Exploring London’s 10 most popular posts for 2011 – Numbers 6 and 5…

The countdown of our 10 most popular posts for 2011 continues with numbers six and five…

6. The Royal Wedding – A view from The Mall: Another Royal Wedding entry, this post from April was all about the glamour and excitement of the day itself as we joined the crowds lining The Mall;

5. Treasures of London – The Whispering Gallery, St Paul’s Cathedral: One of London’s star sights, the Whispering Gallery at St Paul’s has long held a fascination for visitors and Londoners alike.

The Royal Parks – 7. Richmond Park

Covering almost 1,000 hectares, Richmond Park, located by the Thames in the city’s south-west, is the largest of the Royal Parks. We have talked about some of Richmond Park’s history in an earlier post, but here we’ll give a little more detail.

The park’s association with royalty goes back at least to the time of Edward I, who ruled in the late 13th and early 14th century, when it was part of the Manor of Sheen.

It was King Henry VIII who renamed the manor Richmond (after one he possessed in Yorkshire) but it was King Charles I to whom the park owes its existence as we know it.

Charles, who had brought the court to Richmond in 1625 to escape the plague, enclosed the park – then farmland and pastures – in 1637 with eight miles of walls (these still remain, albeit having been repaired) and kept 2,000 red and fallow deer inside. The move didn’t met with universal approval from his subjects but he did pay compensation and eventually give people a right of way and allow them to collect firewood after complaints.

Features within the park – which still contains 650 Red and fallow deer (don’t get too close!) – include King Henry’s mound which features a protected, although tiny, view of St Paul’s Cathedral in the city 12 miles distant – it’s said by some that it was here where King Henry VIII watched for fireworks to be set off at the Tower of London indicating Anne Boleyn had been beheaded although the truth of that remains lost to history (others say it was here he watched hunting parties in the park – perhaps more likely).

The park is also home to White Lodge – it was a hunting lodge built for King George I and is now The Royal Ballet Lower School (complete with ballet museum) – and Pembroke Lodge – this house with stunning views overlooking the Thames Valley, now a restaurant, was once home to Prime Minister Lord John Russell and later the childhood home of his grandson, Nobel Prize-winning philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell.

More recently created is the Isabella Plantation – a woodland garden created largely in the 1950s by George Thomson , then park superintendent, his head gardener, Wally Milleron, an area once known as The Sleyt or Isabella Slade. The garden is well worth a visit at any time of year, having been specifically designed to be interesting all year round.

Richmond Park also features a lake divided in two by a causeway – as so known as Pen Ponds – which was dug in 1746 and remains a good place to see waterbirds.

WHERE: The park is located south of the Thames-side village of Richmond (nearest tube is Richmond). WHEN: 7am in summer (7.30am in winter) to dusk; COST: Free to enter; WEBSITE:www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond_park/

What’s in a name?…Covent Garden

Now a favored place for people-watching among Londoners and visitors alike, Covent Garden takes its name from the ‘Convent Garden’ which occupied the site in medieval times.

The ‘convent garden’, said to be a 40 acre kitchen garden, belonged to the Abbey or ‘Convent’ of St Peter in Westminster (Westminster Abbey was once the church of this religious foundation) which owned the site from the 13th century until 1548 when the land passed into control of King Henry VIII during the Great Dissolution.

He granted much of the land to John Russell, the 1st earl of Bedford, and it was the 4th earl, Francis Russell, who commissioned Inigo Jones to design a great public square. The new square featured grand houses along the northern and eastern sides and a church – St Paul’s (pictured right) – on the west while to the south, between the square and the Strand, stood the mansion of the Bedford family.

A fruit and vegetable market was licensed in 1670 but its growth – and the development of other squares offering a much greater level of privacy – led the wealthy who had originally occupied the houses to move elsewhere. The market, meanwhile, continued to grow and in the 1830s, the main market building which still stands there today was constructed.

Further buildings followed in the 1800s and the market continued to occupy the site until as recently as 1973 when it was finally moved out to Nine Elms and the area began a transformation into the shopping precinct it now is.

