November 28, 2016
We reintroduce an old favourite this month with our first ‘Where’s London’s oldest’ in a few years. And to kick it off, we’re looking at one of London’s oldest public clocks.
Hanging off the facade of the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West in Fleet Street is a clock which is believed to have been the first public clock to be erected in London which bears a minute hand.
The work of clockmaker Thomas Harris, the clock was first installed on the medieval church in 1671 – it has been suggested it was commissioned to celebrate the church’s survival during the Great Fire of London and was installed to replace an earlier clock which had been scorched in the fire. Its design was apparently inspired by a clock which had once been on Old St Paul’s Cathedral and was destroyed in the fire.
Like the clock it replaced, this clock sat in brackets and projected out into Fleet Street which meant it was able to be seen from a fair distance away (and being double-sided meant the black dials could be seen from both the east and the west). Like the Roman numerals that decorate it, the two hands, including the famous minute hand, are gold.
To the rear and above the clock dials are located the bells and striking mechanism. The bells are struck on the hours and the quarters by ‘automata’ – Herculean figures, perhaps representing Gog and Magog (although to most they were traditionally simply known as the ‘Giants of St Dunstan’s’), who do so using clubs and turn their heads.
Such was the attention these figures attracted that when the clock was first installed the area became notorious for pick-pockets who apparently went to work on unsuspecting passersby who had stopped to watch the giants at work.
This church was demolished in the early 1800s to allow the widening of Fleet Street and when it was rebuilt in 1830, the clock was absent. Having decided it couldn’t be accommodated in the new design, it had been auctioned off with the art collector, Francis Seymour-Conway, the 3rd Marquess of Hertford, the successful bidder.
He had it installed on his Decimus Burton-designed villa in Regent’s Park and there it remained until 1935 when Lord Rothermere, who had bought the villa in 1930, returned it to the church to mark the Silver Jubilee of King George V.
There are numerous literary references to the clock including in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Oliver Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield and a William Cowper poem.
May 24, 2016
Crossing the River Thames just downstream of Richmond and Twickenham Bridge, the Richmond weir and lock complex (actually it’s a half-lock and it also incorporates a footbridge) was built in the early 1890s to maintain a navigable depth of water upstream from Richmond. The Grade II*-listed structure, which is maintained by the Port of London Authority, was formally opened by the Duke of York (later King George V) on 19th May, 1894.
April 4, 2016
Queen Elizabeth II, the oldest British monarch, celebrates her 90th birthday later this month and, although we’ve run a piece on the Queen’s birth before, we thought it only fitting to take a second look at what proved to be a momentous birth.
The then Princess Elizabeth (Elizabeth Alexandra Mary) was born at 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair – the London home of her maternal grandparents, the Earl and Countess of Strathmore (they also owned Glamis Castle in Scotland) – at 2.40am on 21st April, 1926.
She was apparently delivered by Caesarian section and the Home Secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, was in attendance to ensure everything was above board (the custom, which has since been dropped, was apparently adopted after what was known as the ‘Warming Pan Scandal’ when, following the birth of Prince James Francis Edward, son of King James II and Queen Mary of Modena, in June, 1688, rumours spread that the baby had been stillborn and replaced by an imposter brought into the chamber inside a warming pan).
The first child of the Prince Albert, the Duke of York (Bertie) and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth), she was third in line to the throne at her birth but thanks to the abdication of King Edward VIII, became her father’s heir.
The event apparently drew a crowd to the property (although none could yet suspect how important this princess was to become) and among the well-wishers who visited the newborn that afternoon were her paternal grandparents, King George V and Queen Mary, who had apparently been woken at 4am to be informed of the birth of their second grandchild.
The property was to be Princess Elizabeth’s home for the first few months of her life (named after her mother, paternal great-grandmother, Queen Alexandra, and paternal grandmother, Queen Mary, she was christened in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace five weeks after her birth).
The home of her birth and a neighbouring townhouse have both since been demolished and replaced by an office building. A plaque commemorating it as the Queen’s birthplace was installed in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Year of 1977 and another to mark the Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
The Queen’s birthday will be officially commemorated in June.
PICTURE: Via London Remembers
January 12, 2016
News this week that scientists have confirmed an ancient sacred well beneath Australia House in the Strand (on the corner of Aldwych) contains water fit to drink. The well, believed to be one of 20 covered wells in London, is thought to be at least 900 years old and contains water which is said to come from the now-subterranean Fleet River. Australia’s ABC news was recently granted special access to the well hidden beneath a manhole cover in the building’s basement and obtained some water which was tested and found to be fit for drinking. It’s been suggested that the first known mention of the well – known simply as Holywell (it gave its name to a nearby street now lost) – may date back to the late 12th century when a monk, William FitzStephen, commented about the well’s “particular reputation” and the crowds that visited it (although is possible his comments apply to another London well). Australia House itself, home to the Australian High Commission, was officially opened in 1918 by King George V, five years after he laid the foundation stone. The Prime Minister of Australia, WM “Billy” Hughes, was among those present at the ceremony. The interior of the building has featured in the Harry Potter movies as Gringott’s Bank. PICTURE: © Martin Addison/Geograph.
