Walmer-CastleA coastal artillery fort built on the orders of King Henry VIII in light of a threatened Catholic invasion, Walmer Castle on the Kentish coast is officially the residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.

What was a rather functional artillery platform has been embellished significantly in the years since it became the official residence of the Lord Warden in 1708, creating a comfortable home for holders of the title who have included Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, the Duke of Wellington and bookseller WH Smith.

The ‘castle’, located about a two hour, 10 minute train journey from London (and then a mile walk from Walmer Station), was constructed in 1539 as one of a string of forts – others include nearby Deal Castle and the long gone Sandown Castle – designed to protect the watery stretch between Goodwin Sands and the coast known as the Downs.

Its low circular design, featuring a central ‘keep’ reached by a drawbridge and surrounded by a curtain wall with four projecting, semi-circular bastions, was influenced by the need to defend against heavy artillery and provide a platform for guns.

Initially garrisoned with ten gunners, four soldiers and two porters under the command of a captain and a lieutenant, Walmer saw little action during Tudor times but was the site of a siege during the Civil War.

Obsolete by the end of the 17th century, it was the Duke of Dorset who was the first Lord Warden (an office created in the thirteenth century to oversee the affairs of the Cinque Ports Confederation, a grouping of five ports including Hastings, Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich) to use Walmer Castle as a residence, embarking on a renovation and extension of the existing structure.

Further alterations was carried out by successive Lords Warden, the most extensive being those made by  the 2nd Earl Granville, Lord Warden between 1865 and 1891, who commissioned architect George Devey to oversee the additions.

The gardens, meanwhile, which are well worth visiting in their own right, were also Granville’s work as well as that of an earlier Lord Warden, Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, who was Lord Warden between 1792 and 1806.

The Duke of Wellington (Lord Warden between 1829 and 1852) reputedly enjoyed his time staying at the castle – he was even visited by the young Princess Victoria here in 1835 (she later stayed for a month with her family when Queen) and died here on 14th September 1852. His room can still be seen inside – the contents include the armchair he was sitting in when he died (the rooms also include a small museum dedicated to Wellington and another dedicated to William Pitt).

Not all Lords Warden enjoyed the property. Sir Winston Churchill, Lord Warden  between 1941 and 1965, never stayed here but Sir Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia and Lord Warden between 1966 and 1978, did and the Queen Mother, Lord Warden between 1978 and 2002, was a regular visitor.

The castle was opened to the public soon after responsibility for it was transferred from the War Office to the Ministry of Works in 1905. It is now under the care of English Heritage and the rooms inside are decorated as they were in the 1930s (it was WH Smith who ensured historic furnishings at Walmer could not be removed). There are even a couple of holiday cottages on site which can now be rented.

WHERE: Walmer Castle, Kingsdown Road, Deal, Kent; WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily (until 6th July); COST: Adults £7.90/Children (5-15 years) £4.70/Concession £7.10; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/walmer-castle-and-gardens/.

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• It’s Museums at Night weekend which means its your chance to see some of London’s best museums after hours. Culture24’s annual event, which runs from 18th to 20th May, features more than 5o late openings and special events in London – from after dark visits to Aspley House, the former home of the Duke of Wellington, to the chance to hear about the history of ‘Bedlam’, one of the world’s oldest psychiatric facilities, at the Bethlem Archives & Museum and Bethlem Gallery, and a “Cinderella shoe” workshop at the Design Museum. As well as organisations like the British Museum and National Gallery, among the lesser known museums taking part are the Cuming Museum in Southwark, the British Dental Association Museum, and the Ragged School Museum in Mile End. For all the details, follow this link

Saturday sees the opening of a new V&A exhibition featuring more than 60 ballgowns dating from 1950 to the present day – the first exhibition to be held in the newly renovated Fashion Galleries. Among those gowns on display as part of Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 will be royal ballgowns including a Norman Hartnell gown designed for Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, Catherine Walker’s ‘Elvis Dress’ worn by Princess Diana (pictured), and gowns worn by today’s young royals. There will also be gowns worn by celebrities including Sandra Bullock, Liz Hurley and Bianca Jagger and works by the likes of Alexander McQueen, Jenny Packham and a metallic leather dress designed by Gareth Hugh specifically for the exhibition. Runs from 19th May to 6th January. Admission charge applies. See www.vam.ac.uk for more. PICTURE: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The man credited with popularising the modern-day limerick, Edward Lear, has been honored with a green plaque at his former house in Westminster. The Westminster Council plaque was unveiled on Saturday – what would have been his 200th birthday – at 15 Stratford Place where he lived from 1853 until 1869. Lear, who was born in Holloway and raised in Grays Inn Road, was famous for his work The Owl and the Pussycat, and as well as for his writings, was also noted as an artist and illustrator. Councillor Robert Davis reportedly had a go himself at a limerick in honour of the artisy: “There once was man named Lear, who lived in a spot close to here. This plaque unveiled today, is a fitting way, to pay tribute on his two hundreth year”.

• On Now: The Queen: Art and Image. Having been on tour across Britian, this exhibition features some of the most remarkable images ever created of the Queen opened at the National Portrait Gallery this week. Containing works by Cecil Beaton and Annie Leibovitz, Pietro Annigoni and Andy Warhol, the exhibition is the most wide-ranging exhibition of images in different media ever devoted to a single royal sitter. Highlights include full-length 1954-55 painting by Annigoni (pictured, right, it’s displayed with his 1969 portrait), Lucian Freud’s 2000-01 portrait and Thomas Struth’s recent large-scale photograph of both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh as well as a never previously loaned 1967 portrait by Gerhard Richter and a specially commissioned holographic portrait. Runs until 21st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Regent by Pietro Annigoni, 1954-5. The Fishmongers’ Company

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip were married at Westminster Abbey, a highly significant property in the Queen’s story which we’ll be looking at in more depth shortly, on 20th November, 1947 (and, as did other brides in post-war Britain, the princess had to collect coupons for her wedding dress).

