November 23, 2016
Now a Piccadilly institution, Fortnum and Mason’s origins (which we dealt with in 2011 in a London’s oldest post but couldn’t resist looking at again) famously go back the early 17th century when Hugh Mason rented out a spare room to William Fortnum, a Footman in the household of Queen Anne.
The entrepreneurial Fortnum decided to supplement his income by selling Queen Anne’s half-used candle wax (new candles were required every night) for a small profit. It was he who convinced his landlord, who also had a small shop in St James’s Market, to join with him in a joint venture – the first Fortnum & Mason – in Duke Street in 1707.
Initially founded as a grocery store, Fortnum & Mason, which moved to its current site at 181 Piccadilly in 1756, become known for its high quality and rare goods – in particular tea – and during the 18th and 19th centuries supplied the gentry who were in London for the ‘season’. Departments inside the store have included a rather bizarre ‘Expeditions Department’ which apparently supplied King Tut’s finder Howard Carter and a 1922 expedition to Mount Everest.
It has held numerous Royal Warrants since the mid 1800s with the first granted in 1863 when the firm was appointed as grocers to the then Prince of Wales.
A supplier of British officers during the Napoleonic Wars, Fortnums was also active during the Crimean War when Queen Victoria had shipments of “concentrated beef tea” sent to Florence Nightingale for use in her hospitals there.
Other claims to fame include the creation of the first Scotch egg in 1738 as a food for travellers and that in 1886, it became the first store in Britain to stock tins of Heinz baked beans. It also operated a post office between 1794 and 1839 when the General Post Office was founded.
The iconic clock which hangs on the facade of the building was commissioned in 1964 by Canadian businessman Garfield Weston who bought the business in 1951. Every hour models of Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason come forth and bow to each other. Other features on the building itself include four colonies of bees which have lived on the roof since 2008 in uniquely-designed hives.
The store, now famous for its luxury food hampers, underwent a £24 million restoration in the lead-up to its 300th anniversary in 2007. As well as the flagship store, it also now operates stores in St Pancras (2013) and Heathrow Airport (2015) as well as, since last year, in Dubai (it did open a store on Madison Avenue in New York in the 1930s but the business was short-lived thanks to the Depression). Fortnum & Mason products can also be found in a growing number of department stores around the world.
The Piccadilly store houses a number of eateries including The Parlour, The Gallery and The Wine Bar as well as, since it was opened by Queen Elizabeth II herself in 2012, the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon – already famous for its afternoon teas.
December 8, 2014
Eighteenth century physician Dr Richard Mead is noted not only for his attendance on the rich and famous of his time – including royalty – but also for his philanthropy, his expansive collections and, importantly, his contributions in the field of medicine.
Born in Stepney, London, on the 11th August, 1673, as the 11th of 13 children of nonconforming minister Matthew Mead, Mead studied both Utrecht and Leiden before receiving his MD in Italy. Returning to England in 1696, he founded his own medical practice in Stepney.
He married Ruth Marsh in 1699 and together the couple had at least eight children, several of whom died young, before her death in 1720 (he subsequently married again, this time to Anne, daughter of a Bedfordshire knight, Sir Rowland Alston).
Having published the then seminal text – A Mechanical Account of Poisons – in 1702, the following year Mead was admitted to the Royal Society. He also took up a post as a physician at St Thomas’ Hospital, a job which saw him move to a property in Crutched Friars in the City – his home until 1711, when he relocated to Austin Friars.
It was after this that he become friends with eminent physician John Radcliffe who chose Mead as his successor and, on his death in 1714, bequeathed him his practice and his Bloomsbury home (not to mention his gold-topped cane, now on display at the Foundling Museum – see note below).
Following Radcliffe’s death, in August of that year Dr Mead attended Queen Anne on her deathbed. Other distinguished patients over his career included King George I, his son Prince George and daughter-in-law Princess Caroline – in fact he was appointed as official physician to the former prince when elevated to the throne as King George II – as well as Sir Isaac Newton, lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope, Sir Robert Walpole and painter Antoine Watteau.
Mead, who had been named a governor of St Thomas’ in 1715 and elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1716, was over the years recognised as an expert in a range of medical fields – including, as well as poisons, smallpox, scurvy and even the transmission of the plague.
