March 13, 2017
Famous for being the site of the Bank of England – “the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street”, a phrase first coined by playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan – since 1734, there’s a couple of explanations for the origins of Threadneedle Street’s name – and both relate to livery companies associated with textile industries.
The first is that of the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, initially granted livery by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell in 1656 and then again by King Charles II in 1664. The company has a coat-of-arms featuring Adam and Eve holding up a shield on which can be seen three needles, hence Three Needles Street, the corruption of which is Threadneedle Street.
The second is that of the Merchant-Taylors’ Company, one of the 12 great livery companies, which was founded by Royal Charter in 1327. Its livery hall has been based in Threadneedle Street since the 14th century.
Either or both could be the reason for the unusual name of this City of London street, which runs from Mansion House north-east to Bishopsgate.
Other famous properties located in the street have included the headquarters of the infamous South Sea Company and the first site of the Baltic Exchange (formerly in the Virginia and Baltick Coffee House) which is now in St Mary Axe.
April 27, 2015
One of the most famous streets (and photographed) in London (though sadly not open to the public), Downing Street in Whitehall is these days most well-known for being the location, at Number 10, of the official residence of the British Prime Minister.
But Downing Street’s history dates back to a time before the first British PM moved in (this was Sir Robert Walpole in the 1735 and even after that, it didn’t become a regular thing for Prime Ministers to live here until the Twentieth century). And its name bears testimony to its creator, Sir George Downing, a soldier and diplomat described as “a miserly and at times brutal” man who served first under both Oliver Cromwell and, following the Restoration, King Charles II (and was, coincidentally, one of the first graduates of Harvard University).
In the 1650s, Sir George took over the Crown’s interest in land here, just east of St James’s Park, and intended to build a row of townhouses upon it. His ambitions were delayed, however, due to an existing lease with the descendants of Elizabethan courtier Sir Thomas Knyvet who had once lived in a large home on the site of what is now Number 10 Downing Street.
By the 1680s, however, the lease had expired and between 1682-84, Downing was able to construct a cul-de-sac, closed at the St James’s Park end, featuring either 15 or 20 two storey terraced townhouses with stables and coach-houses, designed by no less than Sir Christopher Wren.
While the homes were apparently of shoddy craftsmanship and stood upon poor foundations (Churchill famously wrote that Number 10 was “shaky and lightly built by the profiteering contractor whose name they bear”), the street apparently attracted some notable residents from the start.
These included the Countess of Yarmouth, who briefly lived at Number 10 in the late 1680s, Lord Lansdowne and the Earl of Grantham, and even, briefly, apparently the diarist James Boswell in the mid 1700s. Downing himself isn’t thought to have ever lived here – he retired to Cambridge a few months after the houses were completed.
The houses between Number 10 and Whitehall – on the north side of the street – were taken over by the government and eventually demolished in the 1820s to allow for the construction of offices for the Privy Council, Board of Trade and Treasury while the houses on the south side remained until they were demolished in the early 1860s to make way for the Foreign, India, Colonial and Home Offices.
The numbers in the street have changed since Downing’s houses were first built. Of the original homes in the street only Number 10 (home of the PM) and Number 11 (home of the Chancellor of the Exchequer) survive.
Access to the street has been restricted since the 1980s with the current black steel gates put in place in 1989.
An underground tunnel apparently runs under the street connecting number 10 with Buckingham Palace and the underground bunker, Q-Whitehall, built in the 1950s in the event of nuclear war.
