English Heritage are celebrating 150 years of the blue plaque scheme this year – the oldest of its kind in the world – and so to celebrate we’re looking at 10 of the most notable among them.

Napoleon-III-blue-plaqueFirst up, it’s the oldest surviving blue plaque. Located in King Street in Mayfair, just off St James’s Square, it commemorates the last French Emperor, Napoleon III, who lived at the property while a prince in 1848.

It was only a brief stay for the then soon-to-be emperor. The nephew and heir of Emperor Napoleon I, he , like other members of his family was exiled from France after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and spent the following years in various other countries in Europe as well as, finally, London where he lived firstly at Carlton Gardens and then at the King Street property.

He took the lease on this newly built house in February, 1847, and created what English Heritage has called a “shrine to the Bonapartes” inside, displaying such relics as Napoleon I’s uniforms and a portrait of his famous uncle by the celebrated French artist Paul Delaroche.

The prince was something of a society favourite during his time in London and was invited to join various of St James’s clubs and apparently even enrolled as a special constable during the Chartist riots of 1848.

When the Bourbon monarchy – in the person of King Louis Philippe – was overthrown in France in September that year, the prince abandoned the house to rush back to France (apparently in such a hurry that the story goes that he left his bed unmade and his bath still full of water).

The prince was elected first President of the Second Republic on his return to Paris and in 1852 took his place as Emperor Napoleon III on the restoration of the empire (incidentally, he ended up returning to England in exile following his defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and died in Kent in 1873).

The plaque, installed in 1867, also has the distinction of being the only one installed while the person it commemorates was still alive. The rule now is that those commemorated by a blue plaque need to have been dead for at least 20 years before the honour can be bestowed.

The plaque, which is rather more elaborate than modern versions, was put up by the Society of Arts (they’re mentioned on it) and the design features a French imperial eagle. It was manufactured by Minton Hollins & Co.

For more on Blue Plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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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.