Standing in a park located just to the north of Regent’s Park in the city’s inner north-west, Primrose Hill stands 63 metres above sea level and, like Parliament Hill, provides panoramic views of the city skyline.
The hill, which features one of six protected views in London, was once part of a chase (unenclosed hunting land) owned by King Henry VIII and was Crown property until 1842 when it became part of a public park through an Act of Parliament.
The name has been in use for at least 500 years and is thought to refer to the flowers that grew here profusely (which it means it can’t have been named for Archibald Primrose, Prime Minister between 1894 and 1895).
The hill forms part of one of Mother Shipton’s “prophecies” – she apparently proclaimed that when London surrounded the hill, its streets would run with blood.
It was for a time known as Greenberry Hill after three labourers – Robert Green, Henry Berry and Lawrence Hill – were found guilty of the murder of magistrate Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey (he had heard Titus Oates’ evidence in the so-called Popish Plot). Sir Edmund was found impaled on his own sword on the hill in October, 1678 – convicted of his murder the three men were hanged on its summit in 1679 (they were later exonerated and the death of Sir Edmund remains something of a mystery).
The hill, which has also apparently been known as Battle Hill, was also the location where the poet and antiquarian Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams) founded the Gorsedd, a community of Welsh bards, on 21st June in 1792.
In 1838, a railway tunnel under the hill was completed by the North Western Railway – it was the first in London and connected Chalk Farm and Swiss Cottage. In the 1840s, a proposal to create a cemetery here was put to Parliament but never went ahead. There were also plans to develop the entire hill as a housing estate but nothing came of it.
On top of the hill is York stone edging with an inscription by William Blake: “I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill.” There’s also the remains of an anti-aircraft battery from World War II.
On the hill’s slope, meanwhile, is a tree planted in 1964 to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth (it replaced once planted 100 years earlier in honour of the Bard’s 300th).
Primrose Hill gives its name to part of the surrounding area, which remains a sought-after residential district.
For details on when to visit, head to www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/the-regents-park/things-to-see-and-do/primrose-hill.
We have finished our series on 10 of the most memorable (and historic) views of London. And while there’s plenty of views we didn’t mention (we’ll be featuring more in an upcoming series at some point), we think we have captured 10 worth seeing. So, in case you missed any, here they are again…
We’ll kick off our new special Wednesday series next week…
Standing some 200 feet above sea level (almost 63 metres), this rounded grassy hill, just to the north of The Regent’s Park proper, has long held a fascination for Londoners partly, at least, for the panoramic views it offers of the city skyline.
Once part of a hunting ground used by King Henry VIII, the hill – which has also been known as Battle and Greenberry Hill – was purchased in 1841 from Eton College to provide more public space for Londoners.
It has served as the site of a famous unsolved murder (that of magistrate Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey whose mysterious death, exploited by anti-Catholic plotter Titus Oates, caused considerable uproar) as well as duels, prize fights, mass gatherings and mystic happenings.
The latter have included it being the location where Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg) first organised a gathering of druids, known as a Gorsedd of Bards, in 1792, as well as it being the subject of a prophecy by 16th century ‘soothsayer’ Mother Shipton warning that the streets would “run with blood” if the hill should become surrounded by urban sprawl.
Around the summit of the hill stands a York Stone edging feature bearing an inscription from poet William Blake – “I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill” – while standing on the slope below is the famous Shakespeare’s Tree which was originally planted in 1864 to mark the 300th anniversary of the Bard’s birth (but was replaced in 1964).
The view over London is one of a number of protected views in the city (meaning you can’t build anything block it) and the trees below the summit are kept deliberately low so as not to impede sightlines.
The nearby residential district known as Primrose Hill is noted for being home to numerous famous figures including the likes of Jude Law, Kate Moss and the Gallagher brothers. It is also where the aliens in HG Well’s book, War of the Worlds, intended making their headquarters.
WHERE: Primrose Hill, The Regent’s Park (nearest tube stations are Chalk Farm, Swiss Cottage, St John’s Wood and Mornington Crescent); WHEN: Usually always; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/the-regents-park/things-to-see-and-do/primrose-hill.
