December 12, 2016
This pub’s name isn’t too mysterious – it is, of course, named after Albert, Prince Consort to Queen Victoria, and given the date on which the building that now occupies the site was built – between 1862 and 1867, nor is the motivation to name it so – Prince Albert died on 14th December, 1861, leaving a bereft queen and a nation in mourning.
There had been a pub on this site at 52 Victoria Street prior to the current building – it was called The Blue Coat Boy and named after the nearby Blue Coat school – but in the mid-19th century the Artillery Brewery, which was located next door, bought the premises and renamed it.
The four storey building, which is now Grade II-listed (and dwarfed by the glass towers surrounding it), survived the Blitz and is the only building remaining from the first phase of the development of Victoria Street (and redevelopment of the area which had been a slum known as Devil’s Acre), only a stone’s throw from Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.
Inside, the Victorian features include ornate ceilings and hand-etched frosted windows and wrought iron balconies. Also of note is the Prime Minister’s gallery – including some who were patrons here – as well as memorabilia including a House of Commons Division Bell and one of Queen Victoria’s napkins.
For more, see www.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub/albert-victoria/c6737/.
November 9, 2015
Another Drury Lane pub, the origins of this one go back to 1852 when it was established by Henry Wells on the site of what was once a potato warehouse.
The name, in this case, comes from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s eldest son, Albert Edward.
Only about 11-years-old when this West End pub was first built, he remained Prince of Wales until succeeding his mother as King Edward VII (nonetheless, the location proved somewhat prescient – Albert Edward was to become known for his bon vivant lifestyle including his love of the theatre (along with, of course, his love of philandering.))
Located close to theatres and the Royal Opera House, the pub at 150-151 Drury Lane (on the corner of Long Acre) was rebuilt in Portland stone in the early 20th century when the street was widened.
Now part of the Taylor Walker group, it remains a popular pub for theatre goers (and even hosts its own events). For more, see www.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub/prince-of-wales-covent-garden/c0659/.
October 12, 2015
The Grade II*-listed pub, which has been described by Peter Haydon and Tim Hampson in their book London’s Best Pubs as a “national treasure” and “the finest, most complete, most original, best preserved, most authentic high-Victorian pub interior in London”, was apparently built in the early 1870s and then remodelled in 1891.
While rather plain externally, this “monument to 19th century craftsmen” boasts a much-vaunted, richly detailed Victorian interior dating from this remodelling which features polychromatic tile work, stained and etched glass and mahogany bar fittings as well as a staggering amount of decoration. The heritage listing even makes reference to the men’s toilets and its marble urinals in the basement.
The pub, at 208 High Holborn, is part of the Samuel Smith Brewery chain who restored it to its former glory in 2007 (including reintroducing glass walled cubicles). It’s also been notable, apparently, for its significant role in hosting folk clubs as part of a revival which occurred in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Why exactly the pub was named after Princess Louise is something of a mystery and it has been suggested that, thanks to the fact pubs aren’t usually named after living members of the Royal Family, the pub must have originally had a different name.
Princess Louise, meanwhile, is notable for having briefly lived in Canada when her husband served as the Governor-General of that nation. She spent her retirement years at Kensington Palace.
For more, see www.princesslouisepub.co.uk.
July 28, 2015
Eighteenth century artists William Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds gaze down from the facade of the V&A in South Kensington. The Victoria and Albert Museum was established in 1852 – capitalising on the success of the Great Exhibition the previous year – and moved to its current site in 1857. The foundation stone for the current building was laid by Queen Victoria herself in 1899 and it was to mark this occasion that the museum was renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum after the queen and late Prince Albert (although the queen really just wanted it to be the Albert Museum). For more on the V&A, see www.vam.ac.uk.
On Sunday, Princess Charlotte, daughter of Prince William and Princess Kate, was christened at Sandringham. So we thought we’d take a quick look at another christening that took place in London almost 200 years ago, that of Princess Victoria.
The future Queen Victoria was born on 24th May, 1819 – the daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent (fourth son of King George III), and his wife, Princess Victoria Mary Louisa of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.
At the insistence of the Prince Regent (later King George IV), the christening was a small affair and was held a month after the birth on the afternoon of 24th June in the magnificent Cupola or Cube Room of Kensington Palace (pictured as it is now, above).
The guest list was small and included the Prince Regent, Prince Frederick, the Duke of York, and his wife Princess Frederica, Princess Augusta Sophia, Princess Mary, the Duchess of Gloucester, and her husband, Prince William, and Prince Leopold, who had recently become a widower after the death of Princess Charlotte.
The ceremony was conducted by Charles Manners-Sutton, the archbishop of Canterbury, and, thanks to the intransigence of the Prince Regent, her name was apparently only decided at the last minute.
The Prince Regent has earlier forbidden the use of such ‘royal’ names including Charlotte, Elizabeth, Georgina or Augusta and when asked by the archbishop what she would be named, he replied brusquely that she would be named Alexandrina in honour of the Russian Tsar Alexander, one of the new princess’s godparents.
Her second name was Victoria in honour of her mother, and while Victoria was often called “Drina” while a girl, she herself apparently preferred her second name to her first.
