The National Theatre company had been founded 13 years before (although the concept was first proposed more than 100 years before) and was, until 1976, based at the Old Vic close to Waterloo Station.
The new (now Grade II*-listed) premises (which was originally also to house an opera house, although this plan was later dropped) was designed by architects Sir Denys Lasdun and Peter Softly and the structural engineers Flint & Neill. To this day the brutalist design provokes some strong opinions (Prince Charles once described it as “a way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting”).
It contains three auditoriums: the Olivier (named for acting great Sir Laurence Olivier), the Lyttelton (named for Oliver Lyttelton, Lord Chandos, first chairman of the National Theatre) and the Dorfman (known as the Cottesloe until 2014, it was originally named for Lord Cottesloe, chairman of the South Bank board which oversaw the building of the theatre, before being renamed after businessman and philanthropist Lloyd Dorfman) and were opened progressively between 1976 and 1977.
While the first performances began to be held in the Lyttelton theatre from March, the complex was only officially opened by the Queen on 25th October with parts of the building still unfinished. Sir Laurence Olivier gives a speech of welcome in the auditorium which bears his name – it is his only appearance on the complex’s stages.
In 1988, the complex was granted the title Royal by the Queen – hence it’s officially the Royal National Theatre – in honour of the company’s 25th birthday.
More than 1,000 people now work on the five acre site which as well as the theatres, features rehearsal rooms, workshops where sets and scenes are created and painted and costumes and props are made.
Since it was founded, the National Theatre has presented more than 800 productions to an audience numbering well into the millions.
For more, see www.nationaltheatre.org.uk.
April 10, 2015
Among the treasures on show at this year’s summer opening of Buckingham Palace, the Australian State Coach was a gift to Queen Elizabeth II by Australia on 8th May, 1988, to mark the Australian Bicentennial.
The coach – the first to be built for the Royal Family since the Coronation of King Edward VII in 1902 – was built by Australian WJ “Jim” Frecklington who also designed the Diamond Jubilee State Coach.
The coach, which is usually kept in the Royal Mews where it can be viewed by the public, has been used at the State Opening of Parliament and other occasions involving foreign royal families and visiting heads of state. It was also used to carry Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall and Michael and Carole Middleton back to Buckingham Palace after the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
It was last used to carry the Duke of Edinburgh and Señora Rivera, wife of the president of Mexico, on a State Visit in March this year.
The summer opening of the palace runs from 25th July to 27th September. The coach will be on display in the Grand Entrance portico.
WHERE: Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace (nearest Tube stations are Victoria, Green Park and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: 25th July to 31st August – 9.30am to 7.30pm daily (last admission 5.15pm)/1st to 27th September – 9.30am to 6.30pm (last admission 4.15pm); COST: £35.60 adults/£20 under 17 and disabled/£32.50 concessions/£91.20 family (2 adults and three under 17s); WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-state-rooms-buckingham-palace/plan-your-visit.
PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2015
The world recently paused to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of former British PM, Sir Winston Churchill (see our earlier post here), so we’re launching a new series looking at 10 sites associated with Churchill in London.
Given the recent anniversary, we’re starting at a site close to the end of his story, at St Paul’s Cathedral, where his state funeral was held on 30th January, 1965.
Code-named ‘Operation Hope Not’, the funeral had been thoroughly planned in the years leading up to the former PM’s death and took place just six days after he passed. Having lain in state in Westminster Hall for three days (during which time it’s estimated 320,000 filed past his flag draped body), his coffin, carried on a gun carriage pulled by 120 members of the Royal Navy, was escorted by more than 2,300 personnel from the military as it made its way through city streets lined with thousands of people to St Paul’s for the service.
During the service, the catafalque containing Churchill’s body stood on a raised platform beneath the central dome surrounded by six candlesticks. Among the official pallbearers – who marched before it down the aisle – were another former PM, Clement Attlee, along with military figures like Field Marshal Lord Slim and Admiral of the Fleet Lord Mountbatten of Burma.
A plethora of world leaders representing 112 nations attended the funeral service including six sovereigns, six presidents and 16 prime ministers. Among them – in an unprecedented move for a state funeral – was Queen Elizabeth II (sovereigns do not normally attend non-family funerals) along with Prince Philip and Prince Charles.
