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.

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This rather unremarkable obelisk on Putney Heath actually commemorates the invention of ‘Fireproof House’ and was erected, not coincidentally, on the 110th anniversary of the great conflagration.

hartley-obeliskThe rather eccentric David Hartley, an inventor and MP, came up with the idea of sheathing joists under floorboards with thin layers of what were initially iron and later iron and copper plating to prevent the spread of fire in homes and ships and was granted a patent for his system in 1773.

Known as ‘Hartley’s Fire Plates’, he claimed in a pamphlet that a single fireplate might have prevented the Great Fire – a claim which got other MPs excited and led them to grant him cash – £2,500 – to continue his experiments as well as an extension on his patent, from the usual 15 to 31 years.

His experiments included building homes for the express purpose of setting them alight to test his invention, one of which he built on Wimbledon Common. Known as the ‘Fireproof House’, the property was repeatedly set alight in front of prominent witnesses.

These included MPs, the Lord Mayor of London and Aldermen of the City of London – who granted Hartley the Freedom of the City and encouraged fire plates to be included in all new buildings in London – and, of course, King George III and his wife Queen Charlotte. One of the tests was apparently carried out while the royal family was eating breakfast in an upstairs room inside (they survived unscathed – one hates to think of Hartley’s fate should they not have).

The house is now gone but the Hartley Memorial Obelisk, erected just off Wildcroft Road in what were formerly the grounds of Wildcroft Manor, remains.

The red brick and stone Grade II-listed structure was erected by the City of London Corporation in 1776, the 110th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, to commemorate Hartley’s invention of fire plates. The first stone in the monument – which is attributed to George Dance – was laid by the then Lord Mayor, John Sawbridge.

PICTURE: David Antis/Geograph/CC BY-SA 2.0

Much has been made about the dearth of women featured on blue plaques in this 150th year of the scheme – according to English Heritage, only 13 per cent of the 900 odd blue plaques in London commemorate a woman.

Fanny-Burney-plaqueAmong them are ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn, suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, socialite Nancy Astor, and, in recent times, cookery writer Elizabeth David.

The oldest surviving blue plaque commemorating a woman, however, is that commemorating what is today a less well-known name, that of Fanny Burney.

Burney (1752-1840), who was known as Madame D’Arblay after she married, was a widely applauded novelist who was also noted for her diaries which record her involvement in the literary circles around Samuel Johnson and the Bluestocking Group.

The blue plaque commemorating her residence at 11 Bolton Street in Mayfair was erected in 1885 by the Society of Arts (which means that like others erected by the society, later the Royal Society of Arts, it’s brown not blue).

Burney, whose most profitable work, Camilla, was published in 1796 after she had spent five years as Second Keeper of the Robs to Queen Charlotte, lived in the house following the death of her husband, the Frenchman Alexandre D’Arblay.

She spent 10 years here – from 1818 until 1828 – and had apparently thought it would be her last residence but she went on to move into three further properties after this one.

PICTURE: Simon Harriyott/CC BY 2.0

Kew-Palace-2 The education of the daughters of King George III and Queen Charlotte is the subject of a new display which has opened at Kew Palace in Kew Gardens. The queen’s progressive approach to learning meant the princesses received a “thoroughly modern” schooling covering everything from geography to art, upholstery to tackling brain-teasers as well as botany and music. The latter, in particular the harpsichord, was a particular passion of Princess Augusta, and to instruct her and the other girls, JC Bach, son of world-renowned composer JS Bach, was employed as music master (the display features a hand-written copy of his father’s Well-Tempered Clavier – designed to train and test the skills of harpsichord players). Other items on show include a copy of Queen Charlotte’s own tortoiseshell notebook embellished with gold and diamonds, a letter the queen wrote to the princesses’ governess – reputedly the first letter she wrote in English, and a series of newly acquired satirical prints from the Baker Collection depicting Queen Charlotte and her daughters. The new display can be seen from today. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kew-palace/. PICTURE: Newsteam/Historic Royal Palaces.

