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Looking from across the River Thames. PICTURE: Samuel Zeller/Unsplash

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The Houses of Parliament in the early morning light. For more on their history, see our earlier post here.

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The site of the climatic showdown in V for Vendetta between the silent hoards of masked protestors and the military, Parliament Square is featured in some dramatic aerial shots before, moments after midnight in the early hours of 5th November, the Houses of Parliament explode to the sprightly sounds of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

Of course, it’s far from the only London location to feature in the 2006 film which is largely set in the city – among other locations are Trafalgar Square where the protestors gather before marching down Whitehall, and the Old Bailey which explodes in the first scene as well as the former Underground station of Aldwych – located on a former spur line of Piccadilly Line which closed to the public in 1994.

Meanwhile, the Houses of Parliament – also known as the Palace of Westminster (for more on its history, head here) – and the Clock Tower (see our Treasures of London article for more here) have made innumerable appearances on the big screen, including in several Bond films including Thunderbolt (1965), 28 Days Later (2002)and, more recently, in Suffragette (2015).

It wasn’t until four days after the battle which had taken place on 25th October, 1415, that news of King Henry V’s stunning victory over the French reached the English capital.

Westminster-Abbey-frontThe news apparently reached London very early in the morning and church bells were rung in celebration and a Te Deum sang in thanksgiving in many.

At 9am, a solemn procession of clergy made their way from St Paul’s Cathedral in the City to the shrine of St Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey (pictured) to give thanks.

Other attendees at the abbey included the Mayor-elect, Nicholas Wotton (this was the first of two occasions on which he was elected Lord Mayor), and the alderman of London, as well as the Queen Dowager, Joan of Navarre.

A few days later, on the 4th November, King Henry V’s brother – John of Lancaster, the Duke of Bedford, announced the news to Parliament.

King Henry V, meanwhile, arrived back in Dover on 16th November (apparently as a great snowstorm was making its presence felt) and headed for London. After pausing in Canterbury to give thanks in the cathedral and St Augustine’s Abbey, he reached the manor of Eltham (now in south-east London) on 22nd November.

He was met the next day on Blackheath by Wotton and City dignitaries who then, along with what were recorded as a crowd of 20,000 citizens, accompanied him and his small retinue, which included some of his most high profile prisoners such as Charles d’Orléans, Duke of Orléans (who spent 25 years as a prisoner in England), and Marshal Boucicaut (he would die six years later in Yorkshire), towards London.

There, welcomed as Henry V, “King of England and France”, he processed through the City which had been elaborately decorated – the decorations included the hanging of various coats of arms from various prominent sites as well as the positioning of statues of the likes of St George – ahead of his arrival.

Travelling down Cheapside, the king – who was modestly dressed in a purple gown and had eschewed wearing a crown for the event – stopped at St Paul’s where he performed his devotions, before proceeding to Westminster where he did the same before taking up residence for the night in the nearby Palace of Westminster.

On the king’s orders, a solemn mass was held in St Paul’s the next day for the fallen of both sides. The victorious king had returned!

Houses-of-Parliament2 Both Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster (these days better known as the Houses of Parliament – pictured) pre-date 1215 but unlike today in 1215 the upon which they stood was known as Thorney Island.

Formed by two branches of the Tyburn River as they ran down to the River Thames, Thorney Island (a small, marshy island apparently named for the thorny plants which once grew there) filled the space between them and the Thames (and remained so until the Tyburn’s branches were covered over).

One branch entered the Thames in what is now Whitehall, just to the north of where Westminster Bridge; another apparently to the south of the abbey, along the route of what is now Great College Street. (Yet another branch apparently entered the river near Vauxhall Bridge).

The abbey’s origins go back to Saxon times when what was initially a small church – apparently named after St Peter – was built on the site. By 960AD it had become a Benedictine monastery and, lying west of what was then the Saxon city in Lundenwic, it become known as the “west minster” (St Paul’s, in the city, was known as “east minster”) and a royal church.