December 9, 2014
The copper gilt plate found on former Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell’s breast when his body was exhumed will be put up to auction in London later today. Sotheby’s says that according to contemporary reports, the plate was found in a leaden canister lying on Cromwell’s chest when the coffin – interred in the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey – was opened by James Norfolke, Serjeant of the House of Commons, on the orders of parliament on 26th January, 1661 – just two years from Cromwell was buried. Norfolke apparently took the plate which was subsequently handed down through his family. It was not the only relic associated with Cromwell to survive – while Cromwell’s body, along with that of regicides Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw, was hanged at Tyburn and then apparently buried in an unmarked grave pit, his head was placed on a spike above Westminster Hall and remained there for more than 20 years until it blew down in a gale and was taken by a guard. It apparently subsequently passed through numerous private hands before, in 1960, it was interred in a secret location in the chapel of Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge. Meanwhile, the plate – which bears the arms of the Protectorate on one side and an inscription in Latin with the dates of Cromwell’s birth, inauguration as Lord Protector and death on the other – is listed with an estimated price of between £8,000 and £12,000. For more on the item, see www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2014/english-literature-history-childrens-books-illustrations-l14408/lot.3.html.
This week (and next week) as part of our look at Shakespeare’s London, we’re taking a look at a few of the many memorials to William Shakespeare located around London…
• Westminster Abbey: Perhaps the most famous of London’s memorials to Shakespeare can be found in Poet’s Corner, an area of the abbey which has become noted as a burial place and memorial site for writers, playwrights and poets. Designed by William Kent, the memorial statue of Shakespeare was placed here in January, 1741 (there had apparently been some earlier talk of bringing his bones from Stratford-upon-Avon but that idea was squashed). The life-size statue in white marble, sculpted by Peter Scheemakers, was erected by Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, Dr Richard Mead, Alexander Pope and Tom Martin. The memorial also features the heads of Queen Elizabeth I, King Henry V and King Richard III on the base of a pedestal and shows Shakespeare pointing to a scroll on which are painted a variation of lines taken from The Tempest. A Latin inscription records the date the memorial was created and an English translation of this was added in 1977. For more on the abbey, see www.westminster-abbey.org.
• Guildhall Art Gallery (pictured above): Facing into Guildhall Yard from niches under the loggia of the Guildhall Art Gallery are four larger-than-life busts of historical figures connected with the City of London. As well as one of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, architect Christopher Wren, and diarist Samuel Pepys (along with a full-length statue of Dick Whittington and his famous cat) is a bust depicting Shakespeare. Carved out of Portland stone by sculptor Tim Crawley, the busts were installed in 1999. Much attention was apparently paid to creating a bust which resembled pictures of Shakespeare. Follow this link for more on the gallery.
• Former City of London School: This Thames-side building, dating from the 1880s, features a full length statue of Shakespeare who gazes out over the river. He’s not alone – poet John Milton, Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Thomas More and Sir Francis Bacon stand nearby, selected, apparently, to represent various disciplines taught at the school. The statues were the work of John Daymond who depicted Shakespeare flanked by representations of classics and poetry and drawing and music. The school vacated the building on Victoria Embankment in the 1980s and it’s now occupied by JP Morgan.
We’ll be looking at some more works depicting Shakespeare next week…
July 15, 2014
A team of volunteers are searching through historical records for evidence of people buried at the Bedlam burial ground in the 16th and 17th centuries. The 15 member team are carrying out the work at the London Metropolitan Archives as archaeologists prepare to excavate 3,000 skeletons from the former burial site next year in anticipation of the construction of the new Liverpool Street Crossrail Station – part of the £14.8 billion cross London Crossrail project. About 400 skeletons have already been removed during preliminary works. Located near Bethlem Hospital, the burial ground opened in the 16th century as part of the city’s response to the plague and was the first burial ground in London not associated with a parish church. Among those buried here were Robert Lockyer, a soldier executed under the orders of Oliver Cromwell for leading the Bishopsgate mutiny of 1649, and Leveller John Lilburne. Crossrail are keen to hear from members of the public who may be able to provide further details of burials at Bedlam – if you can help, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
February 28, 2014
Can you identify where in London this picture was taken? If you think you can, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!
Sorry about the delay in getting the answer to you! But yes, as Baldwin and Jennifer both answered, this bust of King Charles I does indeed sit on the wall of St Margaret’s Church opposite the Houses of Parliament, above a blocked doorway. There is a story that the statue of Oliver Cromwell which stands opposite, outside Westminster Hall, has his eyes deliberately averted from the King (after all, he did help him lose his head). But Cromwell statue, by Hamo Thornycroft, was placed in position well before the bust – it’s placement dates from the turn of the 19th century while the bust (one of a pair) wasn’t placed on the church until 1956 (a gift of The Society of King Charles the Martyr which annually commemorates the king’s death). Still, it’s a fitting placement.
