Christmas is looming and that means Christmas themed events are kicking off all over the city. Here’s a sample of what’s happening:

The world famous Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree will be lit next Thursday – 7th December – in an event that kicks off at 6pm. The 25 metre high tree is an annual gift from the people of Norway as a thank you for Britain’s support during World War II. Christmas carols will kick off in the square on 11th December while the Mayor’s Christmas Carol Service will be held in Southwark Cathedral on 18th December. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/events.

Sounds Like Christmas at the V&A. A month long musical celebration across the museum’s South Kensington and Museum of Childhood sites, it features choirs, candlelit concerts, pop-up performances, film screenings, decoration-making workshops, and special installations of objects relating to the music of Christmas, as well as, at the grand entrance to the South Kensington site, ‘The Singing Tree’ (pictured). A project conceived by leading stage designer Es Devlin, the tree features digital word projections that create a poem and comes with a layered polyphonic soundscape of human and machine-generated voices. The season runs until 6th January. For the full programme, see www.vam.ac.uk/Christmas. PICTURE: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Greenwich Winter Time Festival. The inaugural festival, set in the grounds of the World Heritage-listed Old Royal Naval College, kicks off in December and features an alternative to the traditional seasonal market as well as a covered ice rink, entertainment including live music, theatre and children’s shows, and an “authentic” Father Christmas experience. Admission charge applies. Runs until 31st December. For more, see www.ornc.org.

Christmas at the Historic Royal Palaces. As well as its ice rink, Hampton Court Palace is hosting the BBC Good Food’s Festive Feast and a Christmas Music Weekend while at the Tower of London, visitors can once again skate in the dry moat, join in medieval Christmas festivities and enjoy a treat for their ears with the Noel Noel concert in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. Kensington Palace, meanwhile, is hosting Christmas festivities under a Victorian theme with a 25 foot tall Christmas tree, a display of illuminated Victorian scenes, live music performances and family friendly events including ‘Under the Christmas Tree’, ‘Funtastic Sunday’, and ‘Tasty Talks’. Check website for dates – admission prices apply. See www.hrp.org.uk for more.

Meanwhile, the final release of New Year’s Eve tickets goes on sale tomorrow (Friday) from noon. People can buy up to four tickets, priced at £10 each to be among the 100,000 spectators lining the banks of the River Thames. Those without a ticket can still watch it live on BBC One. Head to www.london.gov.uk/nye for tickets.

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Commonly known as Beefeaters (more on that in a moment), the Yeoman Warders have long been a presence at the Tower of London.

The Yeomen Warders, more properly known as the ‘Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Queen’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary’, are a distinct detachment of the Yeomen of the Guard.

With a history stretching back to at least the reign of King Edward IV (1461-83), they have formed the Royal Bodyguard since at least 1509.

The Warders are nicknamed ‘Beefeaters’, it is thought, due to the fact their privileged position meant they could eat as much beef as they liked from the King’s table.

These days, Yeoman Warders, most of whom live in the Tower with their families (part of their job has always been to guard the Tower at night), must have served in the armed forces for at least 22 years, have reached the rank of warrant officer, and been awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (the current warders have served in Northern Ireland, during the Falklands War, in Bosnia, in the first and second Gulf conflicts and in Afghanistan).

There are usually around 40 Yeoman Warders at any one time under the command of four Yeoman Serjeants and a Chief Yeoman Warder (currently Alan Kingshott). They wear age dark blue and red undress uniform for everyday duties but also have a state dress uniform featuring the familiar heavy red coat (pictured above).

The first female to be appointed to the role of Yeoman Warder was Moira Cameron in 2007. The most recent person to join the Yeoman Warders is Gary Burridge who did so in August following 32 years in the Royal Navy.

One of the Yeoman Warders – currently Chris Skaife – serves in the role of Ravenmaster of the Tower of London and has the responsibility of caring for the tower’s famous ravens (important because, so they story goes, should the ravens ever leave the tower, the White Tower will fall and disaster will befall the kingdom). Other specialist roles include that of Yeoman Clerk.

Upon joining the Yeoman Warders, the new warders take an oath of allegiance (believed to date back to 1337) after which they drink a toast of port served in an 18th century pewter bowl.

