Nell-of-Old-DruryThis Covent Garden pub in London’s West End is named after Nell Gwyn, the 17th century orange seller turned actress who became most famous for being the mistress of King Charles II (for more on Nell, see our earlier post here)

‘The Nell’, as its known, is one of the area’s oldest pubs – a sign says there has apparently been a pub on the site since before 1660 when the Theatre Royal Drury Lane – located opposite – was built.

Nell-of-Old-Drury2There’s supposedly an underground tunnel that connects the theatre and the pub which is said to have been used by the king when he was visiting Nell (we’re not sure if it was Nell or the king who was in the pub). It was also apparently used by other theatre-goers who were warned to return to the theatre when intermission was over by a bell located inside the pub.

Now located at 29 Catherine Street pub (the street was formerly known as Brydges Street – we’ll deal with its renaming in an upcoming post), was apparently originally called The Lamb and then renamed the Sir John Falstaff in the nineteenth century, during which period it hosted exhibitions featuring a tattooed man from the South Seas and a Zulu warrior woman, before assuming its current moniker.

The pub was also apparently a regular for many prominent literary and theatrical figures, not to mention market traders from nearby Covent Garden. The exterior of the pub appears in the Alfred Hitchcock film, Frenzy.

For more on the pub, see www.nellofolddrury.com.

 

 

 

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A portrait of King Charles II’s mistress, Barbara Villiers, is put into place ahead of The Wild, The Beautiful and the Damned exhibition which opened at Hampton Court Palace earlier this month. The portrait, which dates from about 1662, was painted by Sir Peter Lely – he also painted a picture King Charles II’s other principal mistress, Nell Gwyn, which is being shown together with the Villiers portrait for the first time. The exhibition, which focuses on the beauty, mistresses and debauchery of the Stuart Court, spans the reigns of the Stuarts from Charles II to Queen Anne and looks at how kings, queens and courtesans “swept away the Puritanical solemnity of the mid-17th century, and attempted to rewrite the moral code of social behaviour”. Runs until 30th September (admission is included in entry ticket; free to Historic Royal Palaces members). There are late openings on the first Monday of each month and note that the exhibition includes adult content. For more, see http://bit.ly/HvyiOE.

PICTURE: Richard Lea-Hair/newsteam.

Perhaps now best known as the most prominent of the many mistresses of King Charles II, Eleanor ‘Nell’ Gwyn – currently subject of a new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery – was a renowned actress in the years after the Restoration, known for her wit and beauty – “Pretty, witty Nell “as diarist Samuel Pepys called her.

Gwyn’s (variously spelt as Gwynn or Gwynne) origins remain something of a mystery – believed to have been born around 1651, her parents remain something of a mystery (some have suggested a Cavalier, Captain Thomas Gwyn, as her father) as does the place of her birth, variously claimed to be London, Hereford or Oxford – one source from 1715 claims she was born in Coal Yard Alley, off Drury Lane in Covent Garden.

Ascribed as having various jobs during her childhood – everything from helping at a bawdyhouse to a street vendor or cinder girl – around 1663, she was working as an “orange girl” at a theatre then known as the King’s Theatre in Bridge Street (now the site of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane).

She clearly made an impression for a year later she was working as an actress and is believed to have taken prominent actor Charles Hart as her lover. It has been suggested her first recorded stage appearance was in March, 1665. She wasn’t viewed as a brilliant dramatic actress but instead came into her own in comedies where her wit, as well as her beauty, could shine.

Having already been known to have had at least two lovers – Charles Hart and aristocrat Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst – by 1667 George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, had decided to bring her to the attention of the king as a possible new mistress and so increase his influence. By 1668 or 1669, Nell is believed to have succeeded in this, joining the growing number of women who could claim the title (Charles II ended up having at least 12 children by his many mistresses).

Her acting work gradually decreased and in 1670, she gave birth to Charles, her first son and believed to be the king’s seventh illegitimate child. She briefly returned to the stage in 1670-71 before retiring from the theatre for good.

