The next two in our countdown…
OK, well, they’re not there any more but the first traffic lights erected anywhere in the world were placed on the north-east corner of Parliament Square in Westminster on 9th December, 1868.
The location at the intersection of Great George, Parliament and Bridge Streets outside the Houses of Parliament wasn’t chosen by random – there had been several traffic accidents at the congested site.
The seven metre tall lights, which were operated by a police constable, were based on railway signals – in fact they had been invented by a railway engineer, John Peake Knight of Nottingham. A City of Westminster plaque commemorates him close to the site.
The structure (pictured above in a police notice of which apparently some 10,000 copies were made) featured three semaphore arms which were lowered to an angle (signalling go or caution) or raised to horizontal (signalling stop). There was also gas-powered light for use at night – it changed from green (go or caution) and red (stop).
They didn’t last too long – many drivers didn’t recognise what the signals meant, others ignored them and there were frequent problems including a gas leak at the base which led to an explosion injuring the policeman operating them at the time. They were removed the following year.
The first electric lights, meanwhile, didn’t arrive in the capital until after their invention in the US where the first were installed in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1914. In London it wasn’t until 1926 that the first electric lights were installed, this time at the intersection of Piccadilly and St James’s Street.
The first vehicle-activated lights came some seven years later and were installed at the corner of Gracechurch Street and Cornhill in the City.
PICTURE: Leonard Bentley/Creative Commons
Prime Minister Theresa May (below) and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, recently attended the unveiling of the first statue commemorating a female in Parliament Square – that of Suffragist leader Dame Millicent Fawcett. The work of Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing, the statue is not only the first of a woman to grace the square outside the Houses of Parliament but also the first in the square created by a woman. Its arrival marks 100 years since women were given the right to vote in the Representation of the People Act 1918. Mrs May paid tribute to Fawcett for her role in the “long and arduous” struggle to achieve votes for women while Mr Khan pointed out that the statue would stand near that of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela – “two other heroic leaders who campaigned for change and equality”. “There couldn’t be a better place to mark the achievements of Millicent Fawcett, in the heart of UK democracy in Parliament Square,” he said. The statue, which was funded through the Government’s £5 million Centenary Fund, was unveiled by three generations of women including Jennifer Loehnis, a descendant of Millicent Fawcett, and activist Caroline Criado Perez who led the campaign lobbying for the statue to be placed there.
• The fourth annual ‘Performance Festival’ opens at the V&A in South Kensington tomorrow. Highlights include a preview of the V&A’s exclusive virtual reality recording of David Bowie’s musical Lazarus, the museum’s first ever stand-up comedy night and a premiere screening of the film Lady Macbeth followed by a Q&A with director William Oldroyd, actress Florence Pugh and costume designer Holly Waddington. The festival, which runs until Sunday, 30th April, is being run in conjunction with the display The History of Europe – Told by its Theatres currently in the museum’s Theatre and Performance Gallery. Admission free to most events/selected events are ticketed in advance. For more, see vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/performance-festival.
• The secrets and hidden spaces of the London Underground will be laid bare in an open day at the London Transport Museum’s Acton Depot this weekend. Activities include art and poster tours, a program of talks including discussions of the finds made during the Crossrail excavations, London’s mail rail and the Thames Tunnel, miniature railway rides and the chance to see heritage vehicles including the restored 1892 ‘Carriage 353’ . There’s also plenty of options for eating and shopping. Runs Saturday and Sunday (22nd and 23rd April). Admission charge applies but kids are free. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/museum-depot/open-weekends
• Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing has been commissioned to create a statue of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett for Parliament Square, it was announced last week. The statue will be the first female statue to stand in the square when it’s unveiled next year as well as the first to do so which was created by a woman.
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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).
