This Week in London – The Queen’s House reopens; Caravaggio at The National Gallery; and, Victorian entertainments at the British Library…
October 13, 2016
• The Queen’s House in Greenwich has reopened this week following more than a year long restoration to mark its 400th anniversary. The property was designed by Inigo Jones for King James I’s wife, Queen Anne of Denmark (supposedly it was a gift from the king, given as an apology for swearing in front of her after she accidentally killed one of his dogs while hunting), and, commissioned in 1616 (but not finished until 1636, well after Queen Anne’s death), is regarded as Britain’s first fully classical building. The newly reopened premises houses more than 450 works of art from the National Maritime Museum’s collection and a new gold leaf artwork – inspired by the newly restored Tulip Stairs – on the ceiling of the Great Hall created by Turner Prize-winning artist Richard Wright. Other attractions include Gentileschi’s painting Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife, which has returned to the house, where it is on display in the King’s Presence Chamber, for the first time since 1650, and the iconic Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, which is now on permanent display. Entry to the property is free. The property’s reopening is being accompanied by a series of talks. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/queens-house.
• The first major exhibition to explore the work Italian artist Caravaggio has opened at The National Gallery on Trafalgar Square this week. Beyond Caravaggio features 49 paintings traces the life of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), from his early years in Rome producing highly original works depicting youths, musicians, cardsharps and fortune-tellers through to his sensational first public commission in 1600 and the many commissioned works which followed, his two trips to the Kingdom of Naples (both times while fleeing the law, the first after committing murder), and how his works inspired – and were reflected in the works of – other painters. Works on show include Caravaggio’s Boy Bitten by a Lizard (1594-95) and The Supper at Emmaus (1601), as well as the recently discovered The Taking of Christ (1602) and Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness (1603-04) along with a host of works from other painters. The exhibition is a collaboration with the National Gallery of Ireland and the Royal Scottish Academy and will head to these institutions after it finishes its run at The National Gallery on 15th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.
• A free exhibition exploring the popular Victorian entertainments which have shaped today’s theatrical traditions opens at the British Library in King’s Cross tomorrow. Victorian Entertainments: There Will Be Fun focuses on five performers who were instrumental entertainers during the 19th century – from mesmerist Annie De Montfort and ‘Royal Conjurer’ Evasion to Dan Leno – the “funniest man on earth”, circus owner ‘Lord’ George Sanger and magician John Nevil Maskelyne of the Egyptian Hall. The display features decorative posters, handbills, musical scores, advertisements and tickets and includes items drawn from the 6,000 pieces of printed ephemera contained in the library’s Evasion collection as well as original sound recordings, artefacts on loan from The Magic Circle Museum and memorabilia from the Egyptian Hall in London. Five original performance pieces have been commissioned for the exhibition and every Saturday until 17th December, a company of actors and performers will present archive material from the exhibition in a contemporary performance. There’s also an extensive events programme accompanying the exhibition. Runs until 12th March. For more, see www.bl.uk/events/victorian-entertainments-there-will-be-fun. PICTURE: Modern Witchery Maskelyne at the Egyptian Hall; © British Library Board
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February 29, 2016
It was in February, 1616 – 400 years ago this year – that the adventurer and courtier Sir Walter Raleigh (Ralegh) was released from the Tower of London where he had spent the last 13 years of his life. Sadly, his freedom was to be short-lived.
Raleigh had been imprisoned in 1603 by King James I – not his biggest fan – after being accused of plotting against the king and subsequently sentenced to death for treason (a sentence which was then commuted to life imprisonment).
The Tower, where he’d been imprisoned a couple of times before – most notably by Queen Elizabeth I for secretly marrying Bessy Throckmorton, one of her maids-of-honour, was to be his home for the next 13 years.
It was in Bloody Tower (in left of picture) that his rather luxurious ‘cell’ was located. Originally known as the Garden Tower, it was renamed for the tradition that the two ‘Princes in the Tower’, King Edward V and his brother Richard, had been murdered here in 1483.
The tower’s top floor was added specifically to provide more room for his family in 1605-06 (and Raleigh’s son Carew was conceived and born while he was imprisoned here). It was also during this time of imprisonment that he wrote his History of the World (published in 1614).
Raleigh was released in 1616 to lead an expedition to the New World – he’d previously been on a couple of expeditions there including one with his half-brother Sir Humphrey Gilbert aimed at finding the Northwest Passage (but which deteriorated into privateering and led to his brief imprisonment following his return to England), and one aimed at finding the legendary ‘golden land’ of El Dorado (which he failed to do). It was again with the purpose of finding gold that he now returned to the Orinoco River region of South America.
Failure, however, was once more the outcome, and on Raleigh’s return to England, the death sentence issued on 1603 was reimposed (for his failure but also for attacking the Spanish in defiance of the king’s instructions to specifically not do so, although the blame was not all his). He would be executed in Old Palace Yard at Westminster on 29th October, 1618.
