The lives of three German princesses whose marriages into the British royal family during the Georgian era placed them right at the heart of progressive thinking in 18th century Britain are the subject of a new exhibition which opens at Kensington Palace today. Enlightened Princesses: Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte and the Shaping of the Modern World looks at how these three women – committed patrons of the arts and sciences – “broke the mould” in terms of their contributions to society, through everything from advocating for the latest scientific and medical advances to supporting the work of charities, changing forever the role women played in the British royal family. Caroline and Charlotte became queens consort to King George I and King George III respectively while Princess Augusta was at various times Princess of Wales, Regent and Princess Dowager (as mother to King George III) and between them, they had more than 30 children. But alongside their busy family lives, they also were at the centre of glittering courts where the likes of writers Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift, scientist Isaac Newton and composer George Frideric Handel as well as successive Prime Ministers and international statesmen were welcomed. The display features almost 200 objects owned by the princesses, such as Charlotte’s hand-embroidered needlework pocketbook, pastels painted by their children and artworks and fine ceramics commissioned by some of the greatest artists and craftsmen of their day. The exhibition, which has previously been at the Yale Center for British Art, runs until 12th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/.

The UK’s first major exhibition featuring the watercolours of Anglo-American artist John Singer Sargent in almost 100 years has opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London. Sargent: The Watercolours features almost 80 works produced between 1900 and 1918, what was arguably his greatest period of watercolour production. Sargent mastered the art during expeditions in southern Europe and the Middle East and the show features landscapes, architecture and figurative scenes, drawing attention to the most radical aspects of his work – his use of close-up, his unusual use of perspective and the dynamic poses of his figures. The works include The Church of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice (c1904-1909), the mountain landscape Bed of a Torrent (1904), and figure study The lady with the umbrella (1911). The exhibition runs until 8th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE: John Singer Sargent – Pool in the Garden of La Granja, c. 1903, Private Collection

The 249th Summer Exhibition has opened at the Royal Academy with Mark Wallinger, Yinka Shonibare and Antony Gormley among those with works on show. About 1,200 works are featured in the display with highlights including Shonibare’s Wind Sculpture VI, a new large scale work from Gilbert & George’s ‘Beard Speak’ series and, for the first time, a focus on construction coordination drawings, showing the full complexity of a building, in the Architecture Gallery. Runs until 20th August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Advertisements

Kensington-Palace-garden-partyJoin Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, for a garden party in the grounds of Kensington Palace this weekend. The celebrations include music, military drills and live performances in a bid to bring the era of the Georgians to life. Visitors can listen to court gossip, learn how to play popular music and devise ways to amuse the queen as they pop in and out of a range of tents set up in the gardens, each of which contains a different activity, from uncovering dress secrets to designing a mini-garden fit for a king or queen. There’s even the chance to sample some Georgian ice-cream in the ice-house. The days will be held from today until 21st August. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/. PICTURE: Via HRP

The Great Fire 350 Festival – marking the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London – is underway and there’s a range of events being held in London over this month and next. While we’ll be mentioning some of these a little closer to actual anniversary date, meantime there are bi-weekly walks, a ‘Fire Trail’ treasure hunt and a new Monument app to keep you busy. The latter allows visitors to conduct a self-guided ‘Great Fire journey’ focusing on the fire itself, the commemoration of the blaze and London as we know it now as well as taking users into the minds of Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke – designers of The Monument. Available for download from Android Market and Apple App Store. For more on the events running as part of the anniversary, see www.visitlondon.com/greatfire350/events.

 Take a behind the scenes look at the Museum of London – and see some rarely exhibited objects – in an exhibition which opened late last month. The free display allows visitors to catch a glimpse of some of the work that goes on behind the scenes and see objects usually housed in the museum’s extensive stores including a detailed model of the process engraving department at the Evening Standard newspaper in 1977, an ice-cream maker and moulds from around 1910, and a confectioner’s icing stand from about 1900. The exhibition can be seen until 15th September. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

With the recent change at 10 Downing Street – David Cameron out/Theresa May in – we thought it a good time to look back at when the man considered Britain’s first PM moved in.

10_Downing_StreetSir Robert Walpole, commonly considered Britain’s first Prime Minister although he was never formally known by that title, was actually First Lord of the Treasury when in early 1730s King George II presented him with the terrace house at 10 Downing Street, off Whitehall, and the large mansion behind it (in fact the title of ‘First Lord of the Treasury’ can still be seen inscribed on the brass letter-box on the property’s front door).

