hamleysThis Regent Street establishment – the oldest and largest toy store in the world – dates back to 1760 when Cornishman William Hamley came to London and founded his toy store – then called ‘Noah’s Ark’ – on High Holborn.

Selling everything from wooden hoops to tin soldiers and rag dolls, the business aimed to capture the trade of affluent Bloomsbury families and proved rather successful, attracting a clientele in the early 19th century which included not only wealthy families but royalty.

Such was its success that in 1881, Hamley’s descendants opened a new branch of the shop at 200 Regent Street. The Holborn store, meanwhile, burned down in 1901 and was subsequently relocated to a larger premises at numbers 86-87 in the same street.

Faced with the Depression in the 1920s, the shop closed briefly in 1931 but was soon reopened by Walter Lines, chairman of Tri-ang Toys, and in 1938 was given a Royal Warrant by Queen Mary, consort of King George V.

The premises at 188-196 Regent Street was bombed five times during the Blitz but the shop (and its tin hat-wearing staff survived). In 1955, having presented a Grand Doll’s Salon and sizeable model railway at the 1951 Festival of Britain, the shop was given a second Royal Warrant – this time by Queen Elizabeth II, who has been given Hamleys toys as a child – as a ‘toys and sports merchant’.

The business, which has passed through several owners since the early 2000s, is now owned by Chinese-based footwear retailer C.banner.  The flagship store is spread over seven floors and tens of thousands of toys on sale, located in various departments.

As well as the Regent Street premises (it moved into the current premises at number 188-196 Regent Street in 1981), Hamlets has some 89 branches located in 23 countries, from India to South Africa. A City of Westminster Green Plaque was placed on the store in February 2010, in honour of the business’s 250th anniversary.

The toy store holds an annual Christmas parade in Regent Street which this year featured a cast of 400 and attracted an estimated 750,000 spectators.

www.hamleys.com

PICTURED: Hamleys during its 250th birthday celebrations.

London is illuminated for Christmas. Here’s some of what photographers on Flickr have captured this year…
regent-street

Christmas in Regent Street. PICTURE: Michael Reilly/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

west-end

Christmas tree in Waterloo Place. PICTURE: William Warby/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

carnaby-street

Carnaby Street. decorations PICTURE: Roger/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

oxford-street

Oxford Street under lights. PICTURE: Paolo Braiuca/Flickr/CC BY 2.0  (image cropped).

st-katharines

A floating Christmas tree at St Katharine Docks. PICTURE: Matt Brown/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

liberty1Liberty, now a West End institution, was founded by Arthur Lasenby Liberty in 1875 with a vision to transform the way people thought of fashion and homewares.

Born the son of a Buckinghamshire draper, Liberty worked with relatives from a young age before he eventually started work with a women’s fashion house, Farmer and Rogers. Rising to management, when they refused to make him a partner in the business, he decided to strike out on his own and established Liberty & Co at 218a Regent Street, an ‘oriental warehouse’ selling ornaments, fabric and objets d’art. He named the property East India House.

libertyOnly 18 months after he first set up shop – financed with a £2,000 loan from his future father-in-law and employed three staff – he was already expanding his premises into properties to the south in Regent Street to house furnishings and carpets. He eventually took over all the buildings between 140 to 150 and named the extended building Chesham House.

The costume department was introduced in 1884 and together with its director EW Godwin, Liberty created in-house fashions to challenge those of Paris. He is also noted for having encouraged and collaborated with designers like Archibald Knox and William Morris.

Liberty, who took the company public in 1894, was knighted in 1913. He died in 1917, seven years before the current Liberty store – the mock-Tudor building on the corner of Regent Street and Great Marlborough Street – was built.

Designed by Edwin T Hall and son, the shop was built from the timbers of two ships, the HMS Impregnable and the HMS Hindustan (and the shop frontage measures the same length as the latter). It was built around three light wells, each of which was surrounded by smaller rooms – many of which have fireplaces and were designed to give the feel of rooms in a house.

Features on the Grade II*- listed building include its weathervane – an exact replica of the Mayflower, which took pilgrims to the US in 1620, decorative shields including the arms of Shakespeare and those of the wives of King Henry VIII, and the clock above the Kingly Street entrance.

Liberty, which is generally acknowledged to have been a powerful influence on 19th and 20th century fashions and tastes, was bought by its current owners, BlueGem in 2010.

