Duke-of-YorkA monument commemorating Prince Frederick, the Duke of York and Albany and commander-in-chief of the British Army during the French Revolutionary wars – the Duke of York Column in St James’s Park – has had a makeover. The monument, which was erected in 1834, is the tallest in the Royal Parks. It features a 124 foot tall column of pink and grey Aberdeen granite designed by Benjamin Wyatt and is topped by a 14 foot tall bronze statue of the duke (thought to be the ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ referred to in the nursery rhyme), designed by Sir Richard Westmacott. The column has been cleaned while the statue, which had developed a green pigment thanks to the oxidation process which also gives the Statue of Liberty its green patina, has been repatinated, rewaxed and buffed. The monument, which cost £100,000 to refurbish, originally cost £15,760 and was funded with a day’s pay from every serving soldier. For more on St James’s Park, check out www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/st-jamess-park. PICTURE: Courtesy of Royal Parks.

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The largest garden square in Bloomsbury (and one of the largest in London), Russell Square was first laid out by Humphry Repton in 1806 and was located on what were the gardens of the home of the Dukes of Bedford, Bedford House.

Duke-of-BedfordIts name is that family name of the 5th Duke of Bedford, Francis Russell, who initially ordered the creation of the square and owned the land upon which it stands. The Russell family still hold the title today – the current duke, the 15th, is Andrew Russell – and still run the Bedford Estates upon which the square still stands.

The square was originally lined with grand terraced homes aimed at the upper middle class – the survivors, which can be found largely on the southern and western side of the square, are these days occupied by offices and the University of London. The eastern side of the square is these days dominated by the French Gothic Hotel Russell – designed by Charles Fitzroy Doll, it was built in 1898.

Famous residents and inhabitants have included TS Eliot, who worked at a building in the square’s north-west corner when he was poetry editor at Faber & Faber, 19th century painter Sir Thomas Lawrence who had a studio at number 67, poet William Cowper, who lived at number 62 in the 1830s as a schoolboy, and George Williams, founder of the YMCA, who lived at number 13 in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It also appears in William Thackeray’s novel, Vanity Fair, and Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day.

The gardens were overhauled in 2002 in view of Repton’s original design and a new ornamental fountain installed in the middle. A cafe was also added.

Russell Square still houses one of London’s 13 extant Cabmen’s Shelters while monuments within the gardens include a small memorial to the 7th July, 2005, bombings – two of which occurred nearby – and a statue of the 5th Duke of Bedford, another which is the work of Sir Richard Westmacott and which was erected in 1807-08 (pictured).

Initially known as Southampton Square, Bloomsbury Square – located just to the east of the British Museum – was first developed in the mid-1660s, making it London’s oldest formal square.

Bloomsbury-SquareIt was the fourth Earl of Southampton, Thomas Wriothesley, who developed the square – his rather grand house, Southampton House, was located on the northern side of the square which initially featured gardens at the centre laid out in a cruciform pattern.

In 1723 – via the marriage of Southampton’s daughter, Lady Rachel Vaughan, to the ill-fated William, son of the 5th Earl of Bedford (he was implicated in the Rye House Plot and beheaded) – it passed to the Dukes of Bedford, becoming part of the Bedford Estates (and with it the earl’s house, later renamed Bedford House). The square took on its new name of Bloomsbury Square around this time.

Initially popular among the well-to-do, it had fallen somewhat from favour by the 19th century and with the 5th Duke preferring to live in the West End, in 1800 Bedford House was auctioned off and demolished. Terraced houses were later built along the now vacant north side of the square.

About 1806, the 5th Duke commissioned Humphry Repton to redesign the square and by the 1820s a garden including trees in the centre and a perimeter shrubbery. The gardens have gone through several makeovers since, including in the 1960s when an underground carpark was built underneath.

Most recently refurbished in 2006-2007 so they once again reflect Repton’s design, the gardens – which have been open to the public since 1950 – also contain a bronze statue of Whig politician (and friend of the Dukes of Bedford) Charles James Fox, which was designed by Sir Richard Westmacott and erected in 1816 (pictured, it was restored in 2006 to mark the bicentenary of Fox’s death).

