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/.

Advertisements

PrudhonThe drawings of “Napoleon’s draughtsman”, Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, have gone on display at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in an exhibition timed to coincide with the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo. The exhibition, Prud’hon: Napoleon’s Draughtsman, presents a selection of some of Prud’hon’s best works, including 12 works on paper from Gray’s Musée Baron Martin in eastern France as well as life studies such as Seated Male Nude and Standing Female Nude and a series of sketches from when Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, sat for Prud’hon 15 times in her home outside Paris. Runs until 15th November. Admission charge applies. A series of events is being run in conjunction with the exhibition. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

The City of London Festival has kicked off this week with a three week programme including music, performance and visual art, films, tours, walks and talks. Events include the City Beerfest in Guildhall Yard, a tour of the art of the Mansion House, Bank of England open days and a walk celebrating the democratic institutions of the City marking the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. The festival, which includes both ticketed and free events, runs until 10th July. For more, including a full programme, see www.colf.org.

A new exhibition exploring the photographic works of Captain Linnaeus Tripe has opened at the V&A. Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1852-1860 includes more than 60 photographs of architectural sites and monuments, ancient and contemporary religious buildings, landscape vistas and geological formations. The Devon-born Tripe joined the East India Company army in 1839 and was stationed in India throughout the 1840s, learning the art of photography when back in England in the early 1850s. The photographs represent the output from two major expeditions with Tripe the first photographer to capture Burma’s remarkable architecture and landscapes and the first person to do so extensively in south India. The exhibition, part of the V&A India Festival which marks the 25th anniversary of the opening of the museum’s Nehru Gallery, is organised jointly by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in association with the V&A. Runs until 11th October.  Admission is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/linnaeustripe.

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

The influence of ancient Egypt on English architecture and interiors is under the spotlight in a new English Heritage exhibition inside Wellington Arch’s Quadriga Gallery at Hyde Park Corner. Egypt in England reveals that the Egyptian style, while it has been used in 18th century gardens in England, first rose to popularity after Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798, continued when the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 triggered a new wave of ‘Egyptomania’ and went onto into the later 20th century where its influence can be seen on buildings like cinemas and shops. The exhibition features photographs of Egyptian-style buildings and landmarks from across England – including London sites such as the The Egyptian Avenue and Circle of Lebanon Vaults at Highgate Cemetery and The Egyptian Hall at Harrods – alongside images of the Egyptian sources which inspired them. There are also 19th century travel brochures, a number of shabtis (the small mummy-like figurines placed in tombs which were often taken home by visitors as souvenirs) and Wedgewood ceramics designed in the Egyptian style. The display also tells the story of London landmark Cleopatra’s Needle, a 3,500-year-old obelisk which sits on the north bank of the Thames (see our earlier post on it here). Admission charge applies. Runs until 13 January. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/wellington-arch/.

A new exhibition of photographs taken by celebrated snapper Dorothy Bohm opens at the Museum of London tomorrow. Women in Focus will feature 33 color photographs dating from the 1990s to the present which juxtapose women who work and live in London with the ever-present images of women in advertising, artwork and shop windows. The images show women in their varied roles in society – from parents to professionals – and reflects on how they are seen in London’s public spaces. Runs until 17th February. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

• Now On: Mario Testino: British Royal Portraits. This display at the National Portrait Gallery features eight portraits of Royal Family members taken by Mario Testino between 2003 and 2010. As well an official portrait of Prince Charles taken in 2003, others include a portrait of Prince William taken the same year for his 21st birthday, another of Prince Harry on his 21st birthday, a portrait of Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla commissioned by British Vogue in 2006 and official engagement portraits of Prince William and Duchess Catherine taken in 2010. It is the first time the portraits have all been shown together. The exhibition runs in Room 40 until 3rd February. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

• Now On: A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance. This newly opened exhibition at the Tate Modern explores the changing relationship between performance and painting, spanning the period from 1950 to today and featuring works from more than 40 artists including David Hockney, Yves Klein, Jackson Pollock and Cindy Sherman. Themes examined in the exhibition include how the painted canvas has been used as an ‘arena’ in which performance is carried out, the use of the human body as a surface and how contemporary artists are using painting to create social and theatrical spaces. Runs until 1st April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

Originally known as The Bush,  The Lord Raglan pub just to the north of St Paul’s was renamed in the mid 1800s to commemorate one of the heroes of the Battle of Waterloo – the 1st Baron Raglan (1788-1855).

Named the 1st Baron Raglan in 1852, the man previously known as Lord FitzRoy Somerset had lost his right arm at the Battle of Waterloo, fought between the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon on 18th June, 1815, in modern-day Belgium.

His name was subsequently adopted to to describe the ‘Raglan Sleeve’, a type of sleeve which extends as a single piece to the collar and a style which Lord Raglan was said to have favored after his arm was amputated.

Lord Raglan died in 1855 while Commander-in-Chief at the Crimean War. There is a blue plaque commemorating his role in this war on his former house in Stanhope Gate in Mayfair.