• Three days of events kick off in London tomorrow to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day. Events will include a Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall at 3pm tomorrow (Friday) coinciding with two minutes national silence while Trafalgar Square – scene of VE Day celebrations in 1945 – will host a photographic exhibition of images taken on the day 70 years ago (the same images will be on show at City Hall from tomorrow until 5th June) and, at 9.32pm, a beacon will be lit at the Tower of London as part of a nation wide beacon-lighting event. On Saturday at 11am, bells will ring out across the city to mark the celebration and at night, a star-studded 1940s-themed concert will be held on Horse Guards Parade (broadcast on BBC One). Meanwhile, on Sunday, following a service in Westminster Abbey, a parade of current and veteran military personnel will head around Parliament Square and down Whitehall, past the balcony of HM Treasury where former PM Sir Winston Churchill made his historic appearance before crowds on the day, to Horse Guards. A flypast of current and historic RAF aircraft will coincide with the parade and from 1pm the Band of the Grenadier Guards will be playing music from the 1940s in Trafalgar Square. Meanwhile, starting tomorrow, special V-shaped lights will be used to illuminate Trafalgar Square, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament as a tribute. For more information, see www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/ve-day-70th-anniversary.
• The works of leading London-based photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg are on show in at new exhibition at the Museum of London in the City. London Dust will feature three major newly acquired works by Luxemburg including Aplomb – St Paul’s, 2013, Walkie-Talkie Melted My Golden Calf, 2013, and the film London/Winterreise, 2013. Blees Luxemburg’s images – others of which are also featured in the exhibition – contrast idealised architectural computer-generated visions of London that clad hoardings at City-building sites with the gritty, unpolished reality surrounding these. In particular they focus on a proposed 64 floor skyscraper, The Pinnacle, which rose only seven stories before lack of funding brought the work to a halt. The free exhibition runs until 10th January next year. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• The Talk: The Cutting Edge – Weapons at the Battle of Waterloo. Paul Wilcox, director of the Arms and Armour Research Institute at the University of Huddersfield, will talk about about the weapons used at Waterloo with a chance to get ‘hands-on’ with some period weapons as part of a series of events at Aspley House, the former home of the Iron Duke at Hyde Park Corner, to mark the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo. To be held on Monday, 11th May, from 2.30pm to 4pm. Admission charge applies and booking is essential – see www.english-heritage.org.uk/apsley for more.
• On Now: On Belonging: Photographs of Indians of African Descent. A selection of ground-breaking photographs depicting the Sidi community – an African minority living in India – is on show at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square. The works, taken between 2005 and 2011, are those of acclaimed contemporary Indian photographer Ketaki Sheth and the exhibition is his first solo display in the UK. They provide an insight into the lives of the Sidi, and include images of a young woman named Munira awaiting her arranged wedding, young boys playing street games, and the exorcism of spirits from a woman as a young girl watches. Admission is free. Runs in Room 33 until 31st August. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.
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There are numerous memorials to Sir Winston Churchill around London and today we’ll look at a handful of them (while next week we’ll take a look at a couple of the most unusual memorials). We’ve already looked at the most famous statue of him in Parliament Square (in an earlier post here), but here’s some more…
• Allies, Mayfair. These almost life-size bronze statues, located at the juncture of Old and New Bond Streets, depict Churchill and US President Franklin D Roosevelt in an informal pose, sitting and talking together on a bench. The sculpture was a gift from the Bond Street Association to the City of Westminster and was unveiled by Princess Margaret on 2nd May, 1995 commemorating 50 years since the end of World War II. It is the work of US sculptor Lawrence Holofcener. There’s a space between the two World War II leaders where the passerby can sit and have their picture taken between them.
• Member’s Lobby, House of Commons. We’ve already mentioned this bronze statue (see our previous post here), erected in 1969, which stands just outside Churchill Arch opposite one of another former PM, David Lloyd George. It is the work of Croatian-born sculptor Oscar Nemon who also created numerous other busts of the former PM now located both in the UK (one of which is mentioned below) and around the world.
• Great Hall, Guildhall. Commissioned by the Corporation of the City of London and unveiled in 1955, this bronze statue shows Churchill, wearing a suit and bow tie, seated in an armchair and looking ahead. Another work of Nemon’s, it was commissioned as a tribute to “the greatest statesman of his age and the nation’s leader in the Great War of 1939-1945”.
• Outside former Conservative Club, Wanstead. A very thick-necked bust of Churchill, erected in 1968, sits outside the 18th century mansion in Wanstead High Street, north-east London, which was once the Conservative Club and is now occupied by a restaurant. The bigger than life-sized bust is the work of Italian artist Luigi Fironi and stands on a plinth once part of old Waterloo Bridge. Churchill was the Conservative member for this area between 1924-1964 and based at the club from 1930 to 1940.
