Famous Londoners – Will Somers…

The most famous of court jesters during the reign of King Henry VIII, little is known of Will Somers’ early life although it is suggested he was born in Shropshire.

It’s said Somers (also spelt Somer or Sommers) entered the service of a wealthy Northamptonshire merchant Sir Richard Fermor who presented him to King Henry VIII at Greenwich in 1525 (he is known to have been in service by 1535).

King Henry VIII as David, seated with harp, in an interior with his jester, William Sommers; illustrating Psalm 52. Taken from Psalter of Henry VIII (1530-1547).

Somers’ role as jester involved using his wit to comment on court life and those in it – including the likes of Cardinal Wolsey – and while he was permitted a wide latitude he would over-step including when he insulted Queen Anne Boleyn and her daughter Princess Elizabeth, leading to the King to threaten to kill Somers himself.

Somers was provided with royal livery to wear at court (he also sometimes apparently wore elaborate costumes) and was provided with a “keeper” to look after him.

Such was the esteem Somers’ was held in, he is believed to be the fool depicted in a family portrait of the King, his wife Jane Seymour and children Prince Edward and Princesses Mary and Elizabeth (Somers has a monkey on his shoulder in the painting; Jane Foole also appears in the portrait). He’s also believed to be depicted in an image with King Henry VIII which appeared in a psalter (pictured)

Towards the end of King Henry’s life it’s said Somers was the only one who could make him laugh. He remained at court following the King’s death through the reigns of King Edward VI and Queen Mary I and present at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I, eventually retired during her reign.

Somers is believed to have died on 15th June, 1560, and be buried in St Leonards, Shoreditch. There’s now a plaque to Somers there commemorating his burial.

Sommers subsequently appeared in various works of literature in following centuries including in more recent years when he has also appeared in TV shows – including the series The Tudors – as well as various novels including Paul Doherty’s The Last of Days.

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10 (lesser known) statues of English monarchs in London…10. Four Queens…

The facade of the former Hotel Russell featuring the statues of the four Queens. PICTURE: Courtesy of Google maps.

We finish our series of lesser known statues of English monarchs with a Bloomsbury building featuring four English queens.

Tucked away in niches over the main entrance of the Hotel Russell – which opened in 1898, the four queens – Elizabeth I, Mary II, Anne, and Victoria – were the work of Henry Charles Fehr.

Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary II. PICTURE: Tom Hilton (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The larger than lifesize terracotta statues – which face out to Russell Square – don’t include Queen Mary I and are rather unusual and represent idealised versions of the queens. Elizabeth is readily identifiable due to the ruff she wears but there is some confusion over who’s who when it comes to Mary II and Anne. Victoria, meanwhile, is depicted as a very young woman.

Queen Anne and Queen Victoria. PICTURE: Jack1956 (Public domain)

Among other ornamentation, the building – which was designed by C Fitzroy Doll, also features the busts of four Prime Ministers – Lord Derby, Lord Salisbury, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli – on the Guilford Street facade.

The hotel is now the Kimpton Fitzroy London.

10 (lesser known) statues of English monarchs in London…5. Queen Elizabeth I at Westminster School…

Close-up of the statue of Queen Elizabeth II. PICTURE: Close-up of the statue of Queen Elizabeth II. PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

This rather unusual statue of Queen Elizabeth I is a relatively new addition – it was dedicated 12 years ago on what was the 450th anniversary of the refounding of Westminster School – more properly The Royal College of St Peter in Westminster – by the aforementioned Queen.

The larger-than-life statue, which can be found in Little Dean’s Yard, is the work of a former pupil, sculptor Matthew Spender.

It depicts the Queen in white Travertino Noce stone while her head, surrounded by a giant white ruff is gilded bronze with what was auburn hair. The unusual depiction has certainly attracted its share of detractors.

The statue, which was commissioned by the Westminster School Society, was unveiled by the Queen’s namesake, Queen Elizabeth II, on 21st May, 2010.

There’s a more famous – and more typical – statue of Queen Elizabeth I on the exterior of St Dunstan-in-the-West in Fleet Street and another on the exterior of Guildhall.

Guided tours of the school can be arranged during the school’s holidays. For more information, see www.westminster.org.uk/about/our-history/guided-tours/.

