Cupola-Room

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.

PICTURE: HRP/newsteam

pagoda

News this week that Historic Royal Palaces and the Royal Botanic Gardens are embarking on a two year project to restore eighty decorative dragons to the Kew Pagoda has led us to take a look at the history of the exotic tower set amid the trees.

pagoda15Designed by architect Sir William Chambers (one of his drawings is depicted here), the pagoda was built in 1762 during the eighteenth century craze for Chinoiserie and was probably commissioned by Princess Augusta as part of the ongoing works she undertook in the gardens after the death of her husband Prince Frederick, eldest son of King George II and Queen Caroline.

Standing 163 feet (or almost 50 metres) high, the 10 storey pagoda was originally decorated with eighty golden dragons. It was designed to be the high point of a world tour through the gardens which also took in Roman ruins and Arabic mosques.

While the pagoda remains, the dragons were only on the structure for some 22 years before being removed in 1784 during roof repairs. Thanks to rumours they were made of solid gold, it was suggested they were sold off to pay the debts of the Prince Regent (the future King George IV), but experts say the wooden figures had simply rotted and so had to be removed.

Following their removal, the dragons subsequently disappeared and despite several attempts to find them – including one by Decimus Burton, architect of the famous Palm House (for more on that, see our earlier post), in 1843 – they have never been found.

Historic Royal Palaces and the Royal Botanic Gardens have now decided to replace them with new ones, drawing on contemporary accounts and drawings and using a team of specialist craftsmen to create them.

The restored pagoda – complete with new dragons – will be open to the public in 2017.

It is one of several ornamental buildings still located in the gardens. Others include a Japanese gateway and a Japanese wooden house called a minka.

WHERE: The Great Pagoda, Kew Gardens (nearest Tube station is Kew Gardens); WHEN: 10am daily (closing times vary – see websites for details); COST: £16.50 adults/£13 concessions/children £3.50 (discounts apply for online bookings); WEBSITE: www.kew.org.

PICTURES: RBG Kew

Arguably the greatest architect of Regency London, John Nash’s imprint can still be seen in numerous sites around the city, from the master-planning of Regent’s Park and Regent Street to the beautiful buildings of All Soul’s Church in Langham Place and Marble Arch on the edge of Hyde Park.

Born the son of a Welsh millwright in Lambeth, London, on 18th January, 1752, Nash – who went on to work in a range of different architectural styles – trained as a draughtsman under the tutelage of architect Sir Robert Taylor and in 1777 established his own business as a builder and surveyor.

John-NashBut he certainly didn’t meet with immediate success and, following failure as a building speculator (he built properties in Bloomsbury Square and Great Russell Street but failed to make enough money from the venture – there’s a blue plaque on one of the houses, which he lived in, at 66 Great Russell Street), was declared bankrupt in 1783.

Meanwhile, his personal life was also in turmoil during these years – in 1775 he had married, Jane Kerr, the daughter of a Surrey surgeon, but separated from her in the early 1780s after various troubles including her eventually apparently having a child with a Welshman named Charles Charles, who is said to have died in prison after he was jailed for adultery.

Brought down by his misfortune, in the mid 1780s Nash moved to Carmarthen in Wales where he had family. Taking up work here, by the late 1780s he was designing prisons – the first was at Carmarthen – and worked on a number of other prominent buildings including St David’s Cathedral and various country houses.

Rising to prominence in Carmarthen society, by 1797, however, Nash was again working in London, initially in partnership with the renowned landscape architect Humphrey Repton with whom he had formed a business relationship some years earlier (although the partnership had soured over finances by 1800).

He built a substantial home at 29 Dover Street in Mayfair and in 1798, his first wife presumably dead, he married his second wife, Mary Anne Bradley, and soon started work on building a Gothic-inspired residence for them, known as East Cowes Castle, on the Isle of Wight. It was completed in 1802 but enlarged some years later.

Nash designed numerous country properties in the early 19th century, inspired by everything from castles to Italianate architecture, both in England and Ireland and soon came to the attention of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV (there was a rumour his wife was one of the prince’s discarded mistresses).

In 1806 he was officially made Deputy Surveyor General in the Office of Woods and Forests – the office which managed the Crown estate, and from 1815 on, he largely worked for the prince alone. Among the major London commissions from his royal patron were the design of Regent Street (he and his wife moved into number 14 in 1823) and the development of Regent’s Park on land formerly known as Marylebone Park and surrounding housing estates (for more on The Regent’s Park, see our earlier entry here). He also redeveloped St James’s Park.

In 1815, he was commissioned to develop the Prince Regent’s Marine Pavilion in Brighton and by 1822 had transformed the building into the spectacular Royal Pavilion which can be visited there today.

Nash was also involved in the development of The Regent’s Canal – which linked the Grand Union Canal in London’s west to the River Thames in London’s east and was completed in 1820 – and built many of the grand villas which still line it (for more on Regent’s Canal, see our earlier entry here).