Sir Robert accepted the king’s gift, but only on condition that it be made available to all future First Lords of the Treasury  And he didn’t move in until 22nd September, 1735, having had architect William Kent join the terrace house with the mansion behind it before doing so.

Kent had joined the houses on two levels with the main entrance facing onto Downing Street instead of Horse Guards. The Walpoles would live at the back of the new house where Kent had created a series of grand rooms – suitable for receiving honoured guests – and had built an unusual three sided staircase which remains a star sight of the building today.

Walpole used the ground floor of the new property for business and set-up his study in what is now the Cabinet Room. Lady Walpole used the upstairs room now known as the White Drawing Room as her sitting room and what is now called the Terracotta Room (although the name of this room changes with the colour scheme) as the dining room.

Among those who attended 10 Downing Street during the Walpole’s residency were luminaries such as Queen Caroline (wife of King George II) as well as prominent politicians, writers and military figures.

The Walpoles left in 1742 and it was more than 20 years later before another First Lord of the Treasury moved in.

For more on 10 Downing Street (including its earlier history), check out our previous entries here and here.

PICTURE: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC/ Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

What’s in a name?…Kew…

September 21, 2015

Kew-PalaceFamed as the location of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a Thames-side suburb in London’s west.

It’s the riverside location which gives the area its name – Kew is apparently a corrupted form of Cayho, a word first recorded in the early 14th century which is itself made of two words referring to a landing place (the ‘Cay’ part) and a spur of land (the ‘ho’ part). The latter may refer in this case to the large “spur” of land upon which Kew is located, created by a dramatic bend in the Thames. The former may refer to a ford which crossed the river here (explaining the name of Brentford on the other side).

While the area had long been the home of a small hamlet for the local farming and fishing community, more substantial houses began to be developed in Kew in the late 15th and early 16th centuries thanks to the demand for homes for courtiers attending the King Henry VII and his successors at nearby Richmond Palace (the royal connections of the area in fact go back much further to the early Middle Ages).

But it was during the Georgian era, when the Royal Botanic Gardens were founded and Kew Palace, formerly known as the Dutch House, became a royal residence (it is pictured above), that Kew really kicked off (and by the way, Kew Palace is not the only surviving 17th century building in the area – West Hall, once home of painter William Harriot, is also still here).

While King George II and his wife Queen Caroline used Richmond Lodge, now demolished but then located at the south end of what is now the gardens, as their summer residence, they thought Kew Palace would make a good home for their three daughters (their heir, Frederick, Prince of Wales, lived opposite his sisters at the now long-gone White House). Kew Palace, meanwhile, would later be a residence of other members of the Royal Family as well, including King George III during his bouts of madness.

Other buildings of note from the Georgian era in Kew include Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, a thatched property built between 1754 and 1771 and granted to Queen Charlotte by her husband, King George III (like the palace, it now lies within the grounds of Kew Gardens). St Anne’s Church, located on Kew Green, dates from 1714 and hosts the tombs of artists Johann Zoffany and Thomas Gainsborough.

In 1840, the gardens which surrounded the palace were opened to the public as a national botanic garden and the area further developed with the opening of the railway station in 1869, transforming what was formerly a small village into the leafy largely residential suburb which we find there today (although you can still find the village at its heart).

As well as Kew Gardens (and Kew Palace), Kew is today also the home of the National Archives, featuring government records dating back as far as 1086.

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

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 Meadwhich runs until 4th January. There’s an accompanying blog here which provides more information on his life and legacy.

Armchair_for_Devonshire_House_ca._1733-40__Devonshire_Collection_Chatsworth._Reproduced_by_permission_of_Chatsworth_Settlement_Trustees._Photography_by_Bruce_WhiteThe life and work of William Kent, the leading architect and designer of early Georgian Britain, is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the V&A on Saturday. William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain covers the period 1709 to 1748 which coincides with the accession of the first Hanoverian King George I. the tercentenary of which is being celebrated this year. The display features more than 200 examples of Kent’s work – from architectural drawings for buildings such as the Treasury (1732-37) and Horse Guards (1745-59), to gilt furniture designed for Houghton Hall (1725-25) and Chiswick House (1745-38), landscape designs for Rousham (1738-41) and Stowe (c 1728-40 and c 1746-47) as well as paintings and illustrated books. The exhibition, the result of a collaboration between the Bard Graduate Center, New York City, and the V&A,  features newly commissioned documentary films and will have a section focusing on designs Kent created for the Hanovarian Royal family including those he produced for a Royal Barge for Frederick, the Prince of Wales (1732) and a library for Queen Caroline at St James’ Palace (1736-37). Runs until 13th July. Admission charge applies. See www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: Armchair for Devonshire House ca. 1733-40, © Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth. Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees.

