Queen-Alexandra-MemorialErected to the memory of Queen Alexandra, the consort of King Edward VII, the memorial – an ornate bronze screen – is located on the exterior of the garden wall of Marlborough House – the Queen’s former home – in Marlborough Road, opposite St James’ Palace.

Queen-Alexandra-Memorial-smallThe now Grade I-listed bronze memorial, which is the work of Alfred Gilbert and was erected in 1932, is sometimes described as London’s only Art Nouveau statue.

It depicts a central figure, described as “Love Enthroned”, supporting a young girl (perhaps a symbol of the Queen’s support for the next generation), and attended by two crowned bowing figures which it’s believed represent faith and hope. An inscription – “Faith, hope, love – The guiding virtues of Queen Alexandra” – sits below.

The memorial was unveiled on 8th June, 1932, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang, in attendance. Queen Alexandra’s Memorial Ode, composed by Sir Edward Elgar, was first performed at the ceremony.

The memorial was the last public artwork to be completed by Gilbert, noted for having also created what is arguably London’s most famous statue – that of Eros in Piccadilly (see our earlier post here), who was knighted by King George V after the unveiling.

The Queen lived at the property during her widowhood until her death in 1925.

Apologies – we neglected to put in the link! Now corrected.

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The London Olympics are almost upon us and having completed our series on the Queen to mark her Diamond Jubilee, we’re launching a new special looking at historic sporting events which took place in London and where they were carried out.

To kick it off, however, we thought we’d take a look at Olympics past. London has previously hosted the Games twice – 1908 and 1948. So this week we’re taking a look at the 1908 Games.

The 1908 Summer Olympics – officially recognised as the fourth “modern” Games – were initially to be held in Rome. But the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 1906 devastated the city of Naples and so the funds which were to be used for the Games had to be diverted to help the stricken community.

A number of candidates, including Milan and Berlin, were apparently considered before it was decided to hold the Games in White City in London’s west alongside the Franco-British Exhibition already being held in the area (the white marble clad buildings constructed for the exhibition buildings are what gave the area its name).

A new stadium – the White City Stadium – was constructed in just 10 months for the Games and was designed to accommodate 66,000 people. As well as the running track around the perimeter with which we are familiar today, there was also a cycle track located outside the running track while the infield hosted swimming and diving pools and a pitch where football, hockey, rugby and lacrosse could be played. Wrestling and gymnastics was also conducted in the middle of the stadium.

While many of the 110 events in 22 different sports – including athletics, archery, lacrosse, rugby union, swimming, water polo and  tug of war (the only time run at an Olympics, it was won by a City of London police team) – and were held at the stadium, a number were held elsewhere.

These included tennis (at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon – see yesterday’s post), rowing (at Henley), fencing (at the neighbouring British-Franco Exhibition) and jeu de paume or ‘real tennis’ (at the Queen’s Club in West Kensington).

The Games, which ran for six months from April to October, were noted for being the first in which Winter events were included (four figure skating events were held at the Prince’s Skating Club in Knightsbridge), for being the first at which the Olympic creed – “The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well” – was publicly proclaimed.

They were also the Olympics at which length of the marathon was set at 26 miles, 385 yards (the distance from a window outside the nursery at Windsor Castle, where the event was started to give the Royal Family a good view, to the stadium) and were the first Games in which spectators marching into the arena behind their country’s flag during the opening ceremony.

The marathon, incidentally, was particularly controversial with Italian Dorando Pietri finishing first after being assisted across the finish line by officials when he collapsed (he was disqualified but awarded a special cup for his efforts by Queen Alexandra). There was also controversy when the US team refused to dip their flag before King Edward VII in the opening ceremony. Judging disputes also led to the creation of standard rules and the introduction of neutral judges in subsequent Games.

White City Stadium initially fell into disuse but was subsequently used for greyhound racing and athletics. The site is now occupied by the BBC. There is a ‘Roll of Honour’, unveiled on the site in 2005, which commemorates the 1908 Games.

Oh, and the most medals were won by Great Britain who won 56 gold, 51 silver and 38 bronze while the US came next with 23 gold, 12 silver and 12 bronze.

You can check out the Olympic website for more including images – www.olympic.org/london-1908-summer-olympics.

• A new exhibition featuring some of London’s leading ladies of the eighteenth century opens at the National Portrait Gallery today. The First Actresses: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons is the first exhibition devoted to eighteenth century actresses and features 53 portraits depicting the likes of Gwyn and Siddons as well as Lavinia Fenton, Mary Robinson and Dorothy Jordan. Highlights of the exhibition include a little known version of Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Sarah Siddons as the “tragic muse”, William Hogarth’s The Beggar’s Opera and Thomas Gainsborough’s portraits of Giovanna Bacelli and Elizabeth Linley. The exhibition reveals the key role these women played in the celebrity culture found in London (and elsewhere) during the period. As a counterpoint, an accompanying exhibition displays photographs and paintings of some of today’s actresses. Runs until 8th January (an admission charge applies). For more information on the exhibition or the programme of accompanying events, see www.npg.org.uk.