November 17, 2014
With Remembrance Sunday having been observed earlier this month, we thought it was an appropriate time to take a quick look at the Peace Day Parade of 19th July, 1919, at which the Cenotaph – the National War Memorial – was first unveiled.
The parade, organised by a Peace Celebrations Committee appointed by the War Cabinet, was seen as the high point of a series of celebrations to mark the end of the war which had only officially ended on 28th June with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
Prime Minister David Lloyd George, on hearing French troops were to salute a ‘great catafalque’ (a raised structure upon which sits a coffin) built beside the Arc de Triomphe in honour of their war dead as part of their victory march, commissioned architect Edwin Lutyens to create a similar monument for the occasion.
Lutyens had apparently already started sketching, having been sounded out earlier about the possibility of such a structure, and eventually opted for a cenotaph, an empty tomb erected in honour of people buried elsewhere, in place of the catafalque.
The Cenotaph, one of a number of temporary structures built for the day, was unveiled in Whitehall early on the morning of Saturday, 19th July. Made of plaster and wood, it had been constructed in just two weeks (and, of course, it was replaced the following year with the stone Cenotaph which now stands there). Wreaths were soon piled high around its base.
As many as five million people reportedly turned out for the parade along a seven mile route from Knightsbridge (depicted above) through to Westminster and onto Buckingham Palace on Saturday – many of them had arrived from other parts of the country the previous night – and, eager not to miss out, had secured their space by sleeping in parks or streets overnight.
Also known as the London Victory Parade, the procession included some 15,000 Allied forces representing 12 victorious nations including, of course, Britain as well as France, the US, various European and Asian nations and small contingents from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Also marching were military commanders such as Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig – the British Commander-in-Chief, French Marshal Ferdinand Foch – Supreme Allied Commander during the last year of the war, and General John J Pershing, head of the American Expeditionary Force.
Some veterans apparently refused to take part, seeing the parade as “militaristic celebrations”.
After splitting into two columns and filing past the Cenotaph – inscribed with the words ‘The Glorious Dead”, those in the parade then marched down the Mall, which was lined with stands set aside for widows and orphans before King George V took their salute standing beneath a golden cupola erected at the base of the Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace.
October 15, 2014
In this, the final in our series looking at London’s World War I memorials, we’re taking a look at one of the city’s most visited monuments – the grave of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.
Located at the west end of the minster nave (pictured is the west front of the abbey inside of which lies the grave), the grave is that of a British soldier whose body was brought back from France and buried on the site on 11th November, 1920. The grave, which also contains soil brought from France, is covered by a slab of black marble from Belgium.
The slab bears an inscription written by Herbert Ryle, then dean of the abbey, which commemorates the “many multitudes” who died during World War I. “They buried him among the kings because he had done good toward God and toward his house”.
It is believed the idea for the memorial was that of a chaplain at the front during the war – Rev David Railton – who in 1916 saw a grave in northern France which featured a cross upon which was written, “An Unknown British Soldier”. He wrote to Ryle about what he’d seen and the idea for the new memorial slowly took shape – albeit with the initial misgivings of some including King George V.
Representing servicemen from the army, navy or air force from anywhere within Britain and its dominions who died in the war and have no other memorial or known grave, the unidentified body which lies in the grave is believed to have been selected at random from among a number bodies of soldiers who died early in the war – accounts suggest they numbered either four or six – and which were exhumed from battle areas at the Aisne, the Somme, Arras and Ypres.
Covered with Union flags, the bodies were taken to a chapel at St Pol on 7th November, 1920, and one selected by Brigadier General LJ Wyatt, commander of troops in France and Flanders.
The three remaining bodies were reburied while the selected remains were placed in two coffins, the outer one made of oak harvested from a tree which had grown at Hampton Court Palace. A 16th century crusader’s sword taken from the Tower of London’s collection was placed in the wrought iron bands of the coffin and it was then covered with a flag which Rev Railton had used as an altar cloth during the war (known as the Ypres or Padre’s Flag, it now hangs nearby in St George’s Chapel at the abbey).
The coffin was then transported on the destroyer HMS Verdun to Dover and then taken by train to Victoria Station before, on the morning of 11th November, it was placed on a gun carriage drawn by six black horses and transported through massive but silent crowds which lined the streets.
Pausing at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, King George V unveiled the monument which represent an empty tomb (see our earlier post here) and placed a wreath on the coffin and then, followed by the king, other royal family members and dignitaries, it was taken to the abbey minster and lowered into the grave at a special service attended by the king, Queen Alexandra, the queens of Spain and Norway, and Prime Minister David Lloyd George and former Prime Minister HH (later Lord) Asquith (a recording made of some of the service – apparently conducted simultaneously with one at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris – became the first ever electrical recording to be sold to the public).