The site of the Lord Raglan tavern, 61 St Martin’s Le Grand, is said to be one of the oldest tavern sites in the city, originally dating from about 1779, and while the current building dates from 1855, the cellars are said to be much older and are said to incorporate parts of what was the Roman wall.

For more on the Lord Raglan, see the Taylor Walker website at www.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub/lord-raglan-st-pauls/c1779/.

Now housed in the British Museum, the Rosetta Stone, discovered in Egypt in 1799, provided the key to understanding hieroglyphics.

Created in 196 BC, the stone, which measures 112.3 by 75.7 centimetres, has inscribed upon it a priestly decree passed in support of the 13-year-old pharoah, Ptolemy V, and was issued on the first anniversary of his coronation.

Its discovery was a breakthrough in understanding hieroglyphics, which had fallen out of use around the 4th century, due to the fact that the decree was written upon it in three languages – hieroglyphic as well as the everyday Egyptian language of demotic and, importantly, Greek.

Scholars studying the stone were able to use the Greek to decipher the other two languages. Among them were  Jean-François Champollion who announced the translation had been completed in Paris in 1822.

The stone was unearthed near the town of el-Rashid or ‘Rosetta’ by French soldiers in 1799 as they were digging out the foundations of an extension to a fort and following Napoleon’s defeat became the property of the British along with other antiquities under the 1801 Treaty of Alexandria. It has been on display since at the British Museum since 1802 (only briefly removed toward the end of the First World War when it was stored in a subterranean postal railway underneath Holborn).

The stone, said to be the most visited item in the British Museum, underwent a significant restoration and conservation process in 1999 which involved removing grease left by people touching the stone and materials used to create copies of it following its rediscovery – including printers ink from 1799.

WHERE: Room 4, Egyptian Sculpture, British Museum, Great Russell Street (nearest Tube stations are Russell Square, Tottenham Court Road, Goodge Street and Holborn); WHEN: 10am to 5.30pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.britishmuseum.org.

PICTURE: The Rosetta Stone © The Trustees of the British Museum

While we’ve looked at some of the history of the Banqueting House during last year’s special on King James I’s London, we thought we’d take a more in-depth look as part of our Treasures of London series…

A perfect double cube with a sumptuous painted ceiling, this early 17th century building is the only remaining complete structure from the Palace of Whitehall which was destroyed by fire in 1698.

The building replaced an earlier banqueting hall built on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I and another, shorter-lived hall, built by King James I, which was destroyed by fire in 1619.

Following its destruction, King James had Inigo Jones design a new hall to provide, as the previous hall had, a location for state occasions, plays and masques – something of a cross between an organised dance, an amateur theatrical performance and just a chance to dress up.

Jones, who partnered with Ben Jonson to produce masques, designed the hall – which has a length double the width – with these performances specifically in mind. The first one – Jones and Jonson’s Masque of Augurs – was performed on Twelfth Night, 1622, even before the building was completed (the last masque was performed here, incidentally, in 1635, after which, thanks they were moved to a purpose built structure nearby, ostensibly to save the newly installed paintings from being damaged by the smoke of torches – see below).

The incredible paintings on the ceilings, which celebrate the reign of King James I and will be the subject of their own Treasures of London article at a later date, were installed by March 1636. Produced by Flemish artist Sir Peter Paul Rubens, they had been commissioned by King Charles I, King James’ son, in commemoration of his father. Ironically, it was outside the building where the monarchy was so celebrated that King Charles I was beheaded in 1649 (this is marked in a ceremony held at the Banqueting House on 30th January each year).

Following the king’s execution, Whitehall Palace wasn’t used for several years until Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell took up residence there in 1654, using the Banqueting House as a hall if audience. It stood empty after Cromwell’s death in 1658 until the Restoration in 1660 when King Charles II again used it as a grand ceremonial hall for receiving foreign embassies and conducting court ceremonies (these including the ancient custom of what is known as ‘Touching for the King’s Evil’ to cure those afflicted with the disease of scrofula as well as the washing of the feet of the poor by the sovereign on Maundy Thursday.)

King James II was the last king to live at Whitehall Palace and during his reign, from 1685-88, it was used as a royal storehouse. But it was revived for formal use following his reign – it was here that King William III and Queen Mary II were officially offered the crown on 13th February, 1689.

During their reign, the court’s focus shifted to Kensington but the Banqueting House was used for Queen Mary to lay in state after her death in 1694.

Following the destruction of the remainder of Whitehall Palace in 1698 – the origins of this fire are apparently owed to a maid who had put some linen by a charcoal fire to dry – the Banqueting Hall was used briefly as a Chapel Royal and, following a renovation in the late 1700s, it was used for concerts and, from 1808, as a place of worship for the Horse Guards.