Standing tall among some of the towering figures of British politics (and others), the over life-sized bronze statue of Sir Winston Churchill on Parliament Square in Whitehall was designed by Welsh sculptor Ivor Roberts-Jones and is located on a site on the square’s north-east corner chosen by the great man himself.
Standing 12 feet (3.6 metres) high on an eight foot (2.4 metre) high pedestal opposite the Houses of Parliament (which he faces), Churchill, who was 90 when he died, is portrayed during the years of World War II wearing a navy greatcoat but wears no hat and leans on a cane.
The full length, Grade II-listed statue, which Roberts-Jones was commissioned to create in 1970, was unveiled by Lady Churchill with the aid of Queen Elizabeth II in 1973.
Interestingly, it’s said that there’s a mild electric current which runs through the statue to ensure pigeons don’t perch and snow doesn’t gather on his head. Another quirky fact – Roberts-Jones was subsequently commissioned to make another Churchill statue in 1977 – this one for New Orleans.
PICTURE: Adam Carr
• All 100,000 tickets for London’s New Year’s Eve fireworks are now booked, the Greater London Authority announced this week. They’ve advised those without a ticket to avoid the area around Embankment and South Bank on the night, saying that the best alternative view of the fireworks will be live on BBC One. Meanwhile, don’t forget the New Year’s Day Parade which will kick off in Piccadilly (near junction with Berkeley Street) from noon on New Year’s Day. The parade – which takes in Lower Regent Street, Pall Mall, Trafalgar Square and Whitehall before finishing at 3.30pm at Parliament Square in Westminster – will feature thousands of performers. Grandstand tickets are available. For more, see www.londonparade.co.uk.
• The National Gallery has acquired French artist Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s work, The Four Times of Day, it was announced this month. The 1858 work, acquired with the aid of the Art Fund, has something of a star-studded pedigree – it was bought by Frederic, Lord Leighton, in 1865, and the four large panels were displayed at his London home until his death. In the same family collection for more than a century after that, they have been on loan to the National Gallery since 1997. They complement 21 other paintings by Corot in the gallery’s collection. The Four Times of Day can be seen in Room 41. Entry is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.
Exploring London is taking a break over Christmas, so this will be the last This Week in London update until mid-January. But we’ll still be posting some of our other usual updates including our most popular posts for 2014 round-up!
A bust of the anti-apartheid activist and global icon Nelson Mandela at the South Bank Centre has become one of several places in London where people are paying their respects to the former South African president and Noble Peace Prize winner who died last Thursday at the age of 95. The bust – below which are a quoted Mandela’s words, “The struggle is my life” – was erected in 1985 by the Greater London Council. A full-length, larger-than-life statue of Mandela, by Ian Walters, stands in Parliament Square in Whitehall – it was unveiled in 2007 by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown with Mandela himself in attendance.
• A new exhibition looking at the London that might have been opened at Wellington Arch near Hyde Park Corner yesterday. Almost Lost: London’s Buildings Loved and Loathed uses digital technology to look at how several redevelopment proposals – including a 1950s conceptual scheme for a giant conservatory supporting tower blocks over Soho and a 1960s plan to redevelop Whitehall which including demolishing most of the Victorian and Edwardian buildings around Parliament Square – would have changed the face of the city. The exhibition also looks at how the latest developments in digital mapping can be used in the future and features ‘Pigeon-Sim’ which provides a bird’s-eye view of the city’s buildings with an interactive flight through a 3D photorealistic model of the city. The exhibition runs until 2nd February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/wellington-arch/.
• A specially commissioned Christmas tree has been unveiled at the V&A in South Kensington. The 4.75 metre high ‘Red Velvet Tree of Love’ is the work of artists Helen and Colin David and will stand in the museum’s grand entrance until 6th January. The design of the tree – which is coated in red flocking and decorated with 79 sets of hand cast antlers and 67 white, heart shaped baubles – was inspired by an 1860 HFC Rampendahl chair in the V&A’s collection which features a real antler frame and velvet upholstery. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.