May 17, 2013
Can you identify where in London this picture was taken? If you think you can, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!
Well done to Jamie, this is indeed the tower of St Giles Cripplegate, located just off Fore Street in the Barbican Estate. The church – the oldest building in the area – dates from about 1090 and was rebuilt in 1545 after it was destroyed by a fire. The new building survived the Great Fire of 1666 but didn’t fare so well in a fire of 1897 or in the Blitz when all but the outer shell was destroyed. Oliver Cromwell was married here in 1620 and the poet John Milton was buried here in 1674 (he had written much of Paradise Lost locally) (interestingly, his body was apparently exhumed about 100 years later, workman took some souvenirs including teeth and a rib). Others buried here include explorer Sir Martin Frobisher, John Foxe, author of The Book of Martyrs, and Bible translator Lancelot Andrews. For more on the church, see www.stgilescripplegate.com.
November 12, 2012
One of the most famous painters of his age, Dutchman Sir Peter Lely – currently the subject of an exhibition at London’s Courtauld Gallery – rose to become the foremost portrait painter at the English Court during the latter half of the 17th century.
Born to Dutch parents on 14th September, 1618, in Westphalia (now part of Germany) where his father was serving as an infantry captain, Peter – originally named Pieter van der Faes – studied art as an apprentice in Haarlem in what is now The Netherlands. While there he is believed to have changed his name to Lely based on a heraldic lily which appeared on the gable of the house where his father was born in The Hague.
Lely appeared in London in the early 1640s and, while he initially devoted himself to the sort of narrative-style paintings inspired by classical mythology, the Bible and literature he had been working on in Haarlem but having found no great success there, soon turned his hand to portraiture.
The death of court portraitist Anthony van Dyck in 1641 had left a vacuum he stepped into the gap, soon becoming the most in-demand portrait painter at the Royal Court, his sitters including none other than King Charles I himself.
However, Lely, who was made a freeman of the Painter-Stainers Company in London in 1647, managed to straddle the political divide and after the beheading of King Charles I and the end of the English Civil War in 1651, was able to continue painting portraits of the most powerful people in the land including Oliver Cromwell – whom he painted “warts and all” as per the Lord Protector’s request – and his Cromwell’s brother Richard.
Already renowned as the best artist in the country, following the Restoration in 1660, Lely became Principal Painter of King Charles II, placed on an annual stipend as van Dyck had been before him during the reign of King Charles I.
Lely’s workshop was large and its output prolific, with his students and employees – who at one stage apparently included scientist and architect Robert Hooke – often completing his paintings after he sketched out some details, only painting the sitter’s face in any great detail.
Among his most famous works are a series of 10 portraits known as the Windsor Beauties (currently at Hampton Court Palace), a series of portraits of senior naval officers who served in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, known as the Flagmen of Lowestoft (most of the works at are the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich) and Susannah and the Elders (currently at Burghley House in Cambridgeshire) as well as some of the paintings in the current Courtauld exhibition including Nymphs by a Fountain (usually found at the Dulwich Picture Gallery) and Boy as a Shepherd (also the Dulwich Picture Gallery).
Lely was also known as an avid collector of art and is credited as being the first artist in England to do so in any serious manner – among his purchases were works which formerly formed part of King Charles I’s collection. At the time of his death, he is said to have owned more than 500 paintings, although more than half of these were works of his or his studio.
Sir Peter, who never married but had two children who survived him with a common-law wife Ursula, lived at a house in the north-east corner of Covent Garden from about 1650 until his death in 1680 (some sources have him knighted in this year, others in 1679) but also had a house at Kew and owned property outside of London including in Lincolnshire and The Hague.
