LondonLife – Scenes from the State Opening of Parliament…

Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, leave the State Opening of Parliament. PICTURE: Sgt Donald C Todd RLC Photographer/UK MOD © Crown copyright 2022

Queen Elizabeth II didn’t attend the State Opening of Parliament last Tuesday for the first time in almost 60 years with Prince Charles delivering the Queen’s Speech for the first time. In an event that’s all about pomp and pageantry, more than 500 soldiers and 125 military horses took part in a variety of ceremonial roles over the day.

Members of the Household Cavalry line the steps for the opening of State Parliament. PICTURE: Sgt Donald C Todd RLC Photographer/UK MOD © Crown copyright 2022.
The Band of the Scots Guards playing for the State Opening of Parliament. PICTURE: Sgt Donald C Todd RLC Photographer/UK MOD © Crown copyright 2022.

London Explained – Royal residences…

There are numerous royal palaces in London but which are royal residences?

Buckingham Palace. PICTURE: Sung Shin/Unsplash

Foremost is Buckingham Palace, the official residence and office of the monarch – Queen Elizabeth II – in London. The palace – acquired for the Crown by King George III in 1761, converted to a palace by King George IV and first lived in by Queen Victoria – is also used for State ceremonies and for official entertaining.

Clarence House. PICTURE: ChrisO (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Other royal residences include Clarence House which is the official London residence of Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

The property was built between 1825 and 1827 to the designs of John Nash for Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence (hence the name).

It was the home of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, between 1953 and her death in 2002, and was also temporarily the home of the then-Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip following their marriage in 1947.

St James’s Palace. PALACE: Elisa.rolle (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

St James’s Palace, which was largely built by King Henry VIII and served as the residence of numerous monarchs until King William IV, also remains the home of several members of the Royal Family – including Princess Anne and Princess Alexandra – and their household offices.

The State Apartments are sometimes used for entertaining during in-coming State Visits, as well as for other ceremonial and formal occasions. Its history means diplomats are still accredited to the Court of St James.

Kensington Palace. PICTURE: Pranav Thombare/Unsplash.

Kensington Palace – childhood home of Queen Victoria and favoured residence of monarchs from King William III to King George II – is these days the official London residence of Prince William and Katherine, the Duchess of Cambridge.

It also contains the London residences and offices of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.

While Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, Kew Palace and the remnant of the Palace of Whitehall known as the Banqueting House are all royal palaces, they ceased being used regularly for royal court purposes in the 18th century and are now in the care of Historic Royal Palaces (along with parts of Kensington Palace).

LondonLife – Buckingham Palace…

Buckingham Palace. PICTURE: Debbie Fan/Unsplash.

Buckingham Palace is among the sites across London which will be hosting events to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee this June. The Queen’s 70th year on the throne will be marked with four days of celebrations across the June bank holiday weekend which will include the Queen’s Birthday Parade (known as Trooping the Colour), the lighting of Platinum Jubilee Beacons – including the principal beacon at Buckingham Palace, a Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral, the ‘Platinum Party at the Palace’ – a celebration concert in the gardens of Buckingham Palace, The Big Jubilee Lunch in communities across the city, and a special Platinum Jubilee Pageant, part of which will see a moving river of flags rippling down The Mall. For more information, head to www.royal.uk/platinum-jubilee-central-weekend.

This Week in London – Emblem for The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee unveiled; Marble Arch Mound free after apology; and, ‘Pet Life’…

A 19-year-old graphic design student from Nottinghamshire has won a competition to find an emblem for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Edward Roberts, who is studying at Leeds, said that for his design, “I wanted to give a modern twist to the iconic elements of St Edward’s Crown, and so I created a continuous line, which I felt was a fitting representation of The Queen’s reign”. Paul Thompson, vice-chancellor of the Royal College of Art and a member of the judging panel which selected the winning design said it takes people “on a simple line journey to create the crown and the number 70, beautifully capturing the continuous thread of Her Majesty The Queen’s 70-year reign”. “Drawn on a computer, the ingenious emblem works across all scales and the flow of the line gives us a sense of a human touch behind the digital design process.” The competition, which was was open to young people aged between 13 and 25 from all over the United Kingdom, was judged by a panel of graphic designers, visual artists and design professionals, experts from the V&A, the Royal College of Art, the Design Museum, and a representative from the Royal Household. It was chaired by V&A Director Tristram Hunt. As the winner, Edward will be invited to next year’s Jubilee celebrations including the ‘Platinum Party at the Palace’, and his winning design, along with the other nine shortlisted emblem design entries which will be revealed next year, will be displayed at the V&A in June. Edward will also receive a prize of £1,500 and a year’s free membership of the V&A.