Among the many more curious stories about Dr Mead is one concerning a ‘duel’ (or fistfight) he apparently fought with rival Dr John Woodward outside Gresham College in 1719 over their differences in tackling smallpox and others which concern experiments he conducted with venomous snakes to further his knowledge of venom before writing his text on poisons.
Dr Mead was also known for his philanthropy and became one of the founding governors of the Foundling Hospital (as well as being its medical advisor) – a portrait of him by artist Allan Ramsay (for whom he was a patron), currently hangs at the museum.
Dr Mead, who by this stage lived in Great Ormond Street in Bloomsbury (the property, which backed onto the grounds of the Foundling Museum and which Mead had moved into after his first wife’s death, later formed the basis of the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children), is also noted for the large collection he gathered of paintings – including works by Dürer, Holbein, Rembrandt, and Canaletto, a library of more than 10,000 books, antiquities and classical sculpture as well as coins and jewels, all of which scholars and artists could access at his home (it took some 56 days to sell it all after his death).
While Dr Mead – who died on 16th February, 1754 – was buried in the Temple Church, there is a monument to him – including a bust by Peter Scheemakers – in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey.
Dr Mead is currently being honoured in an exhibition at the Foundling Museum – The Generous Georgian: Dr Richard Mead – which runs until 4th January. There’s an accompanying blog here which provides more information on his life and legacy.
August 11, 2014
While much attention is being paid this year to the fact it’s the 300th anniversary of the accession of King George I (and the House of Hanover), we thought we’d take a quick look at the event which precipitated that moment – the death of the last Stuart monarch, Queen Anne, on 1st August, 1714.
The queen (depicted here in Richard Belt’s copy of a Francis Bird original outside St Paul’s Cathedral), who had ruled since 1702 and was the first monarch of Great Britain thanks to the 1707 Act of Union, died at Kensington Palace at about 7.30am. She had apparently suffered a series of strokes, having experienced declining health for the previous couple of years (this included gout which had severely limited her mobility and saw her carried in a chair even at her coronation). She was 49.
Her body was so swollen at the time of her death that she had to be placed in a large square-shaped coffin which was carried by 14 men.
Following her funeral, on 24th August she was laid to rest next to her husband, George of Denmark (he’d died at Kensington six years before), in the Stuart vault on the south side of King Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey.
Many of the bones of her infant and stillborn children lie nearby (Anne was pregnant 18 times) and apparently due to a lack of space, only a “small stone” marks her grave site. Anne’s seated wax funeral effigy, modelled from her death mask, can be seen in the abbey’s museum.
The idiom “Queen Anne is dead” – used as a response to someone who brings old news or who states the obvious – is thought to have its origins in the idea that while news of her death was officially kept quiet so the Hanoverian succession could be shored up, news of it nonetheless leaked quite quickly meaning that by the time it was officially announced, it was already well known.
Historic Royal Palaces has reopened Hampton Court Palace’s royal kitchen garden, having recreated it according to a plan dating from 1736. The six acre garden – constructed on the site of King Henry VIII’s tiltyard on the orders of Queen Anne in 1702 – was used to supply the table of monarchs from the early 1700s through to the 1840s. The recreated version showcases rare and heritage varieties of fruit and vegetables including Italian celery, borrage, skirret and swelling parsnips as well as apricots, nectarine and peaches while on site displays showcase some of the techniques used by the royal gardeners. The gardens are open to the public free-of-charge and it’s hoped that as they mature, vegetable growing classes will be held there. The gardens have been opened as part of celebrations marking the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian accession. For more on Hampton Court Palace, see www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/. PICTURES: Courtesy Historic Royal Palaces.
This oddly located church on the Strand is the work of acclaimed architect James Gibbs – the first public project he embarked upon after returning from Italy where he had trained.
While the history of St Mary le Strand goes at least back to the Middle Ages (and it initially stood just south of the current churches’ position on land currently occupied by Somerset House), the construction of the current church – the first of 50 built in London under a special commission aimed at, well, seeing more churches built in the capital to meet the needs of the growing population – began around 1715 (the foundation stone was laid on 25th February, the year after the accession of King George I.)
While building was briefly delayed by the Jacobite rising which broke out in 1715, the church was finally consecrated for use on 1st January, 1723.
