Located on a crossroads opposite the Old Bailey (or Central London Criminal Court as it’s formally known) and the Church of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, The Viaduct Tavern is a gem of the Victorian era.

The-Viaduct-TavernThe name is relatively easy to explain – built in 1874 (and remodelled around the turn of the 19th century), the tavern lies just east of the Holborn Viaduct – central London’s first flyover – which opened in 1869.

The ornate interior of the Grade II-listed pub at 126 Newgate Street features etched and gilded glass panels, three representative “pre-Raphaelite-style” paintings – including one representing Industry and the Arts which was apparently shot by a soldier, no doubt the worse for wear from drink, celebrating the end of World War I – and a small cashier’s booth, all of which attest to its past as a Victorian gin palace.

Under the pub is a cellar – it’s commonly suggested these were cells were part of Newgate Prison (once located nearby on the site of the Old Bailey) or part of a debtor’s prison associated with Newgate – some believe it to have been the site of the Giltspur Street Compter, but both stories have been disputed by guide Peter Berthould.

Past patrons of the pub – which is reputedly haunted – are said to have included writer Oscar Wilde, who apparently frequented the tavern during his trials over the road in the late 1800s.

The pub is now part of the Fullers chain.

~ http://viaducttavern.co.uk

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Freddie Fox (who plays Lord Alfred Douglas opposite Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde in David Hare’s The Judas Kiss now playing at the Duke of York Theatre) marks the start of ‘White Shirt Week’ which kicked off in St James’s on Monday. The West End area is home to Jermyn Street which apparently boasts “the highest number of world renowned shirt makers on one luxury shopping street” with each shirt maker having their own signature design. While the origins of the white shirt date back as far as ancient Egypt, it was only in more recent centuries that in the UK the white shirt developed from being simply an undergarment to a fashion item in its own right – in fact, by the 19th century, the white shirt was worn by gentlemen as a statement that they weren’t engaged in manual labour and could employ servants to launder it. For more on St James’s, see www.stjameslondon.co.uk.

• A West End institution which has hosted a who’s who of Londoners – including the likes of Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling and Winston Churchill as well as, more recently, David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Princess Diana – has reopened its doors to the public after a four year redevelopment. Originally opened in 1865 by French wine merchant Daniel Nicholas Thévenon and his wife Celestine, Café Royal at 68 Regent Street – overlooking Piccadilly Circus – has been relaunched as five star hotel featuring more than 150 rooms, six historic suites and a variety of dining venues – including the spectacular Grill Room – as well as a private members club, meeting rooms and wellbeing centre. The redevelopment of this storied building, which centres on the original premises – retaining John Nash’s Grade I-listed facade, has seen the restoration of grand public rooms, originally dating from the 1860s and 1920s, as well as an expansion into neighbouring buildings – all under the watchful eye of David Chipperfield Architects and Donald Insall Associates. For more, see www.hotelcaferoyal.com.

 • One of six small hospitals set up by the Bloomsbury-based Foundling Hospital, the Barnet branch operated in Monken Hadley in west London from 1762-1768. It’s now the subject of one of two new exhibitions which opened at the Barnet Museum at the beginning of the month. The Barnet Foundling Hospital, Monken Hadley, 1762-1768, features a range of objects relating to some of the children placed in the hospital including identifying coin tokens left by mothers, and letters written by manager Prudence West. The exhibition initially runs until 14th January – after which objects will be replaced with prints – and then until 28th February. The second exhibition, Foundling Voices, is on tour from the Foundling Museum and features oral histories of some of the last people to be cared for by the Foundling Hospital in Berkhamsted which closed in 1954. This runs until 13th January. Admission to both is free. For more, see www.barnetmuseum.co.uk.

On Now: Constable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of Landscape. This exhibition, recently opened in the John Madejski Fine Rooms and Weston Rooms at the Royal Academy of Arts, features works of art by three “towering figures” of English landscape painting – John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough and JMW Turner. The 120 works on display includes paintings, prints, books and archival material. Highlights include Gainsborough’s Romantic Landscape (c 1783), Constable’s The Leaping Horse (1825) and Boat Passing a Lock (1826), and Turner’s Dolbadern Castle (1800). There are also works by their 18th century contemporaries and artifacts including letters written by Gainsborough, Turner’s watercolour box, and Constable’s palette. Admission charge applies. Runs until 17th February. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.au.

