This month marks the 187 years since the opening of “new” London Bridge – the first bridge built over the Thames in London for more than 600 years.

Designed by John Rennie (who had won a competition, beating the likes of Thomas Telford for the honour), work on the new granite bridge had began in 1825 and was completed in 1831.

It was constructed alongside the medieval bridge which had been first completed in the 13th century and added to over the years since (and was eventually completely demolished after the opening of the ‘new’ bridge).

The ‘new’ bridge, said to have cost £506,000 to construct, was formally opened by King William IV on 1st August, 1831, in an event described by The Times as “the most splendid spectacle that has been witnessed on the Thames for many years”.

The royal party – which included Queen Adelaide – had approached the bridge, lined with flags for the occasion, after setting off from Somerset House amid cheering described as “almost deafening” (to add to cacophony of sound, church bells were rung and cannon fired throughout the day).

Watched by thousands of onlookers (who were entertained by bands at various locations), the royal party had processed their way downstream on the river to the bridge with the royal bargemen wearing new livery specially designed for the occasion. Two parallel lines of rivercraft – including barges and steamers – had gathered along the river to provide a sort of honour guard and ensure they had clear passage.

The royals arrived at the bridge at 4pm and the royal party made their way up red carpeted stairs to the bridge’s City end. Following a short ceremony in which the King was presented by the Lord Mayor of London with the sword and keys to the City of London as well as a specially made gold medal to mark the occasion, their Majesties then walked across from the across the bridge to the Southwark end where entertainments had included the ascension of a hot air balloon.

The King and the royal party then returned to the City end of the bridge to attend a banquet – guests were said to number 1,500 people – held under a pavilion erected atop the new structure.

The Gentleman’s Magazine reported that food was provided by a coffee house proprietor, a Mr Leech, and was said to include 150 hams and tongues, 370 “dishes of chickens”, and 300 turtles as well as 200 fruit tarts and 300 “ice-creams”.

The King and royal party then returned up the river.

Rennie’s bridge was replaced in the mid-20th century with another bridge which was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973 and rather than being demolished, was sold to US oil magnate Robert P McCulloch who had it dismantled and shipped to Arizona where it was reconstructed at Lake Havasu City where it can now be seen.

A couple of sections of the bridge survive in London – two of its pedestrian alcoves, one of which can be found in Victoria Park in London’s east and the other at King’s College London.

There is a famous painting – Clarkson Stanfield’s, The Opening of New London Bridge, 1 August 1831 – which captures the moment of the bridge’s opening and is part of the Royal Collection.

PICTURES: Top – ‘A View of the New London Bridge as It Appeared on the 1st August 1831, When Opened by His Majesty, King William the 4th’, Unknown artist, Lithograph on paper, Photo © Tate (licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)); Right – The alcove in Victoria Park (Public Domain).

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really-good-by-david-shrigley-c-gautier-deblondeA giant hand giving a thumbs-up, the latest commission to grace Trafalgar Square’s famous Fourth Plinth, was unveiled late last month. Really Good, by UK artist David Shrigley stands seven metres high and features a disproportionately long thumb arising from a closed fist. The sculpture is the latest in a string of artworks to have graced the plinth which was built in 1841 and originally designed to hold a statue of King William IV but, thanks to a lack of money, remained empty until recent times. Speaking at the launch of the new work last month, the artist said the work was about “making the world a better place or it purports to actually make the world a better place”. “Obviously, this is a ridiculous proposition, but I think it’s a good proposition,” The Independent reports him saying. “Artworks on their own are inanimate objects so they can’t make the world a better place. It is us, so I guess we have to ask ourselves how we can do this.” For more on the Fourth Plinth program, see www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/arts-and-culture/art-and-design/fourth-plinth-2016

PICTURE: © Gautier Deblonde

A new exhibition exploring how fashion survived and even flourished during World War II has opened at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth to mark the 70th anniversary of the war’s end. Fashion on the Ration brings together more than 300 exhibits including clothes and accessories like the ‘respirator carrier handbag’, photographs and films as well as official documents from the period, letters and interviews. The exhibition is divided into six parts which examine in detail everything from the uniforms worn during the period to clothes rationing (introduced in 1941) and how the end of the war impacted fashion. Runs until 31st August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.