We started this series with a pyramidal-shaped structure (see A pyramid in Trafalgar Square), so we thought it only fitting that we end with one as well.
This time, it’s not so much a monument, however, as a place to house some of London’s ever increasing population of dead. The over-crowded graveyards of early Victorian London (and the horror stories that went with them of bodies bursting forth from their graves), led to proposals for a range of innovative solutions in the early nineteenth century.
Among them was a pyramidal-shaped necropolis for Primrose Hill. Architect Thomas Willson came up with the 94 storey-high structure – which would have stood higher than St Paul’s Cathedral – to provide storage for some five million corpses with steam-powered lifts to carry the bodies to their place of rest.
Made from brick with granite facings, the base of the vast structure would have covered 18 acres. Its design, which included quarters for staff, four entrances and a central ventilation shaft, drew upon the Victorian fascination for all things Egyptian.
“It was supposed to be compact, hygienic and ornamental,” author Catharine Arnold told the BBC. “Willson hoped people would come to admire this huge pyramid from far and wide, picnicking on Primrose Hill and enjoying this splendid monument. But it would be rather like a giant car-park of the dead.”
According to the prospectus Willson, who trained at the Royal Academy, issued for potential investors, the pyramid – which was to cost £2,500 to build – would have raised a staggering sum of more than £10 million in profit when it was full.
Still, it was not to be and the idea never left the drawing board. But Willson did go on to join the board of the General Cemetery Company.
For more on London and its dead, see Catharine Arnold’s Necropolis: London and Its Dead.
Following on from last week’s post, we look at a couple more London memorials to The Bard, playwright William Shakespeare…
• Leicester Square: Returned to the West End square last year following its restoration (and the square’s redevelopment), this statue of Shakespeare – claimed to be the only outdoor one in London – was designed by architect John Knowles in 1874 when the square was constructed. Now Grade II-listed, it depicts Shakespeare leaning on a pedestal, pointing to a scroll which reads “There is no darkness but ignorance”, a quote from Twelfth Night. An inscription on the plinth upon which Shakespeare stands, refers to the laying out of the square by Albert Grant and doesn’t mention the playwright at all. The statue stands in the middle of a fountain, upgraded as part of the recent overhaul of the site. PICTURE: Carcharoth/Wikipedia.
• Primrose Hill: Shakespeare’s Tree on Primrose Hill was originally planted in April, 1864, to mark the 300th anniversary of his birth. An estimated 100,000 people marched to the site to watch the tree planting by poet Eliza Cooke and actor Samuel Phelps which was organised by the Workingmen’s Shakespeare Committee – apparently in response to the lacklustre efforts of a government-backed committee to mark the anniversary. The tree stood for 100 years before it died and was replaced with an oak sapling planted in 1964 actress Dame Edith Evans. A plaque which was attached to the tree detailing when it was planted has long since gone but there is talk of some sort of a permanent new memorial on the site.
There are other numerous places in London where Shakespeare – and his works – are remembered in London. One of our favourites is based in Love Lane and recalls the work of John Heminge and Henry Condell is getting Shakespeare’s works out to the world (for more on this, see our previous post here).
In our final post in this series next week, we take a look at some of the key London locations mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays.
• The only surviving London house lived in by author Charles Dickens – now occupied by the Charles Dickens Museum – reopens on Monday after a £3.1 million restoration and refurbishment. The redevelopment of the Georgian, Grade I listed townhouse at 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury – a project named Great Expectations – has seen the museum expand into a neighbouring property at 49 Doughty Street which now houses a visitor and learning centre and cafe. Inside the house itself, the rooms have been returned to their appearance during Victorian times and on display will be some of Dickens’ personal items which haven’t been seen before. They include a set of photographic prints from 1865 which depict a train crash in Staplehurst, Kent, in which Dickens was involved. The museum, which is where Dickens wrote Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby and finished The Pickwick Papers while living here between 1837-1839, was first opened in 1925. This year marks the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth (he was born on 7th February, 1812, in Portsmouth). For more on the museum and upcoming events there (including Christmas performances of A Christmas Carol and a series of special Dickensian Christmas walks), see www.dickensmuseum.com. For more on Dickens, see our earlier special – 10 London sites to celebrate Charles Dickens.
