or almost 50 metres) high, the 10 storey pagoda was originally decorated with eighty golden dragons. It was designed to be the high point of a world tour through the gardens which also took in Roman ruins and Arabic mosques.
While the pagoda remains, the dragons were only on the structure for some 22 years before being removed in 1784 during roof repairs. Thanks to rumours they were made of solid gold, it was suggested they were sold off to pay the debts of the Prince Regent (the future King George IV), but experts say the wooden figures had simply rotted and so had to be removed.
Following their removal, the dragons subsequently disappeared and despite several attempts to find them – including one by Decimus Burton, architect of the famous Palm House (for more on that, see our earlier post), in 1843 – they have never been found.
Historic Royal Palaces and the Royal Botanic Gardens have now decided to replace them with new ones, drawing on contemporary accounts and drawings and using a team of specialist craftsmen to create them.
The restored pagoda – complete with new dragons – will be open to the public in 2017.
It is one of several ornamental buildings still located in the gardens. Others include a Japanese gateway and a Japanese wooden house called a minka.
WHERE: The Great Pagoda, Kew Gardens (nearest Tube station is Kew Gardens); WHEN: 10am daily (closing times vary – see websites for details); COST: £16.50 adults/£13 concessions/children £3.50 (discounts apply for online bookings); WEBSITE: www.kew.org.
PICTURES: RBG Kew
Prolific early 19th century architect Sir John Soane designed many public buildings in London including, famously, the Bank of England (since considerably altered) and the somewhat revolutionary Dulwich Picture Gallery. He also designed a number that were merely fanciful works and never commissioned nor constructed.
While Soane had been designing royal palaces as far back as the late 1770s when in Rome on his Grand Tour, in 1821 he designed one, apparently as a new home for the newly crowned King George IV.
Birds-eye view drawings show a triangular-shaped palace with grand porticoes at each of the three corners as well as in the middle of each of the three sides. Three internal courtyards surround a large central dome.
Despite Soane’s hopes for a royal commission, the king appointed John Nash to the job of official architect and so Soane’s palace never went any further than the drawing board.
He also designed a grand gateway marking the entrance to London at Kensington Gore through which the monarch would travel when heading to the State Opening of Parliament in Westminster – it, too, was never realised.
A Palladian villa located on the bank of the Thames between Richmond and Twickenham, Marble Hill House was built in the mid to late 172os for Henrietta Howard, mistress of King George II and later Countess of Suffolk.
The symmetrical property – seen as a model for later Georgian-era villas in both England and overseas – was constructed by Roger Morris. He, along with Henry Herbert – a friend of the countess and later the 9th Earl of Pembroke – was also involved in its design as was Colen Campbell, architect to the Prince of Wales and future King George II, who is believed to have drawn up the first sketch designs for the house.
As well as being familiar with the work of neo-Palladian Inigo Jones, Lord Herbert had travelled in Italy and there is it believed had directly encountered the works of sixteenth century Italian architect Andrea Palladio whose architecture the property emulated (see our earlier post on Chiswick House here).
Key rooms include the ‘great room’ – a perfect cube, this is the central room of the house and boasts a wealth of gilded carvings; the dining parlour which had hand-painted Chinese wallpaper; and, Lady Suffolk’s rather sparsely furnished but nonetheless impressive, bedchamber.
Howard, who as well as being a mistress of King George II both before and after his accession to the throne in 1727, was a Woman of the Bedchamber to his wife, Queen Caroline of Ansbach, and, as a result, initially spent little time at the property (which coincidentally was built using money the King had given her while he was still Prince of Wales).
But after she become the Countess of Suffolk in 1731 when her estranged husband Charles Howard became 9th Earl of Suffolk after his brothers’ deaths, Lady Suffolk was appointed Mistress of the Robes, and following the death of her husband in 1733, retired from court.
In 1735 following the end of her intimate relationship with the King, she married a second time, this time happily, to George Berkeley, younger brother of the 3rd Earl of Berkeley and an MP. Together the new couple split their time between a house in Savile Row and Marble Hill. Her husband died in 1746 and Lady Suffolk, who had come to be considered a very “model of decorum”, died at Marble Hill in 1767.
Among the visitors who had spent time at the property were poet and neighbour Alexander Pope (responsible for the design of the grounds along with royal landscape gardener Charles Bridgeman), writer and satirist Jonathan Swift, and, in Lady Suffolk’s later years, Horace Walpole – son of PM Sir Robert Walpole and builder of the Gothic masterpiece Strawberry Hill.
Following Lady Suffolk’s death, later residents of the property included another Royal Mistress – Mrs Fitzherbert, mistress to the future King George IV, Swedenborgian Charles Augustus Tulk and Jonathan Peel, brother of Sir Robert Peel (you can read more about Sir Robert Peel here).
Following the latter’s death, the house stood empty for many years before publication of plans for a redevelopment by then owner William Cunard caused a public outcry which saw the property pass into the hands of the London County Council around the year 1900.
The house opened to the public as a tea room in 1903 and remained as such until the mid-1960s when, now in the hands of the Greater London Council, it underwent a major restoration project and was reopened as a museum. In 1996, the house – which now stands on 66 acres and can be seen in a much lauded view from Richmond Hill – came into the care of English Heritage.
The grounds – Marble Hill Park – are open to the public for free and include a cafe located in the former coach house. Other features in the grounds include Lady Suffolk’s Grotto – pictured above – based on one at Pope’s residence nearby. It was restored after being rediscovered in the 1980s.
WHERE: Marble Hill House, Richmond Road, Twickenham (nearest Tub-e station is Richmond (1 miles) or train stations at St Margaret’s or Twickenham); WHEN: Various times Saturday and Sunday – entry to the house by guided tour only; COST: £5.90 adults/£3.50 children (5-15 years)/£5.30 concession/£15.30 family; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/marble-hill-house/.
February 4, 2013
Arguably the greatest architect of Regency London, John Nash’s imprint can still be seen in numerous sites around the city, from the master-planning of Regent’s Park and Regent Street to the beautiful buildings of All Soul’s Church in Langham Place and Marble Arch on the edge of Hyde Park.
Born the son of a Welsh millwright in Lambeth, London, on 18th January, 1752, Nash – who went on to work in a range of different architectural styles – trained as a draughtsman under the tutelage of architect Sir Robert Taylor and in 1777 established his own business as a builder and surveyor.
But he certainly didn’t meet with immediate success and, following failure as a building speculator (he built properties in Bloomsbury Square and Great Russell Street but failed to make enough money from the venture – there’s a blue plaque on one of the houses, which he lived in, at 66 Great Russell Street), was declared bankrupt in 1783.
Meanwhile, his personal life was also in turmoil during these years – in 1775 he had married, Jane Kerr, the daughter of a Surrey surgeon, but separated from her in the early 1780s after various troubles including her eventually apparently having a child with a Welshman named Charles Charles, who is said to have died in prison after he was jailed for adultery.
Brought down by his misfortune, in the mid 1780s Nash moved to Carmarthen in Wales where he had family. Taking up work here, by the late 1780s he was designing prisons – the first was at Carmarthen – and worked on a number of other prominent buildings including St David’s Cathedral and various country houses.
Rising to prominence in Carmarthen society, by 1797, however, Nash was again working in London, initially in partnership with the renowned landscape architect Humphrey Repton with whom he had formed a business relationship some years earlier (although the partnership had soured over finances by 1800).
He built a substantial home at 29 Dover Street in Mayfair and in 1798, his first wife presumably dead, he married his second wife, Mary Anne Bradley, and soon started work on building a Gothic-inspired residence for them, known as East Cowes Castle, on the Isle of Wight. It was completed in 1802 but enlarged some years later.
Nash designed numerous country properties in the early 19th century, inspired by everything from castles to Italianate architecture, both in England and Ireland and soon came to the attention of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV (there was a rumour his wife was one of the prince’s discarded mistresses).
In 1806 he was officially made Deputy Surveyor General in the Office of Woods and Forests – the office which managed the Crown estate, and from 1815 on, he largely worked for the prince alone. Among the major London commissions from his royal patron were the design of Regent Street (he and his wife moved into number 14 in 1823) and the development of Regent’s Park on land formerly known as Marylebone Park and surrounding housing estates (for more on The Regent’s Park, see our earlier entry here). He also redeveloped St James’s Park.
In 1815, he was commissioned to develop the Prince Regent’s Marine Pavilion in Brighton and by 1822 had transformed the building into the spectacular Royal Pavilion which can be visited there today.
Nash was also involved in the development of The Regent’s Canal – which linked the Grand Union Canal in London’s west to the River Thames in London’s east and was completed in 1820 – and built many of the grand villas which still line it (for more on Regent’s Canal, see our earlier entry here).
Becoming an official architect to the Office of Works in 1813 (an appointment which only ended in 1832, three years before his death), Nash went on to design churches – including All Soul’s in Langham Place (he’s depicted above in a bust at the church) – as well as West End theatres including the Haymarket Theatre and the Royal Opera House (which burnt down in 1867) as well as the adjacent Royal Opera Arcade and residences including Carlton House Terrace and Clarence House (for more on this, see our earlier entry here).
Other major commissions included the redevelopment of Buckingham Palace (parts of the current building are his work but the main facade isn’t – for more on the palace history, see our earlier entry here) and the Royal Mews, and the creation of Marble Arch, originally envisaged as the main gateway to the palace (see our earlier entry here). Nash also designed a conservatory for Kew Gardens.
Nash’s close relationship with the Prince Regent (who become King George IV on 29th January, 1820), meant that when the king died in 1830, he found himself on the outer (and his reputation took many years to recover thanks to his association with the unpopular king). With no knighthood forthcoming for his efforts (unlike many of his contemporaries) and the chance of further work unlikely (his work on Buckingham Palace had been left unfinished due to concerns over rising costs), Nash retired to his house on the Isle of Wight.
He died there on 13th May, 1835, and was buried in the churchyard at St James’s Church in East Cowes. He was survived by his wife who, having settled his debts, retired to Hampstead.
For an in-depth study of Nash, try Geoffrey Tyack’s book, John Nash: Architect of the Picturesque.
September 21, 2012
A white tiled plunge bath which once belonged to Princess Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of George, Prince of Wales (later King George IV), still lies in the south-west corner of Greenwich Park between the Rose Garden and Chesterfield Gate.
Princess Caroline, a cousin of the prince, married him in 1795 in an arrangement made so he could get out of debt. Theirs was never a marriage of love – the prince is said to have spread rumours that she was adulterous, had bad breath and never washed – and after Princess Caroline gave birth to a daughter, Princess Charlotte, the couple separated.
Two years later, in 1798, Princess Caroline was banished to live at Montague House near Greenwich Park while the prince dallied with his mistress Maria Fitzherbert. The princess, known for her scandalous and indiscreet behaviour during her residence at the house, used the sunken bath, which the stood inside a bathhouse partly attached to the main building.
The house was demolished in 1815 on the orders of the king (a decision apparently prompted by a fit of pique at the Queen’s lifestyle), a year after Princess Caroline left England for the Continent plagued by rumours that she’d mothered an illegitimate child (a secret commission into her behaviour cleared her of a charge of adultery but did find her behaviour to be improper).
The sunken bath, meanwhile, was filled in during the 1980s and served as a flowerbed until, in 2001, it was re-excavated by Royal Parks in a dig funded by the Friends of Greenwich Park, Greenwich Society, the Friends of Ranger’s House and donations from individuals.
WHERE: Princess Caroline’s Bath, south-west corner of Greenwich Park (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark – other nearby stations include Greenwich, Maze Hill and Blackheath); WHEN: 6am to at least 8pm (but beware, closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx
August 20, 2012
It wasn’t until some time after Admiral Lord Nelson’s victory over the French fleet in the Battle of Trafalgar off the coast of Spain on 21st October, 1805, that the large public space in Westminster we now know as Trafalgar Square took its name.
Prior to the development of the square, much of the area it covers was occupied the King’s Mews – stables linked to the Palace of Whitehall – and was simply seen as part of the district known as Charing Cross (named for the memorial cross which stood close to where the equestrian statue of King Charles I now stands – for more on this, see our earlier post and follow the links).
Following the relocation of the Mews in the early 19th century, plans were drawn up by architect-of-the-age John Nash to redevelop the area while the square itself, completed in 1845, was designed by Sir Charles Barry (best known for his work on the Houses of Parliament).
The final design incorporated a statue of Admiral Lord Nelson atop a column, known as ‘Nelson’s Column’, in the centre – apparently against Barry’s wishes (see our earlier post for more on Nelson’s Column).