A new City Visitor Trail has been unveiled by the City of London, taking visitors on a 90 minute self-guided tour of some of the City’s main attractions (or longer if you want to linger in some of the places on the itinerary). The trail – a map of which can be picked up from the City Information Centre – goes past iconic buildings such as St Paul’s Cathedral, Guildhall, Mansion House, Monument, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge as well as lesser-known sites. As well as the main route, there’s also five specially themed routes – ‘Law and literature’, ‘London stories, London people’, ‘Culture Vulture’, ‘Skyscrapers and culture’, and ‘Market mile’ – and a City Children’s Trail, provided in partnership with Open City, which features three self-guided routes aimed at kids. As well as the map, the City has released an app – the City Visitor Trail app – which provides a commentary at some of the city’s main attractions which can either by read or listened to as it’s read by people closely associated with the locations (available for both iPhone and Android). For more, follow this link.

The works of the 16th century Venetian artist known as Veronese (real name Paolo Caliari) are being celebrated in a new exhibition, Veronese: Magnificence in Renaissance Venice at the National Gallery. More than 50 of his works are featured in the display including two altarpieces never before seen outside Italy: The Martyrdom of Saint George (about 1565) from the church of San Giorgio in Braida, Verona, and The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine (1565-70) from the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice. Others include early works like The Supper at Emmaus (about 1565), the beautiful Portrait of a Gentleman (c 1555) and the artist’s last autograph work, the altarpiece for the high altar of San Pantalon in Venice (1587). Runs until 15th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

Send all items of interest for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Boating-on-the-SerpentineBoating on the Serpentine in Hyde Park. The 40 acre lake was created in 1730 by the damming of the Westbourne River on the instruction of Queen Caroline, wife of King George II. It was one of the first lakes in England designed to look ‘natural’. There’s a couple of differing explanations for the name of the lake – that it was named for the body of water’s sinuous shape or that it was named for the colour of the water. For more on Hyde Park, check out www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-parkPICTURE: David Adams

 

Queen-Charlotte

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.

Queen-SquareOne 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.

SamOther 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)!

Given we’re marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a look at sites of significance to her story located in London, it’s perhaps only fitting that we take a look at the nearest royal residence outside the city.

Windsor, located as close as half an hour by train from London’s Paddington station (or around 50 minutes to an hour from Waterloo), boasts plenty to see including the historic town centre, nearby Eton, great river and country walks and, of course, Legoland. But today our attention will remain on Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world.

There has been a fortress on this site since shortly after the Norman invasion when in about 1080 King William the Conqueror ordered it constructed on a ridge above the river bank as part of a series of defensive fortifications around London. The earth and timber Norman castle was gradually added to over the years – King Henry I (reigned 1100-1135), the first king to live here, added domestic quarters while King Henry II (reigned 1154-1189) built substantial royal apartments transforming the castle into a palace and began replacing the outer timber walls with stone fortifications as well as rebuilding the Norman Keep as the Round Tower (parts of which still date from this period). King Henry III (reigned 1216-1272) built upon and expanded his work.

But it was in the reign of King Edward III (1307-1327) that the castle was expanded enormously. This included the reconstruction of the lower ward including the rebuilding of the chapel, naming it St George’s (although the current chapel dates from the reign of King Edward IV – 1461-1470), and the reconstruction of the upper ward complete with apartments for him and his wife, Queen Phillipa, arranged around courtyards (although some of the work wasn’t completed until the reign of his successor, King Richard II – 1377-1399). It was also during King Edward III’s reign that the castle became the base for the Order of the Garter (which he created in 1348), a role it still fulfills.

Other works were ordered by successive Tudor monarchs including King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, and Queen Mary I. Parliamentary forces seized the castle during the Civil War (Oliver Cromwell did use it as his headquarters for a time) and Royalists were imprisoned here (King Charles I was in fact buried in a vault beneath St George’s Chapel after his execution having been previously imprisoned here).