• Historian and broadcaster AJP Taylor, known as ‘The History Man’, has been honoured by English Heritage with a blue plaque placed on his former home at 13 St Mark’s Crescent in Primrose Hill. Taylor lived at the mid-nineteenth century semi-detached villa between 1955 and 1978 during the height of his fame. First appearing on television as early as 1942, Taylor was a regular on television discussion programmes between the 1950s and 1980s, and is described as one of the first ‘media dons’. He also wrote weekly columns in the press and books including the controversial The Origins of the Second World War. Married three times, he had six children and died of Parkinson’s disease in 1990. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/about/news/?topic=Blue%20Plaques.
• On Now: A Dandy 75th Birthday Exhibition. This exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury focuses on The Dandy, Britain’s longest running comic (officially recognised by the Guinness Book of Records), and follows its development from its birth with the release of the first issue on 4th December, 1937 (which, incidentally, was so popular it sold 481,895) through to this year’s issues including the final print issue released on 4th December this year (after which The Dandy goes digital). Runs until 24th December. Admission charge applies. For more see www.cartoonmuseum.org.
• The Olympic Rings were unveiled on Tower Bridge yesterday to mark one month until the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Games. Each of the rings weighs three tonnes and are 25 metres wide and 11.5 metres tall. A light show featuring thousands of LED lights brings them to life at night. The rings retract when the bridge is raised. Among those at the unveiling were Lord Sebastian Coe, chairman of LOCOG, London Mayor Boris Johnson and the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
• Several hundred images of London have been included in Britain from Above, a new website launched by English Heritage and the Royal Commissions on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland and Wales. The website, which boasts more than 15,000 images taken between 1919 and 1953 includes some of the oldest and most valuable images from the Aerofilms Collection, an archive of more than a million photographs taken between 1919 and 2006. A search for London brings up 283 results, among them stunning images of Tower Bridge, The Tower of London and St Paul’s Cathedral. Users are encouraged to download images, customise their own themed photo galleries and share information to add to the knowledge behind each of the images. For more, see www.britainfromabove.org.uk.
• A quote from William Blake has been inscribed on stone on the summit of Primrose Hill, famous for its views of the London skyline. The quote – “I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill” – was selected, according to Nick Biddle, The Regent’s Park manager, “because it sums up so well the experience of standing on Primrose Hill in the early morning light”. “It is always a wonderful experience,” he says. The unveiling of the inscription signalled the end to a series of improvement works on the hill. For more, see http://www.royalparks.org.uk.
• On Now: V&A Illustration Awards display. Features works by the 14 artists short-listed for the V&A’s annual illustration awards. Drawn from more than 1,000 entries the panel – fashion designer Orla Kiely, broadcaster and cultural commentator Emma Freud and Moira Gemmill, V&A director of design – selected their favorite entries in three categories – book illustration, book cover and jacket illustration – while winners of last year’s award judged a fourth category for students’ work. Runs until 31st December. Admission is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/illustrationawards.
• On Now: Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye. This major exhibition at the Tate Modern reassesses the work of this Norwegian painter and aims to show how he engaged with the 20th century world, in particular his interest in the rise of modern media including photography, film and stage production. Organised in conjunction with the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Munch Museum in Oslo, the exhibition features more than 60 paintings and 50 photographs as well as Munch’s lesser-known work in film. They include different versions of celebrated works like The Sick Child and The Girls on a Bridge as well as his last work, a self protrait. Runs until 14th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.
As with many of London’s Royal Parks, Regent’s Park (it’s formal name is actually The Regent’s Park but we’ll shorten it for our purposes here) once served as King Henry VIII’s hunting grounds – he seized the park, then known as Marylebone Park Fields after the nearby village and boasting thick woods as well as more open forests, from the Abbey of Barking in 1538.
Used by royalty for the next 50 years, it remained largely unaltered until after the Civil War when, between 1649 and 1660, the Commonwealth ordered many of the trees to be chopped down to pay debts. It was restored to royal ownership with the restoration of the monarchy but, with hunting falling out of fashion, was then leased out to tenant farmers.
It was John Nash who created the park that we know and love today. Friend of the Prince Regent (later King George IV), he was among a number of architects who responded to the Prince Regent’s calls for the creation of a new design featuring a palace for himself.
Nash’s original designs included a round park featuring a lake and canal and surrounded by as many as 56 villas and a palatial summer home for the Prince Regent which would be linked to his other home at St James’s by a processional road.
But only eight of the villas were ever built and only two of them – St John’s Lodge and The Holme – remain (both are private residences but part of the lodge’s gardens are open to the public) while the plans for the Prince Regent’s palace were put on hold when he turned his attention to developing Buckingham Palace instead. The canal, meanwhile, was moved to the park’s northern boundary where it still stands today (see our earlier entry on Regent’s Canal) while the processional route Nash had proposed became Regent Street.
While the park was initially only for the exclusive use of residents and what Royal Park’s call the ‘carriage set’, in 1835, the eastern part of the park was opened to the public for two days a week. Other sections of what is now included in the park, including Primrose Hill, were opened later.
Meanwhile, the fact most of the villas had never been built had left a large amount of free space and so both the Zoological Society and the Royal Botanic Society moved in – the latter laying out what is the Inner Circle with lawns and a lake of its own. Another society to operate in the park was the Royal Toxophilite Society which introduced archery there.
Not much has changed since but for the creation of Queen Mary’s Gardens in the 1930s – these were laid out on the space formally occupied by the Royal Botanic Society which had decided not to renew its lease. The Open Air Theatre performances, which are still held in the gardens today, started at about the same time. The park was damaged by bombing during World War II but has been fully restored.
Other facilities now in the 166 hectare (410 acre) park include a sports facility known as The Hub as well as several cafes, tennis courts and boat hire. The London Zoo, of course, also remains there.
WHERE: The Regent’s Park (nearest tube station is Regent’s Park); WHEN: 5am to at least 4pm (closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/The-Regents-Park.aspx
It’s St David’s Day, Wales’ national day of celebration, so you may have noticed the Welsh flag flying in a few places you wouldn’t normally see it – including at 10 Downing Street. In keeping with the theme of all things Welsh, we’re taking a look at a couple of Welsh-related sites in London…
• St Benet, Paul’s Wharf – Known as London’s “Welsh church”, the current St Benet’s was rebuilt to the designs of Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666 although a church has stood on this site for 900 years. Services have been held at the church (pictured right) in Welsh since 1879 after Queen Victoria granted Welsh Anglicans the right to worship in their own language there. Known formally at St Benet’s Metropolitan Welsh Church, the premises, located just off Queen Victoria Street in the City, has also been the church of the College of Arms since 1555. Among other historic titbits is the suggestion that both Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey – the “nine day Queen” – may have received the last rites here before going on to their executions at the Tower of London, that 17th century architect Inigo Jones was buried here, and that King Charles II had a special door built for himself in the side of the building and a private room where he could take part in services. See www.stbenetwelshchurch.org.uk
• The London Welsh Centre – Located in Gray’s Inn Road, the centre’s origins go back to the founding of the Young Wales Association in 1920, created to provide a focus for young Welsh people in London. The organisation, which initially didn’t have a permanent home, held meetings in several locations before moving to the current premises in the 1930s. Today the premises is used by the London Welsh Centre and is the base for three choirs – the London Welsh Chorale, The London Welsh Gwalia Male Choir and The London Welsh Male Voice Choir. It also provides Welsh language classes and hosts concerts and other cultural events. See www.londonwelsh.org.
• Memorial to Welsh poet Iolo Morganwg – A memorial plaque to this Welsh poet and antiquarian stands on Primrose Hill on the site where the first meeting of the Gorsedd of Bards of the Isle of Britain, convened by Morganwg, was held in 1792. The plaque was unveiled in 2009. Follow this link for more information.
Do you know of any other Welsh-related sites in London? Let us know…