The £8 entrance fee to the Marble Arch Mound has been dropped for visitors during August after it closed only two days after opening following sustained criticism from visitors. In a statement Stuart Love, chief executive of the City of Westminster, apologised that the Marble Arch Mound wasn’t ready for visitors when it opened. “London’s businesses and residents have suffered through the pandemic and we built the Mound as part of our bigger plan to get people back into the City and into the shops, restaurants, theatres and to see the amazing sights the West End has to offer,” he said. “We wanted to open the Mound in time for the summer holidays and we did not want to disappoint people who had already booked tickets. We made a mistake and we apologise to everyone who hasn’t had a great experience on their visit.” The 25 metre high temporary attraction will reopen on Monday. For more, head here.

Explore the stories of real-life pets and their owners in a new feature at the Museum of The Home in Shoreditch. Pet Life – which features animations, projections, hands on activities and stories written by author and storyteller Bernadette Russell – aims to show “the joy, companionship and challenges our pets bring to the home”. Runs until 31st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.museumofthehome.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions-and-installations/pet-life/.

Send items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

LondonLife – Exploring Buckingham Palace’s gardens…

The garden at Buckingham Palace in spring. PICTURE: John Campbell (Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021.)

The historic 39 acre garden at Buckingham Palace opened to the public for the first time last Friday as part of the palace’s summer opening. Visitors can follow a route that takes in the 156-metre Herbaceous Border, plane trees which were planted by and named for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and views of the island and its beehives across the 3.5-acre lake. There’s also the opportunity to enjoy a picnic on the lawns and guided tours of the south-west of the garden with features including the Rose Garden, summer house and wildflower meadow. The current landscape dates back to the 1820s when King George IV turned Buckingham House into a place. It features more than 1,000 trees, the National Collection of Mulberry Trees (mulberry trees were first planted by King James I in 1608), 320 different wildflowers and grasses, and, since 2008, five beehives. The Queen traditionally hosts three garden parties in the gardens annually which are each attended by 8,000 guests, who consume around 27,000 cups of tea, 20,000 sandwiches and 20,000 slices of cake. The gardens are open until 19th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rct.uk.

A curving path leading past the Magnolia Dell to the Rose Garden. PICTURE: John Campbell (Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021.)
The Rose Garden and summer house can be seen as part of guided tours. PICTURE: John Campbell ( Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021.)
Spring flowers in the Buckingham Palace garden. PICTURE:John Campbell (Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021.)

LondonLife – The Queen awards the George Cross to the NHS…

Queen Elizabeth II has awarded the George Cross – the country’s highest civilian gallantry award – to the National Health Service. In an accompanying statement, the Queen said: “It is with great pleasure, on behalf of a grateful nation, that I award the George Cross to the National Health Services of the United Kingdom. This award recognises all NHS staff, past and present, across all disciplines and all four nations. Over more than seven decades, and especially in recent times, you have supported the people of our country with courage, compassion and dedication, demonstrating the highest standards of public service. You have our enduring thanks and heartfelt appreciation.” Details of when the award will be presented are yet to be announced. It is only the third time, the George Cross has been awarded to a collective body, country or organisation, rather than an individual (the first time was when it was collectively awarded to the people of Malta in 1942 by Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, and the second time when it was awarded to the Royal Ulster Constabulary by the Queen in 1999). PICTURE: Nicolas J Leclercq/Unsplash

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 58 and 57…

The next two entries in Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts countdown…

58. Celebrating the Diamond Jubilee with 10 royal London locations – 5. Buckingham Palace…

57. Treasures of London – Peter Pan statue, Kensington Gardens

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 78 and 77…

The next two entries in our countdown are:

78. Lost London – The King’s Mews at Charing Cross…

77. LondonLife – A look back at Queen Elizabeth II’s reign…

A Moment in London’s History – London celebrates VE Day…

It was 75 years ago this month – 8th May, 1945 – that Londoners poured out onto the city’s streets in celebration of the end of World War II.