The origins of the Palace of Westminster don’t go back quite as far but it was the Dane King Canute, who ruled from 1016 to 1035, who was the first king to build a palace here. It apparently burnt down but was subsequently rebuilt by King Edward the Confessor as part of a grand new palace-abbey complex.

For it was King Edward, of course, who also built the first grand version of Westminster Abbey, a project he started soon after his accession in 1042. It was consecrated in 1065, a year before his death and he was buried there the following year (his bones still lie inside the shrine which was created during the reign of King Henry III when he was undertaking a major rebuild of the minster).

Old Palace Yard dates from Edward’s rebuild – it connected his palace with his new abbey – while New Palace Yard, which lies at the north end of Westminster Hall, was named ‘new’ when it was constructed with the hall by King William II (William Rufus) in the late 11th century.

Westminster gained an important boost in becoming the pre-eminent seat of government in the kingdom when King Henry II established a secondary treasury here (the main treasury had traditionally been in Winchester, the old capital in Saxon times) and established the law courts in Westminster Hall.

King John, meanwhile, followed his father in helping to establish London as the centre of government and moved the Exchequer here. He also followed the tradition, by then well-established, by being crowned in Westminster Abbey in 1199 and it was also in the abbey that he married his second wife, Isabella, daughter of Count of Angouleme, the following year. 

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Of course, no look at London sites associated with Sir Winston Churchill would be complete without a mention of the Palace of Westminster, better known as the Houses of Parliament.

Churchill made his maiden speech in the House of Commons on 18th February, 1901, having won the seat of Oldham for the Conservative Party the year before (he switched to the Liberal Party in 1904 and eventually rejoined the Conservatives in 1924).

Over his long career in politics (he was an MP for 62 years), he served in a variety of roles including the President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary, First Lord of the Admiralty, Minister of Munitions, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and twice, Prime Minster.

Some of the most famous speeches Churchill gave in the House of Commons were during World War II – they include the ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’ speech given on 13th May, 1940 – the first after he had been made Neville Chamberlain’s replacement as PM, the ‘we shall fight them on the beaches’ speech given on 4th June, 1940, and the ‘this was their finest hour’ speech of 18th June, 1940, in which he gave the ‘Battle of Britain’ its name and, as the name suggests, first recorded the phrase “their finest hour” (the speech ended with it).

Churchill’s last speech to Parliament was given on 1st March, 1955, in which he spoke about the British development of a hydrogen bomb.

There’s several places within the Houses of Parliament which now bear Churchill’s name. Among them are the Churchill Room (named as such in 1991 when ownership of the room passed from the Lords to the Commons, it features two of his paintings and a bronze bust of the PM).

They also include the Churchill Arch – this leads from the Members’ Lobby into the Commons Chamber and is flanked by a 1969 statue of Churchill ( and one of fellow former PM, David Lloyd George (one foot on each of the statues has been burnished thanks to the practice of MPs to touch them as they enter the Commons Chamber).

It took on its current name after it was rebuilt following damage from bombs during World War II – at Churchill’s suggestion damaged stone was reused in its construction as a memorial to the “ordeal” Westminster had endured during the war. The statue of Churchill, incidentally, was the focus of recent commemorations on the 50th anniversary of his death.

Churchill’s stamp can also be seen on the Commons Chamber itself – it was he who recommended that when the chamber was rebuilt after World War II that it retain its rectangular shape rather than be redesigned in a semi-circle.

Churchill’s body lay in state in Westminster Hall prior to his funeral service in January, 1965 (for more on that, see our previous post here.

For more on Churchill’s Parliamentary career, check out the UK Parliament’s Living History page here: www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/private-lives/yourcountry/collections/churchillexhibition/.

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The Clock Tower of the Houses of Parliament, home to Big Ben. For more on it, see our earlier posts on the Palace of Westminster, the Clock Tower and Big Ben PICTURE: Tony Kerrigan.