It’s estimated that as some 350 million people around the globe tuned in to watch the funeral on TV.
After the service, Churchill’s body was taken to Tower Pier (near the Tower of London) where, to the sound of a 19-gun salute fired by the Royal Artillery, he was loaded on the MV Havengore. Sixteen RAF Lightning aircraft then did a flypast as he was transported upriver to Festival Pier with dockers dipping their cranes in salute as the boat passed (this journey was recreated last week using the original barge in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death).
On its arrival at Festival Pier, the body was then taken to Waterloo Station from where it went via train in a specially prepared carriage (the refurbished funeral train has been brought back together at the National Railway Museum at York) to be buried in St Martin’s churchyard in Bladon, Oxfordshire – a site not far from his birthplace at Blenheim Palace.
A bronze memorial plaque commemorating where Churchill’s catafalque stood in St Paul’s is set before the Quire steps while in 2004, the Winston Churchill Memorial Screen was unveiled in the crypt where it stands in line with the final resting places of both Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.
For more on the state funeral, St Paul’s has a great page of detail which you can find here, including downloadable copies of the Order of Service and other documents.
August 21, 2013
It’s not immediately obvious what this series of upright stainless steel pillars standing on the eastern edge of Hyde Park has been placed there for.
But look a little closer and you’ll see inscribed upon a date which any long-term Londoner immediately recognises – 7th July, 2005: the day when a series of bombs claimed 52 lives on three trains and a bus at various locations around central London.
The memorial, designed by architects Carmody Groarke and engineering team Arup working in consultation with victims’ representatives, Royal Parks and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, consists of 52 pillars – one for each victim of the bombings.
The 3.5 metre high, 850 kilogram pillars are clustered together in four groups representing the four locations of the bomb attacks – Tavistock Square, Edgware Road, King’s Cross and Aldgate. They are marked with the times, dates and locations of the bombings and there’s also a 1.4 tonne stainless steel plaque upon which are written the names of the victims located nearby.
The RIBA award-winning memorial, which is located just to the north of the colossal statue Achilles and Hyde Park Corner, was unveiled by Prince Charles and Lady Camilla on the fourth anniversary of the attack in 2009.
For more, see the Royal Parks website www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/hyde-park-attractions/7-july-memorial.
July 23, 2013
As we all know by now, Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, are proud parents of a new born son with news of the new arrival provoking celebrations across Britain and, indeed, the world.
To celebrate the royal birth, here are 10 interesting facts about some previous royal births in London…
• The last time a Home Secretary attended a royal birth was in 1936 for the birth of Princess Alexandria, cousin of the Queen. The practice was officially stopped before the birth of Prince Charles in 1948.
• Such was the doubt over whether Mary of Modena, wife of King James II, was really pregnant that more than 40 eminent people were invited to witness the birth of their son Prince James in 1688 (and even then the rumours of that the stillborn baby had been swapped for another were rife).
• Queen Anne, who ruled from 1702-1714, went through 17 pregnancies but, tragically, outlived all of her children, her last surviving child – the Duke of Gloucester – dying in 1700.
• The tradition of firing a 41 gun salute on the news of the birth of a future monarch dates from the birth of the future King Edward VII. Twenty-one shots are fired in honour of the birth with an additional 21 fired because the guns are located in Green Park, a Royal Park.
• Queen Elizabeth II was born by caesarean section at 2.40am on April 21, 1926, at the home of her mother’s parents – 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair. (See our previous post on this here).
• Such was the animosity between Frederick, Prince of Wales, and his father, King George II, that when Frederick’s wife Augusta went into labour at the king’s home of Hampton Court Palace, he bundled her into a coach and had her taken to his home of St James’s Palace. With no preparations made there, his newly born daughter had to be wrapped in a tablecloth (the story is retold in detail in Lucy Worsley’s terrific book, Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court)
• Queen Victoria, who had nine children, used chloroform for pain relief during later births, despite the concept being frowned upon by some officials.
• Buckingham Palace (pictured above) has been the birthplace of numerous Royal Family members. Of course, Prince Charles was born here in 1948 as was his brother Prince Andrew (1960) and Prince Edward (1964) but so too – somewhat earlier – were 14 of King George III and Queen Charlotte’s 15 children when the property was known as Buckingham House and, later, the Queen’s House. King Edward VII was the only monarch who both was born and died in the building.