The lives of servants working in middle-class houses in London over the last 400 years are the subject of an exhibition which opened at the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch earlier this month. Swept Under The Carpet? Servants in London Households, 1600-2000 illustrates the dynamic nature of the relationship between servants and their employers – from the intimacy of a maid checking her master’s hair for nits in the late 17th century to an ayah caring for an Anglo-Indian family’s children in the late 19th century and an au-pair picking up after the children in the middle of the 20th century. It explores their story through an examination of the places in which they worked – the middle class parlour, drawing room and living room. Entry to the exhibition, which runs until 4th September, is free. For more, www.geffrye-museum.org.uk.

On Now – Vogue 100: A Century of Style. This exhibition currently running at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square features iconic images of some of the 20th century’s most famous faces. Included are rarely seen images of the Beatles and Jude Law as well as portraits of everyone from artists Henri Matisse and Francis Bacon, actors Marlene Dietrich and Gwyneth Paltrow, Lady Diana Spencer and soccer player David Beckham. There’s also complete set of prints from Corinne Day’s controversial Kate Moss 1993 underwear shoot, Peter Lindbergh’s famous 1990 cover shot – said to define the ‘supermodel era’, a series of World War II photographs by Vogue‘s official war correspondent Lee Miller and vintage prints from the first professional fashion photographer, Baron de Meyer. The display can be seen until 22nd May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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Kew-GardensIt was Queen Charlotte who first dressed the branches of a Christmas tree in Kew Palace in the 1790s and, drawing on that tradition, Kew Gardens is once again hosting a mile long winter light experience. Visitors can walk through ribbons of light, count the festooned Christmas trees and listen to a holly bush choir as well as see larger than life winter flora such as snowdrops and Christmas roses and pause at the scented Fire Garden for a moment of reflection. Santa and his elves are appearing on stage at the Princess of Wales Conservatory and a Victorian carousel and other rides are located at the White Peaks Cafe where visitors can sample goodies like mulled wine, spiced cider and roasted chestnuts.  The after-dark event runs from 5pm to 10pm on select dates until 2nd January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org. PICTURE: The Palm House at Kew Gardens lit up for Christmas. Courtesy Kew Gardens.

Samuel-PepysThe largest exhibition ever mounted about the life of 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich tomorrow. Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution features more than 200 paintings and objects brought together from museums, galleries and private collections which explore the life of the famous diarist (depicted here in a bust outside the Guildhall Art Gallery) against the backdrop of the tumultuous events of Stuart London, from the execution London of King Charles I in 1649 through the Great Fire of London and the Glorious Revolution on 1688. Objects on show include the famous painting, Portrait of Charles II in Coronation Robes, objects connected to Pepys’ mistresses including one of his love letters to Louise de Kéroualle (aka ‘Fubbs’ or ‘chubby’) and other personal items such as a lute owned by Pepys. The exhibition is accompanied by a series of events including Pepys Show Late: Party like it’s 1669 (26th November) and a series of walks and talks. Admission charge applies. The exhibition runs until 28th March. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum.

Cycles are in the spotlight at the Design Museum in Shad Thames with a new exhibition, Cycle Revolution, opening yesterday. The display, which focuses on the world of contemporary cycling, features dozens of bicycles from key manufacturers as well as high end accessories, items belonging to celebrated cyclists Sir Chris Hoy and Sir Paul Smith and specially commissioned films and photography. It looks at cycling subcultures – everyone from the “high performers” to the “cargo bikers”, examines manufacturing techniques and innovations in the use of materials and design with exhibits including a large scale recreation of a bespoke bicycle making workshop, and tackles questions about the future of cycling particularly in relation to the urban environment. The exhibition is being accompanied by a ‘cycle cafe’, large scale installations and a series of public events. Runs until 30th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.designmuseum.com.