In this, the final in our series looking at Shakespeare’s London, we take a quick look at some of the plethora of London locations mentioned by the Bard in his historical plays. Some we have already covered, but here are a few more…

Westminster-AbbeyWestminster Abbey (pictured): We’ve already talked about Poet’s Corner but Shakespeare himself makes mention of Westminster Abbey in his plays, notably in Henry VI, Part I, when it’s the scene of Henry V’s funeral. The Jerusalem Chamber, principal room of Cheyneygates, the medieval house of abbots of Westminster is mentioned in Henry IV, Part II.

The Houses of Parliament: True, the buildings have changed somewhat since Shakespeare’s day but the former Palace of Westminster is the site of scenes in numerous plays including Richard IIHenry IV, Part II and Henry VI, Part III are set. Among rooms mentioned is Westminster Hall which survives today from the original building.

The Tower of London: As one would expect, this prominent London landmark pops up in several of Shakespeare’s plays including Henry VI, Part I and Richard III where its plays a rather central role – among the events recorded in the latter play are the infamous drowning of Richard III’s elder brother George in a butt of Malmsey wine.

Ely House: The London residence of the bishops of Ely, this long gone building is mentioned in Richard II (for more on Ely House see our earlier posts on Ye Olde Mitre Tavern here and St Etheldreda’s Church here ).

The London Stone: Now at 111 Cannon Street, the London Stone originally was located at another location in Cannon Street and its here in Henry VI, Part II, that rebel Jack Cade stops to strike his sword upon the stone (for more on the London Stone, see our earlier post here).

Other London sites mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays include generic “London Streets” (mentioned in a number of plays), “Eastcheap, near the Boar’s Head Tavern” (Henry IV, Part II), the Temple Garden (Henry VI, Part I) and Blackheath (Henry VI, Part II).

Margaret Thatcher’s funeral will be held next Wednesday at St Paul’s Cathedral from 11am with Queen Elizabeth II among those attending (the first time she has attended the funeral of a British politician since Sir Winston Churchill’s in 1965). The funeral procession of the former Prime Minister, who died on Monday aged 87, will start at the Houses of Parliament and make its way down Whitehall to Trafalgar Square before moving down the Strand, Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill to St Paul’s Cathedral. Baroness Thatcher’s coffin will carried in a hearse for the first part of the journey and will be transferred to a gun carriage drawn by six horses of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery at St Clement Danes church on the Strand for the final part of the journey. There will be a gun salute at the Tower of London. Meanwhile, a Book of Condolence has opened at St Margaret’s Church, beside Westminster Abbey, this morning and will be available for people to pay their respects until 17th April, during the church’s opening hours. St Margaret’s – which stands between Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament – is commonly known as the parish church of the House of Commons.

The story of the Jewel Tower – one of the last remaining parts of the medieval Palace of Westminster – is told in a new exhibition at the historic property. Now in the care of English Heritage, the tower – located to the south of Westminster Abbey, was built in 1365 to house King Edward III’s treasury, later used as King Henry VIII”s ‘junk room’, the record office for the House of Lords, and, from 1869, served was the “testing laboratory” for the Office of Weights and Measures. The exhibition, which opened this month, is part of the English Heritage celebrations commemorating the centenary of the 1913 Ancient Monuments Act. The Jewel Tower is open daily until November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.co.uk.

See some of the earliest underground trains, a Lego version of Baker Street station and ride the Acton Miniature Railway. The London Transport Museum’s depot in Acton is holding it’s annual spring open weekend this Saturday and Sunday and in celebration of the Underground’s 150th anniversary, attractions will include the Metropolitan Steam Locomotive No. 1 and the recently restored Metropolitan Carriage 353 along with model displays, rides on the miniature railway, film screenings, talks, and workshops. Wales’ Ffestiniog Railway team – celebrating their own 150th anniversary – will also be present with the narrow gauge train, Prince. Open from 11am to 5pm both days. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.