July 27, 2015
The Welsh-born “merchant adventurer” Sir Hugh Myddelton (also spelt Myddleton or Middleton) is best remembered in London for the construction of the New River, a water engineering project which still provides some of city’s water.
Born about 1560, the sixth son (and one of 16 children) of Richard Myddelton, governor of Denbigh Castle in Wales, Hugh Myddelton travelled to London to seek his fortune and there became apprenticed to a goldsmith before himself becoming a member of the Goldsmith’s Company in 1592 (he later became warden of the company).
Operating out of premises in Bassishaw (now Basinghall Street), he gained a reputation among the wealthy and nobility for his work and was appointed Royal Jeweller to King James I (he had apparently also supplied jewellery to Queen Elizabeth I).
Myddelton became a wealthy merchant and banker, and, in 1603, he also succeeded his father as MP for Denbigh Borough, a post he held repeatedly until 1628.
Sir Hugh became one of the driving forces behind the New River project which aimed to address the strain on London’s water sources by bringing clean water from the River Lea in Hertfordshire via a 39 mile-long canal to New River Head in London.
After an aborted earlier attempt to build a canal from Hertfordshire to London (which had run into financial difficulties), Sir Hugh was granted authority to carry out the works for the New River in 1609 and employed mathematicians like Edward Pond and Edward Wright to direct the course with the man behind the earlier attempt, Edmund Colthurst, overseeing the works.
By 1611 it became clear to Myddelton that he wouldn’t have the necessary funds to complete the works so he obtained the financial aid of the king (in return the king was to get half of all profits).
The project was eventually completed in 1613 and a ceremony was held at the New River Head in Islington where the canal then terminated (just south of where Sadler’s Wells Theatre now stands).
Myddelton, who continued to diversify in business and made considerable sums from his ownership of lead and silver mines in Wales as well as from a land reclamation project on the Isle of Wight, became the first governor of the New River Company when it was created by royal charter in 1619 and remained a key figure in it until his death. He was created a baronet in 1622.
Myddelton, who married twice, had 15 or more children to his second wife – only about half of whom survived him. He died on 7th December, 1631, and was buried in the now demolished St Matthew Friday Street where he had been a church warden (some of his children were buried there as well). One of his brothers, Sir Thomas Myddelton, was a Lord Mayor of London.
Among memorials to Sir Hugh in London is a statue of him on Islington Green which was unveiled in 1872 by William Gladstone, later PM. There is also a statue of him on the Royal Exchange (pictured) and a number of Islington streets have been named for him.
For more on London’s historic water sources, see London’s Lost Rivers: A Walker’s Guide.
July 20, 2015
Famous for its associations with London’s theatreland, Drury Lane takes its name from the Drury family who once owned a mansion here.
Previously known as the Via de Aldwych (apparently for a stone monument the Aldwych Cross which stood at the street’s northern end), Drury Lane – which runs between High Holborn and Aldwych – was renamed after Drury House which was built at the southern end of the street.
Some accounts suggest it was Sir Robert Drury (1456-1535), an MP and lawyer, who built the property around 1500; others say it was his son, Sir William Drury, also an MP and a Privy Councillor, who did so in around 1600 – which may mean there were two versions of the one property.
The street, meanwhile, is said to have been briefly renamed Prince’s Street during the reign of King James I (1603-1625) but, following the Restoration in 1660, the name Drury once more gained supremacy.
The origins of the street’s famous theatre (London’s oldest), the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, dates from the same year (see our earlier post here). Other theatres in the street included the Cockpit Theatre which had been designed at one stage by Inigo Jones.
The street is also famous for being the site of the worst outbreak of the plague in London – the Great Plague of 1665, burned away the following year by the Great Fire – and by the 18th century was a slum noted for its seediness, in particular for prostitution (it features in William Hogarth’s work The Harlot’s Progress).
This didn’t change until the second half of the 19th century – author Charles Dickens had been among others who had commented on the poverty he had seen there – when gentrification took hold. Among the shops opened there during this time was the first Sainsbury’s, founded at number 173 in 1869.
Alongside the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (although the main entrance is in Catherine Street), other theatres in the street today include the New London Theatre and the London Theatre.
July 3, 2015
We’ve visited Rochester before but given it’s the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta we thought it would be good to take a more in-depth look at Rochester Castle and the events that took place there after the sealing of the “Great Charter”.
Rochester Castle was first built in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings as a Norman stronghold to control the Medway and the Roman road – Watling Street – which crossed it at that point. There was a Roman-era town on the site and it’s likely the first castle – surrounded by a deep ditch and featuring walls of earth topped with timber – was built within the town’s walls – possibly on the site of the existing castle.