• The annual Christmas Past exhibition is once again open at the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch. Festive decorations have transformed the museum’s rooms and give an insight into how the English middle classes celebrated in times gone past. The exhibition runs until 5th January. Admission is free. Accompanying the exhibition are a series of events including an open evening celebrating an Edwardian Christmas between 5pm-8pm tonight. For more, see www.geffrye-museum.org.uk/whatson/christmas-past-2013/.
• The World War II experience of Chelsea Pensioners are being commemorated in a new display in the White Space Gallery at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. The Old and the Bold is the culmination of a year long collaboration between the museum and the Royal Hospital Chelsea and features nine interviews with 14 In-Pensioners. Their accounts span iconic moments in World War II history – from D-Day to North Africa and the Falklands and are supported by items from the museum’s collection. Runs until 3rd January. Admission is free. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk.
Located in one of the most prominent sites in London, Parliament Square is these days perhaps best known as a protest site for those wanting to attract Parliament’s eye. And while, unlike say, Trafalgar Square, many visitors to London may not know its name, its proximity to the Houses of Parliament, Whitehall, Westminster Bridge and Westminster Abbey means it’s rarely off anyone’s tourist agenda.
The history of the square goes back to 1868 when architect Sir Charles Barry (responsible for the design of the Houses of Parliament) designed a square to improve traffic flow in the area (and demolished many buildings – apparently the area was a slum – in the process).
The roads around the square featured London’s first traffic signals (it used semaphore arms rather than lights and was installed at the meeting of Great George and Bridge Streets) and in addition the square was originally the location for the Buxton Memorial Fountain which moved to its present position in Victoria Tower Gardens in 1940 (see our earlier post on the fountain here). In 1950, the entire square was redesigned by architect George Grey Wornum.
The square is home to a plethora of statues including former PMs Sir Winston Churchill, a relatively recent statue of David Lloyd George (pictured), Sir Robert Peel (also the founder of the Metropolitan Police Force – see our earlier post here), Benjamin Disraeli, the Earl of Derby and Lord Palmerston as well as South African PM Jan Christian Smuts and, (if you count the space in front of Middlesex Guildhall), US President Abraham Lincoln (a replica of a statue in Lincoln Park, Chicago) and former Foreign Secretary and PM George Canning. Among the last statues added was a nine foot high bronze figure of Nelson Mandela which was placed in the square in 2007 after an unsuccessful push to have it located in Trafalgar Square.
Among the most high profile of protests to have been held there is that of the late peace campaigner Brian Haw who camped on the square for 10 years until 2010. Among the most recent protests this year has been a colourful demonstration by beekeepers, calling for a ban on pesticides.
For more on London’s statues, see Peter Matthews’ London’s Statues and Monuments.
Jonathan Ross, Eddie Izzard, Amanda Holden, Tulisa and Gok Wan were among the thousands of people represented by paper protestors in Parliament Square, outside the Houses of Parliament, on Monday. The Fairtrade-backed protest marked the second week of ‘Fairtrade Fortnight’ and was aimed at sending a message to Prime Minister David Cameron to “do more to protect smallholder farmers from trade injustice”. More than 8,000 people have signed the online petition so far, creating a personalised “mini marcher” via Fairtrade’s partnership with Foldable.me. The final petition will be delivered to the PM on World Fair Trade Day in May ahead of the June meeting of the G8. For more on the Fairtrade Foundation, see www.fairtrade.org.uk.
• It’s all about the Olympics in London this week and many of the events – like the Opening Ceremony and Torch Relay (see last week’s post) – are well covered elsewhere, but we thought we’d mention a couple of things in relation to the Games:
The first is the ‘All the Bells’ project which will see bells across London being rung at 8:12am on Friday to “ring in” the first day of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Work No. 1197: All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes, commissioned as part of the London 2012 Festival, is the brainchild of Turner Prize-winning artist and musician Martin Creed and will involve thousands of bells across the nation. Speaking of bells, the City of London has announced that some of the City’s churches will be ringing continuously during the three Olympic marathon events – the men’s, women’s, and Paralympic events. As many as 57 of the country’s most experienced bell ringers, co-ordinated by the Ancient Society of College Youths (a ringing society created in London in 1637) will be working for three to four hours continuously at churches including St Paul’s Cathedral, St Mary le Bow, St Lawrence Jewry, St Magnus the Martyr, St Vedast and St Katharine Cree. During the women’s marathon, an all-female band will be attempting a peal at St Paul’s, the first all-woman attempt on the bells. (Apologies, this article had originally had the time for the bell ringing at 8.12pm – it is in the morning, not the evening!)