Lost London – Arundel House…

Arundel House, from the south, by Wenceslas Hollar. Via Wikimedia Commons.

One of a string of massive residences built along the Strand during the Middle Ages, Arundel House was previously the London townhouse of the Bishops of Bath and Wells (it was then known as ‘Bath Inn’ and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was among those who resided here during this period).

Following the Dissolution, in 1539 King Henry VIII granted the property to William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton (it was then known as Hampton Place). After reverting to the Crown on his death on 1542, it was subsequently given to Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, a younger brother of Queen Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, and known as ‘Seymour Place’. Then Princess Elizabeth (late Queen Elizabeth I) stayed at the property during this period (in fact, it’s said her alleged affair with Thomas Seymour took place here).

Arundel House, from the south, by Wenceslas Hollar. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Seymour significantly remodelled the property, before in 1549, he was executed for treason. The house was subsequently sold to Henry Fitz Alan, 12th Earl of Arundel, for slightly more than £40. He was succeeded by his grandson, Philip Howard, but he was tried for treason and died in the Tower of London in 1595. In 1603, the house was granted to Charles, Earl of Nottingham, but his possession was short-lived.

Just four years later it was repurchased by the Howard family – in particular Philip’s son, Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel – who had been restored to the earldom.

Howard, who was also the 4th Earl of Surrey, housed his famous collection of sculptures, known as the ‘Arundel Marbles’, here (much of his collection, described as England’s first great art collection, is now in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum).

During this period, guests included Inigo Jones (who designed a number of updates to the property) and artist Wenceslas Hollar who resided in an apartment (in fact, it’s believed he drew his famous view of London, published in 1647, while on the roof).

Howard, known as the “Collector Earl”, died in Italy in 1646. Following his death, the property was used as a garrison and later, during the Commonwealth, used as a place to receive important guests

It was restored to Thomas’ grandson, Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk, following the Restoration. Following the Great Fire of London in 1666, for several years the property was used as the location for Royal Society meetings.

The house was demolished in the 1678. It’s commemorated today by the streets named Surrey, Howard, Norfolk and Arundel (and a late 19th century property on the corner of Arundel Street and Temple Place now bears its name).

Treasures of London – Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth I…

Held in the National Archives at Kew, this great seal was used during the second half of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign – from 1586 to 1603.

The seal, which replaced an earlier one used by Queen Elizabeth I, was used by the Chancery to prove the document it was attached to was issued in the Queen’s name. The seal also acted as a security device, ensuring the document couldn’t be read before reaching the intended recipient. Made of wax, it was created using a metal pattern or matrix.

The reverse side of the Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth I. PICTURE: Courtesy of The National Archives, Kew.

The metal pattern for this seal was created by court miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard.

The obverse or front side of the seal, which is made of resin and beeswax which turns brown with age, shows Queen Elizabeth I on her throne, her hands holding a sceptre and an orb – royal insignia – and accompanied by the Royal Coat of Arms. The reverse (pictured) shows Queen Elizabeth I mounted on a horse and surrounded by symbols including the Tudor Rose, a harp representing Ireland and fleur de lys representing France. The inscription around the seal reads: Elizabetha dei gracia Anglie Francie et Hibernie Regina Fidei Defensor (‘Elizabeth, by grace of God, Queen of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith’).

The seal was traditionally carried before the Lord Chancellor and Keeper of the Great Seal in a purse or burse. One used to carry Queen Elizabeth I’s matrix is in the collection of the British Museum.

The matrix used to create the second seal was surrendered to King James I on his accession to the throne on 3rd May, 1603. James then used it for the next 11 weeks until his own was ready (at which time Queen Elizabeth I’s matrix was defaced).