Work on a stone castle was started in the late 1080s by Gundulf, the Bishop of Rochester (he also built the first Tower of London), and the castle precincts outer walls still largely follow the line of his original curtain walls. The keep was built by William de Corbeil, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was granted the castle by King Henry I in 1127. It remained in the custody of the archbishops until the events of 1215.
Following the sealing of the Magna Carta in May, relations between King John and the barons soured again into outright civil war with the castle declared for the rebels. In October and November, 1215, it was held for some seven weeks by a force of knights – accounts suggest between 95 and 140 – against the forces of King John. These eventually breached the south curtain wall and after the forces of the knights – who were led by William de Albini and Reginald de Cornhill – retreated to the keep, the king ordered his sappers to work.
The miners were successful in undermining the south-west tower which collapsed along with a large section of the keep (the fat of 40 pigs were apparently used to make sure the fire in the mine was hot enough). The defenders nonetheless kept fighting, retreating further into the remains of the keep, until they were eventually forced to surrender when faced with starvation. King John’s fury at their resistance was said to be great but while some of the defenders lost their hands and feet when they were apparently lopped off on his orders after surrendering, he was convinced to spare the holdouts from being hanged on the spot and merely had them imprisoned.
The tower was later rebuilt by King John’s long ruling son, King Henry III, and you can see its distinct round shape (in contrast with the earlier, square towers) when looking at the keep today. (Incidentally, King John’s siege was the castle’s second major siege – the first had taken place in 1088 when the forces of King William II (Rufus) had besieged the castle which was then held by the rebellious Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux, who was involved in an attempt to put William the Conqueror’s eldest son, Robert, Duke of Normandy, on the throne in place of William (who was the second son). Odo was forced to come to terms and exiled as a result of the siege).
In the hands of the Crown after King John’s siege, the castle was again the site of a siege in 1264 – this time unsuccessful when rebels under the command of Simon de Montfort failed to take it from those of King Henry III (although the garrison was later forced to surrender following events elsewhere).
It was rebuilt and repaired a number of times, including during the reigns of King Edward III and that of King Richard II (during whose reign it was also ransacked in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381). Other kings to visit it over the years included King Henry VII and King Henry VIII.
Already much deteriorated and neglected, in 1610, King James I gave the castle to Sir Anthony Weldon whose family sold off some of the timber and stone to local builders. It survived the Civil War without incident and was used as a public pleasure garden from the 1870s onward before, in 1884, it was sold to the City of Rochester. In 1965 responsibility for its care was given to the Ministry of Public Building and Works. Current managers, English Heritage, took over the site in 1984.
The castle remains an imposing site in Rochester and the outer walls of the keep remain intact even if it’s no more than a shell. Worth the climb to the top simply to take advantage of the spectacular views of the town and cathedral below!
WHERE: Rochester Castle, Rochester, Kent – nearest train station is Rochester (half a mile); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily (until 30th September); COST:£6.20 adults/£3.90 children (aged 5-15) and concessions (free for English Heritage members); WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/rochester-castle.
This Week in London – The Waddesdon Bequest has a new home; history painted at the Tate; and, early release NYE tickets…
June 18, 2015
• The Waddesdon Bequest, a collection of medieval and Renaissance treasures left to the British Museum by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in 1898, has a new home. Redisplayed in a new gallery which opened at the museum last week, the collection features the Christian relic known as Holy Thorn Reliquary (pictured) – a concocotion of gold, enamel and gems set around a thorn supposedly taken from Christ’s Crown of Thorns, the Lyte Jewel – a diamond-studded locket made in London in 1610-11 to hold a miniature of King James I and presented by the king to Thomas Lyte as thanks for a genealogy he created representing the king as a descendant of the Trojan Brutus, and the Cellini Bell – cast from silver in Nuremberg around 1600 and later displayed by Horace Walpole at his west London villa in Strawberry Hill. The bequest collection, which must always be displayed in a room of its own under its original terms, was first displayed at Baron Ferdinand’s country home of Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire (now a National Trust property) and moved to the museum after his death. The redisplay reconnects the collection with its past at the manor and the history of the museum – the room where it is now displayed, Room 2a, was the museum’s original Reading Room and part of a neo-classical suite of rooms designed by Robert Smirke in 1820. It has been given the “most ambitious digital treatment” of any permanent gallery in the institution. Admission is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• The “enduring significance and emotional power” of British history painting is under examination in a new exhibition which opened at Tate Britain on Millbank last week. Fighting History features everything from the large scale works of 18th century painters John Singleton Copley and Benjamin West through to 20th century and contemporary works by Richard Hamilton and Jeremy Deller and looks at how they reacted, captured and interpreted key historical events. Works on show include Singleton Copley’s 1778 work The Collapse of the Earl of Chatham in the House of Lords, 7 July, William Frederick Yeames’ 1877 work Amy Robsart, John Minton’s 1952 work The Death of Nelson and Deller’s 2001 work The Battle of Orgreave, a re-enactment of 1984 protest in South Yorkshire. The exhibition also compares traditional and contemporary renderings of events from scripture, literature and the classical world and features a room dedicated to interpretations of the great Biblical flood of Noah. Runs until 13th September. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.