Around London – Imperial War Museum’s WWI revamp; St Paul’s Christmas broadcasts; House Mill to be restored; Henry III’s rolls online; and, Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park

The Imperial War Museum has unveiled plans for a major rebuilding project at its Lambeth headquarters to culminate with the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I in 2014. Under a £71 million proposal, the size of the existing World War I galleries will be doubled and a new atrium will be created with further works – including a new sunken entrance – to be completed by 2019. The museum moved to its Lambeth location, formerly the Bethlem Royal Hospital, in 1936. Prince William is fronting the first £29 million appeal for funds. Meanwhile plans have reportedly been mooted to have the decommissioned aircraft carrier, the HMS Ark Royal, brought to London where it would be permanently moored in the Thames as a tourist attraction akin to the HMS Belfast.

St Paul’s Cathedral has announced it will provide live outdoor broadcasts of its three most popular Christmas services for the first time to allow those who can fit in the cathedral to participate. A 25 metre screen will be set up in Paternoster Square, next to the cathedral, where ‘A Celebration of Christmas’ will be screen on 16th December at 6.30pm along with Christmas Carol services on the 23rd and 24th December at 4pm. See www.stpauls.co.uk.

An historic 18th century mill in East London will undergo restoration after the granting of a £248,000 lottery grant. House Mill, which dates from 1776, is believed to be the largest tidal mill still in existence anywhere in the world. Built across the River Lea, the mill was used for flour-making and for a distillery located next door on Three Mills Island in Bow. The project, which is being managed by the River Lea Tidal Mill Trust, involves the restoration of the mill as well as the adjoining Miller’s House and the creation of a visitor’s centre. The trust says it has also been given the “green light” for a further £2.65 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant. See http://housemill.org.uk.

A three year project has made documents drawn up for King Henry III in the 13th century available on the internet for the first time. Project partners Canterbury Christ Church University, King’s College London, and the National Archives in Kew have translated and digitised the king’s ‘fine rolls’, written to record money and favours owed to the king. The rolls consist of 56 parchments – one for each year of his reign which started in 1216 and ended in 1272 – and contain as many as 40,000 entries amounting to some two million words. Some of the parchments, the originals of which are held at the National Archives, measure up to three metres in length. See www.finerollshenry3.org.uk.

On now: Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. Christmas festivity on a vast scale, Winter Wonderland includes the city’s largest open air ice rink, circus acts, a giant observation wheel, rides and eating places including the igloo-style E:Cube and the Spiegel Saloon. For more information see www.hydeparkwinterwonderland.com.

LondonLife – One New Change

London’s newest shopping mall (and the first to open in the City for 130 years), One New Change, has opened up some interesting new views of the city, in particular of St Paul’s Cathedral which stands opposite. The views including those seen from the 6th floor public rooftop terrace which was opened last week. Located in Cheapside (‘cheap’ meaning market), the more than £500 million development was designed by Pritzker Prize winning French architect Jean Nouvel. For more information, see www.onenewchange.com.

Around London – Lord Mayor’s Show tomorrow; Book of the Dead at British Museum; and Evolving English at the British Library

The Lord Mayor’s Show is tomorrow. The world’s oldest civic procession, it’s been held for 795 years (the last time it was interrupted was due to the Duke of Wellington’s funeral) and commemorates the day when the newly elected Mayor had to make the journey from the City to Westminster to declare his allegiance to the monarch. This year’s Lord Mayor of the City of London – the City’s 683rd – is Alderman Michael Bear (not to be confused with the Mayor of London Boris Johnson). The procession kicks off at 11am and travels from Mansion House to St Paul’s Cathedral, where the Lord Mayor, who formally took office yesterday in a silent ceremony held at Guildhall, is blessed. The procession then moves on to the Royal Courts of Justice where the Lord Mayor swears an oath of allegiance before returning to Mansion House via Victoria Embankment. This year the procession will involve from than 6,000 people from livery companies, military units, marching bands, local schools and businesses and community groups as well as 200 vehicles, 21 carriages – including, of course, the Lord Mayor’s State Coach – and 71 floats. Don’t forget to hang around for the fireworks. For more about the event – where to stand and what you’ll be seeing, see www.lordmayorsshow.org.

PICTURE: Alderman Michael Bear on the occasion of his election as the 683rd Lord Mayor of London. Courtesy Lord Mayor’s Show.

•  Now On: The British Museum exhibition, Journey through the afterlife: ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, was launched last week. The exhibition centres on the museum’s collection of Book of the Dead papyri, many of which have never before been put on display to the public. They include the Greenfield Papyrus, which at 37 metres long is the longest Book of the Dead in the world and has never been displayed in its entirity before. The display also features famous paintings from the papyri of Ani and Hunefer and an array of painted coffins, gilded masks, amulets, jewellery, tomb figurines and mummy trappings. Runs until 6th March. For more information, including admission prices, see www.britishmuseum.org.