He was apparently working at his easel in the studio of his Covent Garden house when he died on 30th November, 1680. He was buried at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden. The monument to him, the work of Grinling Gibbons, was destroyed by fire in 1795.
Peter Lely: A Lyrical Vision – which focuses on some of his early non-portrait works – runs at The Courtauld Gallery until 13th January. For more on the exhibition, visit www.courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/exhibitions/2012/peter-lely/index.shtml. Running alongside the exhibition is a display of some of the drawings from Sir Peter’s own collection, Peter Lely: The Draughtsman and His Collection.
November 2, 2012
The latest in the series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken and who it’s of. If you think you can identify this picture, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!
Well done to Angelo (and, I suspect the correct location for Mike), this is indeed a bust of Sir Christopher Wren and is located in a loggia outside the Guildhall Art Gallery facing into Guildhall Yard. It and three other larger than life busts of notable Londoners – playwright William Shakespeare, statesman Oliver Cromwell and diarist Samuel Pepys – are all the work of Tim Crawley and were installed when the gallery was completed in 1999. Along with them is a full length statue of Dick Whittington and his famous cat – these are the work of Laurence Tindall.
May 18, 2012
Given we’re marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a look at sites of significance to her story located in London, it’s perhaps only fitting that we take a look at the nearest royal residence outside the city.
Windsor, located as close as half an hour by train from London’s Paddington station (or around 50 minutes to an hour from Waterloo), boasts plenty to see including the historic town centre, nearby Eton, great river and country walks and, of course, Legoland. But today our attention will remain on Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world.
There has been a fortress on this site since shortly after the Norman invasion when in about 1080 King William the Conqueror ordered it constructed on a ridge above the river bank as part of a series of defensive fortifications around London. The earth and timber Norman castle was gradually added to over the years – King Henry I (reigned 1100-1135), the first king to live here, added domestic quarters while King Henry II (reigned 1154-1189) built substantial royal apartments transforming the castle into a palace and began replacing the outer timber walls with stone fortifications as well as rebuilding the Norman Keep as the Round Tower (parts of which still date from this period). King Henry III (reigned 1216-1272) built upon and expanded his work.
But it was in the reign of King Edward III (1307-1327) that the castle was expanded enormously. This included the reconstruction of the lower ward including the rebuilding of the chapel, naming it St George’s (although the current chapel dates from the reign of King Edward IV – 1461-1470), and the reconstruction of the upper ward complete with apartments for him and his wife, Queen Phillipa, arranged around courtyards (although some of the work wasn’t completed until the reign of his successor, King Richard II – 1377-1399). It was also during King Edward III’s reign that the castle became the base for the Order of the Garter (which he created in 1348), a role it still fulfills.
Other works were ordered by successive Tudor monarchs including King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, and Queen Mary I. Parliamentary forces seized the castle during the Civil War (Oliver Cromwell did use it as his headquarters for a time) and Royalists were imprisoned here (King Charles I was in fact buried in a vault beneath St George’s Chapel after his execution having been previously imprisoned here).
The next major additions came in the reign of King Charles II (1660-1685) when the Upper Ward and State Apartments were reconstructed in baroque splendor, the latter complete with splendid murals ceiling paintings by Italian artist Antonio Verro (the murals were later destroyed but some of the ceiling paintings survive).
From the time of King William III (1689-1702), monarchs began spending more time at Hampton Court Palace but the focus returned to Windsor with King George III. He ordered a range of improvements and updates including modernising Frogmore House in the Home Park for his wife Queen Caroline (the property was subsequently used by various royals but no-one currently lives there), but many of these were stopped prematurely due to his illness. His son, King George IV, picked up where his father left off.
In the reign of Queen Victoria, Windsor became the royal family’s principal residence and was visited by heads of state including King Louis Philippe in 1844 and Emperor Napoleon III in 1855. The Queen’s husband, Prince Albert, died here on 14th December, 1861.
King Edward VII (1901-1910) and King George V (1910-1936) both had a hand in redecorating the palace and the Queen’s father, King George VI (1936-1952), was living in the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park when he succeeded to the throne.