• A limited number of early release tickets to London’s New Year’s Eve celebrations will go on sale from noon tomorrow (Friday, 19th June). The tickets, the bulk of which will be released in September, cost £10 a person with the proceeds being used to cover costs including printing and infrastructure. As was the case last year, people without tickets will not be able to access the event. To get hold of tickets, head to www.london.gov.uk/nye.
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April 28, 2015
Greenwich icon, the Queen’s House, is set to close on 27th July this year to allow for refurbishment and upgrade ahead of the 400th anniversary of its commissioning and design in 2016. The landmark will be closed until 4th July, 2016, after which those visiting the house will be able to see Orazio Gentileschi’s Biblically-themed painting, Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife, displayed in the building for the first time since 1650. Part of the Royal Collection, the painting was one of a series commissioned for the building by King Charles I and his wife Queen Henrietta Maria. The Queen’s House was designed by Inigo Jones in 1616 for King James I’s wife, Anne of Denmark, and, acknowledged as a masterpiece of 17th century architecture, was the first classically-designed building in country. The makeover will see galleries refurbished, the introduction of new displays and the restoration of components including the ceiling in the King’s Presence Chamber (the Queen’s Presence Chamber was restored in 2013). For more, see www.rmg.co.uk.
November 28, 2014
A Thames-side slum area located between Temple and Whitefriars Street (and south of Fleet Street), an area previously occupied by the Whitefriars Monastery, Alsatia was known as something of a lawless district where residents resisted any intervention by City officials.
The district came into existence following the dissolution of the monastery by King Henry VIII (he apparently gave the buildings and land to his physician Dr William Butts) and the area, despite some initial efforts to build substantial houses there, eventually degenerated into an overcrowded slum (apparently even when the priory was still existent, some of the surrounding areas had been somewhat disreputable).
The right of sanctuary apparently existed in the area which meant that debtors and criminals who entered gained immunity from arrest while they remained here.
Authorities were certainly loathe to enter the district given the strength which residents showed in resisting any attempts to grab hold of wanted persons and the maze-like narrow thoroughfares of the area and it became mockingly referred to as Alsatia in a reference to Alsace, a much disputed region on the French-German border which was historically outside normal legal jurisdiction.
Among those who took refuge here was Daniel Defoe – he is said to escaped here in 1692 after he was wanted by authorities for writing seditious material.
There were several attempts to clean up the slum but these had little effect (although the Great Fire of London did burn through here in 1666) and in 1608, King James I confirmed the area’s liberties in a formal charter. The rights remained in place until 1697 when they were abolished by an Act of Parliament (along with those of other liberties), although the area maintained its disreputable character for some time after.
Alsatia was mentioned in several books including in Thomas Shadwell’s 1688 play The Square of Alsatia and Sir Walter Scott’s 1822 novel, The Fortunes of Nigel, and the term continued to be used to refer to run-down neighbourhoods until late in the 19th century.
Still on designs for royal palaces and today we’re looking at two designs for the same palace. Both Inigo Jones (1573-1652) and Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) drew up designs for the remodelling and expansion of Whitehall Palace.
First up was the neo-classical architect Jones who drew up plans for a vast complex of buildings (pictured left) which would replace the Tudor palace King Henry VIII had created when he transformed the grand house formerly known as York Place into a residence suitable for a king (York Place had previously been a residence of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and prior to that, the London residence of the Archbishops of York).
Jones’ complex – which apparently featured seven internal courts – covered much of what is now known as Whitehall as well as neighbouring St James’s Park with a magnificent River Thames frontage.
The first part of Jones’ grand scheme – the Banqueting House (see our earlier post here) – opened in 1622. It still survives today – pictured above – and gives a taste of the grandeur of his overall scheme.
Yet, despite the eagerness of King James I for the project, it failed to materialise. English Heritage chief executive Simon Thurley told the BBC in 2012 that the hall represented only five per cent of what Jones had planned.
King James I died in 1625 and his son King Charles I was apparently keen to continue the project – so much so that Jones submitted new plans in 1638 – but he didn’t find the funds the project needed (and, of course, as we know, then became consumed by the events of the Civil War before being beheaded outside the Banqueting House in 1649).
Following the Restoration, in the 1660s King Charles II apparently had Sir Christopher Wren quietly draw up plans to redevelop the palace but these weren’t follow through on although during the reign of King James II he did work on several projects at the palace including a new range of royal riverside apartments, terrace (remains of which can still be seen) and a chapel.
