The RHS Chelsea Flower Show opened in London’s west this week so we thought we’d take a look at some of the treasures on show. The show, which is in its 102nd year, has been held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea since 1913 (except during the two World Wars) and while its claim to be Britain’s largest flower show has been lost to the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, it remains the nation’s most prestigious. The five day show runs until Saturday. From the top – Chelsea pensioners look at ‘Peter Beales Roses’ in the Great Pavilion; the Inter-flora display in the Great Pavilion; a model poses in front of the Thailand, Land of Buddhism display; and, award-winning garden sculptor David Harber hosts the Mad Hatter’s tea party. For more on the show, visit PICTURES: RHS/Hannah McKay and RHS.







Daffodils blooming outside the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

The final in our series on Winston Churchill will be published a day late this week on Thursday and This Week in London will be published on Friday.

A new exhibition looking at the London that might have been opened at Wellington Arch near Hyde Park Corner yesterday. Almost Lost: London’s Buildings Loved and Loathed uses digital technology to look at how several redevelopment proposals – including a 1950s conceptual scheme for a giant conservatory supporting tower blocks over Soho and a 1960s plan to redevelop Whitehall which including demolishing most of the Victorian and Edwardian buildings around Parliament Square – would have changed the face of the city. The exhibition also looks at how the latest developments in digital mapping can be used in the future and features ‘Pigeon-Sim’ which provides a bird’s-eye view of the city’s buildings with an interactive flight through a 3D photorealistic model of the city. The exhibition runs until 2nd February. Admission charge applies. For more, see

A specially commissioned Christmas tree has been unveiled at the V&A in South Kensington. The 4.75 metre high ‘Red Velvet Tree of Love’ is the work of artists Helen and Colin David and will stand in the museum’s grand entrance until 6th January. The design of the tree – which is coated in red flocking and decorated with 79 sets of hand cast antlers and 67 white, heart shaped baubles – was inspired by an 1860 HFC Rampendahl chair in the V&A’s collection which features a real antler frame and velvet upholstery. For more, see

The annual Christmas Past exhibition is once again open at the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch. Festive decorations have transformed the museum’s rooms and give an insight into how the English middle classes celebrated in times gone past. The exhibition runs until 5th January. Admission is free. Accompanying the exhibition are a series of events including an open evening celebrating an Edwardian Christmas between 5pm-8pm tonight. For more, see

The World War II experience of Chelsea Pensioners are being commemorated in a new display in the White Space Gallery at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. The Old and the Bold is the culmination of a year long collaboration between the museum and the Royal Hospital Chelsea and features nine interviews with 14 In-Pensioners. Their accounts span iconic moments in World War II history – from D-Day to North Africa and the Falklands and are supported by items from the museum’s collection. Runs until 3rd January. Admission is free. For more, see


Queen Mary (wife of King George V) with group at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 1913. The show, which was first held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, in 1913, is celebrating its centenary this year. The 244 exhibitors at the inaugural event have grown to more than 500 today with 161,000 visitors now attending the show each year. Other pictures released to mark the centenary include (see below) gardeners carrying pots at the show in 1931; visitors looking at a display of cacti at the 1964 show; and, an aerial view of the show in the 1990s. The show runs from today until 25th May. For more on the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, see—events/RHS-Chelsea-Flower-Show/2013PICTURES: RHS Lindley Library. 




A late 17th and early 18th century wood carver and sculptor, the curiously named Grinling Gibbons is remembered for his magnificent carvings in numerous English buildings including such London icons as St Paul’s Cathedral and Hampton Court Palace.

Not much is known about Gibbons’ early life. The son of English parents (his father was apparently a draper), he was born in Rotterdam in The Netherlands on 4th April, 1648, and, as a young man, is believed to have undertaken an apprenticeship as a sculptor in that country.

Around the age of 19, he moved to England – first to York and to Deptford in the south. It was the quality of his work which led diarist John Evelyn, having discovered Gibbons working on a limewood relief of Tintoretto’s Crucifixion in a small cottage near Deptford in early 1671, that led him to introduce him to Christopher Wren, the architect of the age, and fellow diarist Samuel Pepys and to eventually present him (and his relief) to King Charles II at Whitehall Palace on 1st March the same year.

But Gibbons’ work apparently failed to initially impress at court and it was only following his ‘discovery’ later that year by the court artist Sir Peter Lely that he began to receive major commissions.

It’s apparently not known when Gibbons married his wife Elizabeth and moved to London they were living there by 1672 and were having the first of their at least 12 children (while at least five of their daughters survived into adulthood, none of their sons did).

In 1672, they were living in an inn, called La Belle Sauvage or The Bell Savage, located on Ludgate Hill near St Paul’s, and, while Gibbons continued to maintain a workshop here into the 1680s, the family moved to Bow Street in Covent Garden around the end of the 1670s (the house here apparently collapsed in 1702 and was subsequently rebuilt in brick).

