London’s oldest bus route is commonly cited as Route 24 which runs over seven miles from Hampstead to Pimlico.

The route was first launched in 1910 but initially stopped at Victoria Station. It was extended to Pimlico just two years later in 1912 and has largely unchanged ever since (apparently with the exception of some minor adjustments due to one-way traffic schemes).

The route, which operates 24 hours a day, does take in some key landmarks of London – among them Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards Parade and Parliament Square. In 2013, Transport for London, said some 28,000 people used the route each day.

In 1965, the double-decker buses on the route – which have always been powered by motors rather than horses – became the first to have front entry. In 1988, it became the first route through central London to be privatised when purchased by Grey-Green (the line is now operated by Metroline).

Mostly recently, in 2013, it became the first route to fully implement the curvaceous new ‘Routemasters’ (while they’ve commonly been called that, the new buses are actually just called the ‘new bus for London’).

PICTURE: One of the new buses on the route in 2014 (Aubrey Morandarte (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0))

 

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Still a favourite at tea rooms across the world, the Chelsea bun – a squarish, sticky spiced fruit bun – owes its origins to Richard Hand’s establishment in what was Jew’s Road and is now Pimlico Road in what is now Pimlico, on the border with Chelsea.

The single storey premises opened early in the 18th century and in the interior Mr Hand, apparently known as “Captain Bun”, kept a curious collection of clocks, models, paintings, statues and other curiosities.

The bun house, known variously as the Old Chelsea Bun House and the Original Chelsea Bun House, was a huge hit, attracting a clientele which included royalty – King George II and Queen Caroline visited with their daughters as did King George III and Queen Charlotte – and also, famously, the political figure and Jonathan Swift, who bought a stale one for a penny in 1711 and recorded that he didn’t like it.

The tradition of eating a hot cross bun on Good Friday lead to huge crowds at the bun house on that day in particular – said to number more than 50,000 some years – and such were that crowds that in 1793, Mrs Hand, following complaints from her neighbours, declared in a public notice that she would only be selling Chelsea buns, and not cross buns, on Good Friday that year.

The house did, however, return to selling hot cross buns on Good Friday – it is said to have sold an enormous 24,000 on Good Friday in 1839 (some sources have out the figure as high as 240,000 but that may have been a misprint).

Despite the success of Good Fridays, according to The London Encyclopaedia, the closure of the nearby Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens in 1804 had impacted the business.

In 1839, following the death of the Hands’ two sons and with no further family member to take over the business, it was closed and the bakery reverted to the Crown. The building was subsequently demolished.

PICTURE: Chelsea buns today. Duncan Hull under licence CC BY 2.0.

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. 

Throughout his life – as a child, bachelor, husband and family man, Sir Winston lived in many properties in London (although, of course, a couple of the most famous properties associated with him – his birthplace, Blenheim Palace, and the much-loved family home, Chartwell in Kent – are located outside the city). But, those and 10 Downing Street aside, here are just some of the many places he lived in within London…

29 St James’s Place, St James: Having been born at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and then having spent time in Dublin, at the age of five (1880) he came to live here with his family. He remained here until 1882 when he was sent off to school in Ascot (he later attended schools in Sussex and, most famously, Harrow School). The family, meanwhile, moved to a townshouse at 2 Connaught Place which backed on to Hyde Park.

33 Eccleston Square, Pimlico: The Churchills moved here in 1909 and it was here that their first two children Diana and Randolph were born in 1909 and in 1911. The family remained here until 1913. A blue plaque marks the property.

• Admiralty House, Whitehall: The Churchills first moved into Admiralty House – part of the Admiralty complex on Whitehall – in 1913 (from the aforementioned Eccleston Square) after Churchill was made First Lord of the Admiralty. They remained here until 1915 – years he would go onto to describe as the happiest in his life – before he resigned but returned in 1939 when he was once again appointed to the position.

• 2 Sussex Square, Bayswater: In 1920, the Churchills bought this property just north of Hyde Park which they kept until 1924 when they moved into 11 Downing Street (see below). The property is marked with a blue plaque.

• 11 Downing Street, Whitehall: The Churchills lived at 11 Downing Street when Sir Winston was Chancellor of the Exchequer, from 1925 to 1929. The property, located in Downing Street, is not accessible to the public.