Now On: Designs of the Year. The Design Museum has unveiled contenders for the sixth annual Designs of the Year competition and you can what they are in this exhibition. Consisting of more than 90 nominations spanning seven categories, the nominated designs include the Olympic Cauldron by Heatherwick Studio, The Shard – western Europe’s tallest building – by Renzo Piano, a non-stick ketchup bottle invented by the Varanasi Research Group at MIT, and Microsoft’s Windows phone 8. The exhibition runs until 7th July – the winners will be announced this month. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.designmuseum.org.

Commonly thought to be older than it actually is due to its Gothic stylings (although, to be fair, parts of it do date from medieval times), the Palace of Westminster – or, as it’s more commonly known, the Houses of Parliament – didn’t actually take on much of its current appearance until the latter half of the 19th century.

The need for a new building for parliament arose after 1834 when a fire, caused by the overheating of two underfloor stoves used to incinerate the Exchequer’s obsolete tally sticks, tore through the former complex, leaving only some structures from the old palace intact. They included the 11th century Westminster Hall (the largest in Europe when it was built), 14th century Jewel Tower and a chapterhouse, crypt and cloisters, all of which was once attached to the now gone St Stephen’s Chapel.

Houses-of-Parliament2While King William IV offered the use of Buckingham Palace for Parliament, the idea – along with a host of other options – was rejected as unsuitable. Instead, a competition was held for a new design and after almost 100 entries were considered, architect Charles Barry and his design for a new palace in the perpendicular Gothic style was chosen. Interestingly, while Barry was a classical architect, under the terms of the competition, designs were required to be in a Gothic style, thought to embody conservative values .

Incorporating some of the remains of the old palace – including Westminster Hall but not the Jewel Tower which to this day stands alone – the design was based around a series of internal courtyards with the House of Commons and House of Lords located on either side of a central lobby (first known as Octagonal Hall). The design involved reclaiming some land from the Thames so the building’s main river-facing facade could be completed.

Towers stand at either end of the complex – the Victoria Tower over the Sovereign’s Entrance at the southern end of the complex (for many years the tallest square stone tower in the world) and the narrower tower formerly known as the Clock Tower which houses the bell Big Ben, at the northern end – and there is a central Octagonal Tower which stands directly over the Central Lobby. The Clock Tower, incidentally, was renamed the Elizabeth Tower last year in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee (for more on it and Big Ben, see our earlier entries here and here).

Other towers include the Speaker’s Tower (located at the northern end of the building on the waterfront, this contains a residence for the Speaker), the Chancellor’s Tower (located at the southern end, it too contained a residence originally used by the Lord Chancellor) and St Stephen’s Tower – located in the middle of the building’s west front, it contains the public entrance to the building. Significant other rooms in the palace complex include the Robing Room – where the Queen puts on her ceremonial robes and crown before the State Opening of Parliament – and the Royal Gallery, used for state occasions.

The foundation stone (the building was constructed out of sand-coloured limestone from Yorkshire) was laid in 1840 and construction of the monumental building – which features more than 1,100 rooms and two miles of passageways – wasn’t completely finished until the 1870s although most of the work had been completed by 1860 (the year Barry died). The House of Lords first sat in their new chamber in 1847 and the House of Commons in 1852 (it was at this point that Barry was knighted for his work).

The cost, meanwhile, originally estimated at less than £750,000, ended up coming in at more than £2 million.

Much of the interior decoration owes its appearance to the Gothic revivalist Augustus Pugin who designed everything from wallpapers, to floor tiles and furnishings. Pugin also helped Barry with the external appearance but like Barry died before the project was completely finished (in 1852).

The palace was bombed numerous times in World War II – in one raid, the Commons Chamber was destroyed as firefighters opted to save the much older Westminster Hall instead. It was later rebuilt under the direction of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and completed by 1950. Other aspects of the building have also been restored.

A Grade I-listed building classified as a World Heritage Site, Barry’s Houses of Parliament remain one of London’s most iconic structures. We’ll be looking in more detail at some of the building’s features in future posts.