The next major additions came in the reign of King Charles II (1660-1685) when the Upper Ward and State Apartments were reconstructed in baroque splendor, the latter complete with splendid murals ceiling paintings by Italian artist Antonio Verro (the murals were later destroyed but some of the ceiling paintings survive).

From the time of King William III (1689-1702), monarchs began spending more time at Hampton Court Palace but the focus returned to Windsor with King George III. He ordered a range of improvements and updates including modernising Frogmore House in the Home Park for his wife Queen Caroline (the property was subsequently used by various royals but no-one currently lives there), but many of these were stopped prematurely due to his illness. His son, King George IV, picked up where his father left off.

In the reign of Queen Victoria, Windsor became the royal family’s principal residence and was visited by heads of state including King Louis Philippe in 1844 and Emperor Napoleon III in 1855. The Queen’s husband, Prince Albert, died here on 14th December, 1861.

King Edward VII (1901-1910) and King George V (1910-1936) both had a hand in redecorating the palace and the Queen’s father, King George VI (1936-1952), was living in the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park when he succeeded to the throne.

In more recent times, the castle was the home to the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret, for much of World War II. The castle suffered its greatest setback in recent times in 1992 when a serious fire broke out in the Queen’s Private Chapel which destroyed several rooms including the ceiling of St George’s Hall which dated from the reign of King George IV. Restoration works took five years to complete.

Today the Queen spends many private weekends at the castle while the court is officially in residence here for a month over the Easter period and during Ascot Week in June – it’s at this time that the Garter Day celebrations take place with the installation of new knights.

The Queen also hosts State Visits here with banquets held in St George’s Hall as well as what are known as a ‘sleep and dine’ in which high profile figures are invited to dinner with the Queen before being shown a special display of items from the Royal Library and then spending the night. The Royal Standard flies from the Round Tower when the Queen is in residence.

As well as touring the State Apartments, the Gallery, Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House (completed in the 1920s for Queen Mary, wife of King George V), and St George’s Chapel, visitors to the castle can experience the Changing of the Guard at 11am every day but Sundays between May and early August (and every second day after that).

WHERE: Windsor (a short walk from either Windsor Central Station or Windsor & Eton Riverside Station); WHEN: 9.45am to 5.15pm until 27th July (times vary after this date – check the website); COST: £17 an adult/£10.20 a child (under 17s – under fives free)/£15.50 concession/£44.75 family (price includes an audio tour); WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/windsorcastle.

Perhaps the most overlooked and least celebrated of central London’s Royal Parks, Green Park (officially The Green Park) is a peaceful oasis of leafy trees between the bustle of Piccadilly and traffic of Constitution Hill and part of an unending swathe of green which connects Kensington Gardens with, eventually, St James’ Park.

Originally meadowland used for hunting, the earliest known mention of the area where the park now stands was apparently in 1554 when it was believed to be a staging point for Thomas Wyatt (the younger) who led a group of rebels protesting against the marriage of Queen Mary I to King Philip II of Spain. The unfortunate – and unsuccessful (in terms of his rebellion at least) – Wyatt was later beheaded for treason.

In 1668, King Charles II had the park enclosed with a brick wall and stocked with deer, as well as having a ranger’s lodge and icehouse built (to keep his drinks cool when entertaining in summer). While it was initially known as Upper St James’s Park, by 1746 Green Park had its own name. It’s not really known what prompted the name change but the unofficial story is that Queen Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II, found out that her philandering husband had picked some flowers there for another woman – a milkmaid. In revenge, she had every flower in the park pulled up with orders they were not to be replanted. To this day, while some 250,000 daffodils bloom here in spring, there remain no formal flowerbeds in the park.

The 47 acre (19 hectare) park, which was also used on occasion as a duelling ground, underwent further development at the beginning of the following century with the creation of the ornamental Tyburn Pool near the centre of the park.

Queen Caroline, the wife of King George II, meanwhile, had a reservoir built to supply water to St James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace (it was known as the Queen’s Basin) as well as a library and the Queen’s Walk. Planted in 1730, this runs along the eastern side of the park and helped to turn it into a fashionable place in which to be seen (and led to the building of many a mansion in nearby Piccadilly).

Other buildings in the park have included two temporary ‘temples’ – the Temple of Peace (erected in 1749 to mark the end of the War of Austrian Succession) and the Temple of Concord (erected in 1814 to mark 100 years of the rule of the Hanoverian dynasty). Both of these, believe it or not, burnt down during the celebrations they were built for.

