To look at it, you wouldn’t necessarily imagine the memorial marking the former site of the ‘Tyburn Tree’ near Marble Arch was part of the English Heritage Blue Plaques scheme.
But, located on the ground on a traffic island at the junction of Edgware and Bayswater Roads, this memorial commemorating the site of the former gallows at what was once London’s execution grounds (and those who died upon it) is just that.
It’s estimated by some that as many as 60,000 people may have been executed here over the 600 years until the late 1700s
While the plaque only mentions one of the names by which the various gallows erected here were known – Tyburn being the name of the village originally here, others included ‘The Elms’, the ‘The Deadly Never Green Tree’ and the ‘Triple Tree’, the latter presumably a reference to the famous three-sided gallows set up here during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
The last gallows was removed in 1759 when executions were moved into Newgate Prison (for more on the Tyburn Tree, see our earlier post here).
The plaque was erected on the site in 1964 by the London County Council; it replaced an earlier triangular plaque the council had erected here in 1909.
The memorial was restored and rededicated in a ceremony in 2014 with the placement of three oak trees around it (this picture was taken before the restoration).
There is a green City of Westminster plaque nearby which commemorates 105 Roman Catholic martyrs who lost their lives on the gallows between 1535 and 1681 while the deaths of the more than 350 Roman Catholics who died across England and Wales during the Reformation, including those on the Tyburn Tree, are also recalled in a shrine at the nearby Tyburn Convent.
June 17, 2016
Located on the south side of the Strand, the then-named Exeter House was built in the 1300s as the London palace of the Bishops of Exeter on land which had previously been occupied by the Knights Templar.
It was Bishop Walter Stapledon who had the palace constructed – as well as being Bishop of Exeter, he was Lord High Treasurer to the unpopular King Edward II, a role which eventually led to him being dragged from his horse in the City of London and murdered.
King Henry VIII gave the property to his Secretary of State, William, Lord Paget, and, in the late 16th century, it came into the hands of Robert Dudley, the 1st Earl of Leicester. He rebuilt it and renamed it Leicester House which it remained until, following his death in 1588, it was inherited by his stepson, Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex and a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, and renamed Essex House.
The house was rather large and in 1590 was reported as having as many as 42 bedrooms as well as a picture gallery, a banqueting suite and chapel.
Devereux ended up beheaded for treason on Tower Hill in 1601 but his son, also Robert Devereux, became a distinguished general for the Parliamentarians during the Civil War. He received a delegation from the House of Commons at the property to offer their congratulations after the Battle of Newbury in 1643 and was laid out in state there in 1646 (insatiable diarist Samuel Pepys, then a 13-year-old boy, was among those who saw the body).
After the Civil War, the family’s debts resulted into the property passing into the hands of other families. The main part of the house was eventually demolished in the 1670s and part of the property sold to developer Nicholas Barbon. He built Essex Street, which still stands in the area, was built on the site.
The remaining part of the house, meanwhile, was used to house the Cotton Library before, in 1777, it too was demolished.
The mansion’s chapel, meanwhile, became a dissenters meeting house, known as the Essex Street Chapel, which became the birthplace of Unitarianism in England. The denomination’s headquarters, named Essex Hall, still stands on the site.
The pub The Devereux (pictured above), named for Robert Devereux, is among the buildings which now stand on the site (for more on the pub, see our earlier post here).
May 23, 2016
The subject of a current exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians, Dr John Dee – mathematician, courtier, astrologist and ‘magician’ are just some of the tags he is labelled with – is one of the most enigmatic figures of Tudor England.
Born in London’s Tower ward in 1527, Dee was of Welsh descent and the son of Roland Dee, a mercer and courtier to King Henry VIII, and Johanna Wild. He attended school in Chelmsford and, at the age of 15 entered St John’s College, Cambridge, awarded a Bachelor of Arts in 1545 and a master’s degree in 1548. He was also a founding fellow of Trinity College when it was founded in 1546.
Dee travelled through Europe during the late 1540s and early 1550s, studying and lecturing at places including Louvain, Paris and Brussels. It was during this trip that he met mathematicians and cartographers like Gemma Frisius and Gerardus Mercator.
Back in England, Dee was appointed rector at Upton-upon-Severn (apparently on the recommendation of King Edward VI), and in 1555 was made a member of the Worshipful Company of Mercers. He had, meanwhile, turned down offers of professorships at both the Sorbonne in Paris and the University of Oxford, ostensibly because he had hopes of obtaining an official position at court.
It was perhaps in pursuit of this that he subsequently appeared at England’s Royal Court where he took on the role of teacher of the mathematical sciences while also serving as an astrologer to Queen Mary I and courtiers.
The latter role led to Dee’s arrest and imprisonment in 1555 on charges of being a ‘magus’ (magician) – he would go on to appear for questioning in the infamous Star Chamber – but he was eventually cleared of all charges.