Originally designed with an upper terrace and a lower piazza linked by stairs at the eastern and western end of the terrace, the square contains two fountains on either side of the column – the current fountains were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1937-9 and replaced earlier ones.
It was originally suggested that the square be named King William IV Square but it was apparently architect George Ledwell Taylor who provided the alternative of Trafalgar Square in honor of Nelson’s great battle.
Bordered by significant landmarks including the National Gallery to the north, the church of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields to the north-east, South Africa House to the east and Canada House to the west, the square stands at the confluence of a number of major roadways including Whitehall, Strand, Charing Cross Road and The Mall.
Aside from the aforementioned statue of King Charles I, monuments within the square include Nelson’s Column along with plinths set in the four corners of the square. These bear statues of King George IV, Victorian military figures General Sir Charles James Napier and Major-General Sir Henry Havelock while the fourth plinth, located in the north-west corner, was originally intended to bear an equestrian statue of King William IV.
Instead, it was left empty for many years before the advent of the Fourth Plinth project under which a variety of contemporary artworks – most recently a massive sculpture of a boy astride a rocking horse – have occupied the space (you can see a picture of the current work in our earlier post here).
The square, once known as the home of thousands of pigeons before these were banished midway through last decade to allow greater public use of the space, also features the busts of three admirals – John Jellicoe, David Beatty and Andrew Cunningham, located against the north wall under the terrace.
There are also two statues on a lawn in front of the National Gallery – these are of US President George Washington and King James II. Curiously, the square also features a small pillar box in the south-east corner, referred to by some as the smallest police station in London.
A renovation project in 2003 pedestrianised the roadway along the north side of the square and installed a central stairway between the the upper and lower levels along with lifts, public toilets and a cafe.
For some more on the history of Trafalgar Square, see Jean Hood’s Trafalgar Square: A Visual History of London’s Landmark Through Time.
August 6, 2012
In keeping with the sporting theme, we decided to take a look at a pub that bears that name of a sportsman – in this case Tom Cribb, a celebrated early nineteenth century boxer.
Born in 1781, Cribb moved to London from his home in Gloucestershire at just the tender age of 13 and worked in various jobs including as a bellhanger and a porter on the wharves before in taking up the sport of bare knuckle boxing with his first public bout in 1805 (he was known as the ‘Black Diamond’ thanks to his previous work as a coal porter).
Further fights followed and Cribb’s skill was such that in 1809 he won the British title and the following year he fought American and former slave Tom Molineaux to become world champion, a feat he repeated the in 1811 by beating Molineaux again.
Cribb retired from boxing in 1812 and later became a publican, running a couple of different pubs before taking up the job the Union Arms, located at 26 Panton Street, in the West End. He did apparently marry and in 1821 was among the prize fighters who guarded the entrance to Westminster Hall on the day of King George IV’s coronation.
Forced to give up his pub to creditors to pay off gambling debts, he retired to Woolwich in 1839 and died there in 1848 – he was buried in St Mary’s Churchyard where there is a memorial to him.
The pub which now bears his name is located on the same site as the Union Arms, although it is numbered 36 due to a numbering change. Inside it features a boxing theme with photos of some of Britain’s greatest boxers adorning the wall.
For more, see www.shepherdneame.co.uk/pubs/london/tom-cribb.
For a book on Tom Cribb, try Tom Cribb: The Life of the Black Diamond.
PICTURE: Tom Cribb in an engraving published in 1842. Source – Wikipedia.
May 18, 2012
Given we’re marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a look at sites of significance to her story located in London, it’s perhaps only fitting that we take a look at the nearest royal residence outside the city.
Windsor, located as close as half an hour by train from London’s Paddington station (or around 50 minutes to an hour from Waterloo), boasts plenty to see including the historic town centre, nearby Eton, great river and country walks and, of course, Legoland. But today our attention will remain on Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world.
There has been a fortress on this site since shortly after the Norman invasion when in about 1080 King William the Conqueror ordered it constructed on a ridge above the river bank as part of a series of defensive fortifications around London. The earth and timber Norman castle was gradually added to over the years – King Henry I (reigned 1100-1135), the first king to live here, added domestic quarters while King Henry II (reigned 1154-1189) built substantial royal apartments transforming the castle into a palace and began replacing the outer timber walls with stone fortifications as well as rebuilding the Norman Keep as the Round Tower (parts of which still date from this period). King Henry III (reigned 1216-1272) built upon and expanded his work.