This Week in London – Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots; Ellen and William Craft honoured; and, Kehinde Wiley’s ‘Portrait of Melissa Thompson’…

Ink and pencil drawing of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots at Fotheringhay Castle, 8th February, 1587 © British Library (Additional MS 48027, f. 650r)

• The complex relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the British Library in King’s Cross tomorrow. Highlights of Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, the first major exhibition to consider both women together, include Queen Elizabeth I’s 1545 handwritten translation of her stepmother Katherine Parr’s Prayers and Meditations – a gift for her father King Henry VIII, a sonnet by Mary, Queen of Scots, which was handwritten the night before she was executed in 1587 (possibly the last thing she ever wrote), the ‘Penicuik Jewels’ which she is thought to have given away on the day of her death and Robert Beale’s eye-witness drawing depicting her entering the hall, disrobing, and placing her head on the block (pictured right). Other items on show include King Henry VIII’s Great Bible (dating from 1540, it was later inherited by Elizabeth I), Elizabeth I’s mother-of-pearl locket ring (c1575) containing miniature portraits of herself and her mother Anne Boleyn, and the warrant confining Mary, Queen of Scots, in Lochleven Castle in 1567. The exhibition is accompanied by a programme of events. Runs until 20th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk/events/elizabeth-and-mary.

Nineteenth century African-American abolitionists Ellen and William Craft have been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at their former Hammersmith home. The Crafts escaped from enslavement in Georgia in the US in December, 1848, and fled to Britain, settling in a mid-Victorian house at 26 Cambridge Grove where they raised a family and campaigned for an end to slavery. The Crafts returned to the US following the end of the American Civil War and the emancipation of enslaved people and settled in Boston with three of their children. In 1873, they established the Woodville Cooperative Farm School in Bryan County, Georgia, for the children of those who had been emancipated. Ellen died in Georgia in 1891 and William in Charleston in 1900.

Melissa Thompson standing beside Kehinde Wiley’s Portrait of Melissa Thompson, 2020, now on display at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum

American artist Kehinde Wiley’s monumental Portrait of Melissa Thompson has gone on display in the V&A’s British Galleries, alongside William Morris’s Wild Tulip designs that inspired it. The massive oil painting, which was created as part of Wiley’s series The Yellow Wallpaper and was first exhibited at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow in 2020, was acquired earlier this year and is being displayed as part of a series of initiatives marking the 125th anniversary of William Morris’s death this October. The painting will be displayed in the William Morris Room (room 125) until 2024, after which it will move to its permanent home at V&A East Museum in 2025. Admission is free. For more, head to vam.ac.uk.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Treasures of London – Traitor’s Gate…

PICTURES: David Adams

Built by King Edward I in the 13th century as a water gate to provide access from the Tower of London to the River Thames, the name ‘Traitor’s Gate’ came to be applied to this portal in Tudor times in relation to those accused of treason who were brought into the tower under its arch.

The double gateway is part of St Thomas’s Tower, which was designed by a Master James of St George, and behind it is a pool which was used to feed water to a cistern on the roof of the White Tower. While the gate was originally built to give access directly to the river, Traitor’s Gate now sits behind a wharf which runs along the river bank (and where can be seen the bricked up entrance says ‘Entry to the Traitor’s Gate’ – this was bricked up in the 19th century when embankment works were carried out)

Sir Thomas More, Sir Walter Raleigh and even the future Queen Elizabeth I (when a princess) were among those who were brought in by barge through the Traitor’s Gate (their journey would have led them under London Bridge where the heads of executed prisoners were on display). Whether Henry VIII’s disgraced Queen Anne Boleyn entered the tower through the gate remains a matter of some dispute.

A Moment in London’s History – The opening of the Royal Exchange…

This month marks the 450th anniversary of the opening of London’s Royal Exchange, a complex created to act as a commercial centre in the City of London.

The Royal Exchange in London as built by Thomas Gresham by Wenceslaus Hollar (etching, probably mid 17th century) NPG D25432 © National Portrait Gallery, London (licensed under Creative Commons)

The exchange was built on the orders – and with the funds – of the merchant Sir Thomas Gresham at a site on the junction of Cornhill and Threadneedle streets which was – and still is – jointly owned by the City of London Corporation and the Worshipful Company of Mercers.

Drawing inspiration from the Antwerp Bourse, credited as the oldest financial exchange in the world (and where Sir Thomas had served as an agent of the crown), the Royal Exchange was built in ranges around a central courtyard and designed by an architect from Antwerp.

It was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth I on 23rd January, 1571. The Queen, who was lodging in Somerset House at the time, reportedly took a detailed look at the premises – which had apparently been completed a few years earlier.

At the close of her visit, she awarded the exchange the use of the word ‘Royal’ in its title (an honour announced by a herald and with the sound of a trumpet). She also granted it a license to sell alcohol and other luxury goods.