Daytripper – Oxford

September 16, 2011

The “city of dreaming spires”, Oxford is a delight for the student of historic architecture, boasting an impressive array of medieval and later, classically-inspired, buildings.

Only about an hour from London by train (leave from Paddington Station), Oxford was established as a town in the 9th century and rose to prominence during the medieval period as the location of a prestigious university, an institution which remains synonymous with the city today.

Major development followed the Norman Conquest the castle was constructed, the remains of which were included in a £40 million redevelopment several years ago of the area in which it stands and which now houses the Oxford Castle Unlocked exhibition which looks at some of the key figures in the castle’s past (you can also climb St George’s Tower for some great views over the city).

The university first appears in the 1100s and gradually expanded over the ensuing centuries gradually evolved to encompass the many medieval colleges which can still be seen there today.

Something of a hotbed of activity during the Reformation, Oxford saw the burning of three bishops – Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer at a site marked by a memorial in Magdalen Street. Constructed in the 1840s, it was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott who drew inspiration from the Eleanor Crosses King Edward I had erected in honor of his deceased wife, Eleanor of Castile, following her death in 1290.

Oxford was also the site of the headquarters of King Charles I during the English Civil War after the king was forced to leave London (the town eventually yielded to parliamentarian forces after a siege in 1646) and was later home to the court of King Charles II after he fled London during the Great Plague of 1665-66.

Canals arrived in the late 18th century and the railways followed. Industrialisation came – in particular, in the 20th century, in the form of a large car manufacturing plant at the suburb of Cowley – and with it an increasingly cosmopolitan population. But at its heart Oxford remains a student city and it’s the students that continue to provide the lively atmosphere in the city centre.

Look for Carfax Tower to get your bearings – formerly the tower of a 14th century church, this lies at the heart of the town and can be climbed for some great views over the surrounding streets. Some of the colleges are also open to the public (see noticeboards outside the colleges for times) – particularly worth visiting is Christ Church which dates from 1524 and, founded by Cardinal Wolsey, was initially known as Cardinal’s College. It features the Tom Tower, home of the bell Great Tom, which was designed by former student Sir Christopher Wren. The college, which is unique in that the college chapel is also a cathedral, is also home to the Christ Church Picture Gallery.

Other colleges of note include the beautiful Magdalen (pronounced Maudlin, it was founded in 1458 – alumni have included writers John Betjeman, CS Lewis and Oscar Wilde), All Souls (founded in 1438 with King Henry VI its co-founder), and Merton College (the oldest of Oxford’s colleges, it was founded in 1264 and is home to Mob Quadrangle, the oldest quadrangle in the university).

Other university buildings which are a must include the Radcliffe Camera – now the reading room of the Bodleian Library, this Baroque rotunda dates from 1748 and was built as a memorial to 18th century physician Dr John Radcliffe, the Sheldonian Theatre – another of Wren’s designs, it was built in the 1660s as the university’s principal assembly room, and St Mary the Virgin Church – the official church of the university, the present building partly dates from the 13th century and boasts terrific views from the tower.

Make sure you also take the time to wander through the water meadows along the River Cherwell (there are also punt rides) and walk along the River Thames, known as the Isis as it passes through Oxford. Keep an eye out also for the ‘Bridge of Sighs’, similar in design to the Venetian landmark, it spans New College Lane and joins two sections of Hertford College.

Other sites in Oxford include the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology. Considered of the UK’s best, the original Ashmolean was the first purpose built museum in England, opening in 1683. It now houses treasures include art and antiquities with the late ninth century Alfred Jewel, said to have been made for King Alfred the Great, among its prized objects. Other museums include the Pitt Rivers Museum which cares for the university’s collection of anthropology and world archaeology and includes exhibits brought back to Britain by explorer Captain James Cook.

Take the time also to wander through the covered market off high street which has some interesting shops selling everything from clothes to fresh food and flowers and gifts. Fans of Inspector Morse, meanwhile, may also enjoy seeing some of the sites of particular significance in the TV series – there’s an interactive online map here.