Becoming an official architect to the Office of Works in 1813 (an appointment which only ended in 1832, three years before his death), Nash went on to design churches – including All Soul’s in Langham Place (he’s depicted above in a bust at the church) – as well as West End theatres including the Haymarket Theatre and the Royal Opera House (which burnt down in 1867) as well as the adjacent Royal Opera Arcade and residences including Carlton House Terrace and Clarence House (for more on this, see our earlier entry here).

Other major commissions included the redevelopment of Buckingham Palace (parts of the current building are his work but the main facade isn’t – for more on the palace history, see our earlier entry here) and the Royal Mews, and the creation of Marble Arch, originally envisaged as the main gateway to the palace (see our earlier entry here). Nash also designed a conservatory for Kew Gardens.

Nash’s close relationship with the Prince Regent (who become King George IV on 29th January, 1820), meant that when the king died in 1830, he found himself on the outer (and his reputation took many years to recover thanks to his association with the unpopular king). With no knighthood forthcoming for his efforts (unlike many of his contemporaries) and the chance of further work unlikely (his work on Buckingham Palace had been left unfinished due to concerns over rising costs), Nash retired to his house on the Isle of Wight.

He died there on 13th May, 1835, and was buried in the churchyard at St James’s Church in East Cowes. He was survived by his wife who, having settled his debts, retired to Hampstead.

For an in-depth study of Nash, try Geoffrey Tyack’s book, John Nash: Architect of the Picturesque.

A white tiled plunge bath which once belonged to Princess Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of George, Prince of Wales (later King George IV), still lies in the south-west corner of Greenwich Park between the Rose Garden and Chesterfield Gate.

Princess Caroline, a cousin of the prince, married him in 1795 in an arrangement made so he could get out of debt. Theirs was never a marriage of love – the prince is said to have spread rumours that she was adulterous, had bad breath and never washed – and after Princess Caroline gave birth to a daughter, Princess Charlotte, the couple separated.

Two years later, in 1798, Princess Caroline was banished to live at Montague House near Greenwich Park while the prince dallied with his mistress Maria Fitzherbert. The princess, known for her scandalous and indiscreet behaviour during her residence at the house, used the sunken bath, which the stood inside a bathhouse partly attached to the main building.

The house was demolished in 1815 on the orders of the king (a decision apparently prompted by a fit of pique at the Queen’s lifestyle), a year after Princess Caroline left England for the Continent plagued by rumours that she’d mothered an illegitimate child (a secret commission into her behaviour cleared her of a charge of adultery but did find her behaviour to be improper).

The sunken bath, meanwhile, was filled in during the 1980s and served as a flowerbed until, in 2001, it was re-excavated by Royal Parks in a dig funded by the Friends of Greenwich Park, Greenwich Society, the Friends of Ranger’s House and donations from individuals.

WHERE: Princess Caroline’s Bath, south-west corner of Greenwich Park (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark – other nearby stations include Greenwich, Maze Hill and Blackheath); WHEN: 6am to at least 8pm (but beware, closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx

PICTURE: © Copyright Colin Smithwww.geograph.org.uk 

We venture just to the west of London this week for a quick look at the five day horseracing event known as Royal Ascot which concludes tomorrow with the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, renamed to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee.

While Royal Ascot is now a highlight of the horse-racing calendar around the world (and all eyes this year on Frankel and Black Caviar), the origins of horse-racing at the 179 acre Ascot Racecourse, located at Ascot, adjacent to Windsor Great Park, go back some 300 years.

The first race meeting was held here on 11th August, 1711 – it was apparently Queen Anne who first spotted the potential of the site, then known as East Cote, as a suitable location for a racecourse when out riding from Windsor Castle earlier that year, hence she is celebrated as the founder of the event (today, the Queen Anne Stakes is run in memory of Queen Anne’s vital contribution).

The inaugural event was Her Majesty’s Plate, which carried a prize packet of 100 guineas. Seven horses, each carrying 12 stone of weight, took part in what were three separate heats, each four miles long, but there is apparently no record of who won.

While the racecourse was laid out by William Lowen and his team on the orders of Queen Anne, the first permanent building, constructed by a Windsor builder, wasn’t erected until 1794 – capable of holding 1,650 people, it remained in use until 1838. Meanwhile, the future of the course, which stands on Crown property, was pretty much guaranteed in 1813 when an Act of Parliament ensured the area on which the course stands would remain in use as a public racecourse.

It was the introduction of the Gold Cup in 1807 which is believed to have ushered in the race meet we now know. It remains the feature race of the third day of Royal Ascot which, known as Ladies Day, became the dominant day of the race meeting.

In 1825, King George IV established the first Royal Procession, which still occurs on each day of the meeting and makes its way from the Golden Gates and along the racecourse and into the Parade Ring.

Up until 1901, the racecourse was run on behalf of the Sovereign by the Master of the Royal Buckhounds – an officer in the Royal Household. In that year the situation changed when Lord Churchill was appointed as His Majesty’s Representative and made responsible for running the course and entrance to the Royal Enclosure.

In 1913, the Ascot Authority was established to handle the running of the racecourse and His Majesty’s Representative become the chairman of the new organisation. The chairman, who is currently Johnny Weatherby, remains at the head of Ascot Authority (Holdings) Limited today and is still referred to by the title Her Majesty’s Representative.