• Such was the desperation of King Henry VIII for a son, that a document announcing the birth were drawn up to that effect prior to Anne Boleyn giving birth to a daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I. The document was still issued – the only concession being an ‘s’ added to the end of the word prince.
• The oldest English king to father a child was King Edward I – he was 66-years-old when his last child, Princess Eleanor, was born in 1306. Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of King Henry II, was the oldest queen to father a child when she gave birth to the future King John at 44-years-of-age in 1166.
April 8, 2013
Hidden away to the north-west of the City of a quiet cul-de-sac, the oldest still-in-use Roman Catholic church in London (indeed, in England) is St Etheldreda’s Church in Holborn.
Located in Ely Place, this atmospheric church – named for Etheldreda, seventh century female abbess of Ely – opened as a Roman Catholic Church in 1878, although the building in which it is lodged is much older, indeed a rare survivor from the 13th century. It was built in 1290 by John De Kirkeby, the Bishop of Ely and Treasurer of England during the reign of King Edward I, as a chapel to a residence he constructed on the site.
It and the adjoining palace remained in use by subsequent bishops and other nobles (including John of Gaunt who lived here after his own residence, Savoy Palace , was burnt down during the Peasant’s Revolt) up to and after the Reformation – the first reformer Bishop to use it was Thomas Goodrich, who built the nearby Mitre Tavern. (Worth noting is that the church also has some strong links to Shakespeare – there’s a great article on the church’s website exploring these).
In 1620, the Spanish Ambassador, the Count of Gondomar, moved into Ely Place and the chapel was used once again for Catholic masses (the residence was considered part of Spanish territory) – this was a relatively short-lived development for, thanks to deteriorating relations between England and Spain following a failed match between Prince Charles (later King Charles I) and the Infanta of Spain, the next ambassador was refused permission to live there.
Having escaped destruction in the Great Fire of London, the chapel was requisitioned by Parliament as a prison and hospital during the Civil War and subsequently fell into disuse before in 1772, the property – including the chapel – was sold to the Crown who in turn sold it to a surveyor and builder, Charles Cole.
Cole demolished the palace buildings with the exception of the chapel and had the current Ely Place built with neat rows of Georgian homes, modernising the chapel for the use of residents as an Anglican place of worship. The church attracted few worshippers, however, and in 1820 was taken over by the National Society for the Education of the Poor.
In 1873, the chapel was again to be sold and following a somewhat controversial auction was bought by the Catholic Institute of Charity (aka the Rosminians) and restored under the eye of Father William Lockhart (the Catholic Emancipation Act had been passed in 1829, allowing Catholics to have churches and say mass).
Interestingly, it was during this work that 18 bodies were discovered buried in the crypt – they had died in the ‘Fatal Vespers’ of 1623 when, during a secret meeting of Catholics at the French ambassador’s house in Blackfriars, the floor collapsed and more than 100 were killed. Not able to be buried publicly due to anti-Catholic feeling, they were buried in secret with some of them buried here.
A mass commemorated the completion of the restoration work on 23rd June, 1878, and the church has been in use as a Roman Catholic Church ever since (although years of repairs were needed following significant bomb damage in World War II). Further restoration work was carried out in the 1990s when Flemish tiles from the original cloister were discovered.
These days the church – which features a relic of St Etheldreda contained in a bejewelled cask sitting by the altar – is a quiet oasis in the midst of the bustling city – a great place to take some time out in the midst of a busy day. Also of note is the east window – the work of Joseph Edward Nuttgens, it was completed in 1952 and, like all the other windows, replaced a Victorian window destroyed in the Blitz (look for the image of St Etheldreda) – and the west window – the work of Charles Blakeman, it is apparently the largest stained glass window in London and depicts a series of English Catholic martyrs.
WHERE: St Etheldreda’s Church, Ely Place (nearest Tube stations are Chancery Lane and Farringdon); WHEN: 8am to 5pm Monday to Saturday; 8am-12.30pm Sunday; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.stetheldreda.com.