Further renovation works followed and in 1837, it was re-opened as a Chapel Royal and used as such until 1890 when this practice was formally discontinued. In 1893, Queen Victoria gave the Royal United Services Institute the use of the building as a museum – among the things displayed there were the skeleton of Napoleon’s horse, Marengo. In 1962, the exhibits were dispersed and the Banqueting House today is used for a range of royal, corporate and social events.

There is an undercroft underneath, designed as a place where King James I could enjoy drinking with his friends. It was later used for storage.

WHERE: Corner of Whitehall and Horse Guards Avenue (nearest Tube stations are Westminster and Embankment); WHEN: Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm; COST: £5 adults/£4 concessions/children under 16 free (Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/BanquetingHouse/.

PICTURE: Courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam.co.uk

Having just been cleaned as part of a renovation of the State Dining Room at Apsley House (pictured) – the former London residence of Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, the silver-gilt Portuguese Centrepiece  was presented as part of a complete service to the duke in 1816.

The gift of the Portuguese Regency Council, it was created in honor of the duke’s role in leading the armies of Spain, Britain and Portugal to victory over Napoleon’s forces in the Peninsular War of 1808-14.

The service, which consists of more than 1,000 pieces, was designed by Portuguese court artist Domingos Antonio de Sequeira who took three years to complete it with much of the work carried out in Sequeira’s house and neighbouring workshops. Subsequently damaged in the sea crossing to England, repairs had to be made before it was formally presented to the duke late in 1816.

The eight metre long centrepiece commemorates all the battles of the Peninsular War in which the allies were victorious. It was acquired for the nation in 1948 and is now permanently displayed on the duke’s original mahogany dining table, designed especially to support its weight.

WHERE: Apsley House, 149 Piccadilly, Hyde Park (nearest tube station is Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: 11am to 5pm Wednesday to Sunday (until 31st October); COST: £6.30 an adult/£5.70 concessions/£3.80 a child (English Heritage members free); WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/apsley-house/

Best known for his defeat of Napeleon at the Battle of Waterloo, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, was not a native Londoner. But his involvement in the military and politics meant he went on to have a significant impact on the city.

Wellesley (whose surname was actually Wesley until his family changed it in 1798) was born in Ireland in early May, 1769, and, following his schooling – including time spent at Eton and in France, he entered the British Army as an ensign in 1787, subsequently serving as an aide-de-camp to two Lords Lieutenant of Ireland. While in Ireland, he was also elected an MP in the Irish Parliament.

His military career took him to the Netherlands and then India, where he was later appointed Governor of Seringapatam and Mysore.

Returning to Europe, Wellesley took a leave of absence from the army and, having been knighted, again entered politics becoming the Tory MP for Rye in 1806, then MP for Newport on the Isle of Wight before being appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland.

He left these tasks to fight in the Napoleonic Wars – most notably in the Peninsular War where he led the allied armies to victory at the 1813 Battle of Vitoria (and was subsequently promoted to the rank of field marshal).

Following Napoleon’s exile, Wellington was created the Duke of Wellington. He served briefly as ambassador to France before Napoleon’s return in 1815. It was for his subsequent role at the Battle of Waterloo, in which Napoleon was finally and totally defeated, that Wellington is mostly remembered now.

Entering politics after his return to England in 1819, he was named Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in 1827 and was twice elected Prime Minister, from 1828-30 and again in 1834, before his death in 1852 after which he received a state funeral.

It’s not hard to find reference to the duke in today’s London and countless pubs testify to his one-time popularity.

He purchased his most famous residence, Apsley House (which attracted the nickname of Number 1 London, thanks to it being the first house one encountered in London after passing through the toll gate) in 1817. Indeed, it was the installation of iron shutters at this property – a measure taken to prevent a mob demanding electoral reform from destroying it – that led to him being given the nickname, the “Iron Duke”.

These days Apsley House is managed by English Heritage and contains the Duke’s collection of artworks and furnishings.

Opposite Apsley House, close to Hyde Park Corner, stands an equestrian statue of Wellington and behind it Wellington Arch, which dates from between 1826-30, and originally stood parallel to the Hyde Park Screen. In 1846, a vast statue of the Duke was mounted on top of the arch but this was replaced with a sculpture of Peace in her Quadriga when the arch was relocated to its present site in 1882 due to a need to widen the road. There are great views from the top.

At Hyde Park Corner, close to Park Lane, stands another memorial to Wellington, this time a massive statue of the Greek hero Achilles. It was put there in 1822 (and incidentally sparked considerable controversy – it was London’s first nude public sculpture in centuries and despite the careful placing of a fig leaf, didn’t please everybody).

Wellington was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral and his huge block-like tomb in the crypt is given a level of prominence only equaled by that of Admiral Nelson.

The National Portrait Gallery this week launches an exhibition, Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance, which features the Duke’s favorite painting of himself (not the one above). The painting, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, hasn’t been on public exhibition for 60 years. From 21st October.

PICTURES: Image of the Duke of Wellington is by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1814). Source: Wikipedia.