Gibbons, who was admitted to the Draper’s Company in 1672 and held various posts within it over ensuing years, reached the pinnacle of his success when he was made master sculptor and carver in wood to King William III in 1693, and was later made master carpenter to the king, then King George I, in 1719.

Having worked mostly in limewood, Gibbons, recently called the “British Bernini”, is known for his distinct and exuberant style which features cascading foliage, fruit, animals and cherubs. While he worked on numerous important buildings outside of London – including carvings in the Chapel Royal and king’s dining room at Windsor Castle, in a chapel at Trinity College in Oxford, at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and a famous ‘carved room’ at Petworth House in Sussex – and beyond (he also created two presentation panels – known as the ‘Cosimo’ and ‘Modena’ panels which were sent to Italy as royal gifts), Gibbons is also noted for his work on a number of prominent buildings in London.

Among the buildings he worked on or in around London are the churches of St James’s in Piccadilly, St Mary Abchurch, St Michael Paternoster Royal and, famously, St Paul’s Cathedral (where he carved choir stalls, the bishop’s thrones and choir screen) as well as Hampton Court and Kensington Palaces.

While he is primarily remembered for his limewood carvings, Gibbons’ workshop was also responsible for sculpting statues, memorials and decorative stonework. A couple of the workshop’s statues can still be seen in London – one of King Charles II in Roman dress at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea and another of King James II outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square – while the magnificent Westminster Abbey memorial to Admiral Sir Clowdisley Shovell is also attributed to him.

Gibbons died at his Bow Street home on 3rd August, 1721, and was buried in St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden (his wife had been buried there several years before).

For more on Grinling Gibbons, check out David Esterly’s Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving.

Where is it?…#38

July 20, 2012

The latest in the series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken and what it’s of. If you think you can identify this picture, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!

No-one managed it this time. This gilded bronze statue depicts King Charles II dressed as a Roman general and is located in the Figure Court of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. The king founded the hospital in 1682 to provide a home for retired soldiers (the grand buildings you see are the work of Sir Christopher Wren – see our earlier entry here for more). The 7’6” tall statue, which was re-gilded to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, was presented to the king in 1682 and moved to the hospital after his death in 1685. Although generally attributed to Grinling Gibbons, according to Walking London’s Statues and Monuments, it’s probably actually the work of Arnold Quellin, who worked in Gibbons’ studio. The statue is covered in oak branches on a date around 29th May each year – on a day known as Founders Day or Oak Apple Day – in commemoration of the legendary escape of the future king (by concealing himself in an oak tree) after the Battle of Worcester in 1651, the last battle of the English Civil War. For more on the hospital see

Known as the home of the scarlet-coated ‘Chelsea Pensioners’, the Royal Hospital Chelsea’s origins go back to December 1681 when King Charles II issued a Royal Warrant authorising the building of a royal hospital to care for old and maimed soldiers.

Sir Christopher Wren, then Charles II’s Surveyor-General of Works, was subsequently commissioned to design and construct the new buildings on a site next to the River Thames in Chelsea. Sir Stephen Fox, a commissioner of the Treasury, had the unenviable task of finding enough money to fund it – a task he managed through tapping a range of different sources.

Charles II didn’t live to see the completed project (although he did inspect the partially complete work just before his death in 1685) which was finally finished in 1692. The first pensioners were admitted in February that year.

Wren’s initial design comprised a single quadrangle with accommodation blocks for more than 400 veterans and their officers on the sides, and a chapel and great hall in a colonnaded building at the northern end while the southern end is open to the river (the picture above shows the ‘rear’ of the Hospital as seen from Royal Hospital Road). Known as Figure Court, it was named after a 7′ tall statue of Charles II which stands within it and which depicts the king as a Roman general.

Before the work was complete, however, Wren had realised that the design would not be large enough and added a two further quadrangles – one on each side of the original, they are known as Light Horse and College Courts – to the design.

There are some 300 ‘in-pensioners’ who still live in the hospital’s ‘berths’. When inside, they are encouraged to wear the Royal Hospital’s blue uniform while their famous scarlet coats with tricorne hats are worn on ceremonial occasions including Founder’s Day.

Held on a day close to 29th May – Charles II’s birthday and the date of his restoration – Founder’s Day commemorates his escape after the Battle of Worcester in 1651 and is known as Oak Apple Day in remembrance of the story that the fleeing Charles had to hide in an oak tree to avoid capture by parliamentary forces.

Women were first admitted to the hospital in 2009.

WHERE: Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea (nearest tube station is Sloane Square); WHEN: Entry to the courts, chapel and Great Hall is from 10am to 12pm, 2pm to 4pm; the museum is open Monday to Saturday, 10am to noon, 2pm to 4pm and Sundays 2pm to 4pm (closed Sundays from October to March); COST: Free; WEBSITE: