This small stone stairway which now sits in the midst of a grassy expanse at the back of the Ministry of Defence was once part of the Palace of Whitehall.
Named for Queen Mary II, wife of King William III, for whom they were designed, the stairs were part of a terrace built in 1691 abutting the Thames in front of an old river wall constructed for King Henry VIII.
Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the stairs were one of a pair located at either end of the terrace which gave direct access to the river – and state barges – from the Royal Apartments.
Excavations in 1939 during construction of the MoD revealed the Tudor river wall, the terrace and the northern-most of the two flights of steps. The upper part of the steps have been repaired and the terrace and wall reconstructed.
The steps and palace fragments are now a Grade I listed monument.
One of a string of massive residences built along the Strand during the Middle Ages, Arundel House was previously the London townhouse of the Bishops of Bath and Wells (it was then known as ‘Bath Inn’ and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was among those who resided here during this period).
Following the Dissolution, in 1539 King Henry VIII granted the property to William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton (it was then known as Hampton Place). After reverting to the Crown on his death on 1542, it was subsequently given to Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, a younger brother of Queen Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, and known as ‘Seymour Place’. Then Princess Elizabeth (late Queen Elizabeth I) stayed at the property during this period (in fact, it’s said her alleged affair with Thomas Seymour took place here).
Seymour significantly remodelled the property, before in 1549, he was executed for treason. The house was subsequently sold to Henry Fitz Alan, 12th Earl of Arundel, for slightly more than £40. He was succeeded by his grandson, Philip Howard, but he was tried for treason and died in the Tower of London in 1595. In 1603, the house was granted to Charles, Earl of Nottingham, but his possession was short-lived.
Just four years later it was repurchased by the Howard family – in particular Philip’s son, Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel – who had been restored to the earldom.
Howard, who was also the 4th Earl of Surrey, housed his famous collection of sculptures, known as the ‘Arundel Marbles’, here (much of his collection, described as England’s first great art collection, is now in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum).
During this period, guests included Inigo Jones (who designed a number of updates to the property) and artist Wenceslas Hollar who resided in an apartment (in fact, it’s believed he drew his famous view of London, published in 1647, while on the roof).
Howard, known as the “Collector Earl”, died in Italy in 1646. Following his death, the property was used as a garrison and later, during the Commonwealth, used as a place to receive important guests
It was restored to Thomas’ grandson, Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk, following the Restoration. Following the Great Fire of London in 1666, for several years the property was used as the location for Royal Society meetings.
The house was demolished in the 1678. It’s commemorated today by the streets named Surrey, Howard, Norfolk and Arundel (and a late 19th century property on the corner of Arundel Street and Temple Place now bears its name).
Thankfully much copied (at least in part), this full length portrait of King Henry VIII, his third wife and parents was the work of Hans Holbein the Younger.
Holbein, appointed the king’s painter in 1536, was commissioned to create the work following the King’s marriage to Jane Seymour on 30th May, 1536, and completed it in 1537 (there’s some speculation it may have been commissioned in celebration of the birth of King Henry’s son, King Edward VI).
The mural featured the King standing in full splendour, although without typical symbols of royalty such as a crown or sceptre, as well as his wife Jane Seymour, and his parents, King Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth of York. They were all standing around a central pillar upon which are inscribed verses in Latin extolling the Tudor dynasty.
The work is understood to have been commissioned for one of the King’s more private chambers in the Palace of Whitehall which Henry had seized after the downfall of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey.
The portrait survived the reign of King Henry VIII but was destroyed in the fire which devastated the palace in 1698.
A full-sized cartoon of the left-hand side of the work which was completed by Holbein in preparation for its creation is held in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery (pictured right).
While there are numerous copies of the figure of King Henry VIII, the only complete copy of the mural is attributed to Remigius van Leemput who created it in 1667 – it can be seen at Hampton Court Palace.
Once located in Hyde Park, this drinking fountain was a gift from Maharajah Meerza Vijiaram Gajapati Raj Manea Sooltan Bahadoor of Vijianagram(a small princely state once located in what is now the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh).
Installed in 1867 by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association, the towering structure in the neo-Gothic style was apparently designed by the architect Robert Keirle (also the designer of the Readymoney Fountain in The Regent’s Park).
It was installed close to the park’s north-east corner (between North Carriage Drive and Bayswater Road, not far west of Marble Arch).