• Now On: A new exhibition exploring the development of the English language opens today at the British Library. Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices looks at how the language has evolved from Anglo-Saxon runes to modern day rap and where it’s headed next. Highlights of the exhibition include the first book printed in English, Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye (printed by William Caxton), a 1611 King James Bible, Poor Letter H – a pamphlet dating from 1854 explaining why pronouncing your h’s correctly is important to climbing the social ladder, and the earliest surviving copy of Beowulf. On until April 3rd. Admission is free. For more information, see www.bl.uk.

Famous Londoners – Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington

Best known for his defeat of Napeleon at the Battle of Waterloo, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, was not a native Londoner. But his involvement in the military and politics meant he went on to have a significant impact on the city.

Wellesley (whose surname was actually Wesley until his family changed it in 1798) was born in Ireland in early May, 1769, and, following his schooling – including time spent at Eton and in France, he entered the British Army as an ensign in 1787, subsequently serving as an aide-de-camp to two Lords Lieutenant of Ireland. While in Ireland, he was also elected an MP in the Irish Parliament.

His military career took him to the Netherlands and then India, where he was later appointed Governor of Seringapatam and Mysore.

Returning to Europe, Wellesley took a leave of absence from the army and, having been knighted, again entered politics becoming the Tory MP for Rye in 1806, then MP for Newport on the Isle of Wight before being appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland.

He left these tasks to fight in the Napoleonic Wars – most notably in the Peninsular War where he led the allied armies to victory at the 1813 Battle of Vitoria (and was subsequently promoted to the rank of field marshal).

Following Napoleon’s exile, Wellington was created the Duke of Wellington. He served briefly as ambassador to France before Napoleon’s return in 1815. It was for his subsequent role at the Battle of Waterloo, in which Napoleon was finally and totally defeated, that Wellington is mostly remembered now.

Entering politics after his return to England in 1819, he was named Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in 1827 and was twice elected Prime Minister, from 1828-30 and again in 1834, before his death in 1852 after which he received a state funeral.

It’s not hard to find reference to the duke in today’s London and countless pubs testify to his one-time popularity.

He purchased his most famous residence, Apsley House (which attracted the nickname of Number 1 London, thanks to it being the first house one encountered in London after passing through the toll gate) in 1817. Indeed, it was the installation of iron shutters at this property – a measure taken to prevent a mob demanding electoral reform from destroying it – that led to him being given the nickname, the “Iron Duke”.

These days Apsley House is managed by English Heritage and contains the Duke’s collection of artworks and furnishings.

Opposite Apsley House, close to Hyde Park Corner, stands an equestrian statue of Wellington and behind it Wellington Arch, which dates from between 1826-30, and originally stood parallel to the Hyde Park Screen. In 1846, a vast statue of the Duke was mounted on top of the arch but this was replaced with a sculpture of Peace in her Quadriga when the arch was relocated to its present site in 1882 due to a need to widen the road. There are great views from the top.

At Hyde Park Corner, close to Park Lane, stands another memorial to Wellington, this time a massive statue of the Greek hero Achilles. It was put there in 1822 (and incidentally sparked considerable controversy – it was London’s first nude public sculpture in centuries and despite the careful placing of a fig leaf, didn’t please everybody).

Wellington was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral and his huge block-like tomb in the crypt is given a level of prominence only equaled by that of Admiral Nelson.

The National Portrait Gallery this week launches an exhibition, Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance, which features the Duke’s favorite painting of himself (not the one above). The painting, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, hasn’t been on public exhibition for 60 years. From 21st October.

PICTURES: Image of the Duke of Wellington is by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1814). Source: Wikipedia.

Wren’s London – 1. St Paul’s Cathedral

In a new special, we’re taking a look at some of the key sites London landmarks designed by renowned 17th century architect Sir Christopher Wren. To kick it off, we’re taking a look at the building for which he is most known, St Paul’s Cathedral.

Wren’s involvement with the current St Paul’s came after the Great Fire of London in 1666 left the old medieval cathedral in ruins (there is believed to have been four previous cathedrals built on the site with the first dating from around the early 600s). He had already been involved in repairing the old cathedral and had even submitted plans for a new domed cathedral on the site when the Great Fire swept through the city.

