This Week in London – Family festival celebrates Queen’s 90th at Buckingham Palace; Kew Garden’s first Science Festival; and big data examined…
August 4, 2016
• Buckingham Palace will host a family festival in celebration of the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II this Saturday. The festival, which will be held in the Family Pavilion on the West Terrace, at the Royal Mews and in The Queen’s Gallery, will feature a 24 foot high, life-sized drawing of the Roald Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant (BFG) by Sir Quentin Blake, story-telling sessions, arts and crafts activities including the chance to make hats inspired by the Queen’s outfits and a BFG ‘dream jar’, and a toy kitchen where under fives can decorate a birthday cake. There will also be dressing-up activities in the Royal Mews and a special family tour of current exhibitions at The Queen’s Gallery while a selection of refreshments will be available. Admission charge applies. For more information, check out www.royalcollection.org.uk.
• Kew Gardens holds it first Science Festival this weekend with a range if interactive activities for visitors to get hands-on with. The family friendly festival will celebrate the ground-breaking discoveries made by Kew scientists and allow visitors to explore how to use a DNA sequencer, clone a cabbage or pollinate orchids with tuning forks. The festival will also features a special display and talks about carnivorous plants and there’s special activities for younger “budding scientists” such as making their own mushroom spore print. The festival kicks off tomorrow and runs until Sunday. For more, see www.kew.org.
• On Now: Our Lives in Data. This free exhibition at the Science Museum in South Kensington explores some of the many ways in which our data is collected, analysed and used for a variety of purposes – from a toy that learns from a child’s personality to become a better playmate to new virtual reality tools created by game designers to help researchers understand vast collections of data. There is also the chance to test facial recognition software through an “intelligent mirror” and an exploration of some of the latest products developed to help people protect their data, including a Cryptophone and wi-fi blocking paint. Runs until September, 2017. For more, visit www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/data.
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February 19, 2016
The Royal Mews – a stables and carriage house – is these days located at Buckingham Palace but prior to being moved there, the Royal Mews, previously usually referred to as the King’s and Queen’s Mews depending who was on the throne, was located on the site where the National Gallery (pictured) and Trafalgar Square now stand.
The name ‘mews’ actually refers to the fact that, from at least the reign of King Richard II in the late 14th century (although official records suggest there may have been a mews on the site as far back as the reign of King Edward I), the royal hawks were initially housed on the site – then in the village of Charing Cross – (the word ‘mew’ refers to the moulting of the birds and originally referred to when they were confined here for that purpose but later come to simply mean the place were the birds were caged).
The title of Keeper of the King’s Mews became a sought-after honour during the 15th century (although largely honorary with the actual work done by deputies) but among those who held the honour were Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known, during the Wars of the Roses as the ‘Kingmaker’.
In 1534, the King’s Mews was destroyed by fire and when it was rebuilt a few years later, it took the form of a stable but kept the original name of mews (although it has been suggested the change of use took place before the fire).
During the Civil War, the Mews were apparently used as a prison by the Parliamentarians for captured Royalists and during the Commonwealth, soldiers were apparently quartered here. Diarist Samuel Pepys also apparently visited several times.
In 1732 the building was again rebuilt, but this time it was to the grand designs of William Kent – images show a grand building with turrets and a great open square before it. In the 1760s, King George III had some of his horses and carriages moved to facilities on the grounds of Buckingham Palace (he had purchased this from the Duke of Buckingham for his wife’s use) but the bulk remained on the Charing Cross site.
In the early 19th century they were opened to the public but in the 1820s, King George IV – making Buckingham Palace his main residence – had the entire stables moved (the Royal Mews which now stand at Buckingham Palace were designed by John Nash and completed in 1825).
The old mews were subsequently demolished and Trafalgar Square – another Nash design – built on the site between 1827 and 1835 while the National Gallery opened in 1838.
April 10, 2015
Among the treasures on show at this year’s summer opening of Buckingham Palace, the Australian State Coach was a gift to Queen Elizabeth II by Australia on 8th May, 1988, to mark the Australian Bicentennial.
The coach – the first to be built for the Royal Family since the Coronation of King Edward VII in 1902 – was built by Australian WJ “Jim” Frecklington who also designed the Diamond Jubilee State Coach.
The coach, which is usually kept in the Royal Mews where it can be viewed by the public, has been used at the State Opening of Parliament and other occasions involving foreign royal families and visiting heads of state. It was also used to carry Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall and Michael and Carole Middleton back to Buckingham Palace after the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
It was last used to carry the Duke of Edinburgh and Señora Rivera, wife of the president of Mexico, on a State Visit in March this year.
The summer opening of the palace runs from 25th July to 27th September. The coach will be on display in the Grand Entrance portico.
WHERE: Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace (nearest Tube stations are Victoria, Green Park and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: 25th July to 31st August – 9.30am to 7.30pm daily (last admission 5.15pm)/1st to 27th September – 9.30am to 6.30pm (last admission 4.15pm); COST: £35.60 adults/£20 under 17 and disabled/£32.50 concessions/£91.20 family (2 adults and three under 17s); WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-state-rooms-buckingham-palace/plan-your-visit.
PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2015
February 4, 2013
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.
But 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.
May 16, 2011
The West End location of Charing Cross is named after the large stone cross that once stood at the top of Whitehall on what is now the southern side of Trafalgar Square – a site currently occupied by a statue of King Charles I.
The cross – an embellished Victorian-era replica of which can be found standing outside Charing Cross Station in the Strand – was one of a series of 12 erected by King Edward I in 1291-94 to commemorate his wife Eleanor of Castile.
They marked the sites where her funeral cortege rested overnight as it made its way from near Lincoln where she died south to Westminster Abbey where she was to be buried (for more on the cross and the Victorian replica, see our previous post here).
The final of these ‘Eleanor Crosses’ – which were originally made from wood before being replaced with stone ones – was erected on a site which stood in the medieval village of Charing, located between the City of London and Westminster. The cross was pulled down in the 1640s by order of Parliament. Since 1675, the statue of King Charles I (pictured, with Trafalgar Square, once the site of the royal mews, in the background) has occupied the site.
The word Charing is an Anglo-Saxon or “Old English” term and is believed to relate to the nearby bend in the River Thames.
Between the mid-1700s until the mid-20th century, the former site of the Charing Cross was the point from which all distances from London were measured. There was also a famous pillory located here.