The gold font used in the ceremony formed part of the Crown Jewels and its origins go back to the time of King Charles II.
Interestingly, there were a couple of significant Victorian connections during Princess Charlotte’s christening – the font used at this christening was known as the Lily Font (like its predecessor, it is usually found with the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London).
It was commissioned by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for the christening of their first daughter, Princess Victoria, in 1841, apparently due to Queen Victoria’s dislike for the gold font used at her own christening – it had been used by King Charles II to christen his illegitimate children.
The Lily Font has apparently been used at every royal christening since except that of Princess Eugenie who had a public baptism in Sandringham in 1990.
Princess Charlotte also wore a replica of the christening gown worn by Princess Victoria.
WHERE: The Broad Walk, Kensington Gardens, Kensington (nearest Tube stations are High Street Kensington or Queensway); WHEN: Daily 10am to 6pm (until 31st October); COST: £17.50 adult/£14.10 concession/children under 16 free (online booking discounts available, Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace.
This Week in London – Charles I’s overlooked artist; St George’s Day in Trafalgar Square; Indigenous Australia; prints from the Royal Collection on show; and, ‘What is Luxury’ at the V&A…
April 23, 2015
• The first ever display of works of overlooked 17th century artist Cornelius Johnson, court painter to Charles I, has opened at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square. Cornelius Johnson: Charles I’s Forgotten Painter features rarely viewed portraits of the king’s children including the future Charles II, James II and Mary (later Princess of Orange-Nassau) as well as a painting of Mary’s son William – all of which have been taken from the gallery’s collection. Overshadowed by Sir Anthony van Dyck, Johnson – who emigrated to The Netherlands when the English Civil War broke out – has been largely ignored by art historians despite the breadth of his work – from group portraits, such as his largest surviving English painting, The Capel Family, to tiny miniatures – and the fact that he is thought to be the first English-born artist who took to signing date his paintings as a matter of course, something he is believed to have picked up during his training in The Netherlands. The display features eight painted portraits and six prints from the gallery’s collection as well as three paintings from the Tate. Runs until 13th September in Room 6. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: King Charles II by Cornelius Johnson , 1639. © National Portrait Gallery, London.
• Trafalgar Square will be at the centre of London’s St George’s Day celebrations on Saturday with live music, celebrity chefs, a masterclass by leading tea experts and children’s games and activities. The musical lineup will feature the band from the West End musical Let It Be and the Crystal Palace Brass Band – one of the few traditional brass bands remaining in London. The free event runs between noon and 6pm on Saturday. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/stgeorges.
• Indigenous Australia, the first major exhibition in the UK to present a history of Indigenous Australia through objects, opens at the British Museum today. Drawing on the museum’s collection, Indigenous Australia features objects including a shield believed to have been collected in Botany Bay on Captain Cook’s voyage of 1770, a protest placard from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy established in 1972 and contemporary paintings and specially commissioned artworks from leading indigenous artists. Many of the objects have never been on display before. Runs until 2nd August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• Thirty prints from the Royal Collection will be on show at The London Original Print Fair to mark its 30th anniversary. The fair runs at the Royal Academy from today until Sunday and among the selected works from the more than 100,000 prints in the Royal Collection are the 2.3 metre long woodcut by Albrecht Durer entitled Triumphal Cart of the Emperor Maximillian (1523), Wenceslaus Hollar’s four etchings of tropical Seashells (c1650), a sequence of proofs of Samuel Reynolds’ portrait of King George III at the end of the monarch’s life, and lithographs produced by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert dating from 1842. For more on the fair, see www.londonprintfair.com. For more on the Royal Collection, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.
• The question of what is meant by the concept of luxury is under examination in the V&A’s new exhibition What is Luxury? Opening at the South Kensington museum Saturday, the exhibition will feature a range of luxury objects – from the George Daniels’ Space Travellers’ Watch to a Hermés Talaris saddle, and Nora Fok’s Bubble Bath necklace. Also on show in a section of the exhibit looking at what could determine future ideas of luxury is American artist Gabriel Barcia-Colombo’s DNA Vending Machine (complete with prepackaged DNA samples) and Henrik Nieratschker’s installation The Botham Legacy which tells the fictional story of a British billionaire who sends altered bacteria into space in an attempt to find valuable metals on distant plants. Runs until 27th September. Admission charge applies. See www.vam.ac.uk/whatisluxury.
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January 30, 2015
Designed by architect Decimus Burton (he of the Kew Palm House fame), the London Colosseum was a vast, 16-sided domed structure erected in the 1820s to the east of Regent’s Park to house a panoramic view of the city.
Said to be the largest ever painting created at the time, Thomas Hornor – a land surveyor – oversaw the creation of the work which was based on drawings he had made from the top of St Paul’s Cathedral (he had apparently sat in a special, temporary hut or “crow’s nest” positioned where the cross and ball would normally sit – but it was in the process of being replaced). Several artists – led by the renowned ET Parris – were involved in creating the work which took four years to make before it was completed in 1829.