In 1558, Dee became a scientific and medical advisor to Queen Elizabeth I and, by the mid-1560s, had established himself in the village of Mortlake (now in the south-west of Greater London) where he built a laboratory and gathered together what was the largest private library in the country at the time, said to have consisted of more than 4,000 books and manuscripts (and the subject of the current exhibition).
Dee was also associated with several English voyages of exploration for which he provided maps and navigational instruments, most famously Sir Martin Frobisher’s expedition to Canada in 1576-78.
He is also known for his strong views on natural philosophy and astrology and the occult, which included the idea that mathematics had a special, supernatural power to reveal divine mysteries. Some of his occult-related ideas were explored in his 1564 text Monas hieroglyphics – one of numerous works he authored – but his most influential work is said to have been a preface he wrote to an English translation of Euclid’s Elements published in 1570 in which he argued for the central role of mathematics.
Dee is said to have married three times – the first in the mid-1560s and, following the deaths of his previous two wives, the last time in 1578 when he was wedded to Jane Fromond, who was less than half his age and who had been a lady-in-waiting to the Countess of Lincoln. She bore him some eight children (although there are questions over the paternity of at least one) and died in 1604 of the plaque.
By the 1580s, having failed to win the influence he hoped to have at court and wanting to further his explorations into the supernatural (in particular, communication with ‘angels’ through occult practice of crystal-gazing), he travelled to Europe with a convicted counterfeiter and medium Edward Kelley to Europe.
Returning to England, after much lobbying, Queen Elizabeth I appointed him warden of Manchester College in 1596, but despite this, he returned to London in 1605 where his final years were marked by poverty.
He is believed to have died in March, 1609, at the London home of a friend and was apparently buried in Mortlake (pictured, above, is a memorial plaque at St Mary the Virgin in Mortlake).
It’s believed that William Shakespeare modelled the figure of Prospero in the 1611 play The Tempest on Dee (it’s also claimed that he was the model for Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus).
Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee runs at the Royal College of Physicians at 11 St Andrews Place, Regent’s Park, until 29th July. Entry is free (check website for opening hours). For more, see www.rcplondon.ac.uk.
April 11, 2016
A street and small district based just to the north of Holborn in the Borough of Camden, the origins of Hatton Garden’s name stem from the Elizabethan-era courtier Sir Christopher Hatton.
Sir Christopher, Lord Chancellor during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and one of her favourites, acquired land here in the 1570s after the Queen forced the bishops of Ely to rent him some of the land they owned which was attached to their London residence, Ely Palace (commemorated today in nearby Ely Place, still home to London’s oldest Catholic church).
Hatton, whose annual rent was apparently fixed at £10, 10 stacks of hay and a red rose at midsummer, subsequently built a property, Hatton House, on the garden.
This survived until the mid-1600s when a series of properties were laid out on the site, centred on what is now the street known as Hatton Garden (Sir Christopher, who was buried in Old St Paul’s Cathedral, had died in 1591). Wren House, originally apparently a chapel and later a charity school, which still stands in Hatton Garden, was built around this time.
The houses were mostly replaced in the mid 18th century with new homes built for prosperous merchants but, as the years passed, while the street itself remained home to some of the wealthy, the same could not be said of some other streets nearby, like Saffron Hill, which became notorious slums.
In the early 1800s artisans started moving into Hatton Garden – London’s Little Italy was born around this time just to the north when Italian craftsmen started moving in (the St Peter’s Italian Church opened in 1863 in Clerkenwell Road) – and the area was gradually transformed into a commercial district.
Jewellery and watch-makers, who had long been based in Clerkenwell, started moving in and the street soon became particularly noted as a centre for cutting diamonds, initially those from India. It was an association which only grew stronger following the discovery of diamonds in South Africa’s Kimberley diamond field in the 1870s.
Today, the street known as Hatton Garden – which runs between Holborn and Clerkenwell Road – still contains the most concentrated cluster of jewellery retailers in the UK (as well as apparently an extensive subterranean network of tunnels and passageways as well as many heavily guarded underground vaults) and is still the centre of London’s diamond trade.
Incidentally, the street was also home to workshops at number 57 which, from 1881, produced the rapid firing Maxim Gun following its invention by Sir Hiram Maxim (and, of course, it was also the location of last year’s safe depository robbery and another famous jewellery robbery back in 1993).
A short side note – it was the wife of Sir Christopher Hatton’s nephew, Lady Elizabeth Hatton, who become associated with Bleeding Heart Yard (you can revisit that story in our earlier post here).
February 29, 2016
It was in February, 1616 – 400 years ago this year – that the adventurer and courtier Sir Walter Raleigh (Ralegh) was released from the Tower of London where he had spent the last 13 years of his life. Sadly, his freedom was to be short-lived.
Raleigh had been imprisoned in 1603 by King James I – not his biggest fan – after being accused of plotting against the king and subsequently sentenced to death for treason (a sentence which was then commuted to life imprisonment).