Thousands of mourners paid their respects at the open grave before the grave was filled in and covered with temporary stone on 18th November. The marble stone which now stands there was unveiled at a special service on 11th November the following year. A framed US Congressional Medal of Honor, conferred by General John J Pershing on the unknown warrior on 17th October, 1921, hangs from a pillar nearby.
WHERE: Westminster Abbey, Westminster (nearest Tube station is Westminster or St James’s Park); WHEN: Generally open to tourists everyday except Sunday (times vary so check the website); COST: £18 an adult/£15 concessions/£8 schoolchildren (11-18 years), free for children aged under 11/£44 for a family (two adults, two children); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org.
August 13, 2014
Commemorations of the outbreak of World War I have begun, so we thought we’d take a look at 10 of London’s memorials to those who died in the Great War.
Initially a wood and plaster structure, it was just one of a number of a memorials unveiled in July 1919 for a special ‘Peace Day’ commemoration of the previous year’s armistice.
But such was its popularity that it was replaced in the following year by the Portland stone monument – built by Holland, Hannen & Cubitts – which now stands on the site. It was officially unveiled by King George V on Remembrance Day in 1920.
Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the decision to model it after a ‘cenotaph’ – a classical Greek design depicting an empty tomb for those who remains are elsewhere – was apparently Lutyens’ own. The cloth flags on both sides – part of the original design (although Lutyens apparently wanted them in stone) – represent various elements of the British armed forces.
Temporary railings were added on the south side of the memorial in 1938 by Lutyens and are brought out for the Remembrance Sunday service each year. The Cenotaph was updated after World War II with the addition of Roman numerals recording its dates after which it was unveiled a second time, this time by King George VI, on 10th November, 1946.
The Cenotaph – designated a Grade I-listed building – has spawned a host of replicas in places once part of the British Empire – from Australia to Canada and Hong Kong.
This version of the iconic British ‘institution’ – the red phone box – was designed by architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1924 (you may know him as the designer of the Battersea Power Station).
Formally known as the K2 telephone kiosk, Scott’s design was selected after a competition organised by the Royal Fine Art Commission (there’s a wooden prototype of Scott’s K2 located under the entrance to the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly – the location where it was originally positioned).
The design featured a classical-looking dome (said to have been influenced by the work of architect Sir John Soane) which featured the royal crest of King George V (done in perforation, so it also provided ventilation). The phone box was made in cast iron and painted red (Scott had apparently suggested silver). From 1926 onwards, around 1,700 of the K2s – which weighed more than a ton – were deployed around London (very few were ever erected outside the city).
The surviving K2s – there are said to be slightly more than 200 – are now listed buildings.
The telephone box is a part of the Design Museum’s permanent collection which is currently held in two locations but from 2015 will be housed in a new purpose-built museum in High Street Kensington.
The box, which will be displayed on the museum’s top floor which will be dedicated to the display of 20th century artefacts, is currently featured in a special exhibition, Design Museum Collection: Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things, which runs at the museum’s current premises until January, 2015.
To further explore the Design Museum’s collection, you can download a free Design Museum Collection App for iPad app via iTunes.
WHERE: Design Museum, 28 Shad Thames (nearest Tube stations are London Bridge and Tower Bridge); WHEN: 10am to 5.45pm daily (last admission 5.15pm); COST: £11.85 adults/£10.70 concessions/£7.50 students (children under 12 are free); WEBSITE: www.designmuseum.org
June 1, 2012
It’s partly obscured now, thanks to preparations for the current Diamond Jubilee, and we have touched on it before (see our earlier post here) but we thought it appropriate to take a look at the main London memorial to the only other British monarch ever to have celebrated a Diamond Jubilee – Queen Victoria.
Prominently located outside of Buckingham Palace at the head of The Mall, work on the Grade I listed Queen Victoria Memorial commenced in 1903. Dedicated to the Queen, who ruled from 1819-1901, it was unveiled by King George V, grandson of King Victoria, and that of his cousin German Emperor Wilhelm II in May, 1911 (although it wasn’t completed until 1924).
The statue, nicknamed the Wedding Cake, was designed by Sir Aston Webb (he who also designed the currently facade to Buckingham Palace and The Mall – down which the statue of Victoria serenely gazes), and sculpted by Sir Thomas Brock, who, so the story goes, received his knighthood after King George V was so moved at the dedication that he spontaneously decided to knight him then and there.
At 25 metres high, this vast statue is made of 2,300 tons of white marble, 800 tones of granite and 70 tons of bronze. It is the largest statue in London with the exception of that dedicated to Prince Albert in Kensington (it could be described as a companion piece) and is the largest statue of a monarch in England.
The statue is redolent with symbolism – four bronze lions at the base represent the idea of Power (a pair of these was apparently donated by New Zealand) while other bronze figures represent Peace, Progress, Manufacture and Agriculture. There is a nautical theme around the base with depictions of mermaids and ship’s prows among the scenes depicted, all of which evoke Seapower.
On the same level as the seated Queen are Truth, Justice and what’s variously described as Charity or Motherhood while above her are gilded figures representing Courage, Constancy and Winged Victory.
PICTURE: Louise Schuller (www.sxc.hu)
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.