Tradition holds that the Chief Yeoman Warder toasts all new recruits with the words “May you never die a Yeoman Warder”. The origins of this apparently lie in the fact that the positions of Yeoman Warder were in the past purchased from the Constable of the Tower for 250 guineas with most of the money returned to the warder when they retired and the Constable keeping the rest. But if the Yeoman Warder died in office, the Constable would keep all the money – hence the toast. The practice was apparently abolished by the Duke of Wellington in 1826.

Yeoman Warders, as well as participating in ceremonial duties like the daily Ceremony of the Keys and the annual Ceremony of the Constable’s Dues, they also take tours of the Tower of London.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube is Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm Tuesday to Saturday/10am to 4.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £21.50 adult/£9.70 child (Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/

PICTURE: Yeoman Warders at the Ceremony of the Constable’s Dues, 2014 (Peter Rowley/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

The Tower of London’s dry moat will be transformed into a 15th century medieval court gathered to welcome a new Queen, Margaret of Anjou, for the May bank holiday this long weekend. The world of 1445 is being reimagined in a series of festivities – under the banner of Go Medieval at the Tower – which will include sword-fighting knights, hands-on experiences for kids such as the chance to fire a real crossbow, the “scents, sights and sounds” of a medieval encampment, and the chance to witness trades such as armoury and coin-striking. As well as, of course, opportunities to meet King Henry VI and his 15-year-old queen, Margaret who, upon her coronation, was honoured with a lavish pageant from Westminster Abbey to the Tower in which she received extravagant gifts including a lion. Runs from 10am to 5pm from Saturday to Monday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces.

Working Londoners from the past 500 years are the subject of an open air exhibition opening in Guildhall Yard on Saturday. Londoners: Portraits of a Working City, 1447 to 1980 features a range of photographs, prints and drawings – many displayed for the first time – from the London Metropolitan Archives. The exhibition – which includes images of Jack Black of Battersea, Queen Victoria’s rat-catcher, and Charles Rouse, believed to be the last nightwatchman in 19th century London as well as pictures of Savoy Hotel page boys, a brick dust seller, a farrier in 1980s Deptford and a 15th century Lord Mayor – complements The Londoners exhibition currently running at the LMA in Clerkenwell which features 50 portraits not included in the Guildhall display. The free outdoor exhibition can be seen into 23rd May – for more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/thelondoners. The Clerkenwell display can be seen until 5th July – for more, follow this link.

The life of the butler will be up for examination at Apsley House, home of the Duke of Wellington, this long weekend in an event which will also see the duke’s Prussian Dinner Service laid out in all its glory. Butlers and Banquets will feature talks about the history of the service – commissioned by King Frederick William III of Prussia and presented as a gift to the 1st Duke of Wellington after his victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 – with younger visitors also having the chance to meet the butler of the house and find out what running a grand home like Apsley House was like as well as learning skills such as how to lay a table. Runs between 11am and 4pm from Saturday to Monday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/apsley.

A new exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution opens at the British Library in King’s Cross on Friday. Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths tells how the revolution unfolded during the reign of the last tsar, exploring the growth of the revolutionary movements with a special focus on key figures such as Tsar Nicholas II and revolutionary leaders such as Vladimir Lenin. Among the items on display is a letter Lenin wrote in April, 1902, applying to become a reader at the British Museum Library which he signed with his pseudonym, Jacob Richter, to evade the tsarist police. Other items on display include a souvenir album of the Tsar’s coronation and wallpaper hand-painted by women factory workers propaganda along with posters, letters, photographs, banners, weapons, uniform items, recordings and films. Runs until 29th August. Admission charge applies. For more, follow this link.