Around London – Egypt comes to Wellington Arch; Dorothy Bohm at the MoL; Testino at the NPG; and performance art at the Tate Modern…
November 15, 2012
• The influence of ancient Egypt on English architecture and interiors is under the spotlight in a new English Heritage exhibition inside Wellington Arch’s Quadriga Gallery at Hyde Park Corner. Egypt in England reveals that the Egyptian style, while it has been used in 18th century gardens in England, first rose to popularity after Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798, continued when the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 triggered a new wave of ‘Egyptomania’ and went onto into the later 20th century where its influence can be seen on buildings like cinemas and shops. The exhibition features photographs of Egyptian-style buildings and landmarks from across England – including London sites such as the The Egyptian Avenue and Circle of Lebanon Vaults at Highgate Cemetery and The Egyptian Hall at Harrods – alongside images of the Egyptian sources which inspired them. There are also 19th century travel brochures, a number of shabtis (the small mummy-like figurines placed in tombs which were often taken home by visitors as souvenirs) and Wedgewood ceramics designed in the Egyptian style. The display also tells the story of London landmark Cleopatra’s Needle, a 3,500-year-old obelisk which sits on the north bank of the Thames (see our earlier post on it here). Admission charge applies. Runs until 13 January. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/wellington-arch/.
• A new exhibition of photographs taken by celebrated snapper Dorothy Bohm opens at the Museum of London tomorrow. Women in Focus will feature 33 color photographs dating from the 1990s to the present which juxtapose women who work and live in London with the ever-present images of women in advertising, artwork and shop windows. The images show women in their varied roles in society – from parents to professionals – and reflects on how they are seen in London’s public spaces. Runs until 17th February. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• Now On: Mario Testino: British Royal Portraits. This display at the National Portrait Gallery features eight portraits of Royal Family members taken by Mario Testino between 2003 and 2010. As well an official portrait of Prince Charles taken in 2003, others include a portrait of Prince William taken the same year for his 21st birthday, another of Prince Harry on his 21st birthday, a portrait of Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla commissioned by British Vogue in 2006 and official engagement portraits of Prince William and Duchess Catherine taken in 2010. It is the first time the portraits have all been shown together. The exhibition runs in Room 40 until 3rd February. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.
• Now On: A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance. This newly opened exhibition at the Tate Modern explores the changing relationship between performance and painting, spanning the period from 1950 to today and featuring works from more than 40 artists including David Hockney, Yves Klein, Jackson Pollock and Cindy Sherman. Themes examined in the exhibition include how the painted canvas has been used as an ‘arena’ in which performance is carried out, the use of the human body as a surface and how contemporary artists are using painting to create social and theatrical spaces. Runs until 1st April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.
July 27, 2012
We take a break from our regular series this week to bring you some images from the second half of the Olympic Torch Relay as it made it’s way around London toward tonight’s Opening Ceremony…
Day 67 (24th July): Tennis player Oliver Golding holds the Olympic Flame in between the Olympic Rings at Kew Gardens, London.
London Underground employee John Light carries the Olympic Flame onto an underground train at Wimbledon Station.
Day 68 (25th July): Former World Cup winning footballer Gordon Banks carries the Olympic Flame down Wembley Way, at Wembley Stadium.
Prince Charles, Duke of Cornwall, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, pose with young entrepreneur Jay Kamiraz and Paralympian Scott Moorhouse as they kiss together Olympic torches in Tottenham.
Day 69 (26th July): Disaster mapping charity volunteer Wai-Ming Lee passes the Olympic Flame to mountain rescue team leader John Hulse in front of Buckingham Palace in the presence of Prince William, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.
Wheelchair basketballer Ade Adepitan carries the Olympic Flame on Millennium Bridge.
Student Ifeyinwa Egesi holds the Olympic Flame inside the Globe Theatre.
For more on the Torch Relay, see www.london2012.com/torch-relay/
ALL PICTURES: LOCOG.
May 29, 2012
Like your Royal Family large? The largest ever photograph of Queen Elizabeth II, her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, and their four children has been displayed on South Bank building, Sea Containers, in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The iconic picture of the family – which also includes Earl Mountbatten, uncle to Prince Philip, and Princess Anne’s then husband Mark Phillips – was taken during 1977’s Silver Jubilee by an unknown photographer. The 100 by 70 metre image, which weighs nearly two tons, took eight people more than 45 hours to put into place on the building’s facade overlooking the Thames. It was erected by the owner of Sea Containers as a tribute to be seen during this weekend’s Jubilee Flotilla (and also to hide development work taking place behind as the building is transformed into a Mondrian hotel – Europe’s first – and office space.