Cemetery in Hackney and Kensal Green, a park in Hounslow and a Piccadilly property formerly used as the Naval and Military Club are among the “priority sites” listed on English Heritage’s annual Heritage At Risk Register. Released earlier this week, the register’s 10 London”risk priority sites” include London’s first metropolitan cemetery – Kensal Green (All Souls) – which dates from 1833, Gunnersbury Park in West London – featuring a large country home known as Gunnersbury Park House, it was built in 1801-28 and later remodelled, and a mansion at 94 Piccadilly – built in 1756-60 for Lord Egremont, it was later used at the Military and Naval Club and is now for sale. Others on the list include Abney Park Cemetery in Hackney – laid out in 1840, it is described as London’s most important Nonconformist cemetery, a medieval manor farm barn in Harmondsworth in London’s outer west, Tide Mill in Newham, East London, and the entire Whitechapel High Street and Stepney Green conservation areas. For more information, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/caring/heritage-at-risk/.

On Now: The Heart of the Great Alone: Scott, Shackleton and Antarctic Photography. Opening at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, tomorrow, the exhibition marks the centenary of Captain Robert Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole and features a collection of photographs presented to King George V by the official photographers on Scott’s expedition of 1910-13 and Ernest Shackleton’s expedition of 1914-16 as well as unique artifacts including the flag given to Scott by Queen Alexandra (the widow of King Edward VII) which was taken to the Pole. Highlights include Herbert Ponting’s images The ramparts of Mount Erebus and The freezing of the sea and Frank Hurley’s stunning images of Shackleton’s ship Endurance as it was crushed by ice. Runs until 15th April, 2012 (admission charge applied). For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.

Often confused with London Bridge, Tower Bridge stands as a testament to Victorian engineering ingenuity.

The bridge – a major restoration of which was completed in March this year – was officially opened on 30th June, 1894, by the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) eight years after work on a new Thames crossing commenced, driven by the need for a bridge which was more accessible to people living in East London (at the time pedestrians and vehicles were facing considerable congestions, with some being forced to wait hours before crossing the Thames).

At the time of its completion, Tower Bridge (although not universally acclaimed at the time) was the most sophisticated and largest bascule bridge ever built – the word bascule comes from the French for ‘see-saw’ and refers to the action of the bridge when it swings open. The bascules, which took only a minute to open, were initially operated by a steam-powered hydraulic system although since 1976, they have been driven by oil and electricity.

The 293 feet tall structure was built from steel and clad in Portland stone and Cornish granite to ensure it blended with the nearby tower of London. It was built with two walkways joining to two great towers at a height of 110 feet. Initially open to the elements, these were conceived as a way for people to cross the bridge while the bascules were raised open but due to a lack of use, they were closed in 1910 (they were reopened in 1982 when the first permanent exhibition took up residence at the bridge).

These days as well as providing a thoroughfare across the river for pedestrians and vehicles (and still opening for larger boats and ships from time to time although 24 hours notice is required), the bridge – which, along with four other London bridges, is maintained by the Bridge House Estates trust, a charity whose roots go back to the 11th century – houses an exhibition which tells the story of its construction. The walkways provide wonderful views down the river.

Interestingly, the iconic colors of Tower Bridge only date from 1976 when the structure was painted red, white and blue for the Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee. Before that, the bridge was painted a chocolate brown though it was originally a greenish blue color.

One of the most interesting stories associated with Tower Bridge is that of a bus driven by Albert Gunton. On the bridge when it started opening in December 1952, he had to make the bus jump the gap – at three foot wide – to avoid the bus toppling into the river below. Passengers only suffered minor injuries and Gunton was later awarded a bravery award for his actions.

A list of times when the bridge will be lifted (this happens around 1,000 times a year) is kept on the Tower Bridge website.

WHERE: The exhibition entrance is located at the north west tower of the bridge (nearest Tube stations are Tower Hill or London Bridge); WHEN: 10am to 6.30pm (last admission 5.30pm) daily until end of September, then 9.30am to 6pm (last admission 5pm) until March; COST: £6 an adult/£4.20 concessions/£2.50 children aged 5 to 15 (under fives are free)/£12.50 for a family; WEBSITE: www.towerbridge.org.uk

We’re nearing the end of our series on Wren’s London (next week we’ll take a final look at some of the Wren designs we’ve not yet mentioned), so this week we look at one of his lesser known (and less accessible) designs – Marlborough House.

Tucked away behind high brick walls next to St James’ Palace just off Pall Mall, Marlborough House was built for Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough – a confidant of Queen Anne – and completed in 1711.

The duchess, who secured a lease of the site from Queen Anne, selected Sir Christopher as the architect in preference to Sir John Vanbrugh, but she later fell out with Wren and, after dismissing him, oversaw the completion of the building herself. It is believed that the design of the house was actually the work of Wren’s son, also named Christopher, although the plans were undoubtedly drawn up under Wren senior’s watchful eye.

The house, built of red Dutch bricks brought to England as ballast in troop transports, was noted for its plain design. But the walls of the central salon and staircases were decorated with scenes of battles the Duke had fought in.

The property remained in the hands of the Dukes of Marlborough until it was acquired by the Crown in 1817. The building – which was substantially extended in the mid 1800s to the designs of Sir James Pennethorne – was subsequently used by members of the royal family including Princess Charlotte (only daughter of the future King George IV) and her husband Prince Leopold (later the King of the Belgians), Queen Adelaide, widow of William IV, Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), George, Prince of Wales (later George V), King Edward VII’s widow, Queen Alexandra, and, lastly, Queen Mary, widow of  George V.

Following the death of the Queen Dowager in 1953, Queen Elizabeth II donated it for use by the Commonwealth Secretariat who still occupy the building today.

WHERE: Pall Mall (nearest Tube stations are Green Park and Piccadilly); WHEN: Two hour tours are usually held every Tuesday morning (check first); WEBSITE: www.thecommonwealth.org/Internal/191086/34467/marlborough_house/