But it was in the reign of King Edward III (1307-1327) that the castle was expanded enormously. This included the reconstruction of the lower ward including the rebuilding of the chapel, naming it St George’s (although the current chapel dates from the reign of King Edward IV – 1461-1470), and the reconstruction of the upper ward complete with apartments for him and his wife, Queen Phillipa, arranged around courtyards (although some of the work wasn’t completed until the reign of his successor, King Richard II – 1377-1399). It was also during King Edward III’s reign that the castle became the base for the Order of the Garter (which he created in 1348), a role it still fulfills.
Other works were ordered by successive Tudor monarchs including King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, and Queen Mary I. Parliamentary forces seized the castle during the Civil War (Oliver Cromwell did use it as his headquarters for a time) and Royalists were imprisoned here (King Charles I was in fact buried in a vault beneath St George’s Chapel after his execution having been previously imprisoned here).
The next major additions came in the reign of King Charles II (1660-1685) when the Upper Ward and State Apartments were reconstructed in baroque splendor, the latter complete with splendid murals ceiling paintings by Italian artist Antonio Verro (the murals were later destroyed but some of the ceiling paintings survive).
From the time of King William III (1689-1702), monarchs began spending more time at Hampton Court Palace but the focus returned to Windsor with King George III. He ordered a range of improvements and updates including modernising Frogmore House in the Home Park for his wife Queen Caroline (the property was subsequently used by various royals but no-one currently lives there), but many of these were stopped prematurely due to his illness. His son, King George IV, picked up where his father left off.
In the reign of Queen Victoria, Windsor became the royal family’s principal residence and was visited by heads of state including King Louis Philippe in 1844 and Emperor Napoleon III in 1855. The Queen’s husband, Prince Albert, died here on 14th December, 1861.
King Edward VII (1901-1910) and King George V (1910-1936) both had a hand in redecorating the palace and the Queen’s father, King George VI (1936-1952), was living in the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park when he succeeded to the throne.
In more recent times, the castle was the home to the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret, for much of World War II. The castle suffered its greatest setback in recent times in 1992 when a serious fire broke out in the Queen’s Private Chapel which destroyed several rooms including the ceiling of St George’s Hall which dated from the reign of King George IV. Restoration works took five years to complete.
Today the Queen spends many private weekends at the castle while the court is officially in residence here for a month over the Easter period and during Ascot Week in June – it’s at this time that the Garter Day celebrations take place with the installation of new knights.
The Queen also hosts State Visits here with banquets held in St George’s Hall as well as what are known as a ‘sleep and dine’ in which high profile figures are invited to dinner with the Queen before being shown a special display of items from the Royal Library and then spending the night. The Royal Standard flies from the Round Tower when the Queen is in residence.
As well as touring the State Apartments, the Gallery, Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House (completed in the 1920s for Queen Mary, wife of King George V), and St George’s Chapel, visitors to the castle can experience the Changing of the Guard at 11am every day but Sundays between May and early August (and every second day after that).
WHERE: Windsor (a short walk from either Windsor Central Station or Windsor & Eton Riverside Station); WHEN: 9.45am to 5.15pm until 27th July (times vary after this date – check the website); COST: £17 an adult/£10.20 a child (under 17s – under fives free)/£15.50 concession/£44.75 family (price includes an audio tour); WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/windsorcastle.
May 4, 2012
First laid out in the mid 17th century, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, on the east bank of the Thames just south of Lambeth, rose in fame to become one of London’s leading public entertainment venues.
The gardens, initially known as New Spring Gardens, are believed to have opened around the time of the Restoration of 1660 on a site which had been formerly an estate owned by vintners John and Jane Vaux (Jane was apparently widowed).
Initially apparently no more than an ale-house with a garden attached, the gardens grew to span several acres and featured a central hub and long avenues for strolling. Admission was initially free with money made from food and drink sold there. Among the earliest recorded visitors to the gardens was John Evelyn in 1661, describing it as a “pretty contrived plantation” and diarist Samuel Pepys, who wrote of a visit he made on 29th May, 1662 (he is known to have returned numerous times).