Earlier in the day, the Queen had dined at Sir Thomas’ own house in Bishopsgate. She was later to return to Somerset House.

Gresham’s original building – to which two floors of retail had been added in 1660, creating what is said to have been England’s first shopping mall – was sadly destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

It was replaced by a second complex, this time designed by Edward Jarman, in 1669, but this too succumbed to fire, this time on 10th January, 1838. The building which now stands on the site – and is now an upmarket retail centre – was designed by Sir William Tite and was opened by another Queen, Victoria, in 1844.

Gresham’s contribution is remembered by the building’s weathervane which features a golden grasshopper – an insect featured on Sir Thomas’ crest.

A Moment in London’s History – The National Trust acquires Eastbury Manor House…

This month (12th January to be exact) marks 125 years since the National Trust was founded by Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley. So we’re taking a quick look at another, somewhat related, milestone – the acquisition of the Trust’s first London property.

Located in Barking, Eastbury Manor House, initially known as Eastbury Hall, was built between 1560 and 1573 (during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I) for Clement Sisley on land which once belonged to Barking Abbey.

The H-shaped house and surrounding estate remained in the family until 1629 after which it passed through the hands of a number of well-to-do families, gradually falling into disrepair.

By the early 19th century, decay had led to one of the property’s unique octagonal stair turrets being pulled down and wooden flooring and fireplaces removed. The ground floor was being used as a stable and dairy.

The property struggled on into the early 20th century when it was threatened with demolition. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, recognising its significance as a rare example of mid-16th century brick built gentry house, lobbied for it to be saved and, working alongside the National Trust, ran a campaign to raise funds for its acquisition.

The house – and surrounding gardens – were acquired by the Trust for the nation in 1918 and then, in 1934, leased to Barking Borough Council. The following year the property became the home of Barking Museum.

It was awarded Grade I-listed status in 1954 and is now managed by the Borough of Barking and Dagenham. A restoration program in recent years has seen the addition of a permanent exhibition on the property’s history.

WHERE: Eastbury Manor House, Eastbury Square, Barking (nearest Tube station is Upney); WHEN: From 13th  February, 10am to 4pm Thursdays and Fridays and, from 22nd March, 11am to 4pm Sundays; COST: £5.20 adults/£2.60 children and concessions/£9.30 family (LBBD residents, SPAB and National Trust members free); WEBSITE: www.eastburymanorhouse.org.uk.

PICTURE: David Nicholls (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

LondonLife – The Boar’s Head Playhouse excavations…

MOLA archaeologists have started excavating the site of The Boar’s Head Playhouse in Middlesex Street, Whitechapel, before construction of a new student housing complex. The playhouse, the location of which is known from historical accounts, was created in 1598 when inn owner Oliver Woodliffe converted his establishment by adding tiered galleries, a stage and central open air yard (extra galleries and a roof over the stage were added a year later). The playhouse hosted popular acting troupes including Lord Derby’s Men and the Lord Worcester’s Men, later the Queen’s Men, led by the famous actor and playwright Thomas Greene, and among the plays performed was the comedy No-body and Some-body as well as a chronicle of the life and reign of Elizabeth I, If You Know Not Me, You Know No Bodie. It is hoped the excavations will provide new insights into the theatre. The accommodation, being developed by Unite Students, will provide housing for 915 students and is expected to open in 2021. PICTURES: Top – Archaeologists record an 18th century clay tobacco pipe kiln built against 16th century walls associated with the Boar’s Head playhouse © MOLA; Below – Reconstruction of the Boar’s Head Playhouse from 1598, by C Walter Hodges.

 

This Week in London – A rare surviving piece of Queen Elizabeth’s dress on show?; Inside Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, and, Islamic influences on art…

An altar cloth which may have once been part of a dress worn by Queen Elizabeth I goes on show at Hampton Court Palace (pictured) this Saturday. The Bacton Altar Cloth, which was discovered in a church in Bacton in rural Hertfordshire, has undergone two years of conservation work and will be displayed alongside a portrait of the “Virgin Queen” featuring a dress of similar design. The altar cloth has long been associated with Bacton-born Blanche Parry, one of Queen Elizabeth’s servants who became her Chief Gentlewoman of the Bedchamber. Records show the Queen regularly gave her discarded clothing to Parry and for years there has been speculation that the altar cloth was part of one such discarded item. Historic Royal Palaces curator Eleri Lynn, an expert in Tudor court dress, was able to identify previously unseen features and studied the seams of the fabric to show it had once been part of a skirt. Further research – including an examination of the dyes used in the item – have added weight to the theory it was once part of a dress. The altar cloth, on loan from St Faith’s Church in Bacton, can be seen until 23rd February. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk. PICTURE: David Adams.