In more recent times, the castle was the home to the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret, for much of World War II. The castle suffered its greatest setback in recent times in 1992 when a serious fire broke out in the Queen’s Private Chapel which destroyed several rooms including the ceiling of St George’s Hall which dated from the reign of King George IV. Restoration works took five years to complete.
Today the Queen spends many private weekends at the castle while the court is officially in residence here for a month over the Easter period and during Ascot Week in June – it’s at this time that the Garter Day celebrations take place with the installation of new knights.
The Queen also hosts State Visits here with banquets held in St George’s Hall as well as what are known as a ‘sleep and dine’ in which high profile figures are invited to dinner with the Queen before being shown a special display of items from the Royal Library and then spending the night. The Royal Standard flies from the Round Tower when the Queen is in residence.
As well as touring the State Apartments, the Gallery, Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House (completed in the 1920s for Queen Mary, wife of King George V), and St George’s Chapel, visitors to the castle can experience the Changing of the Guard at 11am every day but Sundays between May and early August (and every second day after that).
WHERE: Windsor (a short walk from either Windsor Central Station or Windsor & Eton Riverside Station); WHEN: 9.45am to 5.15pm until 27th July (times vary after this date – check the website); COST: £17 an adult/£10.20 a child (under 17s – under fives free)/£15.50 concession/£44.75 family (price includes an audio tour); WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/windsorcastle.
October 31, 2011
The pub’s licence dates back to at least 1731 and it has been associated with the likes of such luminaries as King Henry VIII (it’s suggested he met Catherine Howard here – she was later imprisoned in nearby Syon House), King Charles I and King Charles II (the latter apparently cavorted with his mistress, actress Nell Gwynne, here), as well as the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey and Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.
Others whose names come up in reference to the pub include the ever-present author Charles Dickens (this is said to have been one his favorite pubs) and notorious highwayman Dick Turpin.
While there remain some doubts over its origins, the name of the pub – which stands opposite the small isle known as the Isleworth Ait – is said to stem from the fact that it was here that London apprentices, having faithfully served their masters, came to while away the hours in their downtime. They are said to have entertained themselves by playing about in decorated barges on the river.
There is said to be a tunnel, now blocked, which links the pub with the nearby All Saint’s Church – the story goes that this was used by smugglers to get their contraband into the pub’s cellars.
For more information or to pay a visit, see www.thelondonapprentice.co.uk.
May 20, 2011
For six centuries, the gallows at Tyburn, in the city’s west, was one of London’s sites of public execution. Today, little remains to remind visitors of the infamous past of the area, which lies close to Marble Arch, but for a plaque set in the middle of a road.
From 1196 to 1783, it’s suggested that thousands of people (some have estimated as many as 60,000) were hanged at various gallows erected at Tyburn, known by numerous names over the centuries including ‘The Elms’, the ‘The Deadly Never Green Tree’, and most infamously the ‘Tyburn Tree’.
Hangings were apparently initially carried out using the branches of a tree on the bank of the Tyburn River but the first gallows date from 1220. In Elizabeth times these were upgraded to a larger gallows known as the ‘Triple Tree’ which enabled many more people to be hanged simulteously – as many as 24 at once in 1649.
The gallows was removed in 1759 because it was blocking the road and a mobile gallows used until hangings were moved into Newgate Prison (see our earlier entry on Newgate).
Executions were a public spectacle and it’s estimated that at times the crowds at Tyburn swelled to more than 50,000 people, all eager to witness someone “dancing the Tyburn jig”.
Among those to be hanged at Tyburn were William Fitz Osbern (a champion of London’s poor who was hanged in 1196), Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March (hanged in 1330 after being accused of assuming royal power), Perkin Warbeck (pretender to the throne of King Henry VII who was hanged in 1499), and Elizabeth Barton, the ‘Holy Maid of Kent’ (hanged for treason after prophesying King Henry VIII would die within six months of marrying Anne Boleyn).