The fountain was eventually removed in 1964 (apparently due to the prohibitive cost of repairing it). A plaque these days marks its location.
Located in London’s south-east, Lesnes Abbey was founded in 1178 as the Abbey of St Mary and St Thomas the Martyr by Richard de Luci, a joint Chief Justiciar of England at the time.
It’s believed de Luci did so as an act of penance for his support of King Henry II in his dispute with St Thomas Becket (in fact, de Luci was ex-communicated by him twice before Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in December, 1170). De Luci retired here after resigning his office in 1179 and died soon after. He was buried in the chapter house.
The Augustinian monastery, never a large or wealthy community, had fallen into a state of disrepair and debt by the early 15th century apparently due to mismanagement but at least partly caused by the cost of maintaining the river wall and draining the marshes in which it was located.
Some rebuilding was carried out at the start of the 16th century but in 1525 it was closed or suppressed on Cardinal Thomas Wolsey’s orders and the monastic buildings were demolished with the exception of the Abbot’s lodging.
The site was subsequently sold off and passed through various hands – it spent some 300 years as a possession of Christ’s Hospital – and eventually became farmland with the abbot’s house forming the core of a farmhouse which was demolished in 1844.
The site was excavated under the direction of Sir Alfred Clapham in the early 20th century and was purchased by the London County Council in 1930. It was opened as a public park in 1931. Since 1986, it’s been owned and managed by the London Borough of Bexley.
The site today, a scheduled ancient monument, includes some impressive ruins from the abbey. The nearby woods takes its name from the abbey.
This large oak tree, planted in Hyde Park, was a focal point for protests in 1866 by the Reform League, a group which campaigned for all men to have the right to vote.
The tree was set alight during one protest (on what date and whether it was as an act of protest or simply an act of mischief by some boys during an otherwise orderly rally apparently remains a matter of debate).
The blackened stump was subsequently used a site for people to post notices, as a podium at meetings (including by the Reform League) and, more broadly, as a symbol of the right for people to assemble.
The tree was something of a precursor to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. That owes its formal establishment to an Act of Parliament, passed in 1872, that designated the north-east corner of Hyde Park as a site for public speaking and is now known – and emulated across the world – as Speaker’s Corner.
A circular mosaic depicting the blackened tree – the work of sculptor Harry Gray – now stands at the junction of numerous pathways close to the eastern end of Hyde Park. It was unveiled in the year 2000 by politician Tony Benn.
Whether it stands on the actual site of the original tree is also a matter of debate. The inscription on the memorial mentions that on 7th November, 1977, then Prime Minister James Callaghan planted a new oak tree on the spot where the Reformers’ Tree was thought to have stood. But there’s obviously no oak now where the mosaic is laid.
The Bear Garden was among numerous structures built in Southwark during the Elizabethan era for public amusement: in this case the “amusement” being what we now see as the rather cruel activities of bear and bull baiting and other “sports” involving animals.
Built sometime prior to the 1560s, the Bear Garden (also written as Beargarden) itself was a polygonal wooden, donut-shaped structure, much like the theatres such as the Rose and Globe, where the activities took part on the floor in the middle while the audience sat around the donut’s ring.
While it’s known it was located in Bankside (among several other premises showing animal sports), its exact location continues to be a matter of debate (and it is thought to have moved location at least once).
The Bear Garden was patronised by royalty – Queen Elizabeth I apparently visited with the French and Spanish ambassador – but it was also marked by tragedy when part of the tiered seating collapsed in 1583, killing eight people and forcing the premises to close down for a brief period.
It was torn down in 1614 and replaced with the Hope Theatre with the intention of it serving as a dual purpose premises, providing both stage plays and animal sports like bear-baiting, but the latter eventually won out and it simply became known once again as the Bear Garden.
The Hope may have pulled down in the 1650s after animal sports were banned by the Puritans (the Commonwealth commander Thomas Pride was apparently responsible for putting down or shooting the last seven bears). Whether it was demolished or not, it was again in use after the Restoration – Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn both visited during this period – but the last mention of it was in the 1680s.
The street named Bear Gardens in modern Southwark stands today in the approximate area where the Bear Garden is generally thought to have been located.
Built for the post-war Festival of Britain in 1951, the Dome of Discovery was a temporary exhibition building located in South Bank.