The building – located where Cambridge Gate now stands – had been modelled on the Pantheon in Rome (not the Colosseum as the name would suggest) and was constructed from brick rendered with cement to imitate the appearance of stone. It featured a portico with Doric columns at the front and had inside an “ascending room” or lift to take people to see the panorama.
It’s opening was apparently delayed after Horner and his chief backer, MP Rowland Stevenson, took off to the US after running up rather large debts, leaving the property in the hands of trustees.
The Colosseum changed hands several times over the years and its purpose evolved. At one stage it was reinvented as a museum of sculpture displaying some 180 works while other attractions added to the great rotunda and its surrounding gardens over the years included a “Gothic aviary”, a Swiss chalet from which a visitor could look at a real waterfall and a stalactite cavern as well as a theatre and various other panoramas depicting everywhere from Paris to Lisbon.
Among visitors to the attraction were Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
The Colosseum was put up for auction in 1855 but failed to attract a bid of the size required and, having passed through several hands (with some of the owners at one stage flirting with the idea of turning it into a grand hotel), it was eventually was demolished in the 1870s.
PICTURE: Via Wikipedia.
January 14, 2015
This massive Gothic revival structure would have dramatically changed the skyline of Westminster but, perhaps thankfully, never got further than the drawing board.
The proposal was mooted in the early 1900s apparently amid concerns that, thanks to the number of monuments and memorials being placed within its walls, Westminster Abbey was becoming overcrowded. It was also apparently proposed as a memorial to Prince Albert.
The designs were the work of John Pollard Seddon – architect for the Church of England’s City of London Diocese – and another architect Edward Beckitt Lamb. They consisted of a 167 metre (548 foot) high tower and adjoining vast reception hall and numerous other galleries which sat at a right angle to the eastern end of the abbey minster (pictured).
Given the Clock Tower containing Big Ben is only 97.5 metres (320 feet high), the structure would have completely dominated its surrounds.
The project was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1904 but, requiring an enormous and impractical budge (not to mention its dominating aesthetics), was never pursued any further.
January 13, 2015
The Albert Memorial, South Kensington. For its history, see our earlier post here.
December 3, 2014
Fresh from the success of designing The Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851 (see our earlier post here), in 1855 Sir Joseph Paxton came up with the idea of building a covered elevated railway “girdle” which would circle parts of central and west London and alleviate traffic congestion.
The proposed 10 mile long, eight track railway – which would feature trains propelled by air pressure (an “atmospheric” system) rather than conventional steam engines and included “express” trains which would only stop at select stations – was to be constructed inside a vast, 108 foot high glass covered arcade which would also contain a road, shopping and even housing.
The trains would travel at such a speed that to get from any one point on the “girdle” to its opposite point would only take 15 minutes.
Paxton presented his proposal to a Parliamentary Select Committee in June 1855 – he had already shown it to Prince Albert whom, he said, “gives it his approval”.
He estimated the cost of his proposal – which he thought would carry some 105,000 passengers every day – at some £34 million – a figure which parliament, which had initially been supportive of the idea, found a little hard to stomach.
This was especially thanks to the fact they were already dealing with the costs of Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s vast sewer system (see our earlier post here), created as a result of the ‘Great Stink’ in 1858 when the smell of untreated human excrement and other waste in the Thames became so strong, parliament had to act.
As a result, the project – which would have crossed the Thames three times, once with a spur line that ended near Piccadilly Circus – never eventuated but the Underground’s Circle Line today follows roughly the same route Paxton’s railway would have.
December 1, 2014
The origins of the name of this part of central London, to the west of the City, lie in the fact that the Fleet River runs through the area (albeit, since the 18th century, underground).
Mentioned as far back as the 950s, the name Holborn comes from the Old English “hol” or “holh” (“hollow”) and “burne” or “bourne” (“stream”) and means the “stream in the hollow” with the hollow in this case being the valley over which the Holborn Viaduct was built in the 1860s.
The term ‘Holburne’ was either used to refer to a tributary of the Fleet or part of the river itself. There was a bridge which apparently bore the same name and spanned either the Fleet or its tributary up until the river was covered.
The street now known as High Holborn – the main street in the area – was originally a Roman road and by the 19th century had become a centre for the entertainment industry featuring theatres, restaurants and pubs (including one of our favorites, the Cittee of Yorke).
The street is also home to the Holborn Bar, which marked the boundary of the City of London and was once site of a toll gate – it’s now the site of the Royal Fusilier’s War Memorial.
Other famous monuments in the area include an equestrian statue of Prince Albert – the City of London’s official statue of him – which was removed from its position in the centre of Holborn Circus in the east of the area to a new position on the western side of the intersection during a renovation last year.
Now dominated by offices and some shopping precincts (these include a street market in Leather Lane), among other notable buildings are pre-Great Fire of London survivor Staple Inn (see our earlier post here), churches including St Andrew Holborn, and St Alban the Martyr, Holborn, and, to the east, St Etheldreda’s Church (see our earlier post here) and Ye Olde Mitre pub (see our earlier post here).
The area is also home to the Inns of Court Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn and the Grade II*-listed Prudential Assurance Building (pictured above), constructed on the former site of Furnival’s Inn in the late 19th century/early 20th century, as well as Hatton Garden, famous for being the centre of London’s jewellery trade.