May 11, 2012
Located in Hyde Park (not far from the Lido), this memorial to Diana, Princess of Wales, is designed as a ring of water – rather like a stream bed – with two cascades tumbling down to meet in a pool at the bottom.
Designed by US architect Kathryn Gustafson, the fountain – which cost £3.6 million – is made of 545 pieces of Cornish granite, each of which was shaped using laser cutting technology before being pieced together using traditional skills.
Gustafson’s design was selected after more than 10,000 plans were submitted to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain Committee in 2002. The architect has been reported as saying she wanted the design to reflect Diana’s inclusive “personality”.
The fountain was briefly closed to the public shortly after opening in 2004 because of safety concerns but reopened with new guidelines soon after.
The fountain is located on the route for the the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Walk, which takes on four of the royal parks – Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Green Park and St James’s Park.
Diana, whose divorce from Prince Charles had only been finalised the previous year, died in a car crash in Paris in August, 1997, along with Dodi Al Fayed.
WHERE: Hyde Park (nearest Tube stations are Knightsbridge and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: 10am to 8pm until end of August (check website for times after that); COST: Free; WEBSITE: http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/diana-memorial-fountain
Around London – Crown Jewels polished for Diamond Jubilee; Diana’s dresses at Kensington Palace; a plaque for Ziggy Stardust; and At Home with the World…
March 29, 2012
• A revamped Crown Jewels display opens today at the Tower of London to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The new display features graphics, music and newly restored film footage and will focus on the coronation ceremony as its central theme, exploring how the regalia are used in the ceremony. The regalia – which includes some of the most extraordinary diamonds in the world such as the Star of Africa and Koh-i-Nur – is being displayed in the order in which it is used at the coronation ceremony. The Crown Jewels have been on show to the public at the Tower of London since at least 1661 after they were remade for King Charles II’s coronation. The previous collection had been largely destroyed in the Civil War although some pieces survived including a gilt silver spoon probably made for King Henry II or King Richard I (the “Lionheart”). For more information, see www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/.
• Five dresses worn by Diana, Princess of Wales, have gone on display at Kensington Palace which re-opened to the public this week following a £12 million overhaul. The five dresses include a black silk taffeta gown (designed by Emanuel) which Diana wore to a fundraising event at the Goldsmith’s Hall in 1981 – her first official engagement with Prince Charles as well as a formal dinner dress of ivory silk (Catherine Walker) created for a State Banquet for the King and Queen of Malaysia in 1993 and a black ribbed silk shift evening dress (Gianni Versace) worn to the London premiere of Apollo 13 in Hammersmith in 1995. For more on the revamp of the palace see our earlier post. Or visit www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/.
• A plaque commemorating the site where the iconic image for the cover of David Bowie’s 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars was photographed has been unveiled in the West End. The plaque at the somewhat innocuous site at 23 Heddon Street, just off Regent Street, was installed by the Crown Estate and unveiled this week by Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet. The image for the album cover was shot by the late photographer Brian Ward who managed to persuade Bowie to step outside the ‘studio’ space he had rented upstairs despite the fact it was a cold, wet January night.
• On Now: At Home with the World. This exhibition at the Geoffrye Museum explores the cosmopolitan nature of London’s homes over the past 400 years and looks at how diverse cultures have helped shaped the homes – covering everything from Chinese porcelain and the tea craze of the 1700s to the use of Islamic and Indian patterns in the 1800s, the popularity of Scandinavian and American design in the 1900s and the globalism of today. The period rooms on show at the museum have been reinterpreted to highlight the international influences. This is one of a series of Stories of the World: London exhibitions taking place across the city which are exploring four aspects of life – home, identity, journeys and place – as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad program. Runs until 9th September. Entry is free. For more, see www.geffrye-museum.org.uk.
In the first of a new special series written in honor of the bicentenary of the birth of author Charles Dickens (he was born on 7th February, 1812), we take a look at the Charles Dickens Museum.
Housed in one of Dickens’ former London residences at 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury, this property is now the focal point for people wanting to find out more about the writer and his life as evidenced by the visit of Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, on Tuesday to officially mark Dickens’ birth.