Gibbs, who trained under a baroque master – a style which contrasted with the Palladian-style favoured by Lord Burlington and others, had apparently originally intended the church to be in the Italianate style with a campanile over the west end instead of the steeple but this scheme also included a 250 foot high column surmounted by a statue of Queen Anne located to the west of the church which would celebrate the work of the commission (it’s also worth noting that the churches built by the committee – and they didn’t get close to building 50 – were known as “Queen Anne Churches” despite their construction taking place largely after her death).
However, plans for the column were abandoned on the queen’s death on 1st August, 1714, and instead Gibbs – a Roman Catholic who thanks to his supposed Jacobite sympathies apparently finished the project without pay, was ordered to use the stone which had been gathered to build the steeple and, thanks to that, amend his plans for the church into an oblong form rather than the square form he had initially intended. The work shows the influence of Sir Christopher Wren as well as churches in Italy.
The interior has been remodelled several times since its creation. The white and gold plastered ceiling was apparently inspired by the work of Italian sculptor and architect Luigi Fontana on two Roman churches and other features include paintings by American artist Mather Brown (these were put in place in 1785 and are located on panels on the side walls of the chancel – they were restored in 1994), while the crucifix behind the altar was presented by parishioners in 1893.
It the late 1800s, the London County Council proposed demolishing the church so it could widen the Strand for traffic but this plan was abandoned after an outcry led by artist Walter Crane (although the graveyard was removed).
Famous faces associated with the church include Charles Dickens’ parents, John and Elizabeth, who were married here in 1809, and there’s a story that during a secret visit to London in 1750, Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart) renounced the Roman Catholic Church by receiving Anglican communion here. The parish currently includes that of nearby St Clement Danes after the church was bombed in 1941 (it’s now central church of the Royal Air Force).
WHERE: St Mary le Strand, Strand (nearest tube stations are Temple, Covent Garden, Holborn, Charing Cross and Embankment); WHEN: Usually open 11am to 4pm from Tuesdays to Thursdays and 10am to 1pm Sundays; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.stmarylestrand.org.
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.
June 26, 2013
This rectangular-shaped square in Bloomsbury, known for its association with the medical profession, was first laid out in the early 1700s and was named for Queen Anne.
Originally known as Devonshire Square, the space was largely laid out between 1716 and 1725 on land owned by Sir Nathaniel Curzon of Kedlestone and, as with so many of London’s squares, attracted it’s fair share of the well-to-do. Among early residents were several bishops and members of the aristocracy.
One of the most interesting early associations with Queen Square is that of King George III and his consort Queen Charlotte. The king – better known to many as ‘Mad King George’ – was treated for mental illness in a house on the square and there’s a tradition that Queen Charlotte, stored some of the food to be consumed by the king during his treatment in the base of what is now the pub known as the Queen’s Larder (see our previous entry on the pub here).
There’s a statue of a queen in the central gardens which was thought to be of Queen Charlotte. Since it was erected in 1775, there has been some confusion over the statue’s identity – it has been thought at different stages to be of Queen Anne, Queen Mary (co-ruler with King William III), and Queen Caroline (consort of King George II) – a fact which has led to some confusion as to which queen the square was named after (although general consensus now seems to be that it was indeed Queen Anne whom the square was named after).
The houses in Queen Square – which was later associated with artists and literary types – were gradually replaced by institutional buildings relating to, among other things, education and the practice of medicine and today it remains a hub for the medical establishment – the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery and the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine (formerly known as the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital) are both located on the east side of the square and there are several other medical-related buildings located around it including the former Italian Hospital (Ospedale Italiano) which was founded by Italian businessman Giovanni Battista Ortelli in 1884 for poor Italian immigrants and since about 1990 has been part of the Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Other prominent buildings located on the square include the Church of St George the Martyr Holborn (number 44) which, built in 1706, predates the square’s formation. The church is known as the ‘sweep’s church’ due to the practice of a parishioner who provided Christmas dinners for 100 chimney sweep apprentices each year.
The gardens themselves are protected by an Act of Parliament passed in the 1830s and the gardens are to this day maintained by trustees appointed under that act. Aside from the statue of the queen, monuments in the gardens include a small plaque commemorating the bomb which landed in the square during a Zeppelin raid in World War I (no one was killed), benches commemorating 16 doctors from the homeopathic hospital who died in the Trident air disaster of 1972, and some lines of poetry on a flower bowl and surrounds by Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes in honor of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee of 1977. Statues include a 2001 bronze of Mother and Child and, (this one we love), a sculpture of Sam the cat, apparently a local resident (pictured)!