11 Morpeth Mansions, Morpeth Terrace, Westminster:  The Churchill family lived at this Westminster address between 1930 and 1939 (prior to him becoming Prime Minister). The property is marked by a brown plaque.

28 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington: Churchill died in this Grade II-listed, mid 19th century property on the morning of 24th January, 1965. The couple moved in after the end of World War II and, while it’s not clear whether they fully vacated the residence when he was prime minister between 1951-55, it remained their property until his death 10 years later. The property next door, number 27, provided accommodation for his staff. The property is marked with a blue plaque.

Having had an extended May Bank Holiday, Exploring London returns with our usual coverage this week…

The subject of the new film Belle, the life of Georgian-era Dido Elizabeth Belle was nothing short of extraordinary.

Belle2Born in 1761, Belle was the illegitimate daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay and Maria Belle, an African woman who had apparently been captured from a Spanish ship when Havana was captured from the Spanish in 1762 (Lindsay had captained a ship in the fight).

Baptised at St George’s Church, Bloomsbury, in 1766, Lindsay subsequently sent Dido to live with his uncle William Murray, the Earl of Mansfield – Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. Initially residing at the family house in Bloomsbury Square and later at Kenwood House in Hampstead, she was raised alongside her orphaned cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray who was also in the earl’s care.

She spent some 30 years living at the property and while her status remains something of a mystery, it is thought she was treated more as a companion to Lady Murray than a servant – indeed her familiarity with Lady Murray did prove somewhat shocking to some. Her presence in the house also led to some criticism of Lord Mansfield’s judgements in cases related to slavery.

Following the Earl of Mansfield’s death in 1793, Belle – who has acted as his secretary later in his life – was awarded £500 outright and a £100 annuity and had her freedom confirmed in Mansfield’s will. In December that year she married a Frenchman and gentleman’s steward (possibly at Kenwood House), John Davinier, at St George’s Hanover Square, London. The couple are believed to have had at least three sons and lived in Pimlico before Belle’s death in 1804. She was buried in St George’s Fields and her remains were later moved when the area was redeveloped in the mid-20th century.

A turbaned Belle is famously depicted in a portrait with Lady Murray which now hangs in Scone Palace at Perth in Scotland (property of the current Earl of Mansfield). The portrait was formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany but it’s now generally accepted it was not created by him.

Belle, which stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Belle, opens in the UK next month.

Eccleston-Square

Thousands turned out for the Open Garden Squares Weekend in London earlier this month when more than 200 of London’s private, hidden, unusual or little known gardens – including those at Eccleston Square in Pimlico, pictured above – threw open their gates to the curious public. Among the highlights of this year’s weekend was the chance to see the gardens at 10 Downing Street (more than 40,000 people applied for the 40 places) which also included a tour of the house. Next year’s event will be held on 14th and 15th June. For more, see www.opensquares.org.

PICTURE: Courtesy of Open Garden Squares Weekend.

What’s in a name?…Pimlico

September 10, 2012

Tradition holds that this small triangular area, wedged between Westminster and Chelsea on the north bank of the Thames, takes its name from Ben Pimlico, said to be the 17th century owner of an famous alehouse or tea garden in Hoxton, on the north side of the City, and brewer of a particularly sought-after “nut brown” ale.

The story goes that so popular was his brew that Hoxton Street was then known as the “Pimlico Path”  due to the numbers making their way to his alehouse and that the area of Pimlico somehow adopted this name (although to be fair we should note that it’s also been suggested that the name comes from the Pamlico tribe of American Indians who exported timber to London around the same period).

While references to Pimlico go back to the 17th century, the area was largely uninhabited until the 19th century when it was developed by Victorian planner Thomas Cubitt under contract to the land owner, the Grosvenor family.

Initially in demand among the well-to-do, the fortunes of the area had declined by the end of the nineteenth century before a resurgence of interest took place in the early 20th century.

Among the projects constructed at that time was Dolphin Square (pictured) – with more than 1,200 apartments, it was the largest apartment complex in Europe at the time and has since proved particularly popular among politicians keen to be close to the action in Westminster and Whitehall.

Famous residents of Pimlico have included Winston Churchill, who lived briefly at 33 Eccleston Square between 1908-11.

Worth noting is that there is a racecourse in Maryland in the US known as the Pimlico Race Course which is also named for Ben Pimlico’s tavern.

For a photographic essay of Pimlico, check out Brian Girling’s Pimlico Through Time.