A new exhibition exploring London’s Olympic history has opened at the British Library. Olympex 2012: Collecting the Olympic Games features a range of memorabilia including a swimming costume and the finishing tape broken by – later disqualified – marathon runner Dorando Pietri from the 1908 London Games (see our earlier post for more on him) as well as posters and artworks, stamps, letters and postcards. The exhibition also features audio interviews with Olympians including William (Bill) Roberts, a relay runner in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and Dorothy Tyler, a medal-winning high jumper who competed in the 1936 and 1948 Olympics. Presented by the British Library and International Olympic Committee, the exhibition runs until 9th September at the library in St Pancras. Entry is free. For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: Rare 1948 postcard by an unknown artist (c) Private collection/IOC
• A new free wifi network has been launched in London’s West End. Westminster City Council and telco O2 launched the network this week. It will initially cover Oxford and Regent Streets, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and Parliament Square with further areas in Westminster and Covent Garden the next to be included in the network. A once-only registration process is required to join.
• Henry Moore’s famous sculpture, The Arch, has been returned to its original home in Kensington Gardens. The six metre high work was presented to the nation by Moore in 1980 and was positioned on the north bank of the Long Water until 1996 when the structure became unstable and was placed in storage. In late 2010, the Royal Parks began a project with The Henry Moore Foundation to see if the work could be returned to the gardens. Work began to restore the piece – which consists of seven stones weighing 37 tonnes – to its original location earlier this year. For more on Kensington Gardens, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/kensington-gardens.
• On Now: From Paris: A Taste for Impressionism. This Royal Academy of Arts exhibition at Burlington House features 70 works from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and includes works by Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Degas, Sisley, Morisot and Renoir as well as those of post-Impressionist artists Corot, Théodore Rousseau and J-F. Millet, and ‘academic’ paintings by Gérôme, Alma-Tadema and Bouguereau. Runs until 23rd September. Admission charge applies. See www.royalacademy.org.uk for more.
• The British Library has paid £9 million for a 7th century text, the St Cuthbert Gospel, which is also the oldest intact European book. The acquisition follows the library’s most successful fund-raising effort ever – it included a £4.5 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. The book – a Gospel of John bound in beautifully tooled red leather – was produced in north-east England in the late 7th century and was placed in the saint’s coffin after his death on the Isle of Lindisfarne in 698. It was retrieved when the coffin was opened at Durham Cathedral in 1104. The Gospel is on display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery at the library in St Pancras and following a conservation review, it is anticipated it will soon be displayed with the pages open for the first time. There will be a public event celebrating the acquisition on 15th May. For more, see www.bl.uk/whatson/events/may12/index.html.
• London this week marked 100 days until the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games. This included unveiling the latest installation of the Olympic rings – made of 20,000 plants the 50 metre long rings are located in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in the city’s west and can be seen from planes on the Heathrow flight path. The organising committee also announced the Red Arrows aerobatic display team will perform a nine-ship flypast in ‘big battle’ formation on the day of the Opening Ceremony (27th July) and stated that the games motto will be ‘Inspire a Generation’. For more, see www.london2012.com.
• The Museum of London’s archaeological archive – known as the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC) – is officially the largest in the world according to Guinness World Records. The archive contains more than five million artefacts and the records of almost 8,500 excavations dating back to 1830. Items in the archive include shoes dating back to Roman times, a 200-year-old set of false teeth, ‘witching bottles’ including one with human hair and toenails, and coffin plates from London’s cemeteries. The world record has been recorded as part of World Record London, a series of world record breaking events being held in the run-up to the Olympics. Others have included the Faberge Big Egg Hunt.