October 29, 2012
Perhaps not so much a sign as a pub name, the strangely monikered Doggett’s Coat and Badge in South Bank is named after a rowing race – said to be the oldest continuous sporting event in the country – in which apprentice waterman traditionally competed for a prize consisting of waterman’s coat and badge and named after Irish-born actor and theatre manager, Thomas Doggett.
The race – which is held in July and runs over a course of four miles and seven furlongs from London Bridge to Chelsea (the starting and finishing points were originally both marked by pubs called The Swan) – was first held in 1715 when it was first organised by Doggett who financed it up until his death in 1721 after which he left instructions in its will for it to be carried on by The Fishmongers’ Company (which it still is today).
While there’s a nice story that Doggett, who managed the Drury Lane Theatre and later the Haymarket Theatre and carving out a name for himself as a ‘wit’, started the race as thanks to Thames watermen for rescuing him when he fell off a watercraft while crossing the Thames, Doggett – a committed Whig – actually started the race to commemorate the ascension of King George I – the first ruler of the House of Hanover – on 1st August, 1714, following the death of Queen Anne.
This year’s race winner was Merlin Dwan (London Rowing Club) who beat four others to finish in 24 minutes, 28 seconds.
The pub, one of the Nicholson franchise, is located in a multiple storey modern building complex and sits along the course of the race in South Bank. It features a range of bars including Thomas Doggett’s Bar and the Riverside Bar as well as a dining room and other function rooms.
For more on the pub, see www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/doggettscoatandbadgesouthbanklondon/. For more on the race (which we’ll be mentioning, along with more on Thomas Doggett, in more detail in upcoming posts), see www.DoggettsRace.org.uk.
October 12, 2012
One of Britain’s most significant pre-historic sites, the small village of Avebury in Wiltshire – to the west of London – sits in the midst of a stunning series of standing stones, the remains of three vast stone circles built around 2,600 BC.
A World Heritage Site, the vast outer circle of stones – which contains two smaller circles of stones and other associated stones – is around 3/4 of a mile in circumference and about 1,115 feet across the middle. It stands inside a three to four metre deep ditch which despite, the millenniums of weathering, still looks impressive to the eye.
It remains a matter of speculation what the purpose of the ditch and the standing stones was, although some have suggested there was a religious purpose in their creation.
The stone circle (pictured) is now managed by the National Trust – see their website for opening times.
Stretching away to the south-east and south-west from the stone circle are two great “avenues” of pairs of stones, known as the West Kennet and Beckhampton Avenues – perhaps the last of what were originally four avenues. West Kennet is by far the best preserved of the two.
It’s worth having a car for there are several other Neolithic sites nearby including the stunning Silbury Hill (pictured below), located almost directly south of Avebury. At around 37 metres high it is the largest prehistoric mound in Europe (while you can’t access the site of the hill itself, you can get some stunning views from a carpark). Work on the hill is said to have started at about 2,400 BC but its not known conclusively when it was finished.
Further to the south (1.2 miles from Avebury village) is the West Kennet Long Barrow, one of the longest burial mounds in Britain. Dating from about 3,700 BC, remains of 36 people were placed in here soon after it was first built. The barrow is open for inspection. To the east stands The Sanctuary, once site of a double stone circle.
Back to Avebury village – which was originally founded in Anglo-Saxon times (a Romano-British settlement had stood further to the south) – and here, as well as exploring the stone circles, it’s worth taking the time to visit Avebury Manor.
The manor is the former home of Alexander Keiller, who was responsible for much of the excavation work that took place here in the early 20th century as well as the re-erection of many of the stones, and is also said to have once hosted Queen Anne for a meal. Now a National Trust property, it recently starred in the BBC series, The Manor Reborn. Check the National Trust website for opening times – an admission charge applies.
There’s also a museum, the Alexander-Keiller Museum, which was established by the man himself in 1938 in the manor’s old stable to display some of his finds (it now also includes the threshing barn), and a cafe and National Trust shop.
While it is possible to reach Avebury by public transport, a car can be a good idea to get around to the various sites – particularly if under time constraints.