Some celebrations had already started in London on 7th May as news of the unconditional surrender of all German troops to the Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower in the French city of Reims on 7th May became known.

But Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared 8th May a national holiday and, in response, vast crowds turned out on the streets to celebrate with bunting, flags and fireworks. Church bells were rung and services of thanksgiving held including at St Paul’s Cathedral where 10 consecutive services, each attended by thousands, took place.

British girls, of the Picture Division of the London Office of War Information dance in the street with American soldiers during the “VE Day” celebration in London. This scene took place outside the building of the US Army Pictorial Division has its offices. PICTURE: © IWM EA 65796

At 3pm, Churchill made a national radio broadcast from 10 Downing Street. He told listeners that while “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing”, they should “not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead” a reference to the ongoing war with Japan (the radio broadcast, incidentally, is being re-run on the BBC on 8th May this year to mark the anniversary).

Churchill then proceeded to Parliament where he formally reported the end of the war in Europe to Parliament before leading a procession of members to St Margaret’s Church for a service of thanksgiving. He later appeared on the balcony of the Ministry of Health building in Whitehall to address the teeming crowds below, telling them “This is your victory” to which they roared back that it was his.

Churchill waves to crowds in Whitehall on the day he broadcast to the nation that the war with Germany had been won, 8 May 1945. PICTURE: Horton W G (Major) (Photographer),
War Office official photographer/© IWM H 41849

Meanwhile, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, initially accompanied by their two daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace several times to wave to the cheering crowds. The King and Queen, who were at one point joined by Churchill, were still waving when their daughters secretly – and now rather famously – left the palace and joined the crowds outside in what Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, described as “one of the most memorable moments” of her life. The King also gave a radio address from the palace during which he paid tribute to all those who had died in the conflict.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret joined by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, London on VE Day. PICTURE: © IWM MH 21835

While celebrations took place across London, hotspots included Whitehall, outside Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square and Piccadilly Circus, where by midnight there were an estimated 50,000 people singing and dancing. Licensing hours were extended in pubs and dance halls staying open to midnight.

A mass of civilians and servicemen crowding around Piccadilly Circus, London. PICTURE: Poznak Murray, United States Army Signal Corps official photographerIWM EA 65879

One of the most iconic images of the day was a photograph of two sailors standing in one of the fountains at Trafalgar Square with two women, revealed, thanks to research by the Imperial War Museum to be Cynthia Covello and Joyce Digney who had travelled to join the celebrations from Surrey.

Two British sailors and their girlfriends wading in the fountains in Trafalgar Square on VE Day. PICTURE: Massecar T G, United States Army Signal Corps photographer/© IWM EA 65799

With thanks to the Imperial War Museum, London.

 

LondonLife – A scaled down birthday celebration…

There will be no gun salutes to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday today thanks to the coronavirus outbreak. So here’s a gun salute from 2012 as we wish her Majesty a happy 94th birthday…

The Royal Gibraltar Regiment perform a 62 Gun Salute at The Tower of London on the 21st April, 2012, to celebrate the Queen’s 86th birthday. PICTURE: SAC Neil Chapman/Defence Images (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0).

Special – The Queen addresses the COVID-19 crisis…

We’re interrupting our usual coverage to bring the Queen’s address to the UK and Commonwealth during this time of crisis…

LondonLife – A new occupant heading for Number 10…

News today that Boris Johnson will be the next Prime Minister of the UK. Johnson, who will take over from Theresa May – only the second woman to hold the office – as PM tomorrow after winning the Conservative Party vote over Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, will be the 14th Prime Minister to serve in the office during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. PICTURE: US State Department