The jewellery traditions of the Indian sub-continent are set to sparkle at a new exhibition opening at the V&A in South Kensington this Saturday. Part of the V&A India Festival, Bejewelled Treasures: The Al Thani Collection features 100 items, drawn from a single private collection, including a Golconda diamond given to Queen Charlotte by the Nawab of Arcot in South India in 1767, a jade-hilted dagger that belonged to the 17th century emperor Shah Jahan (builder of the Taj Mahal), and a jewelled gold tiger’s head from the throne of the Tipu Sultan of Mysore. As well as showcasing the types of jewels collected by the Mughal emperors, the exhibition reveals the influence of India on European jewellery houses in the early 20th century and the ongoing impact of Indian influences on more modern pieces. The exhibition runs until 28th March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/BejewelledTreasures.

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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.

Fringe-LoomThe fringe loom of Queen Charlotte – wife of King George III – is among the objects on display at Kew Palace this year. Historic Royal Palaces is exploring some of the untold stories of the king’s daughters who once called the palace, which was originally built in 1631 for a Flemish merchant before it was acquired by King George II, home. Under examination are the pastimes of the royal women – from drawing and painting to weaving, paper cutting and even the decoration of a ‘Baby House’ created by the princesses as a showcase of their talents. Along with Kew Palace – located inside Kew Gardens in London’s west, also opened is the nearby rustic retreat built in 1770 known as Queen Charlotte’s cottage. Inside is the “Print Room”, hung with more than 150 satirical engravings, and the “Picnic Room”, decorated paintings of trailing nasturtiums and convolvulus – the work of Princess Elizabeth, an acclaimed artist. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/KewPalace/.
PICTURE: Historic Royal Palaces

The_Rosebery_Tiara_QMA_Collection._Photo_c_SothebysA pearl-drop earring worn by King Charles I at his execution in 1649, pearl tiaras worn by European nobles and a pearl necklace given to Marilyn Monroe by Joe DiMaggio in 1954 are among the items on display as part of a new exhibition which opened at the V&A last Saturday. The V&A and Qatar Museums Authority exhibition traces the history of pearls from the early Roman Empire to now and features more than 200 pieces of jewellery and works of art. Other items on display include ‘Queen Mary II’ pearls dating from 1662-1664, a miniature portrait of Queen Charlotte wearing pearl jewellery and a set of buttons, finely enamelled and framed with pearls, worn by George III in 1780. There’s also the Dagmar necklace given to Princess Alexandra when she married the future King Edward VII in 1863. The exhibition is part of the Qatar UK 2013 Year of Culture. Admission charge applies. Runs until 19th January. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: Lady Rosebery’s pearl and diamond tiara (1878) © Christie’s Images.

The Big Brother house – located in Elstree Studios in north London – opens to the public tomorrow and on Saturday as part of a partnership between Initial – an Endemol Company, Channel 5 and the National Trust. Some two million people tuned in to watch the final night of the show this summer leading one TV critic to describe the property as “the most important house in Britain”. The opening is being preceded by an Opening Gala featuring housemates past and present as well as celebrities – but that’s an invitation only event. Sadly, tickets for the opening are already sold out – for returns and your last chance of getting in, follow this link.

The UK’s first aircraft manufacturers – Horace, Eustace and Oswald Short – have been commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque placed on their former workshop in Battersea. Unveiled this week by Jenny Body – the first female president of the Royal Aeronautical Society, the plaque can be found at the railway arches near Queen’s Circus where the brothers, who lived nearby in the Prince of Wales Mansions, worked on ballooning and first made the transition to aircraft construction. Among their firsts was the construction of the first British powered aircraft to complete a circular mile of flight and the creation of Britain’s first ever purpose-built aircraft factory (it was located on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent). For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

On Now: Jonathan Yeo Portraits. New and previously unseen works including a six foot high portrait of controversial artist Damien Hirst and a portrait of Kevin Spacey as King Richard III feature in this exhibition running at the National Portrait Gallery. Other subjects featured in the painted works include media mogul Rupert Murdoch, model Erin O’Connor, artist Grayson Perry and actor Sierra Miller. Runs until 5th January. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

Buckingham-Palace

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.