The Tower, where he’d been imprisoned a couple of times before – most notably by Queen Elizabeth I for secretly marrying Bessy Throckmorton, one of her maids-of-honour, was to be his home for the next 13 years.
It was in Bloody Tower (in left of picture) that his rather luxurious ‘cell’ was located. Originally known as the Garden Tower, it was renamed for the tradition that the two ‘Princes in the Tower’, King Edward V and his brother Richard, had been murdered here in 1483.
The tower’s top floor was added specifically to provide more room for his family in 1605-06 (and Raleigh’s son Carew was conceived and born while he was imprisoned here). It was also during this time of imprisonment that he wrote his History of the World (published in 1614).
Raleigh was released in 1616 to lead an expedition to the New World – he’d previously been on a couple of expeditions there including one with his half-brother Sir Humphrey Gilbert aimed at finding the Northwest Passage (but which deteriorated into privateering and led to his brief imprisonment following his return to England), and one aimed at finding the legendary ‘golden land’ of El Dorado (which he failed to do). It was again with the purpose of finding gold that he now returned to the Orinoco River region of South America.
Failure, however, was once more the outcome, and on Raleigh’s return to England, the death sentence issued on 1603 was reimposed (for his failure but also for attacking the Spanish in defiance of the king’s instructions to specifically not do so, although the blame was not all his). He would be executed in Old Palace Yard at Westminster on 29th October, 1618.
December 22, 2015
Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of one of five highly ornate towers, luxurious banqueting houses from which the court would view tournaments in King Henry VIII’s walled tiltyard at Hampton Court Palace.
Built in the 1530s, the multi-storey towers were largely demolished by the 1680s and, with the exception of one of the towers which still stands at the palace (and is now a Grade I listed building), their precise location eventually lost.
Until now, that is. The green-glazed tiled floor of one of the ‘lost’ towers were unearthed earlier this month during works taking place as the tiltyard undergoes a family-oriented makeover by award-winning landscape architect, Robert Myers (to be known as ‘The Magic Garden’, it will be unveiled next Easter).
The richly decorated towers – where the king entertained dignitaries and ambassadors – are thought to slightly predate the tiltyard which was apparently laid out in 1537 – perhaps, it’s been suggested, to mark the birth of King Henry VIII’s son, the future King Edward VI.
The first recorded tournament at Hampton Court took place in 1557 when Queen Mary I held one to celebrate Christmas. Her sister Queen Elizabeth I continued the tradition by occasionally holding tournaments there but most days the tiltyard was used to train the young men of the court in warfare.
When tournaments gradually fell out of fashion, the towers were used as multi-purpose storage facilities housing, according to Historic Royal Palaces, everything from pigeons to two Catholic priests in service to King Charles I’s queen, Henrietta Maria, who were spent time ‘quarantined’ there after an outbreak of plague.
For more on Hampton Court Palace, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.
St Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield – the oldest parish church in London (see our earlier piece here) – is worth a revisit thanks to the fact that it would have been standing (at least partially) when the seal of King John was first affixed to the Magna Carta .
Only half the size it once was, this church was founded in 1123 AD as the priory church for a community of Augustinian Canons and owes its origins to Rahere, a favored courtier of King Henry I who renounced his way of life and made a pilgrimage to Rome, returning to found both the church and nearby hospital for the poor.
Only the eastern part of the church was built by the time of the death of Rahere – the first prior – in 1145 and the building continued for some years afterward. While the interior walls now look somewhat plain, they would have been highly decorated when the building was originally constructed. At the time of the Magna Carta, the church would have only been partly completed.
The tomb of Rahere still lies within the church, on the left hand side of the altar – although the canopy over it dates from the 15th century. There were some healing miracles recorded at the tomb.
The church’s current configuration came about when the priory was dissolved in 1539 and the nave of the church was pulled down, leaving what’s there now – the quire, altar and lady chapel.
The brick tower at the church’s west end dates from the 1620s while the gateway through which you enter the church grounds features a restored 13th century arch topped by a late Tudor building.
The church was briefly used by some Dominican friars but since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I has fulfilled the role of parish church. A concerted restoration effort began in the mid-19th century by Sir Aston Webb (architect of the Victoria & Albert Museum), leaving the Lady Chapel with a very different feel to the Norman choir. The building is now Grade I-listed.
WHERE: Off Little Britain, West Smithfield (nearest tube station is Barbican); WHEN: 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday, 10.30am to 4pm Saturday, 8.30am to 8pm Sunday (except for services) ; COST: £4 an adult/£3.50 concession/£10 a family; WEBSITE: www.greatstbarts.com
February 20, 2015
Having previously looked at the Norman fortification (razed by King John in 1213 – see our earlier post here), this time we’re taking a look at the later (medieval) fortification known as Baynard’s Castle.