In February, 1671, Nell moved into a townhouse at 79 Pall Mall (she was granted freehold of the property five years later and the property, which still stands, remains the only one on the south side of Pall Mall not owned by the Crown) and in December, she gave birth to her second child by the king, another son James (he died in Paris while attending school there 10 years later).

Both sons were given titles – Charles was later named Duke of St Albans – and given the surname Beauclerk. In the 1670s, Charles granted Nell Burford House in Windsor where she resided when the king was resident there.

In the 1670s, Nell – who continued to maintain her friendships with the likes of Villiers – successfully fought off several rivals for the king’s affection and by the 1680s, her position as the king’s mistress was not in doubt. It was during this period that the story goes when her coach was mistaken by an angry to be that of the unpopular Duchess of Portsmouth, she put her head out the window to tell them “Pray good people be silent, I am the Protestant whore”.

When King Charles II died on 6th February, 1685, he left instructions she was to be looked after – his brother King James II both paid her debts and continued to pay her an annual pension.

Nell died less than three years later – still only aged in her thirties – on 14th November, 1687, have suffered strokes in previous years. She was buried in the church of St Martins-in-the-Fields.

Gwyn is seen as a key figure in London during the period after the Restoration and a symbol of the hedonism of the court of King Charles II, and her rise from apparently humble origins to the royal court has been the subject of numerous books, plays and films.

Gwyn is currently featured in an exhibition currently being held at the National Portrait Gallery: The First Actresses – Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons. The exhibition runs until 8th January (an admission charge applies). For more information visit www.npg.org.uk.

PICTURE: Eleanor ‘Nell’ Gwyn, by Simon Verelst, © National Portrait Gallery, London

• A new exhibition featuring some of London’s leading ladies of the eighteenth century opens at the National Portrait Gallery today. The First Actresses: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons is the first exhibition devoted to eighteenth century actresses and features 53 portraits depicting the likes of Gwyn and Siddons as well as Lavinia Fenton, Mary Robinson and Dorothy Jordan. Highlights of the exhibition include a little known version of Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Sarah Siddons as the “tragic muse”, William Hogarth’s The Beggar’s Opera and Thomas Gainsborough’s portraits of Giovanna Bacelli and Elizabeth Linley. The exhibition reveals the key role these women played in the celebrity culture found in London (and elsewhere) during the period. As a counterpoint, an accompanying exhibition displays photographs and paintings of some of today’s actresses. Runs until 8th January (an admission charge applies). For more information on the exhibition or the programme of accompanying events, see www.npg.org.uk.

Cemetery in Hackney and Kensal Green, a park in Hounslow and a Piccadilly property formerly used as the Naval and Military Club are among the “priority sites” listed on English Heritage’s annual Heritage At Risk Register. Released earlier this week, the register’s 10 London”risk priority sites” include London’s first metropolitan cemetery – Kensal Green (All Souls) – which dates from 1833, Gunnersbury Park in West London – featuring a large country home known as Gunnersbury Park House, it was built in 1801-28 and later remodelled, and a mansion at 94 Piccadilly – built in 1756-60 for Lord Egremont, it was later used at the Military and Naval Club and is now for sale. Others on the list include Abney Park Cemetery in Hackney – laid out in 1840, it is described as London’s most important Nonconformist cemetery, a medieval manor farm barn in Harmondsworth in London’s outer west, Tide Mill in Newham, East London, and the entire Whitechapel High Street and Stepney Green conservation areas. For more information, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/caring/heritage-at-risk/.

On Now: The Heart of the Great Alone: Scott, Shackleton and Antarctic Photography. Opening at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, tomorrow, the exhibition marks the centenary of Captain Robert Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole and features a collection of photographs presented to King George V by the official photographers on Scott’s expedition of 1910-13 and Ernest Shackleton’s expedition of 1914-16 as well as unique artifacts including the flag given to Scott by Queen Alexandra (the widow of King Edward VII) which was taken to the Pole. Highlights include Herbert Ponting’s images The ramparts of Mount Erebus and The freezing of the sea and Frank Hurley’s stunning images of Shackleton’s ship Endurance as it was crushed by ice. Runs until 15th April, 2012 (admission charge applied). For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.