Dickens lived in the property from 1837 to 1839 and it was here that significant family events, such as the birth of two of his children – Mary and Kate – and the death of his wife Catherine’s 17-year-old sister Mary took place (Mary’s tragic death is believed to be the inspiration for that of the character Little Nell in the novel The Old Curiosity Shop). It was also at the property that he wrote some of his most famous novels, including Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and The Pickwick Papers.
A growing demand for space, however, led Dickens to move his household to 1 Devonshire Terrace in 1839. The Doughty Street house meanwhile, the only one of Dickens’ London homes to have survived, remained a residential property but in 1923 it was threatened with demolition and subsequently acquired by the Dickens Fellowship. The museum opened there two years later.
The museum now claims to hold more than 100,000 Dickens-related artifacts. The house is displayed as it might have been when Dickens lived there – artifacts on display over four floors include his personal possessions and furnishings as well as manuscripts, letters, first edition copies of some of his books and portraits, including R.W. Buss’ spectacular (and unfinished) Dickens’ Dream, showing the author at his country home of Gads Hill Place in Kent surrounded by many of the characters that he had created.
It’s important to note that from 9th April, the museum will be closed as it undergoes a £3.2 million project, called Great Expectations, which will involve the restoration and expansion of the museum. It is expected to reopen in December this year in time to celebrate a Dickensian Christmas.
WHERE: 48 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury (nearest Tube stations are Russell Square, Chancery Lane or Holborn). WHEN: 10am to 5pm Monday to Sunday (last admission 4.30pm) ; COST: £7 adults/£5 concessions/£3 children (under 10 free); WEBSITE: www.dickensmuseum.com.
July 12, 2011
Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall were among those to pay their respects at a new memorial remembering those 155 Britons who were among the 225,000 people died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami last week. The 115 tonne memorial, located in gardens at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, was designed by architecture studio Carmody Groarke. It is sculpted from granite quarried from France and was funded by a £550,000 grant from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Carmody Groarke was also involved in the design of the 7 July Memorial which, located in Hyde Park, commemorates the 52 people killed in the suicide bombings which took place in London in 2005. It was unveiled by Prince Charles in 2009.
July 8, 2011
It’s one of London’s most famous landmarks and, having just undergone a three year, £2 million restoration, we thought it was time to take a look at the origins of the White Tower.
Now the keep of the Tower of London, the White Tower was first built by the Norman King William the Conqueror following his defeat of Saxon King Harold Godwinson and the cream of the Saxon army at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Following his coronation at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, King William then withdrew to Barking Abbey while his men built several temporary strongholds in the city to ensure it wouldn’t cause any trouble – this included an earth and timber keep standing on an artificial mound in the south-east corner of the city’s Roman-era walls.
The White Tower, a permanent structure, replaced this and although the exact date its construction started is unknown, building – under the watchful eye of Gundulf, the Bishop of Rochester, was well underway by the mid-1070s. While the labourers were English, the masons in charge of the building were Norman and then even used some Caen stone imported from William’s homeland (along with Kentish ragstone). By 1097 the tower was complete.
Primarily built as a fortress rather than for comfort, the size of the Tower was intimidating and, at 27.5 metres tall, it would have dominated the skyline for miles. Initial defences surrounding the White Tower included the Roman walls and two ditches although in later years outer walls were added to create the massive fortifications and series of towers one encounters at the site today.
The tower earned its moniker, the White Tower, from the whitewash used on its walls during the reign of King Henry II. The caps on the four turrets which stand at each corner of the tower were originally conical but were replaced with the current onion-shaped domes in the 1500s (the round tower was once home to the Royal Observatory before it moved out to Greenwich). The White Tower’s large external windows are also more modern innovations, these were added in the 1600s by Sir Christopher Wren.
The original entrance to the White Tower was on the first floor, reached by a wooden staircase (that could be removed if necessary), much as it is today while, for security reasons, the internal stone spiral staircase was placed as far from this entry as possible in the north-east turret. A stone forebuilding was later added during the reign of King Henry II but was later demolished.
Inside, accommodation for the king was provided on the second floor – it originally had a gallery above but an extra floor – still there today – was later added. Accommodation for the Tower’s constable was probably on the first floor. Both floors were divided in two – with a large hall on one side and smaller apartments on the other. These rooms now house displays on the Tower’s history – at the present these include the Royal Armouries’ exhibition ‘Power House’.