February 19, 2014
Designed by Richard Boyle, the third Earl of Burlington (1694-1753), the two storey, domed villa was inspired by what Lord Burlington had seen of ancient and sixteenth century architecture during his tours of Italy – in particular the work of Andrea Palladio – as well as the work of Palladio admirer, famed English architect Inigo Jones (his statue along with that of Palladio can be seen outside),
It was constructed in the 1720s, most likely between 1727 and 1729, on a site which had been purchased by the first Earl of Burlington (his grandfather) in 1682 and which was already occupied by a Jacobean-era house (this property, which the third Earl significantly renovated, was eventually pulled down in 1788). The interiors were designed by William Kent in collaboration with Burlington and feature luxurious rooms with velvet-covered walls such as the magnificently restored Blue Velvet Room.
The exact purpose of the property remains something of a mystery – it’s been suggested it was built to as a pavilion for private contemplation, grand entertainments and to house the Earl’s art collection and the fact it had no kitchen is supportive of such a conclusion. But there is evidence it was also used as a functioning house – the fact Lady Burlington died in her bedchamber in the premises in 1758 and the link which was eventually built by Lord Burlington between it and the older property on the estate are suggestive of this.
Whatever its purpose, the architectural and artistic masterpiece was complemented by formal gardens which Lord Burlington, again, along with the aid of Kent, extensively altered to create a highly planned but naturalistic-looking landscape. Known as the “birthplace of the English Landscape Movement”, the gardens have influenced everyone from ‘Capability’ Brown to the design of New York City’s Central Park.
Following Lord Burlington’s death in 1753, the house passed into the hands of his grandson, the fifth Duke of Devonshire (his wife was the rather infamous Duchess Georgiana). He extended the house into a large mansion, adding new wings (these weren’t removed until the 1950s) and improved the gardens, adding the stone bridge (pictured) that still stands over the lake.
Upon the fifth Duke’s death in 1811, the house passed into the hands of the sixth Duke, known as the ‘Bachelor Duke’. He made considerable use of the property and guests included Tsar Alexander I of Russia, King Fredrick William III of Prussia, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and Tsar Nicholas I (again, of Russia). The Bachelor Duke also extended the grounds and brought a range of exotic animals into them, including an elephant, kangaroos and emus.
Upon his death in 1858, he left the property to his sister and after her death only four years later, it was subsequently let to some rather high-brow tenants including the Prince of Wales who received the Shah of Persia there in 1873,
The estate was eventually sold by the ninth Duke to the Middlesex County Council and after the war, gifted to the Minister of Works. In 1984, care for the house was transferred to English Heritage. The gardens are now owned by the London Borough of Hounslow.
Along with the Chiswick House and Gardens Trust, English Heritage recently completed a £12 million restoration of the gardens which, this year will host the fourth annual Camellia Festival next month. But this stunning property is well worth a visit any time of the year.
WHERE: Chiswick House, Burlington Lane, Chiswick (nearest Tube station is Turnham Green/nearest train station is Chiswick); WHEN: 10am to 4pm Saturday and Sunday (until 31st March); COST: £5.90 adults/£3.50 children (5-15 years)/£5.30 concession/£15.30 family; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/chiswick-house/ or www.chgt.org.uk.
We’ve already mentioned these two riverside embankments as part of our previous piece on Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s revolutionary sewer system. But so important are they to the shape of central London today – not to mention a great place to take a stroll – that we thought they’re also worth a mention in their own right.
As mentioned, the Victoria and Albert Embankments (the latter is pictured right) – named, of course, for Queen Victoria and her by then late consort, Prince Albert, who had died in 1861 (see our previous post What’s in a name?…Victoria Embankment) – were located on opposite sides of the River Thames and involved reclaiming a considerable amount of the river so new sewers could be laid.
Construction of Victoria Embankment – which was also seen as a way to relieve traffic congestion in the central London area – started in the mid 1860s and was complete by 1870. Running along the north and western banks of the Thames between Westminster and Blackfriars bridges, its creation involved the demolition of many riverside buildings as a new walk and roadway were constructed behind a wall.
Numerous monuments have since been located along this promenade – they include the Battle of Britain Monument, RAF Memorial and the mis-named Cleopatra’s Needle (see our earlier post to find out why) – as well as a number of permanently berthed ships including the HQS Wellington – the base of the Honorable Company of Master Mariners – and the HMS President.
The walkway also features original decorative lamps – interestingly, Victoria Embankment was the first roadway in London to be permanently lit by electric-powered lighting (from 1878).
The parks, collectively known as Victoria Embankment Gardens, contain numerous statues and monuments (including one to Bazalgette himself – it’s located close to the intersection with Northumberland Avenue) as well as a bandstand. They also contain the remains of York Watergate – once fronting on to the river, it shows how much land was reclaimed for the project (you can also visit the riverside entrance to Somerset House to gain a feel for where the river once was – look through the glass floor and you’ll see the old riverbank below).
Albert Embankment, meanwhile, runs between Vauxhall and Westminster Bridges on the eastern side of the river. Constructed around the same time as Victoria Embankment, it was designed to prevent flooding of the low-lying areas of Vauxhall and Kennington and to help in Bazalgette’s sewage system plan (although it apparently doesn’t have the same large sewers as can be found on the other side of the river).
