In the medieval period, the royal wardrobe – that is, the splendid robes and other clothes worn on state occasions – were kept at a range of different locations including the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. In the 1360s, however, it moved to a more permanent location in what had been a house near Blackfriars priory.
Sold to King Edward III by the executors of the will of Sir John Beauchamp, the house served as the key storage site for royal clothes including not only those of the monarch but various people attached to the court such as the royal family, king’s ministers and Knights of the Garter.
The building, which was considerably extended over the years to include everything from a great hall and chapel to stables, was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and the wardrobe was moved to another building in Buckingham Street although by this stage its importance had declined considerably (the last Master of the Wardrobe held office in the late 18th century).
Its name lived on in that of the church St Andrew-by-the Wardrobe and that of the well-hidden and intimate Wardrobe Place (it’s located between St Andrew’s Hill and Addle Hill). There is a blue plaque which marks the site of the former building (pictured above).
With Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square stealing much of the limelight, the Duke of York’s Column in Waterloo Place tends to get overlooked. So we thought it was time we took a more in-depth look at its history.
The monument is dedicated to Prince Frederick (1763-1827), the second son of King George III and commander-in-chief of the British Army during wars which were fought between France and European powers including Britain between 1792 and 1802.
The Duke was not a successful military commander on the field – his one outing in Flanders was a disaster and is said to have resulted in him being immortalised in the song, The Grand Old Duke of York – but he is celebrated for reforming the army after his return to England.
The almost 42-metre high monument features a larger-than-life bronze statue of the Duke dressed in the robes of the Knights of the Garter – the work of Sir Richard Westmacott – standing on the top of a granite column and gazing down a series of steps and over The Mall towards St James’s Park.
The overall monument was designed by Benjamin Dean Wyatt. His design was selected by a committee from among other submissions and erected between 1830-33. While the Duke was an inveterate gambler and died deeply in debt, the British Army is said to have voted to forgo a day’s pay to fork out the £25,000 required to build the commemorative monument. It was said in jest that the height of the monument allowed the Duke to escape his creditors.
Interestingly, the hollow column contains a spiral staircase which originally gave access to a viewing platform at the top. Access was apparently prohibited after a spate of suicides.
Looking for more on statues and monuments around London – why not check out Peter Matthews’ London’s Statues and Monuments?