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 this week’s release of English Heritage’s The London List 2011 – which lists all properties given a new or upgraded heritage listing last year, we thought it was only appropriate to look at one of the properties listed, in this case the Royal Kitchens in Kew Gardens.

Upgraded to a Grade I listing in 2011, the kitchens were opened to the public for the first time in May this year following a £1 million restoration. The origins of the kitchens go back to the 1730s when they were built to the designs of William Kent to serve the White House, the grand mansion of Frederick, Prince of Wales (eldest son and heir of King George II).

While the White House was demolished in 1802, the Georgian kitchens – built in a separate building to mitigate the risk of fire – were kept to serve the nearby premises of Kew Palace (formerly known as the “Dutch House”, it had been originally built in 1631 for a Flemish merchant).

But after the death of Queen Charlotte (wife of King George III) in 1818, members of the Royal family only stayed occasionally and so the kitchen fell into disuse. While the upper floors were given over to accommodation, the lower floor remained untouched, allowing it to survive in a considerable degree of intactness.

The kitchens centre on the double storey ‘Great Kitchen’ featuring three charcoal stoves as well as a rare cooking range with “smoke jack” and fan. Other rooms include a scullery, a bakery, larders and stores for silver and spices while among the surviving furnishings is a preparation table or dresser, cupboards, shelves and baking ovens. Upstairs, the office of the clerk who oversaw the feeding of the Royal Household has been restored.

Historic Royal Palaces, who look after the kitchens, have installed a new permanent exhibition at the site which focuses life on the 6th February, 1789, the date when King George III, having suffered his first bout of ‘madness’ (believed to be porphyria), was given back his knife and fork. William Wybrow was the Master Cook at this time and William Gorton the Clerk of the Kitchen.

WHERE: The Royal Kitchens, Kew Gardens, Kew (nearest Tube Station is Kew Gardens); WHEN: 11am to 5pm daily until 30th September, then Thursday to Sunday until 28th October, then daily again until 4th November; COST: Kew Gardens tickets must be purchased – £16 adults/£14 concessions/children under 16 free – and then tickets to Kew Palace – £6 adults/£4.50 concessions/children under 16 free (or free with annual Historic Royal Palaces membership); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/kewpalace/stories/palacehighlights/royalkewkitchens.

PICTURE: Forster/HRP

For more on Kew Palace, check out Kew Palace: The Official Illustrated History.

• Leicester Square officially reopened last night following a £15.3 million transformation which has seen every paving stone replaced, new plants, and 40 new water jets placed around the Grade II listed fountain and statue of William Shakespeare. The 17 month makeover also included new lighting, new seating and a refurb of the underground toilets. The square – which owes its name to Robert Sidney, the 2nd Earl of Leicester, who purchased this land in 1630 and, after building himself a mansion, kept aside part of the land for public use – now welcomes as many as 250,000 tourists a day and is known as one of the world’s premiere sites for the release of new films.

• The Royal Academy of Arts is marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a new exhibition opening tomorrow which features a selection of paintings by Royal Academicians elected during the early part of the Queen’s reign. The Queen’s Artists will include works by Jean Cooke, Frederick Gore and Ruskin Spear and will be displayed in the Reynolds and Council Rooms. Meanwhile The Saloon will house a collection of sculptures, paintings and drawings prepared by Royal Academicians for British coins and royal seals on loan from the Royal Mint Museum. The collection includes portraits of the Queen by Edward Bawden and Sir Charles Wheeler which have never before been shown in public, and Sir Anthony Caro’s new coin design of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Over in the Tennant Gallery, The King’s Artist’s George III’s Academy, will look at the king’s role in the foundation of the academy in 1768 and his influence in selecting the first artists. Highlights include portraits of King George III (pictured) and Queen Charlotte painted by the academy’s first president, Sir Joshua Reynolds. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Copyright Royal Academy of Arts, London/John Hammond.