In 1698, much of the bloated Whitehall Palace – then the largest palace in Europe with more than 1,500 rooms – burnt down although the Banqueting House, though damaged, survived basically intact (in fact there’s an interesting anecdote, its veracity questionable, which has it that on hearing of the fire Wren rushed to the site and had an adjacent building blown up to create a firebreak and ensure the Banqueting House was saved).
The then king, King William III, approached Wren and he again submitted plans for its rebuilding (prior to the fire, he had already worked on several aspects of the palace including a new range of royal apartments and a chapel for King James II).
But Wren’s plans – images show a grand domed building – were largely never realised (although he did convert the Banqueting House into a chapel) and the destroyed palace never rebuilt (no doubt in large part due to the fact that King William III preferred a more rural and less damp location – such as that of Kensington Palace – thanks to his asthma).
For more on the history of the Palace of Whitehall, see Simon Thurley’s Whitehall Palace: The Official Illustrated History.
September 1, 2014
Stories abound about this historic Hampstead pub – one of London’s oldest, not the least about the origins of its name.
Theories about the name include that it was named for a Spanish ambassador attending the court of King James I who sought shelter here during an outbreak of plaque. Others suggest it was named for a Spanish landlord – Francisco Perrero – or for two brothers who once owned it (that is, until one of them died in a duel they fought over a woman).
Whatever the truth, the atmospheric pub, located on the edge of Hampstead Heath, has apparently been around since 1585 and the stories about its connections with the famous (and infamous) number even more than those about its origins.
Highwayman Dick Turpin is associated with the pub (some stories suggest he was born here, although this seems unlikely) and the establishment is known to have played an important role in sparing nearby Kenwood House, then the home of Lord Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice, during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780 – apparently it was the action of the landlord, Giles Thomas, in throwing open the cellars which diverted the attention of would-be rioters from the task at hand to one perhaps more enjoyable.
The pub also features in Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers and in Bram Stoker’s Dracula while among those who frequented it were painter Sir Joshua Reynolds and Lord Byron as well as John Keats who, the story goes, wrote Ode to a Nightingale in the rather extensive garden.
Located in Spaniards Road, this Grade II-listed pub, as well as the main building, features an old toll house on the other side of the road which contains a horse trough (it has been suggested that Turpin stabled Black Bess there but take such claims with a grain of salt!).
Well worth a visit for refreshments after a stroll on the heath. For more, see www.thespaniardshampstead.co.uk.
PICTURE: Philip Halling/Wikipedia
10 sites from Shakespearean London – 7. Shakespearean connections in the Elizabethan world – St John’s Gate and Staple Inn…
July 16, 2014
Following on from our post last week, we take a look at a couple more of London’s buildings that had some sort of association with William Shakespeare…
• St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell (pictured): This former gatehouse into Clerkenwell Priory was at the time of Shakespeare home to the Master of the Revels and where the playwright would have had to have brought his plays for official government approval. Thirty of the Bard’s plays were licensed here and the Master of Revels during all but the final few years of Shakespeare’s career was Edmund Tilney (or Tylney), who served in the post under both Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. The gatehouse was later used as a coffee house and pub among other things and is associated with everyone from artist William Hogarth (his father Richard ran the coffee house), Dr Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens. These days, the gatehouse is part of the Museum of the Order of St John (for more on that, see our earlier post here).
• Staple Inn, Holborn: OK, there’s no direct link at all between Shakespeare and this building on High Holborn but it was built during his lifetime – in 1585 – and as such is one of very few surviving examples of buildings of his era. Its name comes from the fact the site where it stands was originally a covered market where wool was weighed and taxed (the word ‘staple’ apparently relates to the duty on wool introduced in 1275). It later became an Inn of Chancery – a medieval school for lawyers which fed students through to the Inns of Court (in this case mostly Gray’s Inn), and it was members of the Society of Staple Inn who built the new building here in the 1580s. The building – which still boasts a grand hall – survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 and, albeit with considerable damage, the Blitz. Since the late 1800s, it has been home to what’s now known as the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. The building, which was restored in the 1990s, is a great example of an Elizabethan-era structure and gives some sense of what Shakespeare’s London was like.
May 23, 2014
The Thames-side property known as the Steelyard – the phrase comes from the Dutch-German word Stahlhof and relates either to a steel beam used for weighing goods or a courtyard where the goods were sold – was the main trading base of the Hanseatic League in London from the 13th century onward.
Located near where Walbrook flows out of the Thames on the north bank (the site is now at least partly covered by Cannon Street Station), the walled compound – which at some point housed as many as 400 people – was in some senses a mini city within a city complete with a hall, warehouses, a weighing house and counting houses as well as residences and a chapel.