WHERE: Houses of Parliament (nearest Tube stations are Westminster, St James’s Park and Embankment); WHEN: Tours (75 minutes) are run from 9.15am to 4.30pm on Saturdays (also six days a week during summer opening); COST: £15 adults/£10 concessions/£6 children five to 15 years (children under five are free). Prices go up after 1st April – check website for details and to purchase tickets (tours for UK residents, including climbing the Elizabeth Tower, can also be arranged through your MP); WEBSITE: www.parliament.uk.

For more, see Robert Wilson’s guide to the The Houses of Parliament or David Cannadine’s indepth,  The Houses of Parliament: History, Art, Architecture. For more on the story of the fire in 1834, see head parliamentary archivist Caroline Shenton’s recent book The Day Parliament Burned Down.

Built in the 16th century for King Henry VIII, Bridewell Palace only had a short-lived life as a royal residence before it was handed over to the City of London and used as a poorhouse and prison.

Located on the western bank of the Fleet River (the site is now occupied by Unilever House and remembered in the place names of Bridewell Place and Bridewell Court), the palace – named for a holy well located nearby which was dedicated to St Bride  (St Brigid) – was built on the direction of the king’s key advisor Cardinal Thomas Wolsey between 1510-15 on land which had previously been the site of St Bride’s Inn.

In 1515 Cardinal Wolsey gave it to King Henry VIII after taking up residence at Hampton Court and York Place  – Henry was looking for a royal residence in London after the Palace of Westminister was largely destroyed in a fire in 1512. Work continued on the palace until its completion in 1523.

The palace, the site of which is now marked with a plaque on the approach to Blackfriars Bridge, consisted of two courtyards surrounded by brick buildings with the three storey royal lodgings (separate quarters for the king and queen) located around the inner courtyard and entered by a grand staircase from the outer courtyard. It also featured a watergate was located on the Thames and, interestingly, Bridewell was the first royal palace not to have its own great hall.

Among historic events hosted here was the visit of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1522 (the emperor did not stay here but his entourage did). In 1528 meetings of the papal delegation took place at Blackfriars (located next door and joined by a specially built gallery) to discuss the king’s divorce from Queen Katherine of Aragon – it’s here that the Queen made her most famous speech declaring her fidelity to the king – and for its duration the king and queen lodged at Bridewell. It’s also said that it was at Bridewell Palace that artist Hans Holbein the Younger painted his famous work – The Ambassadors (see our earlier post on this here).

Following Cardinal Wolsey’s fall from favor in 1529, King Henry VIII no longer used the property (he took over the Palace of Whitehall, then known as York Place, as his main residence in 1530 – for more on this see our earlier post here). It was leased for much of the following decade to the French ambassador in London before, following petitioning for a new hospital for the poor from Nicholas Ridley, the Bishop of London, King Edward VI gave it to the City of London in 1553. They took over fully in 1556 and converted the palace into a prison, hospital and workrooms (we’ll deal in detail with the prison in an upcoming post).

Eight days from now, the Lord’s Mayor’s Show will be winding its way through the streets of the City London with star of the show, the new Lord Mayor of London, Roger Gifford, riding in a spectacular gilt State Coach.

The coach’s origins go back to the mid 18th century although the reason why a coach is used go back some years earlier – to 1711, in fact, when then Lord Mayor Sir Gilbert Heathcote fell off the horse he was riding in the procession and broke his leg. It’s worth noting that up until the 1420s, the Lord Mayor rode all the way to the Palace of Westminster to swear fealty to the monarch – after that they went on a river barge down the Thames, a practice which continued until 1857 (although they still had to ride to and from the watercraft which is when Sir Gilbert had his accident).

While a stand-in coach was used for some years after Sir Gilbert’s fall, in 1757 Sir Charles Asgill, a banker who was set to be the next Lord Mayor, commissioned Joseph Berry of Leather Lane in Holborn to make the splendid vehicle still in use today (the coach was designed by architect Sir Robert Taylor). Built at a cost of £1,065.0s.3d, the substantial sum was met by the Aldermen. It’s now apparently worth more £2 million.