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tower-of-londonA new “family friendly” permanent exhibition, Armoury in Action, opens today on the top floor of the White Tower at the Tower of London. The display, presented by Royal Armouries and Historic Royal Palaces, brings to life 1,000 years of history in a hands-on experience in which visitors can explore the weapons, skills and people from the Norman through to the Victorian eras. Featured are a master mason who explains the building of the White Tower – constructed on the orders of William the Conqueror, a medieval longbowman who explains the different types of arrows, a Civil War artillery captain who guides visitors through the process of firing a cannon, and a Victorian superintendent of firearms from the Ordnance Office who invites visitors to design their own musket. There’s also the chance to have a go at drawing back a medieval longbow, to dress King Henry VIII in his armour, to fire a half-sized Civil War cannon and sharpen sword skills against cabbages in an immersive interactive installation. The exhibition can be seen as part of a visit to the Tower. Meanwhile the Tower of London ice rink has opened once more in the fortress’ moat while, between 27th and 31st December, King Richard III and Queen Anne Neville are roaming the tower with their court as well as jesters and minstrels. Admission charges apply (ice-skating is separate to tower entry). For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/ or www.toweroflondonicerink.co.uk. PICTURE: HRP. 

Three iconic outfits worn by former PM Margaret Thatcher have gone on show in the fashion galleries at the V&A in South Kensington. The outfits, which were worn by Baroness Thatcher at significant moments in her public and private life, are among six outfits donated to the museum earlier this year by her children. The outfits include a distinctive blue wool Aquascutum suit she wore to the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool in 1987 and again to place her vote in the general election that year, a custom-designed brocade suit and taffeta opera cape with sweeping train designed by Marianne Abrahams for Aquascutum which she wore when delivering the keynote speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet at London’s Guildhall in 1988, and a wool crepe suit in striking fuchsia-pink by Starzewski that she wore to the Women of Achievement reception at Buckingham Palace on 11th March, 2004. There’s also a black slub silk hat with feathers and velvet-flecked tulle designed by Deida Acero, London, that she wore to the funeral of her husband, Sir Denis Thatcher, in 2003. The display is free to visit. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

On Now: Intrigue: James Ensor by Luc Tuymans. The first major exhibition of Belgian artist James Ensor’s work in the UK in 20 years, the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts Sackler Wing of Galleries off Piccadilly features some 70 paintings, drawings and prints by the modernist artist, who lived between 1860 and 1949, and is curated by contemporary Belgian artist Luc Tuymans. The display features three of his most important works – The Intrigue (1890), The Skate (1892) and Self-Portrait with Flowered Hat (1883). Runs until 29th January. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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Bloody-TowerIt was in February, 1616 – 400 years ago this year – that the adventurer and courtier Sir Walter Raleigh (Ralegh) was released from the Tower of London where he had spent the last 13 years of his life. Sadly, his freedom was to be short-lived.

Raleigh had been imprisoned in 1603 by King James I – not his biggest fan – after being accused of plotting against the king and subsequently sentenced to death for treason (a sentence which was then commuted to life imprisonment).

The Tower, where he’d been imprisoned a couple of times before – most notably by Queen Elizabeth I for secretly marrying Bessy Throckmorton, one of her maids-of-honour, was to be his home for the next 13 years.

It was in Bloody Tower (in left of picture) that his rather luxurious ‘cell’ was located. Originally known as the Garden Tower, it was renamed for the tradition that the two ‘Princes in the Tower’, King Edward V and his brother Richard, had been murdered here in 1483.

The tower’s top floor was added specifically to provide more room for his family in 1605-06 (and Raleigh’s son Carew was conceived and born while he was imprisoned here). It was also during this time of imprisonment that he wrote his History of the World (published in 1614).

Raleigh was released in 1616 to lead an expedition to the New World – he’d previously been on a couple of expeditions there including one with his half-brother Sir Humphrey Gilbert aimed at finding the Northwest Passage (but which deteriorated into privateering and led to his brief imprisonment following his return to England), and one aimed at finding the legendary ‘golden land’ of El Dorado (which he failed to do). It was again with the purpose of finding gold that he now returned to the Orinoco River region of South America.

Failure, however, was once more the outcome, and on Raleigh’s return to England, the death sentence issued on 1603 was reimposed (for his failure but also for attacking the Spanish in defiance of the king’s instructions to specifically not do so, although the blame was not all his). He would be executed in Old Palace Yard at Westminster on 29th October, 1618.

London-StoneLittle is known of Jack Cade until the former soldier from Kent led an uprising against the rule of King Henry VI during the Hundred Years War with France. And London was a key site of fighting during the uprising.

