Now an elegant place to have lunch or afternoon tea, The Orangery was originally built in 1704-05. Its construction came at the behest of Queen Anne – the younger sister of Queen Mary II, she had ascended to the throne after the death of Mary’s husband King William III in 1702 following a fall from a horse (Mary had died of smallpox at Kensington Palace in 1694). Queen Anne used the building for parties in summer and in winter, thanks to underfloor heating, as a conservatory for plants (two engines were later fitted to the building to lift the orange trees kept there in colder months). The building’s architect is thought to have been the renowned Nicholas Hawksmoor, clerk of works for Kensington Palace, but it was extensively modified by Sir John Vanbrugh. The building also contains carvings by Grinling Gibbons. For more, see www.orangerykensingtonpalace.co.uk. PICTURE: Vapor Kopeny/Unsplash
We’re nearing the end of our series on Wren’s London (next week we’ll take a final look at some of the Wren designs we’ve not yet mentioned), so this week we look at one of his lesser known (and less accessible) designs – Marlborough House.
Tucked away behind high brick walls next to St James’ Palace just off Pall Mall, Marlborough House was built for Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough – a confidant of Queen Anne – and completed in 1711.
The duchess, who secured a lease of the site from Queen Anne, selected Sir Christopher as the architect in preference to Sir John Vanbrugh, but she later fell out with Wren and, after dismissing him, oversaw the completion of the building herself. It is believed that the design of the house was actually the work of Wren’s son, also named Christopher, although the plans were undoubtedly drawn up under Wren senior’s watchful eye.
The house, built of red Dutch bricks brought to England as ballast in troop transports, was noted for its plain design. But the walls of the central salon and staircases were decorated with scenes of battles the Duke had fought in.
The property remained in the hands of the Dukes of Marlborough until it was acquired by the Crown in 1817. The building – which was substantially extended in the mid 1800s to the designs of Sir James Pennethorne – was subsequently used by members of the royal family including Princess Charlotte (only daughter of the future King George IV) and her husband Prince Leopold (later the King of the Belgians), Queen Adelaide, widow of William IV, Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), George, Prince of Wales (later George V), King Edward VII’s widow, Queen Alexandra, and, lastly, Queen Mary, widow of George V.
Following the death of the Queen Dowager in 1953, Queen Elizabeth II donated it for use by the Commonwealth Secretariat who still occupy the building today.
WHERE: Pall Mall (nearest Tube stations are Green Park and Piccadilly); WHEN: Two hour tours are usually held every Tuesday morning (check first); WEBSITE: www.thecommonwealth.org/Internal/191086/34467/marlborough_house/
Hunkering down on the south bank of the Thames, the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich is yet another Wren masterpiece and the centrepiece of the UNESCO-listed Greenwich Maritime World Heritage Site.
What is now known as the college was originally designed as a ‘hospital’ or retirement home for old or infirm sailors. Established by Royal Charter in 1694, it was King William III who pushed the project into fruition as per the wishes of his then late wife Queen Mary II.
Wren was selected to design the building and along with the diarist John Evelyn, who had been appointed treasurer, laid the foundation stone on 30th June, 1696.
Wren’s initial design – for a three side courtyard facing the river – was rejected by Queen Mary who insisted the view from the existing Queen’s House to the river be maintained. So, instead, the hospital was built as a series of four pavilions, each with its own court, with the Queen’s House standing as it’s centrepiece when viewed from the river.
Wren himself never lived to see the building’s completion – it was in the end completed by a number of other famous architects including Sir John Vanbrugh, Thomas Ripley, and Wren’s pupil Nicholas Hawksmoor. Fortunately Wren had laid out all the foundations which ensured the basic design conformed to his plans.
The first 42 pensioners moved in in 1706 and the numbers grew as buildings were completed to a peak of 2,710 in 1814. However, declining numbers of pensioners by the mid 1800s – thanks to a period of peace on the seas and the success of a program which saw more pensioners living with their families, eventually led to the hospital’s closure in 1860.
In 1873, the Royal Naval College took over the premises, assuming the role of both the former Naval College at Portsmouth and the School or Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering which had been based in South Kensington. The Naval Staff College opened on the site in 1919 and further navy departments including the Department of Nuclear Science and Technology moved there in later years. The Royal Navy left the college in 1998.
Now in the care of the Greenwich Foundation, the college is now used by the University of Greenwich and the Trinity College of Music as well as for public events. The public can also visit certain parts of the former college including the grounds, the spectacular Painted Hall and the Chapel.
The domed Painted Hall, which features a series of classically themed paintings with King William III and Queen Mary II at its heart, was originally planned by Wren to be the hospital’s dining hall but due to the length of time it took for Sir James Thornhill to complete – 19 years – his paintings it was never used as such. Instead it stood empty until the body of Admiral Lord Nelson was brought there to lie in state in January 1806. In 1824 it became the National Gallery of Naval Art but in the 1930s became a dining room again with the gallery’s contents transferred to the National Maritime Museum.
The Chapel of St Peter and St Paul, meanwhile was completed in 1751 to the design of Sir Thomas Ripley but was gutted by fire only 28 years later. It was then rebuilt, largely to the designs of James “Athenian” Stuart with some of the detailing designed by his Clerk of Works William Newton, and was reopened in 1789. Restored in the 1950s, it is said to look “almost as it was” when it opened in 1789. The chapel is still in use for services.
WHERE: Located adjacent to Greenwich Pier with entry from Cutty Sark Gardens, College Approach, Romney Road Gate, Royal Gate or Park Row, Greenwich (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich); WHEN: The Painted Hall and Chapel are open daily from 10am to 5pm (chapel used for worship on Sunday mornings, open for sightseeing from 12.30pm); COST: Free (Booked guided tours are available for £5 an adult/children under 16 free); WEBSITE: www.oldroyalnavalcollege.org