The White Tower is also home to the Chapel of St John the Evangelist which, made from Caen stone, still looks much the same as it did in Norman times. It was used by the royal family when in residence at the tower but by the reign of King Charles II had become a store for state records. These were removed in 1857. Among some of the events which took place here was the lying in state of Queen Elizabeth of York, wife to King Henry VII, after her death in 1503, and the betrothal of Queen Mary I to Philip of Spain in 1554 (by proxy, Philip was not present). Prince Charles received communion here on his 21st birthday.
Other historic events associated with the White Tower include the apparent murder in 1483 of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ – King Edward V and his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York – while legend says they were killed in the Bloody Tower, the discovery of two skeletons under stairs leading to the chapel during building works in 1674 has led some to believe that they may have been buried here.
It was also in the White Tower that King Richard II was forced to sign away his throne to King Henry IV in 1399 and it was from the White Tower that Gruffydd ap Llywelyn Fawr, the illegitimate son of Welsh Prince Llywelyn the Great, apparently fell to his death while attempting to escape captivity in 1244.
There are tours of the White Tower daily at 10.45am, 12.45pm, and 2.15pm.
WHERE: Tower of London (nearest tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Sunday to Monday (until 31st October); COST: Included in Tower of London admission – £19.80 adults; £10.45 children under 15; £17.05 concessions; £55 for a family (prices include a voluntary donation); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.
A service was held at St Paul’s today in celebration of the 300 year anniversary of the cathedral’s completion.
Designed by the indomitable Sir Christopher Wren, work on St Paul’s Cathedral began in 1677 and was formally completed in 1710 (although it had been holding services since 1697). (For more on the history of St Paul’s, see our earlier post, part of our series on Wren’s London, here).
Said to have the largest dome after St Peter’s in Vatican City, St Paul’s has been at the centre of London’s (and the United Kingdom’s) religious and political life for centuries, hosting state funerals (Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Winston Churchill’s were all held here) as well as the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana and many celebration services.
Sights include the crypt – containing the tombs of both Nelson and Wellington – and the Whispering Gallery (see our earlier post on the Whispering Gallery here) as well as the exterior viewing galleries.
To celebrate the cathedral’s liberation from scaffolding, St Paul’s is holding a 300th Anniversary Photography Competition in which photographers are invited to submit their best exterior shots of the building. The 10 winning images will then be displayed in the cathedral crypt. The competition runs until 16th July.
June 11, 2011
A ceremony first believed to have been performed during the reign of King Charles II, since 1748 the parade has been used to mark the Official Birthday of the Sovereign.
The parade includes six Guards groups. This year it was the turn of the Scots Guards, raised in 1642 at the behest of King Charles I, to parade their colours.
Part of the Household Mounted Cavalry, the Blues and Royals.
April 29, 2011
Along with tens of thousands of others, Exploring London took up a post in The Mall to watch festivities surrounding the London wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Here’s some of what we saw…
Kate Middleton, newly titled Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge, rides in a 1977 Rolls Royce Phantom IV from the Goring Hotel in Belgravia to Westminster Abbey via The Mall, greeting crowds along the way. Others, including Prince William, had already passed by.
The crowds cheered along The Mall throughout the morning, including after Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was heard over loudspeakers announcing that the couple were now man and wife. The Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres, delivered the address while James Middleton read the lesson.
After the ceremony, the newly married couple processed in the 1902 State Landau down Whitehall and The Mall through a sea of flag-waving well-wishers towards Buckingham Palace after the wedding ceremony. The Landau was the same used by Prince Charles and Princess Diana after their 1981 wedding.
The couple, along with other members of the royal family and Kate Middleton’s parents, appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace at around 1.30pm, waving to the crowd and exchanging kisses. Here they are flanked by Queen Elizabeth II (right) and the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall (left) along with bridesmaids and pageboys.
A Lancaster bomber and two Spitfires flew over the top of Buckingham Palace as part of an RAF flypast. They were followed by two tornados and two typhoons. The flypast brought official celebrations to an end after which the royal rejoined the champagne and canape reception already underway.
Crowds fill The Mall in the wedding’s aftermath. The newly weds later left Buckingham Palace driving a vintage convertible Aston Martin owned by Prince Charles. Overhead hovered a Sea King helicopter manned by some of Prince William’s colleagues.