Cade, who adopted the name John Mortimer and who some claimed to have been a relative of Richard, Duke of York, was said to have been a veteran of the war who led rebels protesting against the king’s rule amid the general state of disorder affecting England at the time which saw such abuses as lands being illegally seized and a lack of confidence in courts to rule fairly. There was also some discontent over the loss of lands of Normandy.

While many of the rebels were peasants, the rebellion – which rose in late May or early June, 1450 – was also supported by nobles and churchmen who were protesting what they saw as poor governance.

Led by Cade, who also attracted the title ‘Captain of Kent’, were camped on Blackheath in what is now the city’s south-east by mid-June and there apparently presented an embassy from the king with a list of grievances.

Thomas, Lord Scales – authorised by the king to raise troops, subsequently marched out to Blackheath but Cade and his rebels retreated into the forests of Kent and managed to lure the royal troops into an ambush.

Cade and the rebels returned to Blackheath while back in London the Royal soldiers turned mutinous, angered over the defeat. They were disbanded to protect the City and the king retired to Kenilworth Castle, effectively abandoning London to the rebels (despite the offer of the Lord Mayor and aldermen to resist the rebels).

Cade then marched on London itself, reaching Southwark on 2nd July (apparently using the now vanished White Hart Inn as his HQ). He forced his way over London Bridge the next day, cutting the drawbridge ropes personally with his sword to ensure it couldn’t be raised again

Such was the support the rebels had in London, that resistance was initially minimal. Following his entry to London, Cade struck the famous London Stone (pictured above – for more on it, see our earlier post here) with his sword, declaring “Mortimer” was now lord of the city.

While initially under tight control, Cade gradually lost control of many of his followers who turned to looting. Meanwhile, to head off an attack on the Tower of London – where Lord Scales had retreated – he handed over the hated Lord Treasurer, James Fiennes, Lord Saye, and his son-in-law William Crowmer, Under Sheriff of Kent (they had apparently been imprisoned in the Tower by the King for their own protection such as their unpopularity). Both were beheaded – Fiennes at Cheapside, Crowmer at Mile End – and their heads placed on poles on London Bridge.

The king’s supporters in the Tower had regrouped by early July and, with the rebels, while initially welcomed by many, now clearly having outstayed their welcome, they and city militias drove the rebels from the streets and had taken back the northern half of London Bridge (another bloody battle over the bridge) when William of Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, arrived with promises of pardon for the rebels on behalf of the Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, John Kemp.

His forced much reduced, Cade – a pardon in his pocket under Mortimer’s name only – moved back into Kent and continued to cause trouble. He was, however, captured by the new Sheriff of Kent, Alexander Iden, on 12th July, – one version says this took place near Heathfield in Sussex at a hamlet now known as Cade Street. In any event, Cade was mortally wounded during the struggle and died en route to London.

His corpse, however, completed the journey and Cade was hanged, drawn and quartered and his head placed atop a pole on London Bridge.

While the rebel ringleaders were later captured and killed, in the most part King Henry VI honoured the pardons he had granted.

The story of Cade’s rebellion features in William Shakespeare’s play, King Henry the Sixth.

This weekend marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt (25th October, 1415) when King Henry V and his army of English archers overcame the larger French host in what is now northern France during the Hundred Years War.

To mark the occasion, the Royal Armouries have launched a new exhibition at the Tower of London, The Battle of Agincourt: 600th Anniversary Exhibition which tells the story of the battle and its aftermath as well as some of the myths which sprang up in its wake.

Below are some of the “treasures” presented in the exhibition in the White Tower which runs until 31st January. There will also be a programme of associated events running at the Tower from tomorrow until 1st November. For more, see www.royalarmouries.org/agincourt.

King Henry V played a key role in the battle, which came more than two-and-a-half months after he launched an invasion of Normandy. Until Agincourt, the campaign had not gone well – dysentery had taken a considerable toll on his men and his army had only taken one target – the port of Harfleur – when, after crossing the River Somme, the French heralds summoned him to the fight. It was on the morning of the battle – St Crispin’s Day, 25th October – that he gave a short speech to stiffen the resolve of his army which William Shakespeare subsequently embellished in his play Henry V: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”. This painting of the king is by unknown artist, oil on panel, late 16th or early 17th century. PICTURE: © National Portrait Gallery.