The park, which underwent a redesign in which the first trees were planted in the 1820s as part of architect John Nash’s grand plans for St James’s Park, was opened to the general public in 1826 but by then many of its earlier features – including the ranger’s house, Tyburn Pool and the Queen’s Basin – were already gone.

In more recent times, war memorials have been added to the park – the maple-leaf daubed, Pierre Granche-designed memorial to Canadian soldiers in 1994 (Canada is also remembered in Canada Gate on the park’s south side, installed in 1908 to mark the nation’s contribution to the Empire), and a set of memorial gates on Constitutional Hill at the park’s western end which is dedicated to the five million people from the Indian Sub-Continent, Africa and the Caribbean who served in World War II in 2004. The park also features the ‘Diana fountain’, installed in 1952 by the Constance Fund (and currently undergoing restoration).

On 14th June, a 41 royal gun salute is fired here to mark the Queen’s birthday. Salutes are also fired here for the State Opening of Parliament in November or December, Remembrance Sunday, and for State Visits.

WHERE: Green Park (nearest tube station is Green Park and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: http://www.royalparks.gov.uk/Green-Park.aspx

PICTURE: Courtesy of Royal Parks. © Anne Marie Briscombe 

Once the western part of King Henry VIII’s hunting ground, the 111 hectare Kensington Gardens is now primarily associated with the palace which sits at its heart.

The origins of the gardens go back to 1689 when King William III and Queen Mary II decided to make Kensington Palace (which, as we mentioned last week, was formerly known as Nottingham House) their home. Queen Mary oversaw the creation of a formal, Dutch-style garden featuring hedges and flower beds.

Queen Anne expanded the gardens after King William III’s death and commissioned landscape designers Henry Wise and George Loudon to create an English-style garden. She also ordered the construction of the Orangery which still stands to the north of the palace complex today (and houses a fine restaurant).

But it’s to Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, to whom Kensington Gardens owe its current form for it was she who in 1728, scythed off 300 acres of Hyde Park and employed Charles Bridgeman to create a new garden. His designs included damming the Westbourne stream to create the Long Water and the adjoining Serpentine in Hyde Park. He was also responsible for the creation of the Round Pond in front of the palace and, a landscape-history making move, used a ditch known as a ha-ha to separate the gardens from Hyde Park.

By the reign of King Charles II, the gardens had become fashionable for the elite to stroll in with the Broad Walk a popular promenade. But the gardens gradually fell from favour – a move exacerbated when Queen Victoria, who was born in Kensington Palace, moved to live at Buckingham Palace.

There were some changes made during the era, however. They included the creation of the ornamental Italian water gardens at the northern end of the Long Water and the Albert Memorial (see our previous story here) on the southern edge of the gardens.

Other highlights there today include the Peter Pan statue (see our earlier story on this), the Serpentine Gallery (with, in summer, a temporary pavilion), the Peter Pan-themed Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground (opened in 2000), and the Elfin Oak, a stump which originally came from Richmond Park and is carved with tiny figures of woodland animals and fairies.

There’s also a statue of Queen Victoria directly outside of Kensington Palace which, interestingly, was sculpted by her daughter Princess Louise in celebration 50 years of her reign, as well as statues of Edward Jenner, creator of the small pox vaccine, and John Hanning Speke, discoverer of the Nile.

Other facilities include a cafe and, next to the magazine, an allotment.

WHERE: Kensington Gardens (nearest tube stations are that of Queensway, Bayswater, Lancaster Gate, South Kensington, Gloucester Road and Kensington High Street); WHEN: 6am to dusk; COST: Free; WEBSITE: http://www.royalparks.gov.uk/Kensington-Gardens.aspx

PICTURE: Courtesy of Royal Parks. © Giles Barnard

This year marks the 160th anniversary of the transfer of the care of the Royal Parks to the government (meaning the public was freely able to enjoy access for the first time). To celebrate, over the next weeks we’ll be taking a look at the history of each of them. First up is the 142 hectare Hyde Park, perhaps the most famous of all eight Royal Parks.

Formerly owned by Westminster Abbey, King Henry VIII seized the land in 1536 for use as a private hunting ground. He had it enclosed with fences and the Westbourne Stream, which ran through the park – it now runs underground – dammed.