Ahead of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton tomorrow, here’s a look at some of the more curious and interesting facts related to London’s Royal Wedding past…
• The first public Royal Wedding in modern times was that of Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI), and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) which took place on 26th April, 1923. Instead of being held at a royal chapel as was more usual, they were married at Westminster Abbey in a public display which was apparently staged to lift the national spirit in the aftermath of World War I.
• Lady Diana Spencer (later Diana, Princess of Wales) memorably said Prince Charles’ name in the wrong order during their wedding ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral on 29th July, 1981. Lady Diana accidentally called him Philip Charles Arthur George instead of the correct Charles Philip Arthur George.
• Queen Victoria’s extravagant wedding cake was the first to feature a model of the bride and groom on its summit (with a figure of Britannia looming over them). The two tier cake measured nine foot across and weighed 300 lbs.
• While white wedding dresses had been worn for some time, it was apparently after Queen Victoria wore a white dress at her 1840 wedding that the idea spread to the masses. (Interestingly, the first documented princess to wear a white wedding dress is said to have been Philippa of England, the daughter of King Henry IV, in 1406).
• The first televised Royal Wedding was that of Princess Margaret, younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, to Antony Armstrong-Jones (Lord Snowdon) on 6th May, 1960. It attracted some 300 million viewers worldwide.
• The tradition of a royal bride leaving her bouquet on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey was started by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. She apparently did so in tribute to her brother Fergus who had died during World War I. Princess Mary, daughter of King George V, made a similar gesture at her wedding in 1922 – she left her bouquet at the Cenotaph in Whitehall after her wedding.
• One of the most scandalous Royal Weddings was that of George, Prince of Wales (later King George IV) to Princess Caroline of Brunswick on 8th April, 1795 at the Chapel Royal in St James’s Palace. Described as being “far from a love match” on the Historic Royal Palaces’ website, Prince George was said to have been drunk during the wedding and at one stage apparently even attempted to escape from the ceremony.
• If the rain stays away, the newly married prince and his bride will be returning to Buckingham Palace in the 1902 State Landau. The open-topped carriage was constructed for King Edward VII’s coronation and apparently made roomy to accommodation him. The carriage was used by Prince Charles and Lady Diana when they left St Paul’s Cathedral after their 1981 wedding. If the weather it poor, it’s expected that the 1881 Glass Coach, bought for the coronation of King George V in 1911, will be used instead.
For more fascinating facts on Royal Weddings, see the BBC website (www.bbc.co.uk/history/royal_weddings), or Historic Royal Palaces’ blog, The ‘other’ royal weddings (http://blog.hrp.org.uk). For more on the current Royal Wedding, see the official website (www.officialroyalwedding2011.org).
April 27, 2011
Word is that Prince William and his soon-to-be wife, Catherine Middleton, have yet to formally decide where they will live when in London (they are expected to spend much of their first two-and-a-half years of marriage in North Wales).
Their initial London base, however, will reportedly be Clarence House. Located in The Mall, just down the road from Buckingham Palace and beside St James’s Palace, the grand building is currently the home of William’s father Charles, the Prince of Wales, his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and, William’s brother, Prince Harry (it is also the home of William himself).
In years gone past, Clarence House served as the home of the newly married Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) and her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Prince Charles, who lived there with his parents until the age of three, returned to the property in August 2003 after the death of his grandmother Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who had lived in the building from 1953.
Clarence House was built between 1825 and 1827 to the designs of architect John Nash on the orders of Prince William Henry, the Duke of Clarence and later King William IV.
It was converted from a Jacobean mansion for King William III and Queen Mary II and has since been the home of many royals including, most famously, Diana, Princess of Wales. She and her then husband, Prince Charles, moved in following their wedding in 1981, and Princess Diana continued to live there after her divorce in 1996.
Other notable royal residents have included Queen Anne and Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth II.
Another option – St James’s Palace – was built in 1531 on the site of a medieval leper hospital by King Henry VIII. Used initially for state occasions and to house royal relatives (Tudor monarchs actually lived at Whitehall Palace), it became the official royal residence in 1702, when Whitehall Palace burnt down, and remained so until the 1830s when King George III moved to Buckingham Palace.