From 1729, the gardens came under ownership and management of John Tyers, entrepreneur, property developer and patron of the arts, and it was he who, until his death in 1767, oversaw the transformation of the area into an arts hotspot which included sculpture (in particular a fine statue of the composer Handel), music, painting and architecture. Thanks partly due to the patronage of Frederick, Prince of Wales, the gardens become the fashionable place to be seen.
The variety of entertainment on offer at the gardens – the name of which was only officially changed to Vauxhall Gardens in 1785 – grew substantially over the years: from concerts and fireworks displays to performances by tight rope walkers and lion tamers and even re-enactments of famous battles. The gardens became renowned as site for balloon ascents and, for its architecture – the number of buildings there grew over the years to include a rococo ‘Turkish tent’, Chinese pavilion, and, another rococo building, the Rotunda (where concerts could be held in wet weather). There was also a cascade and private ‘supper boxes’ for those who could afford them; those who couldn’t could dine at tables set under the trees.
From the outset, Vauxhall was known as a place where the sexes could mix freely and, therefore, for romantic assignations – in fact, one area of the gardens became known as the ‘Dark Walk’ for the fact it was, unlike other areas of the gardens, never illuminated by lamps and it was in this area, frequented by prostitutes, that many of the more illicit liaisons took place.
By the late 1700s and early 1800s, the gardens, one of a number of pleasure gardens in London, had reached the height of their popularity with reportedly more than 60,000 people said to have attending a fancy dress party held one night in the late 1700s.
Those who attended events in the gardens included royalty as well as the likes of Samuel Johnson and James Boswell (see Thomas Rowlandson’s image above, Vauxhall Gardens, showing the likes of Johnson and Boswell, along with Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire, and the future King George IV, at the gardens in about 1779) as well as, much later, Charles Dickens (by the time Dickens visited, however, the heyday of the gardens was already well over).
The gardens closed in 1859 due apparently to declining popularity and were eventually replaced with housing. After being badly bombed in World War II, however, the site once again returned to being a garden, known as Spring Gardens. The gardens (pictured) still occupy the site not far from Vauxhall tube station – part of them is used by the Vauxhall City Farm as paddocks for horses and livestock and they also contain a multi-use games court.
For an authoritative and comprehensive work on the Vauxhall Gardens, try David Coke and Dr Alan Borg’s Vauxhall Gardens: A History. There’s also much more information on David Coke’s website here. There’s also a detailed history here.
David Coke is curating an exhibition at The Foundling Museum, The Triumph of Pleasure, which looks at the way in which the gardens and the establishment of the Foundling Hospital in 1739 “changed the face of British art forever”. Runs from 11th May to 9th September. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.
PICTURES: Wikipedia and David Adams
April 27, 2012
Originally installed as a grand entrance to Buckingham Palace, John Nash’s arch was moved to its current location, what is now effectively a traffic island not far from Speaker’s Corner in nearby Hyde Park, in 1851.
The story goes that this took place after it was discovered that the arch was too narrow for the widest of the new-fangled coaches but there are some doubts over this, particularly as the gold state coach passed under it during Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1952. Another story says that it was moved after extensions to Buckingham Palace left insufficient space for it.
Work on the arch had started at Buckingham Palace in the mid 1820s and it was completed by 1833. It was originally moved to replace Cumberland Gate as the new entrance to Hyde Park and to complement Decimus Burton’s arch at Hyde Park Corner. Successive roadworks in the 20th century, however, left it in its current position.
Clad in Carrara marble, the design of the arch was inspired by Rome’s Arch of Constantine and the Arc do Carrousel in Paris. The sculptural ornamentation, which includes works by Sir Richard Westmacott and Edward Hodges Baily, however, was apparently never completed and an equestrian statue of King George IV, originally destined for the top of the arch, instead now stands in Trafalgar Square. The bronze gates – which bear the lion of England, cypher of King George IV and image of St George and the Dragon – were designed by Samuel Parker.
Only senior members of the Royal family and the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery are permitted to pass under the central arch of the monumental structure.
The arch stands close to where the Tyburn Tree once stood (for more on this, see our earlier post). It contains three small rooms which, up until the 1950s housed what has been described as “one of the smallest police stations in the world”.
There was some talk in 2005 that the arch would be moved to Speaker’s Corner but this obviously hasn’t eventuated.