While the community – which represented an alliance of towns and cities in northern Europe – was mentioned as far back as the late 1200s, it wasn’t until 1303 that King Edward I formerly confirmed the tax and customs concessions of the merchants (at some point, in return for privileges they were given, the group was charged with keeping up the maintenance of Bishopsgate).
The power of the trading post had grown substantially by the 15th century and the concessions the group had been granted meant there was inevitably considerable friction with English merchants. There was also some official friction and one example of it was when the Steelyard was closed temporarily in the 15th century when the Hanse cities were at war with England.
In 1598 Queen Elizabeth I took away the Steelyard’s trading privileges (after which the compound was apparently looted). It was subsequently allowed to reopen by King James I but never regained the prominence it had previously had.
Much of the compound was destroyed in the Great Fire of London but nonetheless, the Steelyard was rebuilt and continued to provide links between German cities and the English until the mid 1800s when the land was sold off and, in 1866, Cannon Street Station built on the site.
A couple of surviving objects from the Steelyard include a series of at least eight portraits of Hanse merchants painted by Hans Holbein the Younger and a stone model of the Hanseatic Arms which were placed over the gate into the compound can be seen at the Museum of London.
May 21, 2014
Mention William Shakespeare and London in the same breath and everyone immediately thinks of one building – the reconstructed Globe on Bankside. So we thought that to kick off our new series – being run in honour of the 450th anniversary of the playwright’s birth – we’d take a look at history of the iconic structure.
The original Globe Theatre, located a few hundred metres to the south, opened in 1599 as a home for the actors’ company known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later renamed the King’s Men on the accession of King James I in 1603), of which Shakespeare was a member. Founded by James Burbage, this merry band was originally was housed at London’s first purpose-built playhouse Shoreditch before lease disputes led them to establish a new theatre in Southwark, close to the then existing theatre, The Rose.
Up and running by 1599 (Shakespeare was among four actors who bought a share in the property to help fund the new building which used timbers from the former Shoreditch theatre), the new theatre was used for 14 years until, during a performance of Henry VIII in 1613, wadding from a stage cannon ignited and the theatre burned to the ground. Rebuilt with a tiled roof, it remained the home of the company until it was closed down by the Puritan government in 1642 and demolished two years later.
You can see the original site of The Globe just in nearby Park Street. The shape of the structure is marked by a dark line embedded in the pavement (pictured).
The reconstructed building which stands proudly by the water today was the vision of the late American actor, director and producer, Sam Wanamaker. He founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust which, with the on-site assistance of Queen Elizabeth II, opened the theatre at its current site in 1997 (sadly, Wanamaker had died three-and-a-half-years previously).
The building’s design was drawn from sifting through what little historical evidence could be found including the findings of an archaeological dig at the original site, descriptions contained in Shakespeare’s plays (including the line from Henry V – “Or may we cram within this wooden ‘O’), and printed panoramas from the time, although it should be noted that much – particularly the design of the stage – is speculative.
Meanwhile the techniques used in the construction of the theatre were the subject of years of research and were in accord with those of the early 17th century and included using oak laths and staves to support lime plaster and then covering the walls in white lime wash while the roof was made of water reed thatch.
One of the best ways to see the theatre and make the most of the atmosphere is to see a play from a standing position in the pit!
WHERE: Globe Theatre Exhibition & Tour, Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk (nearest Tube stations are Southwark and London Bridge); WHEN: Exhibition is open 9am to 5.30pm daily – tours run at various times, see website for details; COST: Exhibition and tour cost is £13.50 adults/£12 seniors/£11 students/£8 children (5-15 with children under five free)/£36 family of four; WEBSITE: www.shakespearesglobe.com.
February 24, 2014
This name lends itself both to a 55 acre park and the abutting area in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in inner west London.
Both take their name from Holland House, a Jacobean mansion which started life as Cope Castle – the home of Sir Walter Cope, Chancellor of the Exchequer for King James I – but changed its name to Holland House when it was the property of Henry Rich, Cope’s son-in-law and the 1st Earl of Holland (Rich ended up being executed for his support of the Royalists in the Civil War). For more on the house – the remains of which can still be seen in the park – see our earlier post here.
The surrounding area became known as the abode of artists in the late 19th century – including Frederic Leighton, whose magnificently decorated house (now known as the Leighton House Museum) you can visit at 12 Holland Park Road, so much so that they became known as the Holland Park Circle.
Today the area is one of London’s most exclusive residential districts and contains a number of embassies. The streets include the Grade II*-listed Royal Crescent, designed in 1839 by Robert Cantwell in imitation of the more famous Royal Crescent in Bath.