The UK’s first major exhibition devoted to Paul Durand-Ruel, the man who “invented Impressionism”, has opened at the National Gallery off Trafalgar Square this week. Inventing Impressionism features around 85 works including some of Impressionism’s greatest masterpieces, a number of which have never been seen in the UK before. The majority of the works were traded by Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) who is noted for having discovered and supported Impressionist painters like Monet, Pisarro, Degas and Renoir. Durand-Ruel purchased an astonishing 12,000 pictures between 1891 and 1922, including more than 1,000 Monets, about 1,500 Renoirs, more than 400 Degas’, some 800 Pissarros and close to 200 Manets. The images on display include a series of rarely-seen portraits of the dealer and his family by Renoir which are being exhibited in the UK for the first time as well as five paintings from Manet’s ‘Poplars’ series and all three of Renoir’s famous ‘Dances’, not seen in the country together since 1985. The exhibition finishes with a reference to an exhibition Durand-Ruel organised in London in 1905. Held at the Grafton Galleries, it presented 315 paintings. Admission charge applies. Runs until 31st May. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

Gift Horse, New York-based German artist Hans Haacke’s sculpture of a skeletal riderless horse, will be unveiled on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square today. The horse, derived from an etching by English painter George Stubbs – whose works are in the nearby National Gallery, features an electronic ribbon tied to the horse’s front leg showing a live ticker of the London Stock Exchange. The statue, described as a ‘wry comment’ on the equestrian statue of King William IV which was originally to occupy the plinth, is the 10th to occupy the plinth since the first commission – Marc Quinn’s sculpture Alison Lapper Pregnant – was unveiled in 2005.

 Contemporary artist Dryden Goodwin’s first feature-length film is on show as part of a new exhibition, Unseen: The Lives of Looking, at the Queen’s House in Greenwich. Continuing Goodwin’s investigations into portraiture, the newly commissioned film focuses on three individuals who have a “compelling” relationship to looking – eye surgeon Sir Peng Tee Khaw, planetary explorer Professor Sanjeev Gupta and human rights lawyer Rosa Curling. Alongside the screening is a series of drawings made by Goodwin after observing the three individuals as well as tools and papers related to each of their trades and a series of objects connected three leading observers related to the history of the Royal Museums Greenwich sites – John Flamsteed, first Astronomer Royal, Edward Maunder, who observed Mars from the Royal Observatory Greenwich, and the artist Willem van de Velde the Elder who made detailed drawings of naval battles in preparation for producing paintings in his studio at the Queen’s House. Runs until 26th July. Admission is free. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk.

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

Horse-Guards1

Known around the world for the stoic mounted troopers which stand guard here, this rather fanciful building straddling a site between Whitehall and St James’s Park was built in the early 1750s on land which had previously served as a tiltyard for King Henry VIII.

In the 1660s King Charles II had a barracks built here for the guards manning the entrance to what was then the Palace of Whitehall, but in 1749 it was demolished and the present building constructed.

William Kent had apparently drawn up designs but it was architect John Vardy who oversaw construction of the neo-Palladian building after Kent’s death in 1748. The windows on the St James’s Park side of the building are said to have been based on a drawing by Lord Burlington (he of Chiswick House fame – see our earlier post here).

While the site previously marked the entrance to the Palace of Whitehall, it is now considered the formal entrance to St James’s Palace (although the palace is located some distance away) and, as a result, only the monarch can drive through the central archway without displaying a pass.

Horse-GuardsUntil 1904, the Grade I-listed building housed the office of the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces but the title was then abolished and replaced with Chief of the General Staff, who relocated to the War Office Building. Horse Guards subsequently became the home of the army commands of London District and the Household Division, a role it still fulfils.

As well as being the site of the daily Changing of the Queen’s Life Guard (this free event takes place at 11am every day; 10am on Sundays), Horse Guards is also now home to the Household Cavalry Museum.