LondonLife – Museum of London announces hopes to acquire ‘Trump Baby Blimp’…

Against a backdrop of testy exchanges with London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan, denials that he called the Duchess of Sussex “nasty”, comments in praise of Boris Johnson and criticism of the UK’s handling of Brexit, US President Donald Trump arrived in London on Monday for a controversial three day State Visit. The visit, during which he has attended a State Banquet with Queen Elizabeth II in Buckingham Palace and is meeting with various political leaders, has already sparked protests and seen the reappearance of the famous ‘Trump Baby Blimp’ which first appeared over London’s Parliament Square during his non-State Visit last year. Now, the Museum of London has announced that it’s hoping to acquire the giant balloon along with one of Sadiq Khan which was created in protest at some of the mayor’s policies. In a statement released on Monday, the museum said it hoped to acquire both balloons and will be reaching out to their creators shortly. “London has played host to many historic protests,” the museum said in a statement. “From the Suffragettes of the early twentieth century to the anti-austerity marches, free speech and climate change rallies – the capital has always been the place to have your say.” It said that if acquired, the balloons will join the museum’s “protest collection” which comprises objects relating to the Suffrage movement 100 years ago, banners, flags, and tents that belonged to Brian Haw who used to actively protest outside the Houses of Parliament, as well as recent placards used by protestors against public spending cuts. For more on the museum, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

PICTURE: The Trump Baby Blimp seen over Parliament Square during last year’s presidential visit (Michael Reeve/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

LondonLife – RHS Chelsea Flower Show in bloom…

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show opens today and once again features a series of cutting edge ‘show gardens’ boasting the best of international garden design as well as a series of smaller ‘artisan gardens’ offering thought-provoking designs that tell a story, ‘space to grow’ gardens which pack a lot into a small space and  dazzling displays in the Great Pavilion. This year’s offerings also include a special ‘RHS Back to Nature Garden’ designed by the Duchess of Cambridge with the help of Andrée Davies and Adam White of Davies White Landscape Architects, and a D-Day 75 Garden which, positioned in front of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, shows soldiers landing on a beach overlooked by a stone statue of veteran Bill Pendell. The show runs until Saturday with public entry from Thursday. For more, see rhs.org.uk/shows. PICTURES: Above – Florella’s Future, Discovery Zone, in the Great Pavilion; Below – Queen Elizabeth II smiles as views flower displays in the Great Pavilion (RHS/Luke MacGregor); The National Chrysanthemum Society’s exhibit, which is based on popular children’s television programmes of the 60’s and 70’s during prebuild (RHS/ Luke MacGregor); Paddleboarder Jo Mosely poses in ‘The Welcome to Yorkshire’ show garden (RHS/Suzanne Plunkett); The Queen and Prince William are given a tour by the Duchess of Cambridge of her ‘RHS Back to Nature Garden’ (RHS/Luke MacGregor); and, Normandy veterans pause in the ‘D-Day Revisited Garden’ designed by John Everiss Design (RHS/Suzanne Plunkett).

 

 

 

 

LondonLife – Queen posts her first Instagram image from the Science Museum..

Queen Elizabeth II posted her first Instagram photo while visiting the Science Museum in South Kensington last Thursday in a promotion for its exhibition on computers. Under the account @theroyalfamily, the Queen posted two images of a letter at the museum which comes from the Royal Archives. It was written to Prince Albert and Queen Victoria by Charles Babbage and in it, the 19th century inventor and mathematician spoke of his invention of an “Analytical Machine” upon which the first computer programs were written by Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron. Having explained the origins of the letter, the Queen added: “Today, I had the pleasure of learning about children’s computer coding initiatives and it seems fitting to me that I publish this Instagram post, at the Science Museum which has long championed technology, innovation and inspired the next generation of inventors. Elizabeth R.” The Royal Family’s Instagram account has some 4.9 million followers. For more on the Science Museum, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.

 

10 historic London hotels…7. The Grosvenor House Hotel (JW Marriott Grosvenor House London)…


Built on the site of what was Grosvenor House in Park Lane – London residence of the Dukes of Westminster, the Grosvenor House Hotel opened in 1929 but wasn’t completed until the 1950s.

The Mayfair hotel was conceived and constructed on the orders of commercial speculator Albert Octavius Edwards and was designed by Wimperis, Simpson and Guthrie with luxury in mind (Sir Edwin Lutyens was responsible for the external elevations).

Originally designed as two apartment blocks, it was apparently only when the first block was completed that it was decided the second north block would be a hotel. It opened on 14th May, 1929, with an event described as “outstanding”.

Along with some 472 rooms – it was the first hotel in London to feature en suite bathrooms which came with running ice-cold water in each, its facilities included The Great Room, originally an ice-skating rink where then Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) learned to ice skate which Edwards decided in the 1930s to convert into one of the largest banqueting spaces in Europe.