It remained the king and queen’s private domain (Queen Elizabeth I is known to have reviewed troops there) until King James I appointed a ranger to look after the park and permitted limited access to certain members of the nobility in the early 17th century.

The park’s landscaping remained largely unaltered until the accession of King Charles I – he created what is known as the ‘ring’ – a circular track where members of the royal court could drive their carriages. In 1637, he also opened the park to the public (less than 30 years later, in 1665, it proved a popular place for campers fleeing the Great Plague in London).

During the ensuring Civil War, the Parliamentarians created forts in the park to help defend the city against the Royalists – some evidence of their work still remains in the raised bank next to Park Lane.

After King William III and Queen Mary II moved their court to Kensington Palace (formerly Nottingham House) in the late 1600s, they had 300 oil lamps installed along what we know as “Rotten Row’ – the first artificially lit road in the country – to enable them and their court to travel safely between the palace and Westminster.

The natural looking Serpentine – the great, 11.34 hectare, lake in the middle of Hyde Park (pictured) – was created in the 1730s on the orders of Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, as part of extensive work she had carried out there. It was Queen Caroline who also divided off what we now know as Kensington Gardens from Hyde Park, separating the two with a ha-ha (a ditch).

The next major changes occurred in the 1820s when King George IV employed architect and garden designer Decimus Burton to create the monumental park entrance at Hyde Park Corner – the screen still remains in its original position while Wellington Arch was moved from a parallel position to where it now stands (see our previous posts for more on that). Burton also designed a new railing fence and several lodges and gates for the park. A bridge across the Serpentine, meanwhile, was built at about the same time along with a new road, West Carriage Drive, formally separating Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

While the basic layout of the park has been largely unchanged since, there have been some additions – among them, the establishment in 1872 of Speaker’s Corner as a place to speak your mind in the north-east corner of the park (near Marble Arch), the creation in 1930 of the Lido for bathing in warm weather, and, more recently, the building of the Diana, Princess of Wales’ Memorial Fountain (unveiled in 2004), and the 7 July Memorial (unveiled in July 2009).

Other sculptures in the park include Isis (designed by Simon Gudgeon, located on the south side of the Serpentine), the Boy and Dolphin Fountain (designed by Alexander Munro, it stands in the Rose Garden), and a monumental statue of Achilles, a memorial to the Duke of Wellington designed by Richard Westmacott, near Park Lane. There are also memorials to the Holocaust, Queen Caroline, and the Cavalry as well as a Norwegian War Memorial and a mosaic marking the site of the Reformer’s Tree (the tree was burnt down during the Reform League Riots of 1866).

The park has been integral part of any national celebrations for centuries – in 1814 a fireworks display there marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Great Exhibition – with the vast Crystal Palace – was held there in 1851 and in 1977 a Silver Jubilee Exhibition was held marking Queen Elizabeth II’s 25 year reign. Cannons are fire there on June 2nd to mark the Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and on 10th June for the Duke of Edinburgh’s birthday.

Facilities these days include rowing and pedal boats, tennis courts, deck chairs, a restaurant and cafe (the latter based in the Lido) and, of course, some Boris bikes. There is a heritage walk through the park which can be downloaded from the Royal Parks website.

WHERE: Hyde Park (nearest tube stations are that of Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner, Lancaster Gate, Knightsbridge and South Kensington); WHEN: 5am to midnight; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Hyde-Park.aspx?page=main

PICTURE: Courtesy of Royal Parks. © Indusfoto Ltd 

A ship-builder and New World colonist of some renown, Thomas Coram is primarily remembered now as the founder of London’s Foundling Hospital.

While details of Coram’s early life are sketchy, it is known that he was born in Dorset, possibly in Lyme Regis, in 1668 and was believed to be the son of a merchant seaman, John Coram.

Coram’s mother apparently died while he was still young and he went to sea at the age of just 11. Following his father’s remarriage, however, the family moved to Hackney in East London and it was after that move that Coram was apprenticed to a shipwright working beside the Thames.

In 1694, having previously worked for the Government auditing troop and supply ships, a group of merchants asked Coram to establish a new shipyard in Boston, Massachusetts. He did so and spent the next 10 years building ships in Boston and Taunton. But, a staunch Anglican living among Puritans, he apparently make some enemies while doing so (this led to lawsuits and even apparently an attempt on his life). It was during this time that he also married a Bostonian, Eunice Wait.