Sadly, the demolition did see the centre of what was once the village of Lambeth removed to make way for the new promenade and roadway. But like Victoria Embankment, Albert Embankment features delightfully decorative lamps along the riverfront promenade and is a great place for a walk in any weather.
February 1, 2013
Given our current series on great London projects of the Victorian age in honour of the Tube’s 150th birthday, it’s only fitting that we should take a look at the Crystal Palace, a wonder of the age which once adorned the grounds of Hyde Park.
Built as the centrepiece to the Great Exhibition (more properly known as the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations) of 1851 – an event enthusiastically supported by Prince Albert, the Crystal Palace (pictured left in an image published in 1854) was a vast cast-iron and glass exhibition hall which took its nickname (apparently first mentioned in Punch magazine) from the enormous amount of glass used in its creation.
Designed by gardener and architect Sir Joseph Paxton (his designs were chosen after an international competition failed to come up with anything suitable), the enormous and innovative structure, located just south of the The Serpentine, owed its design inspiration to his previous work on glasshouses.
Measuring 1,848 foot (563 metres) long, it was completed in just five months. The building, which needed no artificial lighting during the day due to its massive expanses to the glass, was so large that full-sized elm trees already growing in the park could be enclosed within it.
More than six million people visited the building during the Great Exhibition, held from 1st May to the 15th October, 1851. As well as hosting 14,000 exhibitors, the building also housed the first major installation of public toilets in which George Jennings had installed his ‘monkey closet’ flushing lavatory. While the structure was only meant to be temporary, such was its appeal (Paxton was knighted for his design efforts) that following the closing of the exhibition, it was purchased by the Crystal Palace Company.
A massive feat of logistics saw it dismantled and relocated to a site on what was then Penge Common at Sydenham Hill in south London where it was rebuilt (albeit to a different, much larger, design). It reopened in 1854 and contained a series of courts, illustrating art from various periods of history as well as other exhibits and performance spaces.
The grounds, meanwhile, were decorated with gardens and fountains designed by Edward Milner which drew water from two water towers designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. There was also a maze (still there) and also featured some terrific life-sized statues of dinosaurs created by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (these Grade I-listed specimens, the first of their kind in the world, are still located in Crystal Palace Park).
Interestingly, the fountains were later grassed over and one was used as a sports stadium, famous for hosting the first 20 FA Cup Finals. The site also became home to the Crystal Palace School of Art, Science, and Literature and later, the Crystal Palace School of Practical Engineering.
The Crystal Palace remained in use for various purposes – including as a TV studio for John Logie Baird – until late in 1936 when it was destroyed by fire, the origins of which apparently remain somewhat mysterious.
The name Crystal Palace has remained, however, as well as being given to Crystal Palace Park – the actual site where the building once stood – it also continues to lend itself to the area in which the structure once stood.
There’s also now a foundation – the aptly named Crystal Palace Foundation – which works to “keep alive the memory of the Crystal Palace and its major role in the story and social development of Victorian and Edwardian England” and a small museum, The Crystal Palace Museum, housed in a building constructed around 1880 as a classroom for the Crystal Palace Company’s School of Practical Engineering. Plans for building a replica of Crystal Palace have been mooted but there’s no sign of it rising once more at this stage.
For more on the Crystal Palace, see Patrick Beaver’s book, The Crystal Palace: A Portrait of Victorian Enterprise.
January 16, 2013
The London Underground’s first railway journey took place on 9th January, 1863, and to celebrate we’re taking a look at 10 great Victorian-era projects in London. First up is Royal Albert Hall in South Kensington.
Opened on 29th March, 1871 (and in continuous use ever since), Royal Albert Hall was built in fulfilment of Prince Albert’s dream of creating a hall that would stand in the heart of the South Kensington estate and provide a focal point for the promotion of the arts and sciences.
It was on the back of the success of the Great Exhibition held in Hyde Park in 1851, that Prince Albert, Prince Consort to Queen Victoria, proposed the creation of a permanent arts and sciences precinct in South Kensington and advised the purchase of land for that purpose (the hall is located on land once occupied by Gore House). But it wasn’t until after his death in 1861 that his vision was actually realised.
Construction of the hall – which was to serve as the centrepoint of the cultural precinct which became known, somewhat derisively, as Albertopolis – started in April 1867 (initially to be known as The Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, the hall apparently had its named changed to the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences by Queen Victoria while she was laying the foundation stone on 20th May that year – around 7,000 people attended the event). It was designed by engineers Captain Francis Fowke and, after his death, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Darracott Scott, based on concepts put forward by the man described as the “driving force” behind the project, Henry Cole (later the first director of what is now the Victoria and Albert Museum). He had been inspired by the Roman amphitheatres he had seen while touring in southern France.
While initial proposals had suggested the hall would accommodate as many as 30,000 people, this was later scaled back to about 7,000 (and today the figure is apparently about 5,500 thanks to fire regulations).