~ www.libertylondon.com

Battle-of-the-SommeThe Imperial War Museum in Lambeth is holding a free late night opening tonight featuring live music, film screenings, immersive theatre and poetry to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. Highlights of Night Before the Somme, which runs from 8pm to midnight tonight, include slam poet Kat Francois’ critically acclaimed play Raising Lazarus, poet and broadcaster Ian McMillan’s show Magic Lantern Tales, and extracts from the immersive production Dr Blighty – which tells the story of the million Indians who travelled to fight in the war. Visitors will also have the chance to watch the film, The Battle of the Somme (filmed and screened in 1916, it was the first feature-length documentary about war), listen in to a series of Q&A’s with experts on the battle, and preview the major exhibition, Real to Reel: A Century of War Movies. Real to Reel, which officially opens on Friday, explores how film-makers have found inspiration in compelling personal stories and the real events of wars from the past century. As well as audio-visual installations, the display features film clips, costumes, props, scripts, sketches and designs from films such as The Dam Busters, Where Eagles Dare, Apocalypse Now, Battle of Britain, Das Boot, Casablanca, Jarhead, Atonement and War Horse along with original archival material and artefacts from the IWM collections. The exhibition, which is divided into five sections, runs until 8th January. Admission charges apply. See www.iwm.org.uk for more. PICTURE: © IWM (Q 70164. Staged scene from The Battle of the Somme film, 1916 British troops go ‘over the top’ into ‘No Man’s Land’. This scene was staged for the camera at a training school behind the lines.

• Don’t forget tonight’s vigil at Westminster Abbey to mark the 100th anniversary (as mentioned in last week’s entry here).

Still on the centenary of the Battle of the Somme and a new exhibition opened at the Science Museum in South Kensington this week focusing on the innovations in medical practice and technologies developed as a result of the new kind of industrialised warfare seen in the battle. Wounded: Conflict, Casualties and Care has at its centre a collection of historic objects from the museum’s World War I medical collections including stretchers adapted for use in narrow trenches and made-to-measure artificial arms fitted to the wounded in British hospitals as well as lucky charms and personal protective items carried by frontline soldiers. There are also artworks from the period including Henry Tonk’s famous pastel drawings of facial injuries and a 1914 painting by John Lavery that depicts the arrival of the first British wounded soldiers at the London hospital. Admission is free and the exhibition can be seen until early 2018. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.

Regent Street will be transformed on Sunday, 3rd July, with the Transported by Design Festival featuring transport designs which have shaped and will shape London. The festival, which will stretch from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus Tube stations, will see the street divided into three zones – past, present and future. Among the objects on show in ‘past’ section will be a horse-drawn bus and other heritage buses, a 1927 train carriage and an exhibition of classic advertising posters and signage while the ‘present’ section will feature ‘Cycle Spin Fun’ by Santander Cycles, Moquette Land – a showcase of fabric used across the transport network, and, a ‘design a bus’ competition, and the ‘future’ section will feature a range of technologies, including virtual reality headsets, exploring what transport could look like in 2040. The free festival, part of the ‘Summer Streets’ program which sees Regent Street closed to traffic on Sundays over summer, runs from noon to 6pm. For more, see www.tfl.gov.uk/campaign/transported-by-design/event-calendar?intcmp=40582.

• The work of artist Winifred Knights, the first British woman to win the Prix de Rome scholarship, is the subject of a recently-opened exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. The display, the first major retrospective of the work of Knights (1899-1947), brings together more than 70 preparatory studies and her most ambitious works including The Deluge (1920), The Potato Harvest (1918) and Leaving the Munitions Works (1919). Winifred Knights (1899-1947) runs until 18th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

The Paddington Trail, London, 2014Paddington comes to the Museum of London in a new exhibition opening tomorrow to coincide with the bear’s big-screen debut. A Bear called Paddington charts the story of the character from his genesis on Christmas Eve, 1956, when creator Michael Bond bought his wife a small toy bear and named him after the railway station near where they loved across the next almost 60 years to today. Objects on display include: a first edition A Bear Called Paddington – dating from 1958, it belonged to Bond’s daughter Karen Jankel; an original illustration of Paddington by Paddy Fortnum; the typewriter Bond used to write Paddington at Work and Paddington Goes To Town; the original Paddington puppet from the 1970s TV animations; and, props from the upcoming film Paddington (released on 28th November). The free exhibition runs until 4th January. See www.museumoflondon.org.uk for more. The museum, meanwhile, is also playing host to a new life-sized statue of the famous bear designed by Benedict Cumberbatch (and known as Sherlock Bear for obvious reasons given Cumberbatch’s penchant for playing a certain detective – pictured). It forms just one stop on the Paddington Trail which, as the work of VisitLondon.com, NSPCC and film-makers StudioCanal, links 50 sites – each with their own statue of the bear – across the capital. Designed by everyone from Mayor Boris Johnson to football star David Beckham and actors Sandra Bullock and Hugh Bonneville, the bears can be found around town until 30th December. For more on the trail, including a map of locations, check out www.visitlondon.com/paddington/.