Notable buildings include the 18th century Aubrey House (formerly known as Notting Hill House), located in the Campden Hill area (one of the most expensive parts of London for residential real estate), which was named by Aubrey de Vere who held the manor of Kensington at the time of the Domesday Book, and stands on the site of a former spa called Kensington Wells. At the end of the 1990s, it was reportedly thought to be London’s most expensive home.
PICTURE: Part of the restored Holland House, now a youth hostel.
November 25, 2013
Often noted as the second greatest English dramatist of his generation (after that Shakespeare guy), the playwright Ben Jonson stands tall in his own right as one of the leading literary figures of the late 16th and early 17th century.
Born in 1572, Jonson was educated at Westminster School in London and possibly went on to Cambridge before he started work as a bricklayer with his stepfather and later served as a soldier, fighting with English troops in The Netherlands.
It was on his return to London that he ventured into acting – among his early roles was Hieronimo in Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedie – and by 1597 he was employed as a playwright.
While one of his early play-writing efforts (The Isle of Dogs, co-written with Thomas Nashe) led to a term of imprisonment in Marshalsea Prison in 1597 (he was also briefly imprison about this time for killing another actor in a duel, escaping a death sentence by pleading “benefit of the clergy”), the following year – 1598 – the production of his play Every Man In His Humour established his reputation as a dramatist. Shakespeare, whom some suggest was a key rival of Jonson’s during his career – is said to have been among the actors who performed in it.
Further plays followed including Every Man Out Of His Humour (1599), his only tragedy Sejanus (1603), the popular Volpone (1606) and The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614) and it was during these years, particularly following the accession of King James I in 1603, that he became an important figure at the royal court).
His political views continued to cause trouble at times – he was again imprisoned in the early 1600s for his writings and was questioned over the Gunpowder Plot after apparently attending an event attended by most of those later found to be co-conspirators – but his move into writing masques for the royal court – saw his star continue to rise.
All up he wrote more than 20 masques for King James and Queen Anne of Denmark including Oberon, The Faery Prince which featured the young Prince Henry, eldest son of King James, in the title role. Many of these masques saw him working with architect Inigo Jones, who designed extravagant sets for the masques, but their relationship was tense at times.
In 1616 – his reputation well established – Jonson was given a sizeable yearly pension (some have concluded that as a result he was informally the country’s first Poet Laureate) and published his first collection of works the following year. Noted for his wit, he was also known to have presided over a gathering of his friends and admirers at The Mermaid Tavern and later at the Devil’s Tavern at 2 Fleet Street (Shakespeare was among those he verbally jousted with).
Jonson spent more than a year in his ancestral home of Scotland around 1618 but on his return to London, while still famous, he no longer saw the same level of success as he had earlier – particularly following the death of King James and accession of his son, King Charles I, in 1625.
Jonson married Anne Lewis – there is a record of such a couple marrying at St Magnus-the-Martyr church near London Bridge in 1594 – but their relationship certainly wasn’t always smooth sailing for they spent at least five years of their marriage living separately. It’s believed he had several children, two of whom died while yet young.
Jonson, meanwhile, continued to write up until his death on 6th August, 1637, and is buried in Westminster Abbey (he’s the only person buried upright in the abbey – apparently due to his poverty at the time of his death).
For an indepth look at the life of Ben Jonson, check out Ian Donaldson’s Ben Jonson: A Life.
April 12, 2013
While the style of the setting means this pendant is said to date from the early 17th century, a family tradition holds that it was made for a Protestant William Barbor, variously described as a London tradesman or grocer.
The story, said to have been first recorded in the early 18th century, goes that the jewel was made to commemorate Barbor’s escape from being burnt at the stake (thanks to his Protestantism) due to the accession of Queen Elizabeth I in 1558 following the death of her half-sister, Queen Mary I (‘Bloody Queen Mary’).
Barbor had been regarded as a heretic during Queen Mary’s reign and is said to have condemned to death for his faith but the death of the queen meant he no longer faced a sentence of death.
Even so, Barbor died in 1586, and while the onyx cameo of Queen Elizabeth I in the centre of the jewel dates from about 1575-85, the “pea-pod-style” setting of the jewel – which features rubies and diamonds and a cluster of pearls – has been dated to between 1615-25, during the reign of King James I, which places its creation well after Barbor’s demise.
The enameled jewel features an oak tree on the reverse side (pictured).
The Barbor Jewel is currently on display in the exhibition, Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars, at the V&A which runs until 14th July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.
PICTURE: Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London
March 11, 2013
The honour of being London’s oldest winebar goes to Gordon’s Wine Bar at 47 Villiers Street in the West End (just up from Embankment Tube Station or down from Charing Cross Station, whichever you prefer).
The venerable establishment – still a favoured place to stop for a drink for many Londoners – opened its doors in the 1890s and still conveys a powerful sense of old world charm with the decor pretty much unchanged (there’s been no fancy makeover here) and the wine still served from wooden casks behind the bar.