The central auditorium, measuring 185 feet by 219 feet, is covered by a glazed dome constructed of wrought iron girders and was the largest structure of its kind in the world at the time of its building. The hall’s exterior was built from about six million red bricks and features an 800 foot long terracotta frieze showing figures engaged in a range of cultural pursuits. Much of the interior decorative detail was added later.
So overcome was Queen Victoria at the building’s opening in 1871 that Edward, the Prince of Wales, had to speak in her place, declaring it open on her behalf before a crowd which included then Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Her only reported comment on the hall was that it reminded her of the British constitution.
The Grade One listed hall – which thankfully only suffered minor damage during World War II bombing raids (the German pilots apparently used its bulk as a navigation aid) – has since undergone substantial modifications including works undertaken to improve the hall’s acoustics, the replacement of gas lighting (electricity was first demonstrated in the hall in 1873) and demolition in 1889 of an adjoining glass conservatory to its south. A massive programme of improvements was carried out between 1996 and 2004 at the cost of more than £69 million.
The list of those who have performed or spoken at the hall reads something like a who’s who – among them are classical composers Wagner, Verdi, Elgar and Rachmaninov, singers and musicians including Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Who, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Adele, and Jay Z as well as sports personalities including boxer Mohammed Ali and tennis player John McEnroe, explorers like Sir Ernest Shackleton, world figures such as Queen Elizabeth II, Sir Winston Churchill, former South African president Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and former US president Bill Clinton and other high profile personalities such as Albert Einstein, Alan Ginsberg and Paul Robeson.
Among the other events held in the hall have been a marathon race, Greco-Roman wrestling and two Welsh National Eisteddfod’s (in 1887 and 1909). One of the most popular series of events now held there each year are the BBC Promenade Concerts, known as The Proms they include more than 70 events, which have been held in the hall since World War II.
A Victorian masterpiece. For more on the hall, see www.royalalberthall.com.
Around London – Christmas at the Tower and Kew Gardens; Old Flo on display; African Diaspora on show at MoL Docklands; and, Mariko Mori at the Royal Academy…
December 20, 2012
• The Tower of London is going Victorian this Christmas with visitors able to experience some of what the Yuletide celebrations in the foreboding, much storied buildings were like in the mid-to-late 1800s. Visitors will be shown how many of the Christmas customs we now participate in each year – like writing cards, pulling crackers and the setting up of family Christmas trees – owe their origins to the Victorian era. The Yeoman Warders will be receiving a Victorian makeover and writer of the age – Charles Dickens – will be reciting some of his works before joining in a “raucous” lunch party with some of his fellow writers, artists and benefactors. It’s even rumoured that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert themselves may make an appearance (take that as a given). Bah! Humbug! A Very Merry Victorian Christmas runs from 27th until 31st December. The festivities will all be included in the usual admission price. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk. PICTURE: Nick Wilkinson/NewsTeam.
• Kew Gardens are celebrating Christmas with a host of events including a “Twelve trees of Christmas” family trail. The trail, a map of which can be picked up as you enter, includes facts about trees along the route. Volunteer guides are also leading free tours of seasonal highlights and the Kew Christmas tree can be seen at Victoria Gate. Other festive treats at Kew include the chance to see Father Christmas in his grotto (until Sunday only) and a vintage carousel on the Kew Palace Lawn. Many of the Christmas-related events end on 6th January. See www.kew.org for more.
• A display focusing on the history of Henry Moore’s sculpture, Draped Seated Woman (better known as Old Flo), has opened at the Museum of London Docklands. Henry Moore and the East End provides a glimpse into 1950s East London and looks at why public art was considered important at the time. It features some of the maquettes (scale models) Moore used in creating the piece. The exhibition was opened following a decision by the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, to sell Old Flo (now at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park) rather than display the artwork in a public space. The move is being contested by the Museum of London Docklands who have offered to put the work on public display. An online exhibition can be seen at www.museumoflondon.org.uk/oldflo and a ‘pop-up exhibition’ on Old Flo will be launched in January. The museum is also encouraging people to tweet their views about the selling of the sculpture under the hashtag #saveoldflo.
• On Now: Take Another Look. Still at the Museum of London Docklands, this exhibition focuses on the visual representation of people from the African Diaspora who were living and working in Britain in the late 18th and early 19th century. The display of 17 exhibits in the London, Sugar and Slavery gallery features prints by artists including Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank as well as newspaper cuttings, mostly dating from 1780-1833, which show black Britons in perhaps what were unexpected roles – soldiers, musicians and sportsmen – during what was the period in which the abolition of slavery occurred. There are a series of events planned around the exhibition which runs until 4th August. Entry is free. For more see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/Docklands/.
• On Now: Mariko Mori: Rebirth. The first major museum exhibition of the New York-based Japanese artist Mariko Mori in London since 1998 has opened at the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly. The exhibition features some of the artist’s most acclaimed works from the last 11 years, many of which have never before been seen in the UK, as well as works created just for the exhibition. Highlights include Tom Na H-iu, a five metre high glass monolith lit by hundreds of LED lights and connected back to the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research at the University of Tokyo; Transcircle, described as a “modern day Stonehenge”; and, Flatstone, an installation of “22 ceramic stones assembled to recreate an ancient shrine”. Runs until 17th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.