Richly ornate, many of the four ton coach’s features emphasise the role of the City of London as a centre of world trade – the cherubs at each of the coach’s four corners, for example, represent the four continents of Asia, Africa, America and Europe. The City’s coat-of-arms is on the back of the coach, the front panel has an image of Hope pointing at St Paul’s Cathedral and the side panels are decorated with representations of moral virtues.

The coach, which has undergone many restorations (in an indication of this, it’s said there’s as many as 100 coats of paint and varnish on the ceiling), has since been used in every Lord Mayor’s Show and when not in use, can be seen in the Museum of London.

PICTURE: The State Coach at last year’s Lord Mayor Show/© David Adams

The tower at the northern end of the Houses of Parliament is known to many simply as Big Ben – what isn’t often realised is that (as was pointed out in this earlier article) Big Ben actually refers to a bell inside the tower and not the tower itself. The tower, rather, has the rather plain moniker of The Clock Tower. But in honor of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, that’s all about to change.

News broke this week that politicians have decided to rename the tower the Elizabeth Tower in honor of Queen Elizabeth II. The move does have precedent – the great southern tower which stands over the Sovereign’s Entrance to the House of Lords was once known as the King’s Tower but was renamed the Victoria Tower in honor of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 (Queen Victoria is the only other British monarch to have celebrated a Diamond Jubilee).

The 96 metre high tower, part of the Houses of Parliament (officially known as the Palace of Westminster), is not the first clock tower to stand on the site of the palace. The first, located on the north side of New Palace Yard, was built in 1288-90 in the reign of King Edward I and contained a bell and clock.

It was replaced in 1367 with a tower that featured the first public chiming clock in England. This second tower was demolished in 1707 after falling into disrepair and replaced with a sundial.

Following a fire which destroyed much of the Palace of Westminster in 1834, architect Sir Charles Barry was selected to design new buildings to house Parliament but interestingly his initial designs didn’t include a clock tower – this was added to the plans in 1836.

Construction of the new Clock Tower, which was built from the inside out and clad in Yorkshire Anston stone and Cornish granite, began in September 1843 but wasn’t completed until 1859 following considerable delays. The ‘lantern’ at the top is known as the ‘Ayrton Light’, named for Acton Smee Ayrton, an MP and the First Commissioner of Works in the 1870s. Not installed until 1885, it is lit up when either House is sitting at night.

The clock was constructed by Edward John Dent and his stepson Frederick to the designs of Edmund Beckett Denison. It included a “revolutionary mechanism” known as the ‘Grimthorpe Escapement’ (Denison was later created Baron Grimthorpe), which helped ensure the clock’s accuracy despite external factors like wind pressure on the clock’s hands and which was adopted in many subsequent clocks. The design of the dials were a collaboration between Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin.

The clock was installed in April 1859 but the cast-iron hands were too heavy and had to be replaced with copper ones. It began keeping time on 31st May, 1859.

It’s worth noting that the tower tilts at 0.26 degrees to the north-west but experts say this is apparently not going to be a major structural problem for 10,000 years.

For more on the Clock Tower including a terrific virtual tour, see www.parliament.uk/bigben. It is possible to tour the Houses of Parliament – including climbing the 334 steps to the top of the Clock Tower – but this is only open to UK residents (and they book up months in advance). For more on the tours, see www.parliament.uk/visiting/visiting-and-tours/ukvisitors/bigben/.

UPDATED: Excitement has been building for months ahead of this weekend’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations which include a 1,000 boat flotilla which will sail down the Thames on Sunday, the Diamond Jubilee concert on Monday and National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral on Tuesday which will be followed by a ceremonial procession back to Buckingham Palace.

• First to the flotilla. The formal river procession will be held between 2pm and 6pm, starting upriver of Battersea Bridge and finishing downriver of Tower Bridge. The Queen and her family will be boarding the Royal barge, the Spirit of Chartwell, near Albert Bridge at 2.30pm and will travel upriver at the centre of the flotilla with the aim of pulling up alongside HMS President, near Tower Bridge, at 4.15pm.