In the 1300s, a mansion was constructed about 100 metres east of where the castle had originally stood on a riverfront site which had been reclaimed from the Thames. This was apparently destroyed by fire before being rebuilt in the 1420s and it became the seat of the House of York during the Wars of the Roses. King Edward IV was proclaimed king here in 1461 and King Richard III was offered the crown here in 1483 (a moment famously captured by William Shakespeare).
King Henry VII transformed the fortified mansion into a royal palace at the start of the 16th century – adding a series of towers – and his son, King Henry VIII, gave it to the ill-fated Catherine of Aragon when they married. The Queen subsequently took up residence (Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves also resided here when queen – the latter was the last member of the royal family to use it as a permanent home).
After King Henry VIII’s death, the palace passed into the hands of the Earl of Pembroke (brother-in-law of Queen Catherine Parr, Henry’s surviving Queen) who substantially extended it, adding ranges around a second courtyard. In 1553, both Lady Jane Grey and Queen Mary I were proclaimed queen here. Queen Elizabeth I was another royal visitor to the palace, entertained with a fireworks display when she did.
It was left untouched during the Civil War (the Pembrokes were Parliamentarians) but following the Restoration, it was occupied by the Royalist Earl of Shrewsbury (among his visitors was King Charles II). It wasn’t to be for long however – the palace was largely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, although remnants of the building, including one or two of the towers, continued to be used for various purposes until the site was finally cleared in the 1800s to make way for warehouses.
The site in Queen Victoria Street in Blackfriars (the area is named for the monastery built on the site of the Norman castle) is now occupied by the Brutalist building named Baynard House. The castle is also commemorated in Castle Baynard Street and Castle Baynard Ward.
It was discovered in archaeological excavations in the 197os that the castle’s waterfront wall had been built on top of the Roman riverside city wall.
PICTURE: © Copyright Andrew Abbott
October 27, 2014
The boat on this iconic Greenwich pub’s sign probably gives the game away here – the Gipsy Moth is named after a yacht of the same name.
The Gipsy Moth IV was sailed single-handedly around the globe by Sir Francis Chichester, then aged in his 60s, in 1966-67, who broke numerous records as he did so including the fastest voyage around the world by any small vessel, the longest non-stop passage by a small vessel and what was then the longest single-handed passage.
Following the death of Sir Francis on 26th August, 1972 (he had been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II on the steps of the Old Royal Naval College using the same sword that had knighted Sir Francis Drake in the presence of Queen Elizabeth I in 1581), the boat was put on display in a Greenwich dry dock next to the Cutty Sark. Initially open to the public, it was later closed due to deterioration.
Following a restoration in the early Noughties, in 2006 the Gipsy Moth IV was again sailed around the world (on a trip that wasn’t always smooth sailing) to mark the 40th anniversary of Sir Francis’ journey. It is now owned by a charitable trust based in Cowes on the Isle of Wight.
The renovated pub, located at 60 Greenwich Church Street next to the Cutty Sark, is situated in a building which dates from the late 18th century. It apparently changed its name from the Wheatsheaf in the mid-1970s apparently to mark the arrival of the Gipsy Moth IV.
The pub features a beer garden with views of the Cutty Sark. For more information, see www.thegipsymothgreenwich.co.uk.
This Week in London – The Magna Carta at the new City of London Heritage Gallery; Tudor monarchs at the NPG; Mapping London; and objects with story at Pitzhanger…
September 11, 2014
• The 13th century’s finest surviving copy of the Magna Carta is taking centre stage at the new City of London Heritage Gallery which opens to the public this Friday. The 1297 document, which bears a superimposed memo reading ‘make it happen’, is being featured as part of the Corporation’s efforts to mark next year’s 800th anniversary of the signing of the landmark document. Other items on display in the new permanent, purpose-built exhibition space at the Guildhall Art Gallery include the medieval Cartae Antiquae, a volume containing transcripts of charters and statues covering laws enacted between 1327 and 1425 – a period which includes the reign of King Richard III, a poster for a World War I recruitment meeting held at the Guildhall in 1914, and a series of paintings depicting the 25 City Aldermen who were in office in the mid-1400s. The gallery, admission to which is free, will in future feature a rotating selection of rare documents from the City of London Corporation’s archives including the purchase deed William Shakespeare signed on buying a home in Blackfriars in 1613. For more, including opening times, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/heritagegallery. For more on events to mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta next year, see www.magnacarta800th.com. PICTURE: Copyright London Metropolitan Archives.