Following his return to England in 1704, Coram found further success as a merchant and was soon commanding merchant ships during the War of the Spanish Succession (it is believed it was during this time that he acquired the title of captain). Throughout the following years he continued to conduct business in the New World colonies – particularly Massachusetts and Maine – as well as in London.

It was after he had moved to Rotherhithe in 1719 that Coram’s eyes were opened to the plight of abandoned children – he would apparently see them when travelling into London – and, his heart obviously moved, he began to advocate for the creation of a foundling hospital similar to those he had seen on the continent during his travels.

While his efforts initially came to nothing, Coram eventually received the backing of Queen Caroline, wife of King George II – an important step for the plain-speaking seaman. Having presented numerous petitions to the king, His Majesty finally signed the Foundling Hospital Charter on 14th August, 1739. The first meeting of the governors – which included notables such as artist William Hogarth and prominent physician Dr Richard Mead – was held at Somerset House that November.

A temporary hospital opened it’s doors at Hatton Garden on 25th March, 1741, and the first foundlings were baptised Thomas and Eunice Coram. But it was only four and a half years later – in October, 1745 – that a purpose-built hospital opened its doors in an area known as Bloomsbury Fields. As well as Hogarth (who painted Coram in 1740 – the picture can still be seen in the Foundling Hospital today), the hospital also attracted the support of composer George Frideric Handel.

Coram’s role in the governance of the hospital effectively came to an end in 1741-1742 (he is said to have made some indiscreet comments about some of his fellow governors) but – despite being still engaged in numerous business activities – he continued to visit the hospital regularly and, as well as being Godfather to more than 20 of the foundlings, the story goes that he found the time to sit in an arcade at the hospital and pass out pieces of gingerbread to the children.

Captain Thomas Coram died on 29th March, 1751, in lodgings on Spur Street near Leicester Square (his wife Eunice had died earlier, in July 1740, and the couple had no children). He was buried in the Foundling Hospital chapel.

One of the best places to visit to find out more about Captain Coram and his life is the Foundling Museum, housed in part of the former hospital. For our previous story on the hospital, follow this link. A statue of Coram (pictured above) stands outside in Brunswick Square.

Found living ‘wild’ in the woods near Hamelin in northern Germany, in 1725, Peter was brought to London at the behest of King George I the following year (the king had heard of his plight while visiting his Hanoverian homeland and had initially had him taken to his summer palace at Herrenhausen). Peter subsequently spent time at the court of the king as well as those of the Prince of Wales, the future King George II, and his wife, Caroline of Ansbach.

On his arrival in London, Peter, believed to be about 15 or 16 years old when he was found, quickly acquired celebrity status – Daniel Defoe wrote a pamphlet, Mere Nature Delineated, in which he mused about his nature and Jonathan Swift wrote a satire on the excitement surrounding his arrival in London while a wax figure of him was exhibited in the Strand and along with other palace courtiers, he appears in a now famous painting by William Kent which still hangs on the king’s grand staircase in Kensington Palace.

Treated by the royals as something of a ‘pet’, efforts were made to educate Peter but later abandoned due to his apparent lack of progress. Many were also said to have been shocked at his lack of manners – something that may have helped contribute to his eventual departure from court.

When the king died in 1727, his daughter-in-law, now Queen Caroline, granted a yeoman farmer in Hertfordshire, James Fenn, a pension in return for looking after Peter.  He is recorded as having wandered off on a couple of occasions and, after one incident involving a fire in 1751, was fitted with a collar to prevent further escapes (the collar is still in the keeping of the Berkhamsted School in Hertfordshire).

Peter subsequently spent the remainder of his life in rural England (where he was known to have developed a love for gin but was generally remarked upon as being timid). Meeting him a few years before his death, Scottish philosopher and judge James Burnett, Lord Monboddo, recorded that while Peter could understand what was said to him, he could only say the words ‘Peter’ and ‘King George’.

Peter died in 1785, when he was at least 70-years-old. He was buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church in Northchurch, Hertfordshire.

It is now believed that Peter may have been affected by the chromosomal disorder Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome, thanks to the work of Historic Royal Palaces historian Lucy Worsley who, while researching the lives of courtiers at Kensington Palace for her book Courtiers, noted features such as Peter’s “cupid bow lips”, coarse hair and drooping eyelids in Kent’s portrait and passed on a description to a professor of genetics.

It is thought such a diagnosis may help explain why Peter ended up living alone in the German forest where he was found.