In 2002, Ascot Racecourse Ltd was incorporated and is now the organisation responsible for running the racecourse – this underwent a £200 million redevelopment in the mid 2000s which included construction of the spectator stand, reopening in 2006 (pictured in the last picture is the Queen arriving at the reopening).

Among the traditions associated with Royal Ascot is that the jockeys who ride the Queen’s horses wear purple with gold braid, scarlet sleeves and a black velvet cap with gold fringe – the same colors used by King Edward VII and King George IV when Prince Regent. It’s also the role of the Queen, who first attended Royal Ascot in 1945 and who, prior to this year’s race meeting has owned some 63 Ascot winners including 20 at Royal Ascot, to make a number of presentations to race winners, including the Gold Cup, the Royal Hunt Cup and The Queen’s Vase.

Royal Ascot today is Britain’s most popular race meeting attracting 300,000 spectators and holding the position of the most valuable horserace meeting in Europe with £4.5 million in prize money on offer over 30 races.

A key event on Britain’s social calendar, for many Royal Ascot has also become as much about fashion and people-watching as it has the horseracing. For those who can gain entry – including meeting strict dress code requirements – the Royal Enclosure, which traces its history back to King George IV who first commissioned a two-storey building to be constructed with surrounding lawn for the pleasure of his invited guests, remains the most exclusive of the spectator enclosures at the race meeting.

As well as the running of the Diamond Jubilee Stakes (previously known as the Golden Jubilee Stakes), Royal Ascot is also marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a photographic exhibition, 60 years of Royal Ascot during the reign of Her Majesty The Queen, located beside the pre-Parade Ring.

For more, see www.ascot.co.uk.

PICTURES: Courtesy of Ascot Racecourse – top and middle: (c) RPM; bottom: (c) Action Images/Scott Heavey.

A former hunting chase, The Regent’s Park in London’s north-west was extensively developed in the 19th century and remains a good – if not complete – example of a Regency landscape.

As with many of London’s Royal Parks, Regent’s Park (it’s formal name is actually The Regent’s Park but we’ll shorten it for our purposes here) once served as King Henry VIII’s hunting grounds – he seized the park, then known as Marylebone Park Fields after the nearby village and boasting thick woods as well as more open forests, from the Abbey of Barking in 1538.

Used by royalty for the next 50 years, it remained largely unaltered until after the Civil War when, between 1649 and 1660, the Commonwealth ordered many of the trees to be chopped down to pay debts. It was restored to royal ownership with the restoration of the monarchy but, with hunting falling out of fashion, was then leased out to tenant farmers.

It was John Nash who created the park that we know and love today. Friend of the Prince Regent (later King George IV), he was among a number of architects who responded to the Prince Regent’s calls for the creation of a new design featuring a palace for himself.

Nash’s original designs included a round park featuring a lake and canal and surrounded by as many as 56 villas and a palatial summer home for the Prince Regent which would be linked to his other home at St James’s by a processional road.

But only eight of the villas were ever built and only two of them – St John’s Lodge and The Holme – remain (both are private residences but part of the lodge’s gardens are open to the public) while the plans for the Prince Regent’s palace were put on hold when he turned his attention to developing Buckingham Palace instead. The canal, meanwhile, was moved to the park’s northern boundary where it still stands today (see our earlier entry on Regent’s Canal) while the processional route Nash had proposed became Regent Street.

While the park was initially only for the exclusive use of residents and what Royal Park’s call the ‘carriage set’, in 1835, the eastern part of the park was opened to the public for two days a week. Other sections of what is now included in the park, including Primrose Hill, were opened later.

Meanwhile, the fact most of the villas had never been built had left a large amount of free space and so both the Zoological Society and the Royal Botanic Society moved in – the latter laying out what is the Inner Circle with lawns and a lake of its own. Another society to operate in the park was the Royal Toxophilite Society which introduced archery there.

Not much has changed since but for the creation of Queen Mary’s Gardens in the 1930s – these were laid out on the space formally occupied by the Royal Botanic Society which had decided not to renew its lease. The Open Air Theatre performances, which are still held in the gardens today, started at about the same time. The park was damaged by bombing during World War II but has been fully restored.

Other facilities now in the 166 hectare (410 acre) park include a sports facility known as The Hub as well as several cafes, tennis courts and boat hire. The London Zoo, of course, also remains there.

WHERE: The Regent’s Park (nearest tube station is Regent’s Park); WHEN: 5am to at least 4pm (closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/The-Regents-Park.aspx

Regent’s Canal was fully opened in 1820 and linked the Grand Junction Canal, which ended at Little Venice in Paddington in London’s west, with the East London Docks and Limehouse in the east. Architect John Nash was one of the directors of the canal company and it was thanks to his friendship with the Prince Regent, the future King George IV, that the canal obtained its name. Nash saw the canal as an integral part of his plans for The Regent’s Park and it now runs along the park’s northern edge. Nash’s assistant James Morgan was the canal’s chief engineer. The waterbus service, which operates between Little Venice and Camden Loch, runs at various times daily until October. See here for timetable details.