A photographic exhibition of the first ‘golden’ decade of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club – featuring images of legendary British and American jazz singers – opens at the Barbican Music Library on Saturday. Ronnie Scott’s 1959-1969: Photographs by Freddy Warren, which marks the club’s 60th anniversary, features Warren’s photographs of the likes of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Zoot Sims, Cleo Laine and Tony Bennett. Warren was the in-house photographer at the Soho club from the opening night in 1959, when it was based in Gerrard Street, and documented the construction of the new site in Frith Street in the mid-1960s along with the arrival in London of big American stars. The exhibition includes rare vintage prints – some which were salvaged from the walls when the club was renovated in 2006, Freddy Warren’s original contact sheets, and previously unseen prints specially produced from the original negatives. The exhibition is free. Runs until 4th January. For more, see www.barbican.org.uk/your-visit/during-your-visit/library.

An exhibition exploring how western artists have been inspired by the Islamic world opens at the British Museum today. Inspired by the east: how the Islamic world influenced western art features paintings by leading ‘Orientalists’ including Eugène Delacroix, John Frederick Lewis and Frederick Arthur Bridgman as well as less well-known pieces like British artist Edmund Dulac’s original illustrations for a 1907 edition of the Arabian Nights, and ceramics by Frenchman Théodore Deck, who in the late 19th century created a range of pieces directly inspired by Islamic originals. The display also includes contemporary reactions to the imagery of Orientalism by Middle Eastern and North African female artists such as Lalla Essaydi’s Women of Morocco triptych and Inci Eviner’s 2009 video work Harem. The display can be seen in The Sir Joseph Hotung Exhibition Gallery until 26th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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Treasures of London – The Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I…

Saved for the nation following a public appeal by the Art Fund and Royal Museums Greenwich in 2016 and subsequently having undergone an extensive conservation and restoration process, the ‘Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I’ now hangs in the 400-year-old Inigo Jones-designed Queen’s House in Greenwich.

The life-sized portrait, which is unusually presented in a landscape format, commemorates the failed invasion of England by the Spanish Armada in the summer of 1588. It was painted in about 1590 by an unknown artist when the queen was aged in her mid-50s and may have been commissioned by Sir Francis Drake, second-in-command of the English fleet assembled to defend England from the Spanish.

Up until its £10.3 million acquisition (which was funded by various donations including a £1 million donation from the Art Fund, £400,000 from the Royal Museums of Greenwich, some 8,000 individual donations from members of the public totalling £1.5 million, and a Heritage Lottery Find grant of £7.4 million), it had been owned by Drake’s descendants – now known as the Tyrwhitt-Drakes – who have had possession since at least 1775. It spent much of its life hanging at Shardeloes, a Buckinghamshire country house built for William Drake in the late 18th century.

Designed to inspire a sense of awe in its viewers, the portrait contains numerous references which would have conveyed specific meanings to the Tudor mind. The Queen’s upright posture, open arms and clear gaze, for example, convey vitality and strength while her pearls are symbols or chastity and the Moon. The gold suns embroidered on her skirt and sleeves are said to symbolise power and enlightenment and the queen rests her hands on a globe with her fingers seeming tapping on the new world with the imperial crown sitting overhead in fairly obvious statement of her ambitions overseas.

Two maritime scenes in the background, both of which are actually early 18th century reworking over late 16th century originals, depict firstly the English fleet preparing to engage the Spanish Armada in the English Channel and, secondly, Spanish ships being wrecked on the Irish coast during their passage home.

One of the best known images from English history, the portrait has inspired countless portrayals of Elizabeth on stage and screen, including Cate Blanchett’s in two ‘Elizabeth’ films.

The Queen’s House, where the painting is being displayed, is built on the site of what was once Greenwich Palace, birthplace of Queen Elizabeth I.