• Rare depictions of Tudor monarchs will be seen at the National Portrait Gallery in the most complete presentation of their portraiture to date. The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered features the gallery’s oldest portrait – that of King Henry VII – displayed alongside a Book of Hours inscribed by the king to his daughter, six portraits of King Henry VIII along with his rosary (on loan from Chatsworth), portraits of King Edward VI and a page from his diary in which he relates his father’s death, five portraits of Queen Mary I along with her prayer book (on loan from Westminster Cathedral) and several portraits of Queen Elizabeth I displayed alongside her locket ring (on loan from Chequers, the country residence of the PM). There will also be a discussion surrounding the search for a “real” portrait of the ‘nine days queen’, Lady Jane Grey, alongside a portrait of her that dates from the Elizabethan period. With many of the portraits newly examined as part of the gallery’s ‘Making Art in Tudor Britain’ project, visitors to the gallery will also be able to access a specially created app which allowing them to access the new research while looking at the portraits. The display, which will form the core of a larger exhibition in Paris next year, can be seen until 1st March. Admission to the gallery, off Trafalgar Square, is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.
• An exhibition of rare maps from London, dating from between 1572 and last year, at gallery@oxo on South Bank, is closing on Sunday. Part of the Totally Thames festival, the Mapping London exhibition shows how the landscape along the River Thames as it passes through the capital has changed over the years. It features the first available map of London, which dates from 1572, as well as a 2013 map of underground London, monumental wall maps, and even a map of London that doubles as fan. The free exhibition at Oxo Tower Wharf is being curated by Daniel Crouch, one of the world’s leading map dealers. For more, see www.totallythames.org/events/info/mapping-london.
• A Crafts Council touring exhibition showcasing the work of 12 contemporary artisans and design studios – each of which uses objects as a means of storytelling – has opened at Pitzhanger Manor House and Gallery in Ealing – its first stop – this week. Crafting Narrative: Storytelling through objects and making explores the potential of objects to reflect on history, culture, society and technology through a combination of new and commissioned works, film text and photography. Works include Hilda Hellström’s The Materiality of a Natural Disaster which consists of food vessels made of soil from a field belonging to the last resident inside the Japanese Daiichi nuclear plant exclusion zone, Onkar Kular and Noam Toran’s archive of objects belonging to the fictional Lövy-Singh clan – an East London family of mixed Jewish and Sikh descent, and Hefin Jones’ The Welsh Space Campaign which features objects such as astronaut boots in the form of traditional Welsh clogs in an attempt to show how Wales has the capacity to explore space. The free exhibition is at the manor until 19th October. For more, see www.pitzhanger.org.uk.
Send all items for inclusion to firstname.lastname@example.org.
August 22, 2014
Four bronze angels, designed for the tomb of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, have been temporarily reunited in the V&A’s Medieval & Renaissance galleries as the museum looks for funding to acquire them.
Once thought lost, the Wolsey Angels were commissioned in 1524 from Florentine sculptor Benedetto de Rovezzano for the tomb of Wolsey, chief advisor to King Henry VIII and one of the most powerful men in the kingdom. Each of the angels, which measure around a metre in height, was created between 1524 and 1529 – the period in which Wolsey was trying to have the pope annul Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
As is well-known, Wolsey failed to do so and died in 1530 in disgrace. Henry appropriated Wolsey’s assets including the tomb which the king apparently intended to use for himself. The work was slow, however, and when Henry died in 1547, it remained unfinished. His children – King Edward VI, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I – each said they would complete the tomb as a memorial to their father but didn’t and in 1565, Elizabeth moved parts of the tomb to Windsor.
During the English Civil War elements of the tomb were sold off to raise funds and only the black stone chest – now used to house the remains of Admiral Lord Nelson in the St Paul’s Cathedral crypt – were believed to have survived along with four large gilt-bronze candlesticks which were installed at St Bavo Cathedral in Ghent.
The angels passed out of sight until, in 1994, two of them appeared in a Sotheby’s sale. Acquired by a Parisian art dealer, they were later attributed to Benedetto. The remaining two angels were discovered at Harrowden Hall in Northamptonshire in 2008 – the hall is now owned by the Wellingborough Golf Club – and it was subsequently revealed that the other two had been stolen from the same site 20 years previously.
The V&A has embarked on a campaign – backed by Hilary Mantel, the Booker Prize winning author of Wolf Hall – to acquire the four angels, priced at £5 million. It has already been granted £2 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund has pledged a further £500,000.
Mantel described the recovery of the angels as “one of those miracles that historians pray for; something that seems irrevocably lost has been there all the time”. “To claim the angels for the nation would connect us to one of the liveliest eras of our history and one of its most remarkable men.”
Donations can be made via the V&A’s website at www.vam.ac.uk/wolseyangels.
PICTURE: Wolsey Angels on display at the V&A/© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
This week (and next week) as part of our look at Shakespeare’s London, we’re taking a look at a few of the many memorials to William Shakespeare located around London…
• Westminster Abbey: Perhaps the most famous of London’s memorials to Shakespeare can be found in Poet’s Corner, an area of the abbey which has become noted as a burial place and memorial site for writers, playwrights and poets. Designed by William Kent, the memorial statue of Shakespeare was placed here in January, 1741 (there had apparently been some earlier talk of bringing his bones from Stratford-upon-Avon but that idea was squashed). The life-size statue in white marble, sculpted by Peter Scheemakers, was erected by Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, Dr Richard Mead, Alexander Pope and Tom Martin. The memorial also features the heads of Queen Elizabeth I, King Henry V and King Richard III on the base of a pedestal and shows Shakespeare pointing to a scroll on which are painted a variation of lines taken from The Tempest. A Latin inscription records the date the memorial was created and an English translation of this was added in 1977. For more on the abbey, see www.westminster-abbey.org.