It was subsequently the scene of many awards evening and charity events including Queen Charlotte’s Ball as well as BBC broadcasts (the Beatles are among those who have performed there). The hotel was also the first in London to have a swimming pool.

The hotel, which only suffered minor damager during the Blitz, saw service during World War II. The Great Room was initially home to the Officers’ Sunday Club and later as one of the largest US officers’ mess. During the war, the premises hosted everyone from Charles de Gaulle and King Haakon of Norway as well as US generals Dwight D Eisenhower and George S Paton.

The hotel actually has strong American connections from the get go – American methods were used during construction to speed things along – and its restaurant was noted for swerving American-style food. Among other Americans who have stayed there include Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, Orson Welles, Jackie Onassis, Henry Kissinger, Sammy Davis, Jr, and Madeline Albright.

The actual construction of the hotel continued into the 1950s when permission was given to demolish a house at 35 Park Street (located next door to the hotel) following the death of its owner – Bruno, Baron Schroder, and a 92 bedroom extension to the hotel was built. It was officially opened by Peter Thorneycroft, Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1957.

The hotel, which was acquired by Trust Houses in 1963, underwent several changes of ownership in more recent years and following an extensive renovation in the Noughties, it reopened in September, 2008 as a JW Marriott hotel.

It was reportedly announced late last year that Qatari-owned Katara Hospitality was buying the hotel from Indian conglomerate Sahara India Pariwar, which has owned the hotel since 2010, for an undisclosed sum.

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

PICTURES: Park Lane facades and entrance in Park Street. Courtesy of Google Maps.

10 historic London hotels…3. Claridge’s…

This five star Mayfair establishment owes its origins and name to William Claridge, possibly a former butler, and his wife Marianne, who took over management of a small hotel at 51 Brook Street in 1853.

In 1854, they purchased the adjoining Mivart’s Hotel, first established in 1812, and substantially expanded the premises. It apparently combined the two names – Mivart’s and Claridge’s – for a short time before the reference to Mivart’s was dropped.

The hotel, which stands on the corner with Davies Street, was bought by Richard D’Oyly Carte (owner of The Savoy) in 1893 and subsequently rebuilt in red brick to the designs of CW Stephens (of Harrods fame) with interiors by Sir Ernest George and the inclusion of modern amenities including en suite bathrooms and lifts. The hotel, which is now Grade II-listed, reopened in 1898, with some 203 rooms and suites.

It was extended in the late 1920s with the addition of 80 new rooms and a ballroom while the lobby was redesigned by art deco pioneer Oswald Milne (much of that decoration, including work by Basil Ionides, remains).

The hotel’s reputation as a place to stay among the well-to-do was given a significant boost when Empress Eugenie, wife of French Emperor Napoleon III stayed in 1860 and entertained Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

It was also favoured by exiled royals during World War II including King Peter II and Queen Alexandria of Yugoslavia all staying here. In fact, their son, Crown Prince Alexander II, was born in suite 212 in 1945 (now named the Prince Alexander Suite).

The story goes that Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared the suite Yugoslav territory for a day (although evidence supporting the story about Churchill’s involvement is apparently scarce). It’s also said that a spadeful of dirt from Yugoslavia was placed under the bed so the Crown Prince could literally be born on Yugoslav soil (but there’s no mention of this aspect of the story on Crown Prince Alexander II’s official website).

Churchill and Clementine stayed in a suite here on the sixth floor after the wartime PM’s unexpected defeat in the general election of 1945.

Other luminaries to have stayed here include American actors Cary Grant, Katharine (and Audrey) Hepburn, Yul Brynner and Bing Crosby (Spencer Tracey famously said he didn’t want to go to heaven when he died but to Claridge’s) as well as director Alfred Hitchcock, Aristotle and Jackie Onassis, and, more recently, everyone from Mick Jagger and Madonna to Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. Kate Moss celebrated her 30th birthday here.

And, of course, royals including the late Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip have all been regular diners.

The hotel, which underwent a major restoration from 1996 and saw 25 new suites designed by David Linley opened in 2012, is now part of the Maybourne Hotel Group, having parted ways with the Savoy Hotel in the mid-noughties.