Among treasures in the museum are two silver kettledrums presented to the regiment in 1831 by King William IV, a cork leg used by the first Marquess of Anglesey after his real leg was amputated following the Battle of Waterloo (and subsequently became a tourist attraction in its own right) and silverware by Faberge. Visitors to the museum can also see into the working stables via a glazed petition.

The parade ground behind the building is the site of the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony which officially celebrates the Sovereign’s birthday. Although the ceremony has only been held since 1748, it’s interesting to note that some of the birthday celebrations of Queen Elizabeth I were held in the same place.

WHERE: The Household Cavalry Museum, Horse Guards, Whitehall (nearest Tube stations are Westminster, Embankment, St James’s Park and Charing Cross); WHEN: Open 10am to 5pm (November to March)/10am to 6pm (April to October); COST: £6 adults/£4 children (aged 5-16) and concessions/£15 family ticket; WEBSITE: www.householdcavalrymuseum.co.uk.

First up, apologies that we were unable to launch our new Wednesday series yesterday due to some technical difficulties (stayed tuned for next week). And now, on with the news…

Sarah_Bernhardt_by_Lafayette_Ltd_1899_c__Victoria_and_Albert_Museum_London__William Shakespeare’s influence on successive generations of theatrical performance is the subject of a new exhibition at the V&A to mark the 450th anniversary of his birth on 23rd April. Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright centres on the Bard’s First Folio which, published in 1623, contains 36 plays including 18 works – Macbeth, The Tempest and Twelfth Night among them – which would be unknown without it. The display includes interviews, archive footage and photography and objects from the V&A collections as well as an audio-visual presentation by Fifty Nine Productions featuring interviews with contemporary theatre practitioners such as actors, directors and designers. Objects on display include a skull used by Sarah Bernhardt when playing Hamlet in 1899, an embroidered handkerchief used by Ellen Terry when playing Desdemona in 1881 at the Lyceum Theatre, and a pair of red boots worn by actor-manager Henry Irving in an 1887 production of Richard III. Runs in the V&A’s Theatre and Performance Galleries until 21st September. Admission is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, 1899, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

A skeletal horse and a giant hand giving a thumbs up will adorn the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square during 2015-16. Hans Haacke’s Gift Horse is derived from an etching by painter George Stubbs and, while being a comment on the equestrian statue of King William IV which was intended for the plinth, also features an electronic ribbon displaying a live ticker of the London Stock Exchange on its front leg. Meanwhile David Shrigley’s Really Good is a 10 metre high hand giving a thumbs up – sending a positive message to those who see it. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/priorities/arts-culture/fourth-plinth.

The impact of the car on England’s landscape and the listed buildings of motoring history are the focus of a new exhibition in Wellington Arch. Carscapes: How the Motor Car Reshaped England features archive photographs, historic advertising, cartoons and motoring magazines as well as a 1930s traffic light, a petrol pump and other accessories and memorabilia. Wellington Arch, which is managed by English Heritage, is a fitting location for the exhibition – it was moved to its current position due to increasing traffic back in 1883. Admission charge apply. For more, see www.english-heritage.co.uk.

A new exhibition exploring some of the true and not-so-true stories inspired by and produced in London opens at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden tomorrow. London Stories features the best entries from The Serco Prize for Illustration 2014 with more than 50 works of art on display depicting a well-known or obscure London narrative. The short-listed illustrations tackle everything from ghost buses to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show of 1887, a Pearly King and Queen, Lenin’s ‘Love letter to London’ and an escaped monkey jazz band. There’s also a host of musical and literary references – everything from Mary Poppins to Sweeney Todd and Oranges and Lemons. Tomorrow there will be a late opening of the exhibition complete with cash bar, DJ and story-telling for adults as well as the chance to create your own London story with illustration workshops and a photo-booth. Organised by London Transport Museum in partnership with the Association of Illustrators, it runs until 6th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.

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

Commonly thought to be older than it actually is due to its Gothic stylings (although, to be fair, parts of it do date from medieval times), the Palace of Westminster – or, as it’s more commonly known, the Houses of Parliament – didn’t actually take on much of its current appearance until the latter half of the 19th century.