It remained popular among middle class professionals, however, and among its most notable residents were the writer Isaac D’Israeli, father of the future Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who lived at number six in the early 19th century (his son with him) while architect Sir Edwin Lutyens lived and worked at number 29 for more than 15 years after his marriage in 1897. Literary and artistic figures like Leonard and Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey, who became part of what was known as the ‘Bloomsbury Group’, were also famously known to have lived in the area around the square.

Most of the houses in the square are now used as offices but among the notable buildings there are the former home of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (based in a building partly credited to architect John Nash) and, dating from 1930, Victoria House.

One of the more famous events to have taken place in the square occurred in 1780 during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots when rioters burned down the house of the Lord Chief Justice. Almost 100 years earlier, in 1694, the square was site of a deadly fencing duel between Scottish financier John Law and Edward Wilson. Law killed Wilson, was subsequently convicted of his murder and sentenced to death but escaped by fleeing to the continent. He later become the founder of the Mississippi Company.

With Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square stealing much of the limelight, the Duke of York’s Column in Waterloo Place tends to get overlooked. So we thought it was time we took a more in-depth look at its history.

The monument is dedicated to Prince Frederick (1763-1827), the second son of King George III and commander-in-chief of the British Army during wars which were fought between France and European powers including Britain between 1792 and 1802.

The Duke was not a successful military commander on the field – his one outing in Flanders was a disaster and is said to have resulted in him being immortalised in the song, The Grand Old Duke of York – but he is celebrated for reforming the army after his return to England.

The almost 42-metre high monument  features a larger-than-life bronze statue of the Duke dressed in the robes of the Knights of the Garter – the work of Sir Richard Westmacott – standing on the top of a granite column and gazing down a series of steps and over The Mall towards St James’s Park.

The overall monument was designed by Benjamin Dean Wyatt. His design was selected by a committee from among other submissions and erected between 1830-33. While the Duke was an inveterate gambler and died deeply in debt, the British Army is said to have voted to forgo a day’s pay to fork out the £25,000 required to build the commemorative monument. It was said in jest that the height of the monument allowed the Duke to escape his creditors.

Interestingly, the hollow column contains a spiral staircase which originally gave access to a viewing platform at the top. Access was apparently prohibited after a spate of suicides.

Looking for more on statues and monuments around London – why not check out Peter Matthews’ London’s Statues and Monuments?

Originally installed as a grand entrance to Buckingham Palace, John Nash’s arch was moved to its current location, what is now effectively a traffic island not far from Speaker’s Corner in nearby Hyde Park, in 1851.

The story goes that this took place after it was discovered that the arch was too narrow for the widest of the new-fangled coaches but there are some doubts over this, particularly as the gold state coach passed under it during Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1952. Another story says that it was moved after extensions to Buckingham Palace left insufficient space for it.

Work on the arch had started at Buckingham Palace in the mid 1820s and it was completed by 1833. It was originally moved to replace Cumberland Gate as the new entrance to Hyde Park and to complement Decimus Burton’s arch at Hyde Park Corner. Successive roadworks in the 20th century, however, left it in its current position.

Clad in Carrara marble, the design of the arch was inspired by Rome’s Arch of Constantine and the Arc do Carrousel in Paris. The sculptural ornamentation, which includes works by Sir Richard Westmacott and Edward Hodges Baily, however, was apparently never completed and an equestrian statue of King George IV, originally destined for the top of the arch, instead now stands in Trafalgar Square. The bronze gates – which bear the lion of England, cypher of King George IV and image of St George and the Dragon – were designed by Samuel Parker.

Only senior members of the Royal family and the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery are permitted to pass under the central arch of the monumental structure.

The arch stands close to where the Tyburn Tree once stood (for more on this, see our earlier post). It contains three small rooms which, up until the 1950s housed what has been described as “one of the smallest police stations in the world”.

There was some talk in 2005 that the arch would be moved to Speaker’s Corner but this obviously hasn’t eventuated.