June 25, 2012
Known as “The Lady with the Lamp”, Florence Nightingale is remembered for her contribution to the development of the profession of nursing and the reform of medical practices during the Crimean War and the latter half of the 19th century.
Born on 12th May, 1820 in Florence (it’s from her birthplace that she gets her name), Florence Nightingale was the second daughter of William Edward Nightingale, son of a wealthy Sheffield banker, and Frances Smith.
She had a relatively privileged childhood at her family’s homes of Lea Hurst in Derbyshire and Embley Park in Hampshire (her father was named High Sheriff of the county in 1828) as well as occasional visits to London and received a broad education.
Believing herself to be called by God into His service when in her mid-teens, she chafed at the life set before her. It was a during visit to convent which holidaying in Rome with family friends that she became convinced she had a mission from God to tend to the sick.
This was only furthered during a subsequent visit to a religious community at Kaiserswerth am Rhein – a training school for nurses – that finally convinced her of the possibility of making nursing a vocation for ladies. Returning to England, Nightingale took up her first official post – as superintendent of the Hospital for Invalid Gentlemen – in 1853.
The Crimean War broke out in March, 1854, and later that year, aware of reports of the suffering sick and wounded English soldiers were enduring, Nightingale offered her services to the War Office following an invitation by the Secretary for War Sidney Herbert.
Charged with authority over all the nurses (her official title was later Superintendent of the Female Nurses in the Hospitals in the East), Nightingale embarked for Crimea on 21st October with 38 nurses (there’s a plaque at 90 Harley Street – site of the hospital from which Nightingale left for the Crimea). She reached Scutari in Turkey on 4th November, the night before the Battle of Inkerman.
Headquartered in Scutari, Nightingale set about organising the military hospitals, improving general hygiene and conditions and supplies of essentials like clothes and other equipment. The wounded men soon recognised her efforts and began calling her ‘The Lady of the Lamp’ – referring to sight of her checking the wards at night.
Visiting hospitals near and in Balaclava in 1855, Nightingale fell ill from “Crimean fever” but recovered and was able to return to Scutari and continue her work. The following March Nighingale returned to Balaclava and continued to work there until the hospitals closed in July. She returned to England and the family home at Lea Hurst the following month.
In September, 1856, Nightingale had an audience with Queen Victoria at Balmoral – she used the occasion to inform the Queen and Prince Albert of the reforms needed in the military hospital system (and subsequently met with the Queen many times). Backed by data she had collected in the Crimea, Nightingale also pushed for a commission into military hospitals – it was commenced in April 1857 and Nightingale’s written evidence was critical to its recommendations.
In 1860, the Nightingale School and Home for Nurses was established at St Thomas’ Hospital in London (it was funded with £50,000 raised through the Nightingale Fund which had been established in 1855). She as unable to take up the post of superintendent due to ill health and other reasons but continued to take an active interest.
Nightingale – who wrote more than 200 books, reports and pamphlets on hospital planning and organisation, including the famous Notes on Nursing (1859), and interestingly is also said to have invented the pie chart – was also involved in establishing the East London Nursing Society (1868), the Workhouse Nursing Association and National Society for Providing Trained Nurses for the Poor (1874) and the Queen’s Jubilee Nursing Institute (1890).
Her accolades included the German Order of the Cross of Merit and the French Gold Medal of Secours aux Blessés Militaires and the badge of honour of the Norwegian Red Cross Society. She was the first woman to be awarded the Order of Merit and the Freedom of the City of London.
Nightingale died at the age of 90 in South Street London (just off Park Lane – there’s a Blue Plaque marking the spot), on 13th August, 1910. She was buried in the family plot at East Wellow, Hampshire.
There is a memorial to Nightingale as part of the Crimean War Memorial at Waterloo Place and a chapel dedicated to her at Westminster Abbey which is involved in the annual service commemorating her held there on her birthday, International Nurses Day, every year. For more on the service, see our earlier post here.
Well worth a visit is the Florence Nightingale Museum, located within St Thomas’ Hospital. Highlights include her pet Owl Athena and the Turkish lantern she used in the Crimean War and the museum archives include around 800 letters from Florence Nightingale. For more on the museum, see www.florence-nightingale.co.uk.
June 1, 2012
It’s partly obscured now, thanks to preparations for the current Diamond Jubilee, and we have touched on it before (see our earlier post here) but we thought it appropriate to take a look at the main London memorial to the only other British monarch ever to have celebrated a Diamond Jubilee – Queen Victoria.
Prominently located outside of Buckingham Palace at the head of The Mall, work on the Grade I listed Queen Victoria Memorial commenced in 1903. Dedicated to the Queen, who ruled from 1819-1901, it was unveiled by King George V, grandson of King Victoria, and that of his cousin German Emperor Wilhelm II in May, 1911 (although it wasn’t completed until 1924).
The statue, nicknamed the Wedding Cake, was designed by Sir Aston Webb (he who also designed the currently facade to Buckingham Palace and The Mall – down which the statue of Victoria serenely gazes), and sculpted by Sir Thomas Brock, who, so the story goes, received his knighthood after King George V was so moved at the dedication that he spontaneously decided to knight him then and there.
At 25 metres high, this vast statue is made of 2,300 tons of white marble, 800 tones of granite and 70 tons of bronze. It is the largest statue in London with the exception of that dedicated to Prince Albert in Kensington (it could be described as a companion piece) and is the largest statue of a monarch in England.
The statue is redolent with symbolism – four bronze lions at the base represent the idea of Power (a pair of these was apparently donated by New Zealand) while other bronze figures represent Peace, Progress, Manufacture and Agriculture. There is a nautical theme around the base with depictions of mermaids and ship’s prows among the scenes depicted, all of which evoke Seapower.
On the same level as the seated Queen are Truth, Justice and what’s variously described as Charity or Motherhood while above her are gilded figures representing Courage, Constancy and Winged Victory.
PICTURE: Louise Schuller (www.sxc.hu)
May 18, 2012
Given we’re marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a look at sites of significance to her story located in London, it’s perhaps only fitting that we take a look at the nearest royal residence outside the city.
Windsor, located as close as half an hour by train from London’s Paddington station (or around 50 minutes to an hour from Waterloo), boasts plenty to see including the historic town centre, nearby Eton, great river and country walks and, of course, Legoland. But today our attention will remain on Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world.
There has been a fortress on this site since shortly after the Norman invasion when in about 1080 King William the Conqueror ordered it constructed on a ridge above the river bank as part of a series of defensive fortifications around London. The earth and timber Norman castle was gradually added to over the years – King Henry I (reigned 1100-1135), the first king to live here, added domestic quarters while King Henry II (reigned 1154-1189) built substantial royal apartments transforming the castle into a palace and began replacing the outer timber walls with stone fortifications as well as rebuilding the Norman Keep as the Round Tower (parts of which still date from this period). King Henry III (reigned 1216-1272) built upon and expanded his work.
But it was in the reign of King Edward III (1307-1327) that the castle was expanded enormously. This included the reconstruction of the lower ward including the rebuilding of the chapel, naming it St George’s (although the current chapel dates from the reign of King Edward IV – 1461-1470), and the reconstruction of the upper ward complete with apartments for him and his wife, Queen Phillipa, arranged around courtyards (although some of the work wasn’t completed until the reign of his successor, King Richard II – 1377-1399). It was also during King Edward III’s reign that the castle became the base for the Order of the Garter (which he created in 1348), a role it still fulfills.
Other works were ordered by successive Tudor monarchs including King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, and Queen Mary I. Parliamentary forces seized the castle during the Civil War (Oliver Cromwell did use it as his headquarters for a time) and Royalists were imprisoned here (King Charles I was in fact buried in a vault beneath St George’s Chapel after his execution having been previously imprisoned here).
The next major additions came in the reign of King Charles II (1660-1685) when the Upper Ward and State Apartments were reconstructed in baroque splendor, the latter complete with splendid murals ceiling paintings by Italian artist Antonio Verro (the murals were later destroyed but some of the ceiling paintings survive).
From the time of King William III (1689-1702), monarchs began spending more time at Hampton Court Palace but the focus returned to Windsor with King George III. He ordered a range of improvements and updates including modernising Frogmore House in the Home Park for his wife Queen Caroline (the property was subsequently used by various royals but no-one currently lives there), but many of these were stopped prematurely due to his illness. His son, King George IV, picked up where his father left off.
In the reign of Queen Victoria, Windsor became the royal family’s principal residence and was visited by heads of state including King Louis Philippe in 1844 and Emperor Napoleon III in 1855. The Queen’s husband, Prince Albert, died here on 14th December, 1861.
King Edward VII (1901-1910) and King George V (1910-1936) both had a hand in redecorating the palace and the Queen’s father, King George VI (1936-1952), was living in the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park when he succeeded to the throne.
In more recent times, the castle was the home to the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret, for much of World War II. The castle suffered its greatest setback in recent times in 1992 when a serious fire broke out in the Queen’s Private Chapel which destroyed several rooms including the ceiling of St George’s Hall which dated from the reign of King George IV. Restoration works took five years to complete.
Today the Queen spends many private weekends at the castle while the court is officially in residence here for a month over the Easter period and during Ascot Week in June – it’s at this time that the Garter Day celebrations take place with the installation of new knights.
The Queen also hosts State Visits here with banquets held in St George’s Hall as well as what are known as a ‘sleep and dine’ in which high profile figures are invited to dinner with the Queen before being shown a special display of items from the Royal Library and then spending the night. The Royal Standard flies from the Round Tower when the Queen is in residence.
As well as touring the State Apartments, the Gallery, Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House (completed in the 1920s for Queen Mary, wife of King George V), and St George’s Chapel, visitors to the castle can experience the Changing of the Guard at 11am every day but Sundays between May and early August (and every second day after that).
WHERE: Windsor (a short walk from either Windsor Central Station or Windsor & Eton Riverside Station); WHEN: 9.45am to 5.15pm until 27th July (times vary after this date – check the website); COST: £17 an adult/£10.20 a child (under 17s – under fives free)/£15.50 concession/£44.75 family (price includes an audio tour); WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/windsorcastle.