• Guildhall Art Gallery (pictured above): Facing into Guildhall Yard from niches under the loggia of the Guildhall Art Gallery are four larger-than-life busts of historical figures connected with the City of London. As well as one of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, architect Christopher Wren, and diarist Samuel Pepys (along with a full-length statue of Dick Whittington and his famous cat) is a bust depicting Shakespeare. Carved out of Portland stone by sculptor Tim Crawley, the busts were installed in 1999. Much attention was apparently paid to creating a bust which resembled pictures of Shakespeare. Follow this link for more on the gallery.
• Former City of London School: This Thames-side building, dating from the 1880s, features a full length statue of Shakespeare who gazes out over the river. He’s not alone – poet John Milton, Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Thomas More and Sir Francis Bacon stand nearby, selected, apparently, to represent various disciplines taught at the school. The statues were the work of John Daymond who depicted Shakespeare flanked by representations of classics and poetry and drawing and music. The school vacated the building on Victoria Embankment in the 1980s and it’s now occupied by JP Morgan.
We’ll be looking at some more works depicting Shakespeare next week…
10 sites from Shakespearean London – 7. Shakespearean connections in the Elizabethan world – St John’s Gate and Staple Inn…
July 16, 2014
Following on from our post last week, we take a look at a couple more of London’s buildings that had some sort of association with William Shakespeare…
• St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell (pictured): This former gatehouse into Clerkenwell Priory was at the time of Shakespeare home to the Master of the Revels and where the playwright would have had to have brought his plays for official government approval. Thirty of the Bard’s plays were licensed here and the Master of Revels during all but the final few years of Shakespeare’s career was Edmund Tilney (or Tylney), who served in the post under both Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. The gatehouse was later used as a coffee house and pub among other things and is associated with everyone from artist William Hogarth (his father Richard ran the coffee house), Dr Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens. These days, the gatehouse is part of the Museum of the Order of St John (for more on that, see our earlier post here).
• Staple Inn, Holborn: OK, there’s no direct link at all between Shakespeare and this building on High Holborn but it was built during his lifetime – in 1585 – and as such is one of very few surviving examples of buildings of his era. Its name comes from the fact the site where it stands was originally a covered market where wool was weighed and taxed (the word ‘staple’ apparently relates to the duty on wool introduced in 1275). It later became an Inn of Chancery – a medieval school for lawyers which fed students through to the Inns of Court (in this case mostly Gray’s Inn), and it was members of the Society of Staple Inn who built the new building here in the 1580s. The building – which still boasts a grand hall – survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 and, albeit with considerable damage, the Blitz. Since the late 1800s, it has been home to what’s now known as the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. The building, which was restored in the 1990s, is a great example of an Elizabethan-era structure and gives some sense of what Shakespeare’s London was like.
June 9, 2014
Born the same year as Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe was, like him, one of the foremost dramatists of the Elizabethan era.
Born in Canterbury the son of shoemaker John Marlowe and his wife Catherine in 1564 (he was baptised on 26th February and likely to have been born a few days before), Marlowe attended the King’s School in the city and went on to study at Corpus College in Cambridge, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in 1584 and a Master of Arts in 1587. It is believed that at around this time, he was also working secretly for the government of Queen Elizabeth I, although what the nature of that work was remains unknown.
While Marlowe’s first play was Dido, Queen of Carthage, he first found theatrical success in 1587 with Tamburlaine the Great, later followed with a second part. His other four plays included The Jew of Malta, Edward the Second, The Massacre at Paris about the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572, and Doctor Faustus.
The plays served as key works for the Admiral’s Men, the company of Edward Alleyn who performed many of the key roles in the plays, and who is strongly associated with the Rose Theatre – indeed it was here that Tamburlaine the Great, The Jew of Malta, and Doctor Faustus premiered (you can see our earlier post on the theatre here).
Marlowe, who is known to have lived in Shoreditch, also completed other works included poetry and translations and while there is little evidence about his personal life, there is much speculation including that he was, as aforementioned, a spy as well as a carouser (he is known to have frequented taverns in London including Ye Olde Cock in Fleet Street), a homosexual and/or a heretic. It has also been suggested he was a tutor to noblewoman Arabella Stuart.
It is known that he was arrested in 1592 in Flushing in The Netherlands for counterfeiting coins and was sent back to England but no further action was taken.