• A new exhibition focusing on Londoners and their treasured souvenirs commemorating Queen Elizabeth II opens tomorrow at the Museum of London. At Home with the Queen features 12 photographic portraits of Londoners at home with their mementos as well as a selection of royal commemorative objects from the museum’s collection. The latter include trinkets produced for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, official Coronation Day street decorations, Silver Jubilee paper tableware and souvenirs relating to the current Diamond Jubilee. Runs until 28th October. Admission is free. For more (including a series of events running on conjunction with the exhibition), see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

The Royal Parks’ Shire horse, Jed, retired last week after a decade of service working in Richmond Park. The Queen presented a commemorative retirement rosette to Jed who was born in 1993 and joined the Royal Parks from Bass Brewery in Burton upon Trent almost 10 years ago. Horses have been used in Richmond Park since it was enclosed by King Charles I in 1637. The horses took a break in 1954 but the Shires were reintroduced in 1993 as a way to sustainably manage the parkland. For more on Richmond Park, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park.

On Now: The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot. This major free exhibition at the British Museum is part of the august institution’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and traces the history of the horse from domestication around 3,500 BC through to present day, with a particular focus on Britain’s equestrian tradition, from the introduction of the Arabian breed in the 18th century to events like Royal Ascot. Highlights include one of the earliest known depictions of horse and rider – a terracotta mould found in Mesopotamia dating from around 2000 to 1800 BC, a cylinder seal of Darius dating from 522 to 486 BC depicting the king hunting lions in a chariot, a 14th century Furusiyya manuscript, an Arabian manual of horsemanship, and the 19th century Abbas Pasha manuscript, the primary source of information about the lineage of purebred Arabian horses acquired by Abbas Pasha (mid-nineteenth century viceroy of Egypt). The exhibition is being held in Room 35. Runs until 30th September. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

The most acclaimed tragic actress of the 18th and early 19th centuries, Sarah Siddons is best remembered for her iconic role as Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth.

Born in 1755 into the theatrical Kemble family (her father was an actor and theatre manager and many of her 11 younger siblings, including John Philip Kemble, also went on to be actors) in Brecon, Wales, Siddons first began appearing with Kemble’s company while still at school. Still only a young teenager, she also began a romance with one of the company’s actors, William Siddons.

The liaison was discouraged by her parents (as was the idea of her acting) and in 1770 she was sent into service with a family in Warwick. She had kept up correspondence with Siddons, however, and, after her parents withdrew their opposition to the match, they were married on 26th November, 1773.

The couple rejoined Kemble’s company initially but were soon working for another, Chamberlain and Crump, and it was while doing so in the spa town of Cheltenham that Siddons’ abilities came to the notice of famed actor, playwright and theatre manager David Garrick.

Invited to London, her initial foray into acting there, however, fell flat and, following a short-lived season at Drury Lane Theatre which resulted in her services no longer being required (it is believed the fact she had two very young children at the time, having only just given birth to the second, didn’t help her performances), Siddons instead headed to the country and worked in places like York, Manchester and Bath, rebuilding her somewhat battered reputation.

It proved a successful move for when she was invited back to London in 1782, her now not just restored but blossoming reputation preceded her. To much acclaim she performed in the title role in David Garrick’s play, Isabella, or, the Fatal Marriage.

It was to be the first of many high profile roles – the most famous of which was to play Lady Macbeth – and Siddons soon rose to become the most sought-after actress in the city, a position which allowed her to mix among the elite of society (among her friends were counted lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson and philosopher Edmund Burke and she even appeared before King George III and Queen Charlotte). Venerated as a “cultural icon”, her star continued to climb in the 1780s and it was in 1783-84 that she sat for a portrait, The Tragic Muse, by Sir Joshua Reynolds (pictured).

Her personal life, meantime, was another matter and in 1804, Siddons and her husband – who had increasingly spent time apart during the preceding years, formally separated (William died in Bath four years later). She had also experienced the deaths of many of her children – in fact, only two of her seven children were to outlive her.

Siddons retired from the stage in 1812 – her final moving performance was, you guessed it, as Lady Macbeth – but continued to appear on special occasions until 1819.