The flotilla will be one of the largest ever assembled on the river and feature rowing, working and pleasure boats of all shapes and sizes decked out for the occasion. In addition as many as 30,000 people will be aboard passenger boats and there will also be music barges and boats spouting geysers as well as specially constructed craft like a floating belfry. It is estimated that it will take the flotilla around 75 minutes to pass any static point along the route.

Downriver of London Bridge, near the end of the pageant’s seven mile (11 kilometre) course, a gun salute will be fired and the procession will pass through an ‘Avenue of Sail’ formed by traditional sailing vessels, oyster smacks, square riggers, naval vessels and others. For more on the pageant (including the location of large viewing screens – these positions will be regulated from 8am onwards – and road closures as well as an interactive map of the route), head to www.thamesdiamondjubileepageant.org.

• Diamond Jubilee Concert and Beacons. To be held outside Buckingham Palace, close to the Victoria Memorial, on the evening of Monday, 4th June, the concert – which starts at around 7.30pm and features everyone from Elton John to Paul McCartney and Shirley Bassey – will be televised live by the BBC (unless you’re lucky enough to have one of the 10,000 balloted tickets meaning you get to have a picnic in the palace gardens and see the concert). For those who can’t go but would like to experience some of the atmosphere, Royal Parks are setting up screens along The Mall, in St James’s Park and in Hyde Park.

At 10.30pm that night, the Queen will light the National Beacon outside Buckingham Palace, the last in a network of beacons to be lit across the country. More than 4,000 beacons will be lit by communities across the UK and in Commonwealth countries around the world between 10-10.30pm that night (for more on the beacons, see www.diamondjubileebeacons.co.uk).

• National Service of Thanksgiving and Carriage Procession. On Tuesday, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will leave Buckingham Palace at 10.15am and travel by car to St Paul’s Cathedral via the Mall, through Trafalgar Square, down the Strand and Fleet Street and up Ludgate Hill to St Paul’s. There they and the 2,000 invited guests will attend the National Service of Thanksgiving, conducted by the Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Rev Dr David Ison (the Archbishop of Canterbury will preach).

At 11.30am, the Queen and Duke will then head to Mansion House for a reception (via St Paul’s Churchyard and Queen Victoria Street), hosted by the Lord Mayor of London David Wootton, Court of Aldermen and Court of Common Council. Other members of the Royal family will attend a reception at Guildhall. At 12.30pm, the  Queen and members of the Royal Family will then head to Westminster Hall (via Queen Victoria Street, St Paul’s Churchyard, Ludgate Hill, Fleet Street, the Strand, Whitehall and Parliament Square), entering through the Sovereign’s Entrance of the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) at 12.40pm. There, they will attend the Diamond Jubilee Lunch.

At 2.20pm, the Queen and Prince Philip will lead a carriage procession from the Palace of Westminster to Buckingham Palace (via New Palace Yard, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and The Mall), riding in a 1902 State Landau. They will be followed by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall in a State Landau, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Kate) and Prince Harry in another State Landau. If it’s raining, these will be replaced by the Australian State Coach, Queen Alexandra’s State Coach and the Glass Coach. Military personnel will line the route, a 60 gun salute will be fired and a Guard of Honor will await them in the Buckingham Palace forecourt.

At 3.30pm, the Queen and members of the Royal Family in the carriage procession will appear on the balcony at Buckingham Palace to wave to the crowds and witness an RAF flypast and a Feu de Joie – a celebratory volley of rifle fire – which will be given as a salute in the palace forecourt.

There’s plenty more happening over the weekend including many local street parties – far too much for us to record here. So for more, head to the official Diamond Jubilee site, www.thediamondjubilee.org (or The Big Lunch for local lunches – www.thebiglunch.com). You can purchase a copy of the official souvenir programme online at www.royalcollectionshop.co.uk/diamond-jubilee-1/diamond-jubilee-official-souvenir-programme.html or download it at www.itunes.co.uk.