His death is one of the big mysteries of his life. A warrant was issued for Marlowe’s arrest over some heretical tracts which were found in the lodgings of his colleague Thomas Kyd (who when questioned apparently implicated him) and he appeared to answer to the Privy Council on 20th May, 1593. They weren’t sitting and he was apparently instructed to appear daily until further notice. He was dead 10 days later.
The exact circumstances of his death remain a matter of speculation. It is often said he died in a drunken brawl with one early source suggesting this was over a homosexual love affair and another, more recent, theory suggesting he even faked his own death to avoid being executed for heresy (an extrapolation of this theory goes that after his fake death he continued writing plays under the name of William Shakespeare but this is generally deemed fairly far-fetched). The official account recorded at the time was that he was stabbed to death in a brawl over payment of a bill with men at a house in Deptford.
He was buried in an unmarked grave at St Nicholas’ Church in Deptford. There is a memorial window to him in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey. A gift of the Marlowe Society, it was unveiled in 2002 and controversially included a question mark after the generally accepted date of his death. There is a portrait, dated 1585, generally believed to be of Marlowe at Cambridge.
PICTURE: Title page of the earliest known edition of Edward II (1594)/Wikipedia
May 23, 2014
The Thames-side property known as the Steelyard – the phrase comes from the Dutch-German word Stahlhof and relates either to a steel beam used for weighing goods or a courtyard where the goods were sold – was the main trading base of the Hanseatic League in London from the 13th century onward.
Located near where Walbrook flows out of the Thames on the north bank (the site is now at least partly covered by Cannon Street Station), the walled compound – which at some point housed as many as 400 people – was in some senses a mini city within a city complete with a hall, warehouses, a weighing house and counting houses as well as residences and a chapel.
While the community – which represented an alliance of towns and cities in northern Europe – was mentioned as far back as the late 1200s, it wasn’t until 1303 that King Edward I formerly confirmed the tax and customs concessions of the merchants (at some point, in return for privileges they were given, the group was charged with keeping up the maintenance of Bishopsgate).
The power of the trading post had grown substantially by the 15th century and the concessions the group had been granted meant there was inevitably considerable friction with English merchants. There was also some official friction and one example of it was when the Steelyard was closed temporarily in the 15th century when the Hanse cities were at war with England.
In 1598 Queen Elizabeth I took away the Steelyard’s trading privileges (after which the compound was apparently looted). It was subsequently allowed to reopen by King James I but never regained the prominence it had previously had.
Much of the compound was destroyed in the Great Fire of London but nonetheless, the Steelyard was rebuilt and continued to provide links between German cities and the English until the mid 1800s when the land was sold off and, in 1866, Cannon Street Station built on the site.
A couple of surviving objects from the Steelyard include a series of at least eight portraits of Hanse merchants painted by Hans Holbein the Younger and a stone model of the Hanseatic Arms which were placed over the gate into the compound can be seen at the Museum of London.
March 26, 2014
Known around the world for the stoic mounted troopers which stand guard here, this rather fanciful building straddling a site between Whitehall and St James’s Park was built in the early 1750s on land which had previously served as a tiltyard for King Henry VIII.
In the 1660s King Charles II had a barracks built here for the guards manning the entrance to what was then the Palace of Whitehall, but in 1749 it was demolished and the present building constructed.
William Kent had apparently drawn up designs but it was architect John Vardy who oversaw construction of the neo-Palladian building after Kent’s death in 1748. The windows on the St James’s Park side of the building are said to have been based on a drawing by Lord Burlington (he of Chiswick House fame – see our earlier post here).
While the site previously marked the entrance to the Palace of Whitehall, it is now considered the formal entrance to St James’s Palace (although the palace is located some distance away) and, as a result, only the monarch can drive through the central archway without displaying a pass.
Until 1904, the Grade I-listed building housed the office of the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces but the title was then abolished and replaced with Chief of the General Staff, who relocated to the War Office Building. Horse Guards subsequently became the home of the army commands of London District and the Household Division, a role it still fulfils.
As well as being the site of the daily Changing of the Queen’s Life Guard (this free event takes place at 11am every day; 10am on Sundays), Horse Guards is also now home to the Household Cavalry Museum.
Among treasures in the museum are two silver kettledrums presented to the regiment in 1831 by King William IV, a cork leg used by the first Marquess of Anglesey after his real leg was amputated following the Battle of Waterloo (and subsequently became a tourist attraction in its own right) and silverware by Faberge. Visitors to the museum can also see into the working stables via a glazed petition.
The parade ground behind the building is the site of the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony which officially celebrates the Sovereign’s birthday. Although the ceremony has only been held since 1748, it’s interesting to note that some of the birthday celebrations of Queen Elizabeth I were held in the same place.
WHERE: The Household Cavalry Museum, Horse Guards, Whitehall (nearest Tube stations are Westminster, Embankment, St James’s Park and Charing Cross); WHEN: Open 10am to 5pm (November to March)/10am to 6pm (April to October); COST: £6 adults/£4 children (aged 5-16) and concessions/£15 family ticket; WEBSITE: www.householdcavalrymuseum.co.uk.