While the Oxford Street lights are already switched on (as are those in Covent Garden), Carnaby Street’s Christmas decorations are to be officially launched at 6.30pm tonight. The launch coincides with a shopping party (including 20 per cent discount), live music, free drinks, good bags and “trend masterclasses” with Grazia Magazine’s editor-at-large Angela Buttolph. Oh, and the decorations consist of eight red and white oversized sets of headphones and sunglasses. Meanwhile the Regent Street lights get turned on this Sunday with an event featuring a star-studded cast including Take That’s Mark Owen, Gary Barlow and Howard Donald (who are switching on the lights but not playing). While there’s entertainment along the street from noon, the music kicks off at 4pm and the lights, designed around the theme of the film Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, get switched-on at 5pm and will be followed by a fireworks display. For more, see www.regentstreetonline.com.

The Guards Memorial in Horseguards Parade, Westminister, has been upgrade to a Grade 1-listed structure on the advice of English Heritage. Unveiled in 1926 by the Duke of Connaught, Senior Colonel of the Guards, and General George Higginson, a Crimean veteran, the memorial commemorates the 14,000 Guardsmen who died in the First World War. Designed by architect Harold Chalton Bradshaw and sculpted by Gilbert Ledward, it features five bronze soldiers, each representing a typical soldier from each of the divisions – Grenadiers, Coldstreams, Scots, Welsh and Irish Guards.

On Now: Grayson Perry: Who Are You? This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery near Trafalgar Square features a series of new works created by Perry during the making of his Channel 4 TV series of the same name. Interspersed with 19th and 20th century collections of the gallery, the portraits – which include a tapestry, sculptures and pots – are of families, groups and individuals and include everyone from a young Muslim convert and Celebrity Big Brother contestant Rylan Clark. Runs until 15th March. Entry is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

BusesAlmost 50 buses, from a horse-drawn model of the 1820s to the New Routemasters of today, will come to Regent Street on Sunday in celebration of the Year of the Bus. The ‘Regent Street Bus Cavalcade’ – which will stretch from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus and will see the iconic West End street closed to traffic – will also feature a variety of free family events including Lego workshops (there will be a bus shelter and bus stop made entirely out of Lego outside Hamley’s toy shop), children’s theatre performances, a pop-up London Transport canteen and the chance to have a personal message recorded by the voice of London’s buses, Emma Hignett. There will also be an exhibition – Battle Bus – which provides information about the B-type bus (a newly restored version of which will be on display) which was used during World War I to carry soldiers to the frontline as well as ambulances and mobile pigeon lofts while jewellery company Tatty Devine will feature a special range of bus-inspired jewellery and hold jewellery-making workshops on board a London bus. The cavalcade, supported by the Regent Street Association and The Crown Estate, is part of Transport for London’s celebrations marking the Year of the Bus, organised in partnership with the London Transport Museum and the capital’s bus operators. The free event runs from 11.30am to 6pm. For more information, see www.tfl.gov.uk/yearofthebus and www.ltmuseum.co.uk.

A new exhibition of materials showing how people coped at home and on the front during World War I opens at the British Library in King’s Cross today as part of efforts to mark the war’s centenary. Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour features personal objects such as letters, a handkerchief bearing the lyrics of It’s A Long, Long Way to Tipperary, Christmas cards, school essays about airship raids over London sit and recruitment posters, humorous magazines and even a knitting pattern for balaclavas. Highlights include a letter in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle expresses his concern over his son serving at the front, manuscripts by war poets such as Rupert Brooke as well as Wilfred Owen’s manuscript for Anthem for Doomed Youth, Vaughan Williams’ A Pastoral Symphony and Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen. A specially commissioned video and ‘soundscape’, Writing Home, features personal messages contained on postcards written to and from the front. A range of events accompanies the free exhibition. Runs until 12th October. For more on the exhibition, see www.bl.uk.

Armoured knights on horseback can be seen jousting at Eltham Palace in south London this weekend. The former childhood home of King Henry VIII will host a Grand Medieval Joust which will also include displays of foot combat, the antics of a court jester, medieval music performances and a series of children’s events including a knight’s school. Runs from 10am to 5pm on both Saturday and Sunday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/events. Meanwhile, the Battle of Waterloo is being remembered at the Duke of Wellington’s home of Apsley House near Hyde Park Corner. Visitors will come face-to-face with Wellington’s troops and their wives, having the chance to take a look inside a soldier’s knapsack, see the equipment he used and the drills he performed as well as see the Battle of Waterloo recreated in vegetables. The Waterloo Festival – this year marks 200 years since Napoleon’s abdication and exile to Elba – runs from 11am to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/apsley/.