The site on which the bar is located was once occupied by York House (home to, among others during its centuries of life, Robert Devereaux – 2nd Earl of Essex and favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Francis Bacon – Lord Chancellor during the reign of King James I) and then, later on, by a large house lived in by diarist Samuel Pepys in the late 1600s before, thanks to its position close to the river, a building was built upon it in the 1790s which served as a warehouse.
The usefulness of the warehouse came to an end when Victoria Embankment was built and the river pushed back and the building was subsequently used for accommodation. Writer Rudyard Kipling was among tenants who lived here (from 1889-1891 during which wrote The Light that Failed – in fact, the building was renamed after him, Kipling House, in 1950.
It was Angus Gordon, a “free vintner” meaning he didn’t have to apply for a licence thanks to the largesse of King Edward III in 1364, who established the premises in the vaults here in the 1890s (interestingly the current owners are also Gordons, but not related). Among the other uses of the building, of which Gordon’s only occupies a part, was apparently as a brothel in the 1920s.
For more on Gordon’s head to www.gordonswinebar.com.
November 5, 2012
Today marks what was traditionally known as Guy Fawkes Day or, as it’s known more popularly today, Bonfire Night, when, along with people throughout the UK, Londoners celebrate the capture of would be regicide Guy Fawkes and his conspirators, who in 1605 plotted to blow up the House of Lords and with it, King James I, during the State Opening of Parliament.
Meantime, if you’re wanting to attend a celebration in London, Time Out has a terrific guide to all the events taking place – simply head to their page here. Enjoy the night!
Around London – Henry Stuart at the NPG; the Lord Mayor’s Show; prehistoric Japanese pots; and, photography at the National Gallery…
November 1, 2012
• The first ever exhibition focusing on Henry Stuart, older brother of King Charles I, has opened at the National Portrait Gallery. The Lost Prince: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart features more than 80 exhibits including paintings, miniatures, manuscripts, books and armour gathered from museums and personal collections around the UK and abroad – with some of the objects being displayed in public for the first time. Opened on 18th October – the 400th anniversary of the Prince’s death, among the paintings displayed in the exhibition are works by Holbein, Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver as well as Robert Peake as well as masque designs by Inigo Jones and poetry by Ben Jonson. Henry, Prince of Wales, was the eldest son of King James I and Queen Anne of Denmark, and died at the age of 18 of typhoid fever. As well as looking at his short life, the exhibition covers the extraordinary reaction to his premature death (and the end of hope that King Henry IX would sit next upon the throne). The exhibition runs until 13th January. An admission fee applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: Henry, Prince of Wales by Isaac Oliver, c. 1610-12; Copyright: The Royal Collection Photo: Supplied by Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2012
• The Lord Mayor’s Show – the largest unrehearsed procession in the world – will be held on 10th November. This year’s procession – celebrating the election of the 685th Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Roger Gifford – will feature more than 6,500 people winding their way through the City of London in a three-and-a-half mile-long display including 22 marching bands, 125 horses, 18 vintage cars, 21 carriages, an original American stagecoach, a Sherman tank, a steamroller and a Japanese Taiko drum band. While there will be no fireworks after this year’s parade, following the success of last year’s trial there will be an early morning flotilla with the Lord Mayor conveyed in the barge QRB Gloriana from Vauxhall up the Thames to HMS President, just below St Katharine Docks, from where he will make his way to the Mansion House to join the procession as it heads first to St Paul’s and then on to the Royal Courts of Justice before returning (via a different route). There are no grand stand seats left but plenty of places you can watch it for free (for a chance to win free Grandstand tickets, head to the Lord Mayor’s Show Facebook page and ‘like’ it). We’ll be talking about this more next week, but in the meantime, for maps and details of a new smart phone app, head to www.lordmayorsshow.org.
• Two prehistoric Japanese pots have gone on display at the British Museum. Loaned from the Nagaoka Municipal Science Museum, the pots date from the Middle Jomon period (3,500-2,500 BCE) and consist of a ‘flame’ and a ‘crown’ pot which were excavated in Nagaoka city. The pots form part of the Asahi Shimbun Displays in room 3 and will be there until 20th January. Meanwhile, continuing the Asian theme, an exhibition of more than 100 contemporary carved Chinese seals by artist Li Lanqing is on display in room 33 until 15th January. Admission to both is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• On Now: Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present. The National Gallery’s first major exhibition of photography, the display looks at the relationship between historical paintings and photography, both its early days in the mid-19th century and the work of contemporary photographers – in particular how photographers have used the traditions of fine art to “explore and justify” their own works. Almost 90 photographs are displayed alongside a select group of paintings for the show. Admission is free. Runs until 20th January in the Sainsbury Wing. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.