• Thousands of people are expected to take part in the Virgin London Marathon this Sunday. The 26.2 mile route starts in Blackheath, passes through Woolwich and Greenwich and crosses the Thames at Tower Bridge before looping around the east end of London, through Canary Wharf, and the west along The Highway (formerly known as The Ratcliffe Highway) and Embankment to Parliament Square, Birdcage Walk and finally to Buckingham Palace. The first London marathon was run in 1981. For more, see www.virginlondonmarathon.com.
• On Now: Turner Inspired – In the Light of Claude. The first major presentation of 17th century artist Claude Gellée’s influence on the English romantic artist J M W Turner, the exhibition focuses on Claude-inspired themes which run through Turner’s work including “the evocation of light and air in landscape, the effect of light upon water and his often radical reworking of contemporary scenes”. The display includes works from large scale oils on canvas through to leaves from Turner’s pocket sketchbooks. Interestingly, the exhibition also explores the story behind the so-called Turner Bequest – that on his death, Turner linked himself to Claude forever by leaving the National Gallery two pictures – Dido building Carthage (1815) and Sun rising through Vapour: Fishermen cleaning and selling Fish (before 1807) – on condition that they were hung between two pictures by Claude, Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba (1648) and Landscape with the Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca (1648). Runs until 5th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.
More than 8,500 performers – including those pictured celebrating the launch of London’s Olympic year – took part in this year’s New Year’s Day Parade in London, the wettest in the event’s 26 year history. But the wild weather didn’t put off the more than 500,000 people who turned out to watch the parade as it made its way from the starting point outside the Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly via Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square. As many as 19 London boroughs submitted entries in a competition based on the themes of the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with Merton (its entry ‘From Horsepower To High Speed Rail’ featured animatronics) and the City of Westminster (its entry ‘Peter Pan’ involved a giant galleon and the The Sylvia Young Theatre School) announced as joint winners. For more on the parade, see www.londonparade.co.uk.
IMAGE: Courtesy of www.londonparade.co.uk
The latest in the series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken and what it’s of. If you reckon you know the answer, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!
And the answer is…this is part of the decorative facade of the Middlesex Guildhall which stands opposite the Houses of Parliament in Parliament Square. The building, which dates from 1912-13 and stands on the former site of the Westminster Abbey Sanctuary Tower and Old Belfry (where fugitives from the law could seek sanctuary), is now home to the Supreme Court and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
Designed by architect James Gibson, it is the latest in a series of buildings which stood on the site which have served as courthouses and the headquarters of the Middlesex County Council (the first Middlesex Guildhall was built here in 1889). Described by Nikolaus Pevsner as “art nouveau Gothic”, it features a series of medieval-looking decorative friezes and sculptures by Henry Charles Fehr.
The image pictured above shows one of the friezes – this one of the Duke of Northumberland offering the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey the Crown (known as the “Nine Days Queen”, she was later imprisoned and eventually executed on 12th February, 1554). Others show King John handing the Magna Carta to the English barons and the granting of the charter of Westminster Abbey.
It was refurbished for use of the Supreme Court in 2007 and the court has occupied it since its creation in 2009.
Interestingly, according to Ed Glinert of The London Compendium, it was here that courts martial were held of those suspected of giving aid to the enemy during World War I.
President Barack Obama has been in London for the past two days, so Exploring London decided to take a break from our series on King James’ I’s London and instead, in honor of the president’s visit, take a look at where you’ll find some other US presidents in London.
First up, it’s President George Washington. A life-sized statue of the first US president stands outside the National Gallery on the north side of Trafalgar Square. It’s a replica of an eighteenth century marble statue by Jean Antoine Houdon which stands in the State Capitol building in Richmond, Virginia. A gift of the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1924.
Civil War President Abraham Lincoln stands looking toward Parliament Square and the Houses of Parliament (pictured). The statue dates from 1920 – it was originally proposed to put a statue of President Lincoln in Parliament Square to mark the 1915 centenary of the last time the US and Britain were at war but the plans were put on ice until several years later. The statue, a gift of the US government, is a replica of the Chicago Lincoln Memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. (There is also a bust of Lincoln inside the Royal Exchange building).