Wren had already been appointed Surveyor to the King’s Works when, in 1668, he was asked to submit plans for the a new cathedral. After his first few designs were rejected and abandoned, Wren’s plans, albeit substantially altered, were finally approved and the first stone laid in 1677.

The design was ambitious and the church now features what is the second biggest dome in the world after that of St Peter’s in Rome as well as a monumental west-facing facade complete with two towers (the final form of the western facade wasn’t settled until 1707 and both of the towers were originally designed to hold clocks. In the end only the right tower did.)

Building took more than 30 years and it wasn’t until 1710 that the new cathedral was officially declared completed. Interior features include the Whispering Gallery (located 30 metres above the floor below the central dome, it gets its name from the fact that a person whispering into the wall can be heard across the dome by someone who puts their ear to the wall), choir stalls which feature the work of renowned woodcarver Grinling Gibbons, and poet/preacher John Donne’s memorial from 1631, the only pre-Great Fire monument to survive intact. There are spectacular views over London from the Stone Gallery or the highest point of public access, the Golden Gallery.

Since its opening, St Paul’s has hosted the burials of numerous of Britain’s luminaries – the tombs of Admiral Horatio Nelson and the Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, are both in the crypt as are those of 18th century painter Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered penicillin along with a host of memorials. Others events hosted at the cathedral include Winston Churchill’s funeral and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981.

Wren, who died in 1723, was the first person to be interred in the crypt. His tomb bears an inscription in Latin which says: “Reader, if you seek a monument, look around you.”

WHERE: Ludgate Hill. Nearest tube is St Paul’s; WHEN: Monday to Saturdays, 8.30am to 4pm. COST: £12.50 adults/£11.50 seniors/£9.50 students/£4.50 children (aged 6-16)/£29.50 family; WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk

Marking 70 years since the Blitz began…

Today – 7th September – marks 70 years since the start of the Blitz when, between 7th September 1940 and 10th May 1941, more than 43,000 civilians were killed, at least 140,000 injured and an estimated million homes across the UK suffered damage or destruction as a result of air raids.

London, which suffered 57 consecutive nights of attacks starting on 7th September, features numerous memorials relating to World War II including the National Firefighters Memorial located on the Jubilee Walkway, just south of St Paul’s in the City. It depicts firefighters in action during the Blitz and serves as a tribute to those who fought against the fires caused by the raids as well as commemorating the lives of all firefighters who have died while on active duty. For more on the memorial, see www.firefightersmemorial.co.uk.

For a series of interesting reconstructed photos showing the difference between London during the Blitz and now, visit Sky News here. Or for more on the history of the Blitz, see the dedicated BBC website here. And for a terrific graphic showing fire brigade callouts in London on the first day of the Blitz, see The Guardian’s datablog.

Meanwhile, the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden has today opened a new exhibition, Under Attack, which explores the role public transport played during World War II in three cities – London and Coventry – both of which are marking 70 years since the start of the Blitz, and Dresden in Germany which is marking the 65th anniversary of the Dresden Firestorm. The exhibition, developed in conjunction with Coventry Transport Museum and the Verkehrsmuseum Dresden, runs until 31st March next year. For more details, visit www.ltmuseum.co.uk.

Around London…

London’s bicycle hire scheme is up and running. The scheme was launched at the end of July and boasts 5,000 bikes which can be found at 315 docking stations. More than 21,000 people signed up in the first weeks and some of the early popular hire sites included Soho Square, Drury Lane in Covent Garden and Wardour Street. The bikes are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Members of the scheme must be 18 years old and you must be at least 14 years old to ride the bikes. A membership key costs £3 while the membership itself costs at £1 for a 24-hour membership, £5 for seven days and £45 for an annual membership. The first 30 minutes of any journey is then free (with fees applicable after that). As the bikes don’t come with a lock, it’s expected people will simply make a journey to another docking station before getting off. For more information on the Barclay’s Cycle Hire scheme, see Transport for London’s website at www.tfl.gov.uk. Meanwhile, in other transport news, the first air-conditioned Tube train is now in active service on the Metropolitan Line.