Others included key figures in the so-called Pilgrimage of Grace (an uprising in England’s north in 1536 which followed King Henry VIII’s break with Rome) and many other Catholics including Oliver Plunkett, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland (1681).
In an unusual move, the body of already deceased Oliver Cromwell, along with that of John Bradshaw and Henry Ireton, was exumed from his grave and and hanged there to mark the first anniversary of the Restoration.
What is believed to have been the site of the Tyburn Tree is today marked by a plaque set in a traffic island at the corner of Edgware Road and Bayswater Road (nearest tube station is Marble Arch).
There is a Shrine of the Martyrs dedicated to the more than 105 Roman Catholics who were hung at Tyburn for their faith at the Tyburn Convent in Hyde Park Place (for visiting details, see www.tyburnconvent.org.uk).
Note: This article originally referred to the Shrine of the Martyrs commemorating more than 350 Catholic martyrs who died during the Reformation as all being executed at Tyburn but it is believed some 105 were – the greater figure refers to those martyred across England and Wales during the Reformation.
January 21, 2011
No series on the treasures of London would be complete without a mention of the Crown Jewels, housed – except when being used – under tight security in the same place they’ve been since the early 1300s – the Tower of London.
The jewels, which are described as a ‘working collection’, include the coronation regalia and feature some 23,578 gems – the Imperial State Crown alone boasts 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and five rubies.
The regalia itself is made up of the crowns of the sovereigns, consorts and Princes of Wales as well as sceptres, orbs, rings, swords, spurs, bracelets, robes, and the oldest piece, a 12th century anointing spoon.
It and three steel coronation swords are the only pieces to survive the destruction of all the pre-Civil War regalia in 1649-50, carried out at the behest of Oliver Cromwell following the execution of King Charles I (many of the earlier crown jewels, dating from the Anglo-Saxon period, had already been replaced in the early 13th century after items were lost while being taken across The Wash during the reign of King John in 1216).
Following Cromwell’s destruction, new regalia was made on the orders of King Charles II. Modelled on that of his father, it was used in the king’s coronation on 23rd April, 1661, and cost more than £12,000.
Today, St Edward’s Crown – with which the sovereign is crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury – is the principal piece of the regalia. Other items include the Sovereign’s Sceptre, topped with 530 carat First Star of Africa – the largest flawless cut diamond in the world, Queen Victoria’s small diamond crown, and the Imperial Crown of India. There is also a crown made for Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, for her 1937 coronation which features the famous Koh-i-Nur (‘Mountain of Light’) diamond.
Until 1303, the Crown Jewels had been housed at Westminster Abbey. Following a successful robbery that year, however (after which most items were recovered), they were moved to the Tower.
The most famous attempt to steal the Crown Jewels was made by an Irishman, Colonel Thomas Blood, in 1671. He and his gang had arranged to see the jewels (this could be done for a fee) but when they arrived, used a mallet to knock out the jewel keeper before stabbing him.
Colonel Blood had hidden King Charles II’s crown under his cloak, squashing its arches of in the process, while his companion Robert Perot had stuck the coronation orb down his breeches and Blood’s son was in the process of sawing the sceptre in half when the keeper’s son returned unexpectedly and raised the alarm.
Arrested, Blood got off rather lightly – King Charles II decided, apparently for some unknown reason, to pardon him. Security around the jewels, however, was tightened – iron bars were used instead of wooden ones and people were thenceforth forbidden from handling the jewels.
The Crown Jewels are now housed in the Jewel House at the Tower, built in 1967 in the west wing of the Waterloo Barracks, and guarded by the Yeomen Warders.
WHERE: Tower of London (nearest tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4.30pm Sunday to Monday (until 28th February); COST: £18.70 adults; £10.45 children under 15; £15.95 concessions; £51.70 for a family (prices, which include a voluntary donation, are valid until 28th February); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/. For more on the Crown Jewels, see www.royal.gov.uk/MonarchUK/Symbols/TheCrownJewels.aspx or the Royal Collection website, http://bit.ly/i9FM3