Restored and altered as part of the creation of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s £54.5 million Exhibition Road Quarter project, the screen was originally built in 1909 to conceal the museum’s boilers. 

Named for renowned architect Sir Aston Webb, who designed the screen as part of his masterplan of the V&A conceived in the last 1800s (but who is perhaps most famous for designing the facade of Buckingham Palace), the screen originally featured a solid stone wall along Exhibition Road on the museum’s west side topped with a colonnade (through which glimpses of the buildings behind could be seen) and featuring a central arch through which to enter the museum.

The screen, which was damaged during World War II by shrapnel, later had black metal gates fitted in the arch for security. They were topped by a large coat-of-arms.

Under the guidance of architect Amanda Levete and her practice AL_A, the work – which actually involved moving the screen off-site in 2013 and then reassembling its 1375 stones last year – has seen the removal of the wall so that people now have 11 entrances into the courtyard beyond (now redesigned as the porcelain-tiled Sackler Courtyard).

Which means the screen that was once designed to hide what was beyond it has been recast to reveal it instead.

The screen – and the Exhibition Road Quarter project as a whole – is being unveiled to the public today. The V&A is hosting a week long event to celebrate the completion of the project.

WHERE: Aston Webb Screen, Exhibition Road entrance, Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington (nearest Tube station is South Kensington); WHEN: Anytime; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.vam.ac.uk

PICTURE: The Aston Webb Screen, the V&A Exhibition Road Quarter, designed by AL_A ©Hufton+Crow

 

 

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It’s partly obscured now, thanks to preparations for the current Diamond Jubilee, and we have touched on it before (see our earlier post here) but we thought it appropriate to take a look at the main London memorial to the only other British monarch ever to have celebrated a Diamond Jubilee – Queen Victoria.

Prominently located outside of Buckingham Palace at the head of The Mall, work on the Grade I listed Queen Victoria Memorial commenced in 1903.  Dedicated to the Queen, who ruled from 1819-1901, it was unveiled by King George V, grandson of King Victoria, and that of his cousin German Emperor Wilhelm II in May, 1911 (although it wasn’t completed until 1924).

The statue, nicknamed the Wedding Cake, was designed by Sir Aston Webb (he who also designed the currently facade to Buckingham Palace and The Mall – down which the statue of Victoria serenely gazes), and sculpted by Sir Thomas Brock, who, so the story goes, received his knighthood after King George V was so moved at the dedication that he spontaneously decided to knight him then and there.

At 25 metres high, this vast statue is made of 2,300 tons of white marble, 800 tones of granite and 70 tons of bronze. It is the largest statue in London with the exception of that dedicated to Prince Albert in Kensington (it could be described as a companion piece) and is the largest statue of a monarch in England.

The statue is redolent with symbolism – four bronze lions at the base represent the idea of Power (a pair of these was apparently donated by New Zealand) while other bronze figures represent Peace, Progress, Manufacture and Agriculture. There is a nautical theme around the base with depictions of mermaids and ship’s prows among the scenes depicted, all of which evoke Seapower.

On the same level as the seated Queen are Truth, Justice and what’s variously described as Charity or Motherhood while above her are gilded figures representing Courage, Constancy and Winged Victory.

PICTURE: Louise Schuller (www.sxc.hu)

For many Londoners, an opportunity to see the Queen means heading to Buckingham Palace to watch her wave from the balcony – or standing in the Mall to watch as her carriage goes by.

Given that, we thought we’d take the time to have a quick look at the history of The Mall, an important player in events like the annual Trooping the Colour.

This one kilometre long grand processional route which links Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace, was originally cut through St James’s Park in 1660 when King Charles II was looking for a new paille-maille pitch (see our earlier entry on Pall Mall for more on this). Two long avenues of trees were planted on either side, giving it a leafy feel that’s still in evidence today.

The Mall had become notorious by the 18th century and was spruced up in 1911 under the eye of Sir Aston Webb (who also designed other elements in the area including a new facade for Buckingham Palace, the Queen Victoria Memorial in front of the palace, and Admiralty Arch at the western end of the route) to become the grand avenue, complete with red-carpet like surface (this was done later), that it is today.

It is bordered by St James’s Park on the south side and on the north side is overlooked by various grand buildings – including Clarence House and the Institute of Contemporary Arts – as well as, toward the western end, Green Park.

These days the Queen publicly processes down The Mall for a number of events throughout the year – among them are the State Opening of Parliament (held earlier this month) as well as military ceremonies like Trooping the Colour and events like last year’s Royal Wedding when is it said that more than a million people were said to have filled the broad street.

The Mall is also the route along which Heads of State process in a horse drawn carriage during official visits (the road is then decorated with Union Jacks and flags of the visitor’s country). During the Olympics, it will be the start and end location of the marathons and cycling road races.

Apart from the Queen Victoria Memorial at the eastern end of The Mall, statues and monuments lining the road include the Queen Mother Memorial, a statue of explorer Captain James Cook, and a recently installed statue of cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin.

There are apparently a series of tunnels underneath with link Buckingham Palace with Whitehall.

We should also briefly mention Horseguards, which is at The Mall’s eastern end and where Trooping the Colour and Beating Retreat takes place. This was formerly the site of a tiltyard of the Palace of Whitehall and jousting tournaments were held here during the time of King Henry VIII. It has been used for parades and ceremonies since the 17th century. While cars were parked here for much of the 20th century, this practice was stopped in the mid-1990s.