A cafe has been opened at Buckingham Palace, 173 years after Queen Victoria first moved in following her accession to the throne. Located on the West Terrace overlooking the lawn and lake, the Garden Café is open during visiting hours. The Palace’s State Rooms, meanwhile, are open to the public until 1st October. The palace this year hosts The Queen’s Year exhibition which features displays of ceremonial robes, gifts, uniforms, dresses and jewellery, as well as archive photography and film in an illustration of the monarch’s work throughout the year at everything from the State Opening of Parliament to the Garter Day ceremony at Windsor Castle and investitures, garden parties and State Visits. Entry to the State Rooms – which comprise just 19 of the palace’s 775 rooms – is £17.00 an adult, £15.50 concessions, £9.75 for under 17s and under fives are free. Family tickets are £45 and combined tickets – including the Royal Mews and the Queen’s Gallery – are also available. www.royalcollection.org.uk/default.asp?action=article&ID=30. For more on the special exhibition, see www.royalcollection.org.uk/microsites/thequeensyear/

The Tower of London was the most visited royal site in Britain last year, attracting 2.4 million tourists, according to a report from VisitBritain. The tourism agency found that while overseas tourists spent some £4.6 billion while in the UK last year, more than £500 million was spent on tourism associated with the Royal Family. The top 10 most visited sites included several royal attractions – Edinburgh Castle came in at number six with 1.2 million visitors, Windsor Castle at number seven with 987,000 and Buckingham Palace at number 11 with 402,000. Other top London sites included the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (#2 – 2.4 million), the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington (#3 – 2.3 million), St Paul’s Cathedral (#4 – 1.8 million), Westminster Abbey (#5 – 1.4 million) and Hampton Court Palace (#9 – 541,646).

Around London…

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Ham House in south west London. Located on the south bank of the Thames, between Richmond and Kingston, the property was built for Sir James Vavasour, Knight Marshall to James I with later owners including William Murray, the ‘whipping boy’ of Charles I (that is, the boy who took Charles’ punishment if he was naughty – let’s hope they got on well!), and his daughter, Elizabeth, Countess of Dysart. To find out more about the property, now under the care of the National Trust, and how they’re celebrating the 400th anniversary, see http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-hamhouse.

The former treasury in  the crypt beneath St Paul’s is hosting a new exhibition – Oculus: An Eye Into St Paul’s – which aims to bring 1400 years of the history of the church and surrounding streets of London to life through a 270 degree film experience. The film takes visitors from the streets of Saxon London in 604 AD when the first cathedral was constructed on the site to the its destruction in the Great Fire in 1666 and the days of the Blitz in World War II when it stood as a symbol of English defiance. The exhibition also opens up access of areas of the cathedral to the less mobile – with virtual tours of the dome including the Whispering Gallery and the view from the Golden Gallery. See www.stpauls.co.uk.

The Monument has won the City of London’s City Heritage Award for 2010. The city has recently spent £4.5 million in a restoration project which included a new balustrade on the viewing platform of the memorial to the Great Fire of 1666, regilding the flaming orb, and the installation of a real-time feed of the panoramic views from the top to web with updates every minute. See www.themonument.info.

10 sites in London you may not know about – 5. Richmond Park

OK, something this big can’t exactly be a secret but due to the fact it lies well out of the city centre, the vast expanse of Richmond Park in the city’s outer south-west, not far from the Thames, can get overlooked.

At almost 1,000 hectares, Richmond Park is the largest open space in the city and is home to some 650 Red and Fallow deer who roam about at will.

While the park’s royal connections go back to Edward I (1272-1307) when the area was known as the Manor of Sheen, a name which was changed to Richmond during the reign of Henry VII (1485-1509), it wasn’t until 1637 that Charles I decided to enclose the land with walls that remain to this day.

Deer aside, the park is also home to Pembroke Lodge which in 1847 became the home of then Prime Minister Lord John Russell (and is now a restaurant). The park’s features include King Henry’s Mound – which boasts great views on a clear day including that of St Paul’s Cathedral (12 miles away) – and the Isabella Plantation – an ornamental woodland garden.

WHERE: The park is located south of the Thames-side village of Richmond. Nearest tube is Richmond.  WHEN: 7am in summer to dusk; COST: Free to enter; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond_park/

Image: Courtesy of Royal Parks. © Giles Barnard

The Tip – Free online guides to walking in South Bank

The first in a regular section of tips to make the most out of your time in London…

South Bank Walks. Five free online walking guides, each of which comes with maps and detailed descriptions of points of interest along the way, are available on the South Bank Walks website, created by the South Bank Employers’ Group . The walks take in more that just South Bank – one starts in Soho and finishes in South Bank; another starts at St Paul’s and ends up at Borough Market – and include a guide specifically designed for young people. The website also has a terrific building and street search feature. www.southbankwalks.com