Nominations have reopened for English Heritage’s Blue Plaques scheme in London. In 2012 nominations were temporarily suspended while new funding for the scheme was found and thanks to one individual’s donation and the creation of a new Blue Plaques Club to support the scheme on an ongoing basis, they have now reopened. There are 880 official Blue Plaques on London’s streets – remembering everyone from Florence Nightingale to Fred Perry and Charles Darwin. For more and details on nominations, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

Send all items of interest for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Regent-Street-turns-purple-to-celebrate-The-Queen’s-Coronation-

Regent Street is adorned with flags in celebration of the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, among the many ways in which London has been celebrating the occasion. The official anniversary was on Sunday – it was 2nd June, 1953, some 16 months after the 25-year-old Queen took the throne following the death of her father King George VI, that Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in Westminster Abbey. In celebrations yesterday, the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery fired a 41-gun salute in Green Park at midday followed an hour later by a 62-gun salute fired by the Honourable Artillery Company across the River Thames from the Tower of London. The Queen and other members of the royal family (along with some 2,000 guests) is attending a special service at Westminster Abbey today (for more on how the abbey is celebrating the event, see our earlier post here). More than 8,000 people attended the coronation which was watched by an estimated 27 million people across the country. PICTURE: RegentStreetOnline

 

Queen-Henrietta-Maria-(Royal-Collection)A landmark exhibition looking at fashion in the Tudor and Stuart eras opens at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, tomorrow. In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion features everything from a diamond ring given by King Charles I to his then 19-year-old wife Henrietta Maria, an ornate set of armour which belonged to 13-year-old Henry, Prince of Wales (the older brother of King Charles I – he died of typhoid fever at the age of 19), and a diamond-encrusted box in which Queen Mary II kept black fabric patches worn to conceal blemishes or highlight the creaminess of skin. A 58.5 carat pearl, named ‘La Peregrina’ (‘The Wanderer’) and given to Queen Mary I as an engagement gift from Philip II of Spain (and later presented to Elizabeth Taylor by Richard Burton on Valentine’s Day, 1969), is also among the objects on show along with a pendant featuring a miniature of Queen Elizabeth I. The exhibition also features more than 60 portraits from the Royal Collection showing the fashions of the time, including a portrait by Sir Peter Lely of court beauty Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond, who famously refused to become King Charles II’s mistress. Admission charge applies. Runs until 6th October. For more, see www.royalcollection.co.uk. PICTURE: Sir Anthony van Dyck, Queen Henrietta Maria, 1609-69. Royal Collection Trust/© 2013, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

A medieval crozier and bejewelled ring discovered in Cumbria in 2010 are on public display for the first time in a new exhibition at Wellington Arch. The artefacts, which were discovered at Furness Abbey, are featured in an English Heritage exhibition, A Monumental Act: How Britain Saved Its Heritage, which explores how the Ancient Monuments Act of 1913 helped protect Britain’s historical fabric. Other objects in display include some of the historic artefacts found in the 20 years following the act – a Roman bronze weight from Richborough Roman Fort in Kent and a 13th century sculpture of Christ found at Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire. Admission charge applies. The exhibition runs until 7th July. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/wellington-arch/.

The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons is celebrating its bicentenary this year and to mark the occasion, they’re holding a free exhibition focusing on the museum’s collections of human anatomy and pathology; natural history and artworks. The display will consider how the objects in the collection have informed the medical world and fallen under the gaze of visitors who have included surgeons as well as monarchs. The exhibition in the Qvist Gallery at the museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields opens on Tuesday, 14th May, and runs until 9th November. For more, see www.rcseng.ac.uk/museums/hunterian.

The world comes to Regent Street this Sunday with the ‘InsureandGo The World on Regent Street’ festival. Representatives from countries including Argentina, Egypt, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey and China as well as the UK will showcasing the best of each country’s culture, music and dance, art, food and fashion. Activities will include tango lessons from Argentina, professional henna drawing from Egypt, a steel band from Trinidad and Tobago, and a Chinese drumming performance and lion dancing. The street will be closed for the day. For more, see www.regentstreetonline.com.

On Now: Kaffe Fassett – A Life in Colour. This exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey Street celebrates the work of American-born artist Kaffe Fassett and features more than 100 works including nine foot wide knitted shawls, coats and throws, patchwork quilts and a ‘feeling wall’ where visitors can touch the textiles on display. Admission charge applies. Runs until 29th June. For more, see www.ftmlondon.org.

Regent Street is showcasing a number of architectural installations created by architects in an initiative being conducted in conjunction with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Now in its fourth year, the Regent Street Windows project can be seen free in store windows including those of Topshop, Espirit, Jack Spade, Ferrari Store and Moss Bros until 6th May. Participating architects include Carl Turner Architects, naganJohnson architects, Gensler, Mamou-Mani, and AY Architects. Free 45 minute to one hour walking tours of the completed installations will be conducted by RIBA representatives at lunch time today, midday on Sunday and at 5.30pm next Wednesday. Prior booking is essential – email antonia.faust@riba.org for details.