WHERE: Queen’s House, Romney Road, Greenwich (nearest overground station is Greenwich/DLR is Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.rmg.co.uk/queens-house.

PICTURE: © National Maritime Museum, London

Famous Londoners – William Baldwin…

An English author who originally hailed from the west of England (possibly Wales), William Baldwin wrote and published a number of works in the mid-1500s while living in London and has been credited, thanks to his satirical work, Beware the Cat, as being the author of the first English novel.

Baldwin is believed to have studied at Oxford prior to coming to London where, from 1547, he worked with the printer Edward Whitchurch – who had apparently set up shop at Wynkyn de Worde’s former printworks at the Sign of the Sun (now at the Stationer’s Hall, just off Ludgate Hill – pictured) – as a corrector.

Whitchurch also published Baldwin’s works including the popular Treatise of Moral Philosophy (1547) and Canticles or Balades of Salomon (1549), which was dedicated to a young King Edward VI and was a translation of the Biblical book, Song of Songs.

His other works included being the editor and key contributor to the hugely popular and influential Mirror for Magistrates (1554) which was something of a cautionary tale for public officials, and the Marvelous History Entitled Beware the Cat, Concerning Diverse Wonderful and Incredible Matters (aka Beware the Cat).

The latter book, which is an attack on Catholicism, tells the story of a priest who uses alchemy to talk to cats and finds that, despite his low opinion of them, they actually live according to strict rules (reflecting on the arbitrary nature of the “rules” which govern everyday life).

While Baldwin is believed to have finished the work during the last months of the reign of King Edward VI (he died on 6th July, 1553), the subsequent accession of Queen Mary I and her tougher line on the press freedoms led Baldwin to postpone publication until 1561 by which time Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne.

Around the same time as he completed this work, Baldwin is said to have assisted the Royal Master of Revels, George Ferrers, in preparing Christmas festivities at the Royal Court – this was an occasional role he would perform beside his work with Whitchurch.

Baldwin’s last known work was The Funerals of King Edward the Sixth (1560). In 1563, he is believed to have been ordained a deacon and stepped away from the printing trade. He served in various clerical roles (there is an account of him preaching at Paul’s Cross) before dying some time prior to 1st November, 1563.

(With thanks to John N King’s 2004 article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).

 

London Pub Signs – The Queen’s Head and Artichoke…

This corner pub was originally located in a former royal hunting lodge in what became The Regent’s Park.

It was one of several inns which were in the park which were demolished when it was created.

But unlike others, The Queen’s Head and Artichoke was rebuilt on its current site at 30-32 Albany Street in 1811. The existing building apparently dates from around 1900.

The licence for the pub is said to date back to the time of Queen Elizabeth I. The story goes that the establishment received its rather odd name thanks to Daniel Clarke, head gardener and master cook to the Queen and her successor, King James I – and, later, the pub’s proprietor.

For more, see www.theartichoke.net.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Where’s London’s oldest…statue of a female?

News recently that Parliament Square has its first female statue (more about that in an upcoming post) so we thought it timely to consider London’s oldest statue of a female.

It’s actually of a queen – Elizabeth I – and can be found on the facade of the Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West on Fleet Street in the City of London (also home to a rather famous clock).

Believed to have been made in 1586, the statue is said to be the work of one William Kerwin and originally adorned Ludgate.

It was moved to its current position over the church’s vestry door in 1760 when Ludgate was demolished due to road widening. Along with other statues from the gate, it had been given to Sir Francis Gosling who had it placed at the church.

The statue features a rather regal looking Queen, standing formally in royal robes with sceptre and orb.

 

This Week in London – Queen Elizabeth I’s letters; ‘used and abused’ books; Sir Mark Rylance at Westminster Abbey…

Forty-three letters written by Queen Elizabeth I and her senior advisors concerning the imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots, have been donated to the British Library. Many of the 43 letters were written to Sir Ralph Sadler, who held the Scottish Queen in custody at Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire between 1584-85 prior to her execution in 1587. Four of the letters are signed by Queen Elizabeth I and others are written in the hand of Chief Minister Lord Burghley and Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham. The collection has been on loan to the library for a number of years but has now been gifted by the industrialist and philanthropist Mark Pigott to the American Trust for the British Library. The library plans to digitise the letters and make them available on its Digitised Manuscripts website.