Around London – The Cheapside Hoard revealed; Queen Elizabeth I at the NPG; 3D printing at the Science Museum; and, Viennese portraits…
October 10, 2013
• The ‘secrets’ of the Cheapside Hoard – the world’s finest and largest collection of 16th and 17th century jewels – are revealed in a new exhibition opening tomorrow at the Museum of London. The
Cheapside Hoard: London’s Lost Jewels publicly displays the hoard of Elizabethan and early Stuart jewellery and gemstones in its entirety for the first time since its discovery more than 100 years ago. The hoard, consisting of as many as 500 pieces including rings, necklaces, cameos, scent bottles and a unique Colombian emerald watch, was discovered buried in a cellar on Cheapside in the City of London in 1912. The exhibition uses new research and state-of-the-art technology to showcase the hoard as it explores the questions of who owned the hoard, when and why was it hidden, and why was it never reclaimed. New information revealed by the research shows that the hoard was buried between 1640 and 1666 (the critical clue was a previously overlooked intaglio – a gemstone engraved with the heraldic badge of William Howard, Viscount Stafford, who lived between 1612-1680). It also reveals Thomas Sympson was the “dodgy” jeweller responsible for two counterfeit rubies contained within the hoard (he apparently had a trade in selling counterfeit gems for as much as £8,000 each). Entry charge applies. Runs until 27th April. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk. PICTURED: Above: gold and pearl cage pendants from the Cheapside Hoard; and right: a bejewelled scent bottle.
• A previously unknown painting of Queen Elizabeth I is on display as part of a new exhibition, Elizabeth I and Her People, opening at the National Portrait Gallery today. The small painting, which has been attributed to miniaturist Isaac Oliver and which is a reworking of the classical story of the Judgement of Paris, was recently acquired by the gallery. It will sit among a selection of other portraits of the “Virgin Queen” in a display which endeavours to show how during her 50 year reign she portrayed the image of a strong monarch. The portraits are just some of the 100 items featured in the exhibition which also includes costumes, coins, jewellery and crafts and examines the rise of new social classes in Elizabethan society. Other portraits in the exhibition feature images of courtiers such as William Cecil and Christopher Hatton along with images of merchants, lawyers, goldsmiths, butchers, calligraphers, playwrights and artists. There is also a little known painting of three Elizabethan children and what may be the first portrait of a guinea pig. The exhibition, supported by the Weiss Gallery, runs until 5th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.
• Printed objects including replacement body organs, aeroplane parts and a music box have gone on display at the Science Museum in South Kensington as part of a new exhibition, 3D: printing the future. The exhibition looks at the rapidly evolving field of 3D printing and its growing impact on society through stories such as the use of 3D printing by engineers to create lighter aeroplane parts and the ways in which the medical industry is researching the use of the technology to create replacement body parts. The display will also include miniature 3D printed figures created from scans of visitors who took part in workshops during the summer holidays. This free exhibition runs in the Antenna gallery for nine months. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.
• On Now: Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900. On at the National Gallery, the first major UK exhibition devoted to the portrait in Vienna features iconic works by Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Richard Gerstl, Oskar Kokoschka and Arnold Schonberg alongside those of lesser known artists such as Bronica Koller and Isidor Kaufmann. Highlights include Klimt’s Portrait of Hermine Gallia (1904) and Portrait of a Lady in Black (about 1894), Schiele’s The Family (Self Portrait) (1918) and Nude Self Portrait by Gerstl (1908). Runs until 12th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.
August 9, 2013
One of five City of London swords, tradition holds that the sword was given to the City Corporation by Queen Elizabeth I when the Royal Exchange opened in 1571.
It takes its name from its pearl-encrusted scabbard – there’s said to be 2,500 of them sewn onto it – and was traditionally used in celebrations. These include a ceremony which takes place when the reigning monarch comes in State to the City.
Seen during last year’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the ceremony involves the Lord Mayor taking the sword from the Sword-Bearer and offering it hilt-first to the monarch to touch – a symbol of the monarch’s authority over the city. It is then borne aloft in front of the monarch by the Lord Mayor.
Interestingly, the tradition of the monarch touching the sword hilt is said to date from the reign of King Charles I when the king entered the City in 1641 and just touched the sword given to him and handed it back to the Lord Mayor. Prior to that, the sword was handed over to the sovereign for the during the visit.
The City’s other four swords include the State Sword, the Mourning Sword, the Old Bailey Sword and Mansion House Justice Room Sword.
Guided tours of Mansion House – official residence of the Lord Mayor of London and where the Pearl Sword can be seen – are conducted on Tuesdays at 2pm (although it’s closed for August for refurbishments and on selected dates after that). Head here www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/mansionhousetours details. PICTURES Courtesy City of London.
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.