Designed by architect Ralph Tubbs, the dome was, with a diameter of 365 feet and a height of 93 feet, the largest in the world at the time. It was located next to the Skylon, another iconic structure built for the festival.
The prefabricated dome, which was made from aluminium and concrete, was filled with galleries which housed exhibitions around the overarching theme of discovery. The display was grouped under eight different sections including “the land”, “the sea”, “sky” and “outer space”. The dome also contained a 50 foot long mural on the theme of discovery by artist Keith Vaughan.
The dome was dismantled just 11 months after it was installed and sold for scrap metal (despite pleas from Tubbs and proposals for it to be relocated to places as diverse as Sao Paulo in Brazil and Coventry in England). Some of the metal was apparently made into souvenirs including commemorative paper knives.
This origins of this Mayfair establishment go back to 1757 when it was first opened by an Italian pastry cook, Domenico Negri, who sold all sorts of English, French and Italian wet and dry sweetmeats under the sign of the ‘Pot and Pineapple’.
The name Gunter became attached after Negri formed a partnership with James Gunter, whose family came from Wales, in 1777. By 1799 Gunter was running the place alone (henceforth Gunter’s Tea Shop). His son Robert took over the business on his father’s death in 1819, having previously spent time studying the confectionary trade in Paris.
Located on the east side of Berkeley Square at numbers seven and eight, Gunter’s had, by the early 19th century, become particularly famous for its ices and sorbets which were said to be made from a secret recipe. It become popular among the beau monde and Gunter operated something of a takeaway service for well-do-ladies so they could attend without a chaperone – waiters would dodge traffic to take ices out to their open-topped carriages parked by the square. All very respectable!
Gunter’s also became noted for their multi-tiered wedding cakes among Mayfair families – in 1889, they even made the cake for the marriage of Queen Victoria’s grand-daughter, Princess Louise.
Gunter’s moved to Curzon Street when the east side of Berkeley Square was demolished and rebuilt in the mid-1930s. It finally closed 20 years later although the business’s catering arm continued for another 20 years operating out of Bryanston Square.
William Blake, one of the UK’s most lauded artists and poets, was born in a property at 28 Broad Street (now Broadwick Street) in Carnaby Market, Soho, on 28th November, 1757.
Blake was the third of seven children (although two died in infancy) born to James and Catherine (he was baptised at nearby St James’s Church, Piccadilly, on 11th December). His father ran a hosiery store and the residence was located above his father’s shop (Blake worked as a delivery boy while a child).
Behind the premises was a workhouse and Blake’s memories of this flavoured some of his later works including Nurse’s Song.
Blake lived in the property until he was 25-years-old, during which time he completed an apprenticeship to engraver James Basire located in Great Queen Street and became a student at the Royal Academy in Old Somerset House in The Strand.
He moved to Green Street with his new wife, Catherine Boucher, in 1782.
His oldest brother James took over his father’s shop following his death in 1784 and, in 1809, the first floor of the premises hosted Blake’s only – and unsuccessful – solo exhibition.
The house survived until the 1960s but despite its famous heritage, the property was razed and a block of flats – William Blake House – was erected in its place. A plaque commemorating Blake’s birth in the former property is all that remains.
A waterway said to have been cut by the Viking Canute (also spelled Cnut) in the 11th century, the canal, according to the story, was constructed so his fleet of ships – blocked by London Bridge – could get upstream.
The story goes that in May, 1016, the Dane Canute (and future King of England), led an army of invasion into England to reclaim the throne his father, Sweyn Forkbeard, had first won three years earlier.
Canute needed to get his ships upriver of London Bridge to besiege the city which was held by the Saxons under Edmund Ironside (made king in April after his father Athelred’s death) but was blocked by the fortified, although then wooden, London Bridge.
So Canute gave orders for the digging of a trench or canal across some part of Southwark so his ships could pass into the river to the west of the bridge and he could encircle the city.
The canal – also known as ‘Canute’s Trench’ – was duly dug and the city was besieged – although the Vikings lifted the siege without taking the city (which does seems like a lot of work for not much result in the end) and the war was eventually decided elsewhere.
Various routes of the canal have been posited as possibilities – including the suggestion that there was an entry at Rotherhithe (Greenland Dock has been sited as one location) and exit somewhere near Lambeth or further south at Vauxhall (and one possibility is that Canute, rather than digging a long canal, simply cut through the bank holding back the Thames on either side of London Bridge and flooded the lands behind).