The alteration of books through customisation, decoration or disguise is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Guildhall Library on Monday. Books: Used and Abused shows how some books have been used as notepads or expanding files while others have become containers. A free ‘book surgery’ advice session will be held at the library on 22nd February for people to learn about their own ‘used and abused’ books and how to repair them. Runs until 9th March. Entry is free (booking required for the free advice session). For more, head here.

•  Sir Mark Rylance will bring the words of Shakespeare to life in six special performances at Westminster Abbey this April. All Places that the Eye of Heaven Visits will feature a cast of 23 actors from Shakespeare’s Globe performing extracts from some of the Bard’s most famous plays and poetry. The performances will occur over 26th to 28th April. Tickets go on sale on 29th January via the  Shakespeare’s Globe box office.

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Treasures of London – Queen Elizabeth’s Oak, Greenwich Park…

Only the remains of this once mighty tree can now be seen in Greenwich Park. Thought to have been planted in the 12th century, the tree died in the late 1800s but, thanks to the support of the ivy that clung to it, remained standing until it finally collapsed in June, 1991. 

The tree, located to the east of the Royal Observatory, has several links to the Tudors – tradition says King Henry VIII danced around it with Anne Boleyn while their daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, is said to have picnicked beneath its leafy canopy. The proximity of Greenwich Palace may explain the connection.

There was apparently in Victorian times, a large seat placed around the tree and there has been a suggestion that the hollow truck was big enough to make a small prison where people who misbehaved in the park were locked up.

Planted alongside is another English Oak – it was officially dug into the soil on 3rd December, 1992, by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, to mark 40 years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

WHERE: Queen Elizabeth’s Oak, Greenwich Park (nearest DLR is Cutty Sark Station and Greenwich Station); WHEN: 6am to 7pm (6pm from end of British Summer Time) daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/greenwich-park

PICTURE: Clem Rutter, Rochester, Kent/www.clemrutter.net/CC BY-SA 3.0

 

LondonLife – Remains of Greenwich Palace unearthed…


The remains of two rooms, which once formed part of the splendid Greenwich Palace – birthplace of King Henry VIII and his daughters Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I, were discovered during works being undertaken ahead of the construction of a new visitor centre under the Old Royal Naval College’s famed Painted Hall, it was revealed last week.

The rooms, set well back from the river Thames, are believed to have formed part of the service range, believed to be the location of kitchens, a bakehouse, brewhouse and laundry.

As well as the discovery of a lead-glazed tiled floor, one of the rooms, which was clearly subterranean, featured a series of unusual niches where archaeologists believe may have been ‘bee boles’ – where ‘skeps’  (hive baskets) were stored during winter when the bee colonies were hibernating and where, when the bees were outside during summer, food and drink may have been stored to keep cool.

Discussions are reportedly now underway over the possibility of displaying the Tudor finds in situ. Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, hailed the find as “remarkable”.

“To find a trace of Greenwich Palace, arguably the most important of all the Tudor palaces, is hugely exciting,” he said. “The unusual and enigmatic nature of the structure has given us something to scratch our heads over and research, but it does seem to shine a light on a very poorly known function of the gardens and the royal bees. The most exciting aspect is that the Old Royal Naval College is able and willing to incorporate this into the new visitor centre, so everyone can see a small part of the palace, for the first time in hundreds of years.”

Greenwich Palace was built by King Henry V’s brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in 1426 and rebuilt by King Henry VII between about 1500 and 1506.

Substantially demolished at the end of the 17th century (and with plans to build a new Stuart palace on the site never realised), it was replaced with the Greenwich Hospital which became the Royal Naval College designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor between 1692 and 1728.

The Painted Hall, located in the Old Royal Naval College, is currently undergoing an 18 month transformation which includes the creation of a new visitor centre, Sackler Gallery and café. Visitors to the hall currently have the unique opportunity to get up close to the famous ceiling of the hall, described as the “Sistine Chapel of the UK”, on special tours. Visit www.ornc.org/painted-hall-ceiling-tours-tickets for more.

PICTURES: © Old Royal Naval College

10 notable blue plaques of London – 8. A notorious ‘tree’ recalled…

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. 

Tyburn-Tree2But, 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.

Lost London – Exeter/Essex House…

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.

The-DevereuxIt 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).