Reckon you can take a good photo? We’re looking for great images of this weekend’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations (just email us at exploringlondon@gmail.com).

Want to read more about the Queen? Why not check out Sixty Glorious Years: Queen Elizabeth II, Diamond Jubilee, 1952-2012, Queen Elizabeth II: A Diamond Jubilee Souvenir Album, or Debrett’s: The Queen – The Diamond JubileeFor related music, check out Diamond Jubilee: A Classical CelebrationThe Diamond Jubilee Album or Gary Barlow & the Commonwealth Band’s Sing EP (featuring Prince Harry).

It’s generally believed that London’s oldest outdoor statue is that of King Alfred the Great which stands in Trinity Church Square in Southwark but there are a few others worth mentioning for their age.

But first, to the statue of Alfred the Great. Located now in Trinity Church Square, it is thought to have been made in the late 14th century (although it’s also suggested it could be much younger) in honor of the man who ruled Wessex in the 9th century and is often credited as being the first “king of the English”.

The statue (right) was apparently located at the Palace of Westminster before it was brought to its present location in 1823 at about the time the square was being laid out.

Others among London’s oldest statues is that of King Charles I sitting astride his horse and looking from Whitehall from its position on the southern side of Trafalgar Square.

Credited as being London’s “oldest equestrian bronze”, this statue is the work of French sculptor Hubert Le Sueur and was cast in 1633 (during King Charles I’s rule) at the behest of Richard Weston, one of the king’s favorites, who that year became the 1st Earl of Portland.

It was removed during the Civil War but later reacquired by the Portland family and, following the Restoration, was reinstalled on its current site – once that of the Charing Cross (see our previous entry for more details) – in 1675 by King Charles II.

Another of London’s oldest statues is that of Queen Elizabeth I which stands on the facade of the church St Dunstan-in-the-West in Fleet Street. This statue, which has been attributed to William Kerwin although other names have also been suggested, dates from 1586 (created during her reign) and decorated the west side of Ludgate until its demolition in 1760, after which it was apparently put into storage until being brought to the church in the 19th century.

Standing nearby in the vestry porch as statues of the legendary pre-Roman British king, Lud, and his sons, Androgeus and Tenvantius, which were also removed from Ludgate and probably date from the same period (about 1586).

Running southward from Trafalgar Square towards the Houses of Parliament (the southern part of Whitehall is actually known as Parliament Street), Whitehall is lined with government buildings – everything from the Foreign Office to the Cabinet Office, from the Scotland and Wales Offices to the Ministry of Defence – and has become so identified with government that its very name is now used to mean just that. But where does the name come from?

Whitehall takes its name from the Palace of Whitehall which once stood on the site of the current street. The palace’s origins go back to the 14th century when a grand house known as York Place was built as the London residence of the Archbishops of York.

The building was gradually expanded over the years – work which continued when Thomas Wolsey was made Archbishop of York in 1513. When Cardinal Wolsey fell from favour in the late 1520s, however, King Henry VIII seized the house along with his other assests.

With the royal Palace of Westminster badly damaged in a fire in 1512, King Henry VIII had been staying at Lambeth Palace. He saw the newly acquired palace, renamed Whitehall, as a suitable new home and continued expansion works, constructing a series of recreationally-oriented buildings on the west side of what is now Whitehall including tennis courts, a cockfighting pit and a tiltyard for tournaments. By the time of Henry VIII’s death in 1547, the palace covered 23 acres and was the largest in Europe.

The palace continued to be used by subsequent monarchs until much of it was destroyed by fire in 1698. These days the only surviving part of the palace is the Banqueting House. Built by Inigo Jones for King James I, it was from a window on the first floor of this 1622 building that King Charles I stepped onto a scaffold where his head was cut off.

Apart from the Banqueting House, other significant sites in Whitehall including the Cenotaph, the focus of Remembrance Sunday commemorations. Downing Street, meanwhile, runs off the south-eastern end of Whitehall and behind gates which have blocked it off since 1989, stands the Prime Minister’s official residence.