A vibrant city redolent with history, Oxford remains of England’s jewels. Perfect as a day-trip destination from London.

Hatchards on Piccadilly (right next to Fortnum & Mason) is generally accepted as being London’s oldest surviving bookshop.

It was founded in 1797 by John Hatchard in Piccadilly (there seems some dispute over whether it still stands on exactly the same site).

The shop currently holds three royal warrants for the supply of books to the Royal Household.

Among high profile past customers have been Queen Charlotte (wife of King George III), former PMs Benjamin Disraeli and  Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, and literary figures such as Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron.

It remains popular with lovers of literature and is noted for hosting book-signings by prominent authors with many signed book on the shelves.

For more, see www.hatchards.co.uk.

A love letter Romantic poet John Keats wrote to his beloved Fanny Brown will be returned to the house in which it was written. Keats wrote the letter in 1820 while living next door to her at Wentworth House in Hampstead, north London – his home from 1818 to 1820 and the setting that inspired some of his most memorable poetry including Ode to a Nightingale. The City of London Corporation, who manage the house – now a museum known as Keats House, recently purchased the letter with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund for £80,000. They say it will now be returned to the house and displayed there. In the letter Keats wrote: “I shall Kiss your name and mine where your Lips have been – Lips! why should a poor prisoner as I am talk about such things.” He said his consolation was “in the certainty of your affection”. See www.keatshouse.cityoflondon.gov.uk.

Amid the host of souvenirs and trinkets up for sale in the lead-up to the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton comes news of a unusual offering from Transport for London – a limited edition royal wedding Oyster card. The card, which will go on sale in the week leading up to the ceremony, features a portrait of the couple and their wedding date – 29th April, 2011. More than 750,000 of the cards will be offered for sale. The move is not without precedent – in 1981, a unique ticket was produced for the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

• Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum, the youngest Spitfire pilot to take part in the Battle of Britain, was granted the Freedom of the City of London at a ceremony at Guildhall last week. Wellum was just 18-years-old when he joined the RAF in August 1939. Serving in a frontline squadron, he flew many combat missions including dogfights during the Battle of Britain and was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

• On Now: The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900 at the Victoria & Albert Museum in . Said to be the “most comprehensive” exhibition ever staged on the Aesthetic Movement in Britain, it brings together masterpieces in painting as well as sculpture, design, furniture, architecture, fashion and literature of the era and explores some of the key personalities  involved in the movement – from William Morris and Frederic Leighton through to James McNeil Whistler, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and Oscar Wilde. Organised in collaboration with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the exhibition runs until 17th July. Tickets are £12 (concessions available). See www.vam.ac.uk.

This curiously named part of London, pronounced Mar-lee-bone, takes it’s name from a church dedicated to St Mary which was originally built near a small river or stream called the Tyburn or Tybourne. Hence St Mary-le-Burn became St Marylebone.

There was a medieval village here which during the 18th century became subsumed into greater London as fashionable people sought land to the west of the city. The area – in particular Harley Street – became known as a location of choice for doctors to site their consulting rooms and is still known for its medical establishments.

Among the significant sites is the St Marylebone Parish Church (pictured right) which, consecrated in 1817, was where poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett were married in 1846 following their elopement, the John Nash-designed All Souls Church in Langham Place, the Langham Hotel which opened in 1865 and boasted Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain among guests, 221B Baker Street, fictional home of Sherlock Holmes and now the site of the Sherlock Holmes Museum, and the famous wax museum, Madame Tussauds.

Marylebone is also home to the world famous Wallace Collection, bequeathed to the government in 1897, the concert hall Wigmore Hall, the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal Institute of Architects, and the art-deco headquarters of the BBC, Broadcasting House. Marylebone High Street remains a shopping mecca offering a diverse range of independent boutiques and specialty shops while in the south, Marylebone includes one of London’s most famous shopping strips on Oxford Street.

Other famous people connected with the area include four time Prime Minister William Gladstone who lived at 73 Harley Street from 1876 to 1882, writer Charles Dickens who lived at 18 Bentinck Street while working as a court reporter in the 1830s, author Edward Gibbon, who lived at 7 Bentinck Street while writing his landmark text The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire from the 1770s, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, who worked in Upper Wimpole Street in the 1890s.