Current facilities include the restaurant Fera at Claridge’s (this opened in 2014 after the closure of Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s in 2013) as well as The Foyer & Reading Room (where afternoon tea is served), The Fumoir cocktail bar, Claridge’s Bar and a health club and spa.

The Claridge’s Christmas Tree is a much anticipated part of London’s festive season, with recent years seeing a different world-renowned designer taking on the task of decorating it, including the likes of John Galliano, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, and Christopher Bailey of Burberry.

The hotel was the subject of a three part documentary, Inside Claridges, in December, 2012.

For more, see www.claridges.co.uk.

PICTURE: Tim Westcott (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

LondonLife – Remembrance Sunday marks 100 years since the guns fell silent…

Thousands of people, including Queen Elizabeth II and members of the Royal Family, attended Whitehall on Sunday to take part in the National Service of Remembrance, this year marking 100 years since the end of World War I. The event included two minutes silence at 11am and wreaths were laid at the base of the Cenotaph to commemorate the servicemen and women killed in all conflicts from the World War I onwards. In an historic first, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier laid a wreath during the ceremony. Following the service, a procession involving 10,000 members of the public who were selected by a ballot marched past the monument and through London. ALL PICTURES: Crown Copyright/Ministry of Defence.

LondonLife – A new window for the Queen…


A new stained glass window depicting bright country scenes was unveiled in Westminster Abbey last week in honour of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Queen’s Window, located in the south transept overlooking Poet’s Corner, is the work of world-renowned artist David Hockney and was commissioned by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster to celebrate her reign. The work is Hockney’s first in stained glass and features a Yorkshire scene with hawthorn blossom which uses his distinct colour palette of yellow, red, blue, pink, orange and greens. “The subject reflects The Queen as a countrywoman and her widespread delight in, and yearning for, the countryside,” the abbey said in a statement. The window was created by York-based stained glass artists Barley Studio to Hockney’s designs. Other artists who have completed stained glass works in the abbey include Sir Ninian Comper, Hugh Easton and John Piper with the last stained glass windows, by Hughie O’Donoghue, installed in the Lady Chapel in 2013. PICTURE: Alan Williams/Westminster Abbey

Treasures of London – The British Library’s St Pancras building…

This week marked 20 years since the British Library’s St Pancras building was officially opened, so we thought it timely to take a look at this London ‘treasure’.

Located on Euston Road, the building, complete with rather grand piazza, was designed by architect Sir Colin St John Wilson and his partner MJ Long.

The largest public building to be constructed in the 20th century in the UK, it was designed specifically to house the British Library collections – which itself had only been created in 1972 when an act was passed by Parliament.

The building – which did draw some criticism over its design when it was completed but has been embraced by the public – was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 25th June, 1998.

Grade II-listed since 2015, it’s comprised of 112,000 square metres spread over 14 floors – including five below ground – and features 11 reading rooms specialising in various subject areas including one for ‘manuscripts’, another for ‘maps’ and another for ‘rare books and music’.

The centrepiece of the building is the King’s Tower which is home to the library of King George III and the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery.

The collection housed at the library includes more than 150 million items. Highlights – many of which are housed in the Treasures Gallery – include a copy of the Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels, and Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook as well as a first edition of The Times (18th March, 1788), manuscripts by everyone from Jane Austen and James Joyce to Handel and the Beatles, and the Diamond Sutra, the world’s earliest dated printed book.

The library, which also hosts temporary exhibitions, is also home to a restaurant, cafe and several coffee shops as well as its own retail shop.

There are now plans to further develop the campus by expanding onto a 2.8 hectare site at its northern end with the aim, among other things, of creating more exhibition spaces, new learning facilities and a permanent home for the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national centre for data science and artificial intelligence. A joint venture led by Stanhope plc, working with architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP), won a competitive process to undertake the development last year.

WHERE: British Library, 96 Euston Road (nearest Tube stations are Kings Cross St Pancras, Euston and Euston Square); WHEN: 9.30am to 6pm (includes Treasures Gallery – exhibition times can vary); COST: Free (but admission fees may be charged for exhibitions); WEBSITE: www.bl.uk.

PICTURE: Top – Aerial view of the St Pancras building (Tony Antoniou); Below – One of the reading rooms (Paul Grundy).