The Queen’s Orchard has reopened in Greenwich Park having been restored with the addition of heritage fruit trees, new gates, pathways and ponds. The orchard dates back to the 17th century  – its name has been found on a records dating back to 1693 and now features on a new metal decorative gate which, as well as a well cover, was designed by local artist Heather Burrell along with local school students and the Friends of Greenwich Park. The heritage fruit trees, which have a provenance dating back to the 1500s, include apple, pear, cherry, plum, peach, apricot, nectarine, quince, and medlar trees. For more, see www.royalparks.org.uk.

The first woman to qualify as a dentist in Britain has been honoured by English Heritage with a blue plaque at her former home in Islington. Lilian Lindsay (1871-1960) lived at the house at 3 Hungerford Road, Lower Holloway, from 1872 until 1892 when she decided to become a dentist. Refused entry to the National Dental Hospital in London, she trained at the Edinburgh Dental Hospital and School (where she also met her husband Robert) before setting up a practice in Upper Holloway. Following her marriage, Lindsay relocated to Edinburgh where she and her husband ran a dental practice, only returning to London after their retirement in the 1920s. Both were actively involved in the British Dental Association. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk.

A 13-year-old photographer, Gideon Knight, is holding his first exhibition, ‘Wild About Photography’, at The Temple, Wanstead Park in Epping Forest. Self-taught, Knight has drawn on his passion for bird-watching in capturing a series of images of birds and other wildlife in a range of natural environments – from the forests of Essex to the countryside of southern Ireland. The exhibition is free. Open on weekends and bank holidays until the end of June, between noon and 5pm. You can follow Gideon at  http://earlywormbirder.blogspot.co.uk.

On Now: Patrick Heron: Studies for a Portrait of TS Eliot. On display for the first time at the National Portrait Gallery, the 10 paintings and drawings were completed in preparation for a 1949 modernist painting of the poet. They include two oil studies which have never before been seen in public. Heron secured permission to paint Eliot in January 1947 with the first sitting held two months later. Runs until 22nd September. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

Tweed-RunThe Tweed Run London celebrated its fifth anniversary last Saturday with more than 500 taking part in the rather unusual annual event in which participants combine their passion for British fashion with their love for cycling. Among those taking part (entry was via a lottery system) on bikes of all shapes and sizes were people from as far afield as The Netherlands, Korea, Russia, Australia, Japan and even Afghanistan. The two hour ride took in Marylebone High Street, Savile Row, Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus and the Houses of Parliament before finishing at Trafalgar Square. The ride has been copied by other cities around the world including, Tokyo, Toronto and St Petersburg. For more on the Tweed Run, see www.tweedrun.comPICTURE: Selim Korycki, Tweed Run LLP.

Arguably the greatest architect of Regency London, John Nash’s imprint can still be seen in numerous sites around the city, from the master-planning of Regent’s Park and Regent Street to the beautiful buildings of All Soul’s Church in Langham Place and Marble Arch on the edge of Hyde Park.

Born the son of a Welsh millwright in Lambeth, London, on 18th January, 1752, Nash – who went on to work in a range of different architectural styles – trained as a draughtsman under the tutelage of architect Sir Robert Taylor and in 1777 established his own business as a builder and surveyor.

John-NashBut he certainly didn’t meet with immediate success and, following failure as a building speculator (he built properties in Bloomsbury Square and Great Russell Street but failed to make enough money from the venture – there’s a blue plaque on one of the houses, which he lived in, at 66 Great Russell Street), was declared bankrupt in 1783.

Meanwhile, his personal life was also in turmoil during these years – in 1775 he had married, Jane Kerr, the daughter of a Surrey surgeon, but separated from her in the early 1780s after various troubles including her eventually apparently having a child with a Welshman named Charles Charles, who is said to have died in prison after he was jailed for adultery.

Brought down by his misfortune, in the mid 1780s Nash moved to Carmarthen in Wales where he had family. Taking up work here, by the late 1780s he was designing prisons – the first was at Carmarthen – and worked on a number of other prominent buildings including St David’s Cathedral and various country houses.

Rising to prominence in Carmarthen society, by 1797, however, Nash was again working in London, initially in partnership with the renowned landscape architect Humphrey Repton with whom he had formed a business relationship some years earlier (although the partnership had soured over finances by 1800).

He built a substantial home at 29 Dover Street in Mayfair and in 1798, his first wife presumably dead, he married his second wife, Mary Anne Bradley, and soon started work on building a Gothic-inspired residence for them, known as East Cowes Castle, on the Isle of Wight. It was completed in 1802 but enlarged some years later.

Nash designed numerous country properties in the early 19th century, inspired by everything from castles to Italianate architecture, both in England and Ireland and soon came to the attention of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV (there was a rumour his wife was one of the prince’s discarded mistresses).

In 1806 he was officially made Deputy Surveyor General in the Office of Woods and Forests – the office which managed the Crown estate, and from 1815 on, he largely worked for the prince alone. Among the major London commissions from his royal patron were the design of Regent Street (he and his wife moved into number 14 in 1823) and the development of Regent’s Park on land formerly known as Marylebone Park and surrounding housing estates (for more on The Regent’s Park, see our earlier entry here). He also redeveloped St James’s Park.