Following their honeymoon at Broadland – the home of Lord Mountbatten in Hampshire and at Birkhall, Balmoral, in Scotland, in 1949, they and their baby son, Charles, moved into Clarence House, their home for the next three years.

The house, which still featured Victorian decor, was refurbished although post-war austerity ensured the decor and furnishings – many of which were wedding presents – remained simple. The house still contains a Georgian dining table and 20 ladder-back chairs which were the gift of the Royal Warrant Holders Association and a mahogany sideboard and four side tables which were a present from Queen Mary, the Queen’s grandmother.

Princess Anne, second child of the Queen and Prince Philip, was born in the house in 1950.

Clarence House was originally built between 1825 and 1827 to the designs of John Nash (he also designed Buckingham Palace) and was designed as the home of George III’s third son, Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence and his wife Adelaide, and incorporated some of the Tudor buildings of St James’ Palace.

Indeed, Prince William Henry liked the house so much that on succeeding to the throne as King William IV in 1830, he decided not to move to Buckingham Palace and instead remained at Clarence House.

Later occupants have included Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, and two of her sons, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, and Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught as well as Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who moved in after the property was vacated by Queen Elizabeth II and remained living at the house until her death in 2002.

Today Clarence House is the official London residence of Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, as well as Prince Harry.

Clarence House is usually open for tours during summer but will not be opening this summer due to the Paralympic and Olympic Games blocking the entrance from The Mall. For details on the 2013 opening, see www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/clarencehouse.

PICTURE: ChrisO, Wikipedia

PICTURE: Bunting in Regent Street ahead of the Royal Wedding tomorrow.

Ahead of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton tomorrow, here’s a look at some of the more curious and interesting facts related to London’s Royal Wedding past…

The first public Royal Wedding in modern times was that of Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI), and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) which took place on 26th April, 1923. Instead of being held at a royal chapel as was more usual, they were married at Westminster Abbey in a public display which was apparently staged to lift the national spirit in the aftermath of World War I.

Lady Diana Spencer (later Diana, Princess of Wales) memorably said Prince Charles’ name in the wrong order during their wedding ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral on 29th July, 1981. Lady Diana accidentally called him Philip Charles Arthur George instead of the correct Charles Philip Arthur George.

• Queen Victoria’s extravagant wedding cake was the first to feature a model of the bride and groom on its summit (with a figure of Britannia looming over them). The two tier cake measured nine foot across and weighed 300 lbs.

While white wedding dresses had been worn for some time, it was apparently after Queen Victoria wore a white dress at her 1840 wedding that the idea spread to the masses. (Interestingly, the first documented princess to wear a white wedding dress is said to have been Philippa of England, the daughter of King Henry IV, in 1406).

The first televised Royal Wedding was that of Princess Margaret, younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, to Antony Armstrong-Jones (Lord Snowdon) on 6th May, 1960. It attracted some 300 million viewers worldwide.

The tradition of a royal bride leaving her bouquet on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey was started by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. She apparently did so in tribute to her brother Fergus who had died during World War I. Princess Mary, daughter of King George V, made a similar gesture at her wedding in 1922 – she left her bouquet at the Cenotaph in Whitehall after her wedding.

One of the most scandalous Royal Weddings was that of George, Prince of Wales (later King George IV) to Princess Caroline of Brunswick on 8th April, 1795 at the Chapel Royal in St James’s Palace. Described as being “far from a love match” on the Historic Royal Palaces’ website, Prince George was said to have been drunk during the wedding and at one stage apparently even attempted to escape from the ceremony.

If the rain stays away, the newly married prince and his bride will be returning to Buckingham Palace in the 1902 State Landau. The open-topped carriage was constructed for King Edward VII’s coronation and apparently made roomy to accommodation him. The carriage was used by Prince Charles and Lady Diana when they left St Paul’s Cathedral after their 1981 wedding. If the weather it poor, it’s expected that the 1881 Glass Coach, bought for the coronation of King George V in 1911, will be used instead.

For more fascinating facts on Royal Weddings, see the BBC website (www.bbc.co.uk/history/royal_weddings), or Historic Royal Palaces’ blog, The ‘other’ royal weddings (http://blog.hrp.org.uk). For more on the current Royal Wedding, see the official website (www.officialroyalwedding2011.org).

Like many in our series on London’s oldest, this one is a little subjective. But based on our survey of the data out there, we’re opting for 41-42 Cloth Fair, right beside St Bartholowmew the Great, in the City.

The only house to have survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, this five bedroom property – which we can confirm is still up for sale with a guide price of more than £5.9 million following a major restoration – was apparently completed around 1614.

It was originally constructed as part of a development initiated by Robert, Baron Rich, which featured 11 houses around a courtyard and was known as Launders Green (being located on what was the former laundry ground of the monastery at St Barts).

The red brick house, which was awarded a City Heritage award in 2000 for the sensitive restoration work, retains many of its original features.

Interestingly, windows on the second floor contain autographs of some of the famous people who have been to the property over the years including Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, former PM Winston Churchill and Poet Laureate John Betjeman.