She died in June, 1831, and, following a huge funeral, was buried at St Mary’s Cemetery at Paddington Green. There is a statue of her at the grave. Siddons is among those actresses currently featured in the National Portrait Gallery exhibition The First Actresses – Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons. The exhibition runs until 8th January (an admission charge applies). For more information visit www.npg.org.uk.

For further reading – Robyn Asleson’s A Passion for Performance: Sarah Siddons and Her Portraitists

PICTURE: Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse by the Studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1784  © National Portrait Gallery, London

In the first of an occasional series looking at the story behind some of London’s pub signs, we take a look at The Queen’s Larder in Queen Square, Bloomsbury.

The origins of the pub go back to the early 18th century – around 1710 – when there was known to be an alehouse on the site now occupied by the tavern. The story goes that as King George III (aka the ‘Mad King George’ depicted in the film of the same name) began to be affected by mental illness he was brought to a house in Queen Square where he stayed and was treated by a Dr Willis.

While he was undergoing this treatment – which was apparently initially successful, his wife Queen Charlotte rented an underground cellar below the alehouse and there stored some of the king’s favorite delicacies.

When a tavern was later built on the site, it was named The Queen’s Larder in honor of the role it had played in providing a storehouse for his treats.

The square itself contains a statue which was believed to be of Queen Anne – after whom the square was renamed (it had previously been known as Devonshire Square) – but it is now thought that the statue may in fact be of Queen Charlotte.

Hatchards on Piccadilly (right next to Fortnum & Mason) is generally accepted as being London’s oldest surviving bookshop.

It was founded in 1797 by John Hatchard in Piccadilly (there seems some dispute over whether it still stands on exactly the same site).

The shop currently holds three royal warrants for the supply of books to the Royal Household.

Among high profile past customers have been Queen Charlotte (wife of King George III), former PMs Benjamin Disraeli and  Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, and literary figures such as Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron.

It remains popular with lovers of literature and is noted for hosting book-signings by prominent authors with many signed book on the shelves.

For more, see www.hatchards.co.uk.

Following the wedding ceremony at Westminster Abbey on Friday, the now married happy couple will head in a carriage via a processional route down The Mall to Buckingham Palace.

There, they will enjoy a champagne reception with 600 guests hosted by the Queen before, at 1.30pm, appearing on the balcony of the palace to wave to the crowds and watch an aircraft flypast expected to include a Lancaster, Spitfire, Hurricane, two Typhoons and two Tornados.

Buckingham Palace, which has served as the official London residence of the reigning monarch since 1837, has a long tradition of hosting royal events. Then much smaller and known as Buckingham House, the property was built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1705.

It passed into royal hands when it was bought by King George III in 1761 for his wife, Queen Charlotte, to use as a family home located conveniently close to St James’s Palace where many court functions were held.

The house was extensively remodelled in 1762 and again, this time on the orders of King George IV, in the 1820s (after initially wanting to use it, like his father, as a family home, the king decided after the works had started to instead transform it into a palace, created to the designs of architect John Nash).

When King George IV died in 1830, his brother King William IV ordered the works to be continued albeit with a new architect, Edward Blore (the spiralling costs of Nash’s work are said to have cost him the contract). The king himself never lived in the house – even offering at at one stage as a seat for Parliament after the Houses of Parliament were destroyed by fire in 1834 – and it wasn’t until the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837 that the palace became the sovereign’s official residence.

Further works were subsequently needed to ensure there was adequate accommodations for the Queen’s family and it was during these works that the monumental Marble Arch – designed as the centrepiece of the palace’s courtyard – was moved away to its present location on the north-eastern corner of Hyde Park.

The palace, which now boasts 775 rooms including 19 staterooms, has since been the site of numerous royal wedding receptions – it was on the balcony  where Queen Elizabeth II and Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, greeted crowds on 20th November, 1947, after their wedding in Westminster Abbey and, similarly, where Prince William’s parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, held a reception before greeting crowds on 29th July, 1981, after their ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral.

Buckingham Palace was also the location for Queen Victoria’s wedding breakfast following the ceremony in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace on 10th February, 1840.