In 1815, he was commissioned to develop the Prince Regent’s Marine Pavilion in Brighton and by 1822 had transformed the building into the spectacular Royal Pavilion which can be visited there today.

Nash was also involved in the development of The Regent’s Canal – which linked the Grand Union Canal in London’s west to the River Thames in London’s east and was completed in 1820 – and built many of the grand villas which still line it (for more on Regent’s Canal, see our earlier entry here).

Becoming an official architect to the Office of Works in 1813 (an appointment which only ended in 1832, three years before his death), Nash went on to design churches – including All Soul’s in Langham Place (he’s depicted above in a bust at the church) – as well as West End theatres including the Haymarket Theatre and the Royal Opera House (which burnt down in 1867) as well as the adjacent Royal Opera Arcade and residences including Carlton House Terrace and Clarence House (for more on this, see our earlier entry here).

Other major commissions included the redevelopment of Buckingham Palace (parts of the current building are his work but the main facade isn’t – for more on the palace history, see our earlier entry here) and the Royal Mews, and the creation of Marble Arch, originally envisaged as the main gateway to the palace (see our earlier entry here). Nash also designed a conservatory for Kew Gardens.

Nash’s close relationship with the Prince Regent (who become King George IV on 29th January, 1820), meant that when the king died in 1830, he found himself on the outer (and his reputation took many years to recover thanks to his association with the unpopular king). With no knighthood forthcoming for his efforts (unlike many of his contemporaries) and the chance of further work unlikely (his work on Buckingham Palace had been left unfinished due to concerns over rising costs), Nash retired to his house on the Isle of Wight.

He died there on 13th May, 1835, and was buried in the churchyard at St James’s Church in East Cowes. He was survived by his wife who, having settled his debts, retired to Hampstead.

For an in-depth study of Nash, try Geoffrey Tyack’s book, John Nash: Architect of the Picturesque.

• A revamped Crown Jewels display opens today at the Tower of London to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The new display features graphics, music and newly restored film footage and will focus on the coronation ceremony as its central theme, exploring how the regalia are used in the ceremony. The regalia – which includes some of the most extraordinary diamonds in the world such as the Star of Africa and Koh-i-Nur – is being displayed in the order in which it is used at the coronation ceremony. The Crown Jewels have been on show to the public at the Tower of London since at least 1661 after they were remade for King Charles II’s coronation. The previous collection had been largely destroyed in the Civil War although some pieces survived including a gilt silver spoon probably made for King Henry II or King Richard I (the “Lionheart”). For more information, see www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/.

Five dresses worn by Diana, Princess of Wales, have gone on display at Kensington Palace  which re-opened to the public this week following a £12 million overhaul. The five dresses include a black silk taffeta gown (designed by Emanuel) which Diana wore to a fundraising event at the Goldsmith’s Hall in 1981 – her first official engagement with Prince Charles as well as a formal dinner dress of ivory silk (Catherine Walker) created for a State Banquet for the King and Queen of Malaysia in 1993 and a black ribbed silk shift evening dress (Gianni Versace) worn to the London premiere of Apollo 13 in Hammersmith in 1995. For more on the revamp of the palace see our earlier post. Or visit www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/.

• A plaque commemorating the site where the iconic image for the cover of David Bowie’s 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars was photographed has been unveiled in the West End. The plaque at the somewhat innocuous site at 23 Heddon Street, just off Regent Street, was installed by the Crown Estate and unveiled this week by Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet. The image for the album cover was shot by the late photographer Brian Ward who managed to persuade Bowie to step outside the ‘studio’ space he had rented upstairs despite the fact it was a cold, wet January night.

• On Now: At Home with the World. This exhibition at the Geoffrye Museum explores the cosmopolitan nature of London’s homes over the past 400 years and looks at how diverse cultures have helped shaped the homes – covering everything from Chinese porcelain and the tea craze of the 1700s to the use of Islamic and Indian patterns in the 1800s, the popularity of Scandinavian and American design in the 1900s and the globalism of today. The period rooms on show at the museum have been reinterpreted to highlight the international influences. This is one of a series of Stories of the World: London exhibitions taking place across the city which are exploring four aspects of life – home, identity, journeys and place – as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad program. Runs until 9th September. Entry is free. For more, see www.geffrye-museum.org.uk.

The Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree – donated  by the people of Oslo each year since 1947 as a thanks for the support Britain gave to Norway during World War II. On the left is the Olympic countdown clock.

A giant hedge-like reindeer outside Covent Garden, a market since at least the 1600s but once the site of a large kitchen garden for the monks of the Convent of St Peter, Westminster (see our earlier post for more).

Christmas tree near the ice-skating rink at Somerset House, now an arts and cultural centre but originally built on the site of a Tudor palace in the late 1770s as a home for three “learned societies” – the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Society, and the Society of Antiquaries – as well as government offices (including the Navy Board).