The need for a new building for parliament arose after 1834 when a fire, caused by the overheating of two underfloor stoves used to incinerate the Exchequer’s obsolete tally sticks, tore through the former complex, leaving only some structures from the old palace intact. They included the 11th century Westminster Hall (the largest in Europe when it was built), 14th century Jewel Tower and a chapterhouse, crypt and cloisters, all of which was once attached to the now gone St Stephen’s Chapel.

Houses-of-Parliament2While King William IV offered the use of Buckingham Palace for Parliament, the idea – along with a host of other options – was rejected as unsuitable. Instead, a competition was held for a new design and after almost 100 entries were considered, architect Charles Barry and his design for a new palace in the perpendicular Gothic style was chosen. Interestingly, while Barry was a classical architect, under the terms of the competition, designs were required to be in a Gothic style, thought to embody conservative values .

Incorporating some of the remains of the old palace – including Westminster Hall but not the Jewel Tower which to this day stands alone – the design was based around a series of internal courtyards with the House of Commons and House of Lords located on either side of a central lobby (first known as Octagonal Hall). The design involved reclaiming some land from the Thames so the building’s main river-facing facade could be completed.

Towers stand at either end of the complex – the Victoria Tower over the Sovereign’s Entrance at the southern end of the complex (for many years the tallest square stone tower in the world) and the narrower tower formerly known as the Clock Tower which houses the bell Big Ben, at the northern end – and there is a central Octagonal Tower which stands directly over the Central Lobby. The Clock Tower, incidentally, was renamed the Elizabeth Tower last year in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee (for more on it and Big Ben, see our earlier entries here and here).

Other towers include the Speaker’s Tower (located at the northern end of the building on the waterfront, this contains a residence for the Speaker), the Chancellor’s Tower (located at the southern end, it too contained a residence originally used by the Lord Chancellor) and St Stephen’s Tower – located in the middle of the building’s west front, it contains the public entrance to the building. Significant other rooms in the palace complex include the Robing Room – where the Queen puts on her ceremonial robes and crown before the State Opening of Parliament – and the Royal Gallery, used for state occasions.

The foundation stone (the building was constructed out of sand-coloured limestone from Yorkshire) was laid in 1840 and construction of the monumental building – which features more than 1,100 rooms and two miles of passageways – wasn’t completely finished until the 1870s although most of the work had been completed by 1860 (the year Barry died). The House of Lords first sat in their new chamber in 1847 and the House of Commons in 1852 (it was at this point that Barry was knighted for his work).

The cost, meanwhile, originally estimated at less than £750,000, ended up coming in at more than £2 million.

Much of the interior decoration owes its appearance to the Gothic revivalist Augustus Pugin who designed everything from wallpapers, to floor tiles and furnishings. Pugin also helped Barry with the external appearance but like Barry died before the project was completely finished (in 1852).

The palace was bombed numerous times in World War II – in one raid, the Commons Chamber was destroyed as firefighters opted to save the much older Westminster Hall instead. It was later rebuilt under the direction of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and completed by 1950. Other aspects of the building have also been restored.

A Grade I-listed building classified as a World Heritage Site, Barry’s Houses of Parliament remain one of London’s most iconic structures. We’ll be looking in more detail at some of the building’s features in future posts.

WHERE: Houses of Parliament (nearest Tube stations are Westminster, St James’s Park and Embankment); WHEN: Tours (75 minutes) are run from 9.15am to 4.30pm on Saturdays (also six days a week during summer opening); COST: £15 adults/£10 concessions/£6 children five to 15 years (children under five are free). Prices go up after 1st April – check website for details and to purchase tickets (tours for UK residents, including climbing the Elizabeth Tower, can also be arranged through your MP); WEBSITE: www.parliament.uk.

For more, see Robert Wilson’s guide to the The Houses of Parliament or David Cannadine’s indepth,  The Houses of Parliament: History, Art, Architecture. For more on the story of the fire in 1834, see head parliamentary archivist Caroline Shenton’s recent book The Day Parliament Burned Down.

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.