Next in the chronology is President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose statue can be found on the north side of Grosvenor Gardens (overlooked by the vast and soon-to-be replaced US embassy). This bronze was unveiled by the president’s wife, Eleanor, on the third anniversary of FDR’s death- 12th April, 1948. The statue depicts the president standing – apparently at Mrs Roosevelt’s insistence – instead of seated in a wheelchair.
Across the gardens stands another wartime president, President Dwight D. Eisenhower. A bronze by sculptor Robert Dean, this life-size statue was the gift of the US city of Kansas in 1989 and was unveiled by British PM Margaret Thatcher and US Ambassador Charles Price. It stands only a short distance from Eisenhower’s wartime HQ. (Grosvenor Square has also been home to then future US President John Adams who lived at number nine as the first US Ambassador to the Court of St James between 1786-97).
A bronze bust of the 35th president, President John F. Kennedy, can be found on the corner of Park Crescent and Marylebone Road. Unveiled by his brother, Senator Robert Kennedy, in 1965, it’s a copy of a bust located in the Library of Congress in Washington DC.
Among those mooted for the future is one of President Ronald Reagan (also in Grosvenor Square), planning permission for which was granted by Westminster City Council in 2009.
Credited as the creator of the Metropolitan Police Force, Sir Robert Peel was a two-time Prime Minister who oversaw landmark social reforms in arenas ranging from the workplace and prisons to trade.
Born on 5th February, 1788, into a wealthy Lancashire family (his father, also Robert Peel, was a cotton mill owner), Sir Robert was educated at Harrow and Oxford before entering parliament as part of the Duke of Wellington’s Tory government in 1809.
He married in 1820 and he and his wife Julia Floyd, the youngest daughter of General Sir John Floyd, had five sons and two daughters.
Having served in roles including under-secretary for wars and colonies and chief secretary for Ireland during his early political life, Sir Robert was appointed Home Secretary in 1822. It was during his subsequent time in the office that he introduced many reforms related to prisons and law and order – including reducing the number of crimes punishable by death by about 100 – and at the same time ordered the foundation of the Metropolitan Police Force (the terms ‘Bobby’ and ‘Peeler’ are both references to his name).
Having later spent time on the Opposition benches, he became Prime Minister in 1834 after Earl Grey’s Whig Government was dismissed by King William IV. It was during this time that he issued the famous Tamworth Manifesto, seen as a defining moment in the creation of the Conservative Party. But frustrated at the minority government, he resigned a year later.
It wasn’t until 1841 that Sir Robert returned to government, again becoming Prime Minister. Subsequent years saw him overseeing the introduction of laws forbidding the employment of women and children underground, limiting working hours for women and children in factories, and, after a long fight, repealing the trade-restricting Corn Laws – a party-splitting act which was apparently a bid to free up more food for the Irish population then in the midst of a devastating famine.
Sir Robert resigned from politics in 1846 and died four years later on 2nd July, 1850, after he was injured falling from a horse in Constitution Hill, London. He was buried at his home, Drayton Manor, near Tamworth in Staffordshire.
The city’s most famous statue of Sir Robert stands in Parliament Square, outside the Palace of Westminster.
Standing in Victoria Tower Gardens at the southern end of the Houses of Parliament, not far from more high profile monuments such as Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais, is a memorial to those who fought for the emancipation of slaves.
The gothic memorial, designed by Samuel Sanders Tuelon, was erected in 1865 by MP Charles Buxton to commemorate the work of his father, Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton and his associates including William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Zachary Macaulay, Henry Brougham, and Dr Stephen Lushington – all of whom played important roles in the eventual passing of the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act.
Sir Thomas, a founding member of the Anti-Slavery Society along with Wilberforce and Clarkson, took over as leader of the abolitionist movement in parliament after Wilberforce retired in 1825.
The memorial, which looks a little like a smaller version of the Albert Memorial (without the figure within) and is actually a public drinking fountain, was originally erected in Parliament Square but was removed in 1949 and placed in its current location in 1957, marking the 150th anniversary of the 1807 Act which abolished the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
The memorial originally bore eight statues representing the rulers of Britain from the Roman era to Queen Victoria but these were long since stolen. It as restored by Royal Parks in the mid-Noughties and unveiled again on the 27th March, 2007, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the same act.
PICTURE: © Giles Barnard