Christmas lights in Regent Street, one of the city’s premier shopping streets, in the West End. It’s current shape was designed by architect John Nash in the early 19th century.

Christmas decorations on the exterior of Cartier in Old Bond Street, Mayfair. The area takes its name from the May Fair once held there and is now one of the most expensive areas within London (see our earlier post for more).

Looking for a book about London? See The Exploring London Little List of Books for Christmas…

A former hunting chase, The Regent’s Park in London’s north-west was extensively developed in the 19th century and remains a good – if not complete – example of a Regency landscape.

As with many of London’s Royal Parks, Regent’s Park (it’s formal name is actually The Regent’s Park but we’ll shorten it for our purposes here) once served as King Henry VIII’s hunting grounds – he seized the park, then known as Marylebone Park Fields after the nearby village and boasting thick woods as well as more open forests, from the Abbey of Barking in 1538.

Used by royalty for the next 50 years, it remained largely unaltered until after the Civil War when, between 1649 and 1660, the Commonwealth ordered many of the trees to be chopped down to pay debts. It was restored to royal ownership with the restoration of the monarchy but, with hunting falling out of fashion, was then leased out to tenant farmers.

It was John Nash who created the park that we know and love today. Friend of the Prince Regent (later King George IV), he was among a number of architects who responded to the Prince Regent’s calls for the creation of a new design featuring a palace for himself.

Nash’s original designs included a round park featuring a lake and canal and surrounded by as many as 56 villas and a palatial summer home for the Prince Regent which would be linked to his other home at St James’s by a processional road.

But only eight of the villas were ever built and only two of them – St John’s Lodge and The Holme – remain (both are private residences but part of the lodge’s gardens are open to the public) while the plans for the Prince Regent’s palace were put on hold when he turned his attention to developing Buckingham Palace instead. The canal, meanwhile, was moved to the park’s northern boundary where it still stands today (see our earlier entry on Regent’s Canal) while the processional route Nash had proposed became Regent Street.

While the park was initially only for the exclusive use of residents and what Royal Park’s call the ‘carriage set’, in 1835, the eastern part of the park was opened to the public for two days a week. Other sections of what is now included in the park, including Primrose Hill, were opened later.

Meanwhile, the fact most of the villas had never been built had left a large amount of free space and so both the Zoological Society and the Royal Botanic Society moved in – the latter laying out what is the Inner Circle with lawns and a lake of its own. Another society to operate in the park was the Royal Toxophilite Society which introduced archery there.

Not much has changed since but for the creation of Queen Mary’s Gardens in the 1930s – these were laid out on the space formally occupied by the Royal Botanic Society which had decided not to renew its lease. The Open Air Theatre performances, which are still held in the gardens today, started at about the same time. The park was damaged by bombing during World War II but has been fully restored.

Other facilities now in the 166 hectare (410 acre) park include a sports facility known as The Hub as well as several cafes, tennis courts and boat hire. The London Zoo, of course, also remains there.

WHERE: The Regent’s Park (nearest tube station is Regent’s Park); WHEN: 5am to at least 4pm (closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/The-Regents-Park.aspx

London will this weekend celebrate the 15th annual Thames Festival, billed as the city’s “largest free festival”. The two day event includes a giant shipwreck sculpture outside City Hall (created with the aid of students from 100 London schools), barge races and a parade of more than 100 boats on the Thames, a wide array of musical and street performances (these include a mass choir of 700 school children and a performance in which the HMS Belfast is used as a percussion instrument) and an illuminated Night Carnival culminating in fireworks. More than 800,000 people are expected to attend the event which takes place at a range of venues stretching from the London Eye to Tower Bridge. Other highlights include the annual Feast on the Bridge on Saturday during which Southwark Bridge will be closed to traffic, Korean Taekwondo displays, a food market and an exclusive cruise on the Thames hosted by the likes of historian David Starkey and the creators of cult children’s character Rastamouse. River boat operators, meanwhile, are offering 2-for-1 tickets for the weekend to help people make the most of the festival. For more information on the festival, see www.thamesfestival.org. For more on the 2 for 1 tickets, see www.tfl.gov.uk/river.

Regent Street and surrounds will be buzzing tonight with more than 40 shops, bars and restaurants taking part in Vogue Fashion’s Night Out. The event, which is running for its third year in London, will see many stores remaining opening until 11pm and feature special events and promotions. The night is part of a series of nights being held in countries across the globe – from Russia to Brazil, Australia to Spain. For more information, see http://fashions-night-out.vogue.co.uk.