Various waterways have also been identified with it including the River Neckinger, parts of which survive, and the now lost stream known as the Tigris.
Whether the canal actually existed – and what form it took – remains a matter of some debate (although the low-lying, marshy land of Southwark at the time surely would have helped with any such project). But whether lost or simply mythical, the truth of ‘Canute’s Canal’ remains something of a mystery. For the moment at least.
A luxury hotel built at the turn of the 20th century in the West End, the massive Carlton Hotel was part of an even larger redevelopment that included the (still standing) fourth version of Her Majesty’s Theatre (which provides a good idea of what the overall building looked like).
Located on the Crown estate on the corner of Pall Mall and Haymarket, the hotel was designed by CJ Phipps (who died before it was completed). Building started in 1896 and was completed by 1899.
Swiss hotelier César Ritz – who had been dismissed from his position as the manager of the Savoy Hotel in 1897 and subsequently successful opened his own establishment, the Hôtel Ritz, in Paris the following year – agreed to take a 72-year lease of the new hotel and a new company, The Carlton Hotel, Limited, was formed.
The building, which had interiors designed in the French Renaissance style, contained more than 300 guest rooms, all with telephones, including 72 suites which came with en suite bathrooms. There were also private dining and reception rooms for guests as well as reading and smoking rooms and a highly regarded Palm Court. And, of course, a restaurant in which Auguste Escoffier, who had left the Savoy under a cloud with Ritz, was employed as a head chef.
The hotel, the upper floors of which contained private residences, was a hit and quickly threatened the status of the Savoy as the city’s most fashionable hotel. But in 1902, as the hotel was preparing to mark the coronation of King Edward VII, the king fell ill and the festivities were postponed indefinitely. Ritz suffered a nervous breakdown – apparently from the shock – and Escoffier was left in charge.
While its reputation was never again as high as it had been in the years immediately after opening, the Carlton Hotel remained profitable until World War II when it was heavily damaged during German bombing in 1940. Residential parts of the building were closed and in 1942 the remainder of the building was requisitioned by the British Government (with the exception of the American Bar and Grill Room which remained open).
The hotel never fully reopened, however, and, in 1949, the lease was sold to the New Zealand Government. The Carlton Hotel was demolished in 1957-58 and the New Zealand High Commission subsequently built on the site.
Among the hotel’s most famous clientele was Winston Churchill who was apparently dining in the restaurant with Lloyd George when World War I was declared.
Another famous association is commemorated by an English Heritage Blue Plaque which records the fact that Ho Chi Minh, founder of modern Vietnam, worked there as a cook in 1913 (when he was then known as Nguyen That Tanh).
There’s a story that Tanh, seeing how much food was being thrown away, asked Escoffier if he could give it to the poor, to which Escoffier told him to put aside his revolutionary ideas so he could teach him “the art of cooking, which will make you a great deal of money”. Tanh clearly choose another path.
With the announcement of the second national lockdown and the temporary closure of institutions across the city, we’re again shifting our focus back to online events for the next few weeks. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy our new look (we’ll be doing a bit of experimenting over the next week or two) – and here’s the next couple of entries in the special “most popular posts” countdown we’re running to mark our 10th birthday this year…
Of medieval origins,the Church of St Antholin, which stood on the corner of Sise Lane and Budge Row, had been a fixture in the City of London for hundreds of years before it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.
Rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren, it survived until 1874 when it was finally demolished to make way for Queen Victoria Street.
But, while the building itself was destroyed (and we’ll take a more in-depth look at its history in an upcoming article), a section of Wren’s church does still survive – the upper part of his octagonal spire (apparently the only one he had built of stone).
This was replaced at some stage in the 19th century – it has been suggested this took place in 1829 after the spire was damaged by lightning although other dates prior to the church’s demolition have also been named as possibilities.
Whenever its removal took place, the spire was subsequently sold to one of the churchwardens, an innovative printing works proprietor named Robert Harrild, for just £5. He had it re-erected on his property, Round Hill House, in Sydenham.
Now Grade II-listed, the spire, features a distinctive weathervane (variously described as a wolf’s head or a dragon’s head). Mounted on a brick plinth, it still stands at the location, now part of a more modern housing estate, just off Round Hill in Sydenham.