An art deco Tube train dating from 1938 and the Sarah Siddons, the last operational ex-Metropolitan Railway electric locomotive will be running between Harrow-on-the-Hill, Rickmansworth and Amersham this Sunday as part of the Amersham Old Town’s Heritage Day. Other activities include a best dressed competition showcasing retro fashions, a free heritage bus service, including rides on the Routemaster RM1, street performances including a Punch and Judy show and clowns, and “object handling sessions” at the Amersham Museum. For more information, see the London Transport Museum’s website here.

Still the address to have in London, the origins of the name Mayfair are just as they appear – this area to the west of the City was named for the annual May Fair which was held at what is now the trendy (and picturesque) cafe precinct of Shepherd Market during the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

The two week long annual fair was established by King James II as a cattle market on what was then known as Brookfield Market in the 1680s. Attracting other pleasure-related activities, it soon became known for its licentiousness and, having survived Queen Anne’s attempts to have it banned, was eventually stopped in the mid-1700s. Edward Shepherd, who today gives his name to the area on which Brookfield Market once stood, was an architect and developer who subsequently redeveloped the site.

These days Mayfair is generally taken to encompass an area bordered by Hyde Park to the west, Oxford Street to the north, Piccadilly to the south and Regent Street to the east. The area’s development really took off in the century following the mid 1600s (landowners included the Grosvenor family – whose name is reflected in landmarks like London’s third largest square Grosvenor Square and Grosvenor Chapel (pictured) – as well as the Berkeleys and Burlingtons) and it became a favored residential location among the wealthy – indeed, it was this very gentrification which indirectly put an end to the fair.

Today, as well as being known for high end residential real estate, it’s one of London’s most expensive shopping precincts. Landmark buildings in the area today include the hulking bulk of the US Embassy at the western end of Grosvenor Square, the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly, the Handel House Museum (located in what was the home of composer George Frideric Handel), shopping arcades such as the Burlington and Royal Arcades, and various luxury hotels like Claridge’s and The Dorchester in Park Lane.

• Oxford Street and Regent Street in London’s West End will be closed to cars and buses this Saturday (27th November) as part of the sixth annual West End VIP Day. The day, which is sponsored by American Express,  will also bring singers, entertainers and celebrities hit the streets as they fundraise for the Starlight Children’s Foundation. Other entertainment will include a seven foot climbing wall on Regent Street, giant TV screens, fair ground style rides and the chance to climb inside a lifesize snow globe. Runs from 9am to 10pm. For more information, see www.westendlondon.com/vip.

• This week was National Curry Week, so to celebrate, we thought we’d tell you about London’s oldest curryhouse (in fact it’s said to be the oldest in the UK). Veeraswamy was founded in 1926 at its current location of 99 Regent Street (entry via Swallow Street) by, according to the restaurant’s website, “the great grandson of an English General, and an Indian princess”. Customers are said to have included Indira Gandhi, Charlie Chaplin, King Hussein of Jordan and Marlon Brando. See www.nationaleatingoutweek.com or www.veeraswamy.com.

Kenwood House in Hampstead, north London, is set to undergo major repair and conservation works meaning the house will be closed to the public from early summer 2012 for just over a year. The grounds will remain open. The current house was designed by Robert Adam and built over the period of 1762 to 1779 for William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield and the Lord Chief Justice. It now houses a collection of paintings bequeathed to the nation in 1927 by Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh, which includes works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Gainsborough and Turner. For more information, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/kenwood-house/.

On now: Compare Horatio Nelson’s handwriting before and after he lost his right arm in battle at a special showing of two of his letters at the Wellcome Collection tomorrow night (26th November). The letters are part of Hands: Amazing Appendages, a one night only show. There will also be the chance to try out some nail art, try out some surgeon’s tools and hear talks and see performances. Admission is free (but some talks and performances will be tickets – tickets available on the night only from 7pm). See www.wellcomecollection.org/whats-on/events/hands.aspx.

 

What’s in a name? – Soho

September 6, 2010

The first in an occasional series looking behind some of London’s place names. To kick it off, we’re taking a look at the origins of the name of the inner metropolitan suburb of Soho.

The name was apparently taken from a hunting cry – ‘So Ho’  and is believed to have been first used to describe this area of London in the 1600s (the cry was also later used as a rallying cry by the James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth’s men when he tried to overthrow James II at the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685).

The area was used as grazing lands before becoming part of Henry VIII’s hunting grounds and then in the later 1600s started to undergo development, becoming known as a refuge for immigrants from Greece and France (the French Protestant Church on Soho Square is indicative of the diverse population who have lived there).

It later morphed into a somewhat seedy and bohemian entertainment district and became home to some big name writers, artists, intellectuals and musicians. Over the years, famous residents have included everyone from Karl Marx to poet William Blake.

These days, while elements of entertainment industry remain – in particular the film industry as well as some seedier establishments – the area, bordered by Oxford and Regent Streets, Charing Cross Road and Piccadilly Circus to the south, is also home to large numbers of trendy cafes, pubs and restaurants and still boasts a healthy nightlife.