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Three scenes from a four metre by two metre model of the battlefield of Agincourt, supported by the Arms and Armour Heritage Trust and constructed by MM Dioramas and Perry Miniatures. The model features 4,000 detailed scale model figures – 2,600 French and 1,750 English, representative of the larger forces each brought the fight (the exhibition puts the number of English 8,500-9,000 and the French at 12,000 although we should note others have claimed the English were outnumbered by as much as three or four to one). In the model, which draws on recent research to accurately bring to life the arms, armour and heraldry of those involved, English archers – who played a critical role in the battle (in fact, the battle is seen as an exemplar of the use of archers in battle) – are shown positioned behind wooden stakes that King Henry V asked them each to carry for protection against the French cavalry, seen charging towards them. The battle, which started in late morning when the English archers provoked the French into attacking, was all over by early afternoon and while it’s not certain how many died, sources are agreed that the French losses were considerably higher than the English. Following the exhibition the model will be going on permanent display at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds. PICTURE © Royal Armouries.

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Lyle Bacinet, north Italian, late 14th century. Rare in terms of its quality, it would have been used mostly by mounted knights. By the late 14th century, men-at-arms would have worn complete plate armour. PICTURE © Royal Armouries.

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An arrowhead typical of the period. These would have been made in ‘sheaves’, bundles of 24 arrows which would have been worn on the archer’s waist. PICTURE © Royal Armouries.

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 An English ‘ballock dagger’, dating from the late 14th – early 15th centuries. A common weapon and characteristic shape of the period. Such weapons may have been carried by archers to finish off the wounded. PICTURE © Royal Armouries.

 

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Shakespeare’s retelling of events in Henry V has kept the story of the famous battle alive down the centuries. In a nod to the important role the Bard has played, the exhibition features a rare First Folio of Shakepeare’s plays as well as tabard (below) worn by Richard Burton in the title role of King Henry V at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1951. It was made of hessian and felt with simulated armour at the shoulders so it would appear to have been worn on the battlefield. PICTURE © Victoria and Albert Museum.

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Other 20th century artefacts related to Agincourt include a film poster for Henry V (1944), a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s play which starred and was directed by Laurence Olivier. PICTURE: © ITV / REX.

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For more information on events surrounding the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, see www.agincourt600.com.

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This year marks the 710th anniversary of the execution of Scottish rebel William Wallace in Smithfield so we thought we’d take a quick look at the circumstances of that event – made famous in recent times through the movie Braveheart.

William-WallaceFor some eight years, Wallace had been a thorn in the side of the King Edward I, promoting active resistance to his rule in Scotland after Edward forced the abdication and usurption of the crown of John Balliol.

Following a crushing defeat at the Battle of Falkirk on 22nd July, 1298, however, Wallace went to France where he attempted to gain French support for rebellion in Scotland but the effort proved ultimately futile and Wallace, back in Britain but refusing to submit to English rule, remained on the run.

At least until he was captured on 5th August, 1305, by Sir John Monteith, who had been made Sheriff of Dumbarton by King Edward I, at Robroyston near Glasgow.

Taken to Carlisle, he was bound hand and foot before being taken south to London in chains.

Wallace’s trial took place on 23rd August that year at Westminster Hall and, despite his protestations that he couldn’t be guilty of treason having never sworn loyalty to the English Crown, a guilty verdict was handed down along with the sentence of a traitor’s death – being hung, drawn and quartered.

Taken to the Tower of London, Wallace was stripped naked and then strapped to a wooden hurdle which was dragged by two horses through the streets via Aldgate to The Elms at Smithfield where he was hanged on a gallows.

Cut down while yet living, he was disembowelled and castrated and his entrails burnt. Wallace was then decapitated and his body cut into quarters which were sent to Berwick, Newcastle, Stirling and Perth as a warning against treason. His tarred head, meanwhile, was put on a pike and set above London Bridge.

A memorial to Wallace can now be found on the wall of St Bartholomew’s Hospital at West Smithfield (pictured – for more on that, see our earlier post here).

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On Sunday, Princess Charlotte, daughter of Prince William and Princess Kate, was christened at Sandringham. So we thought we’d take a quick look at another christening that took place in London almost 200 years ago, that of Princess Victoria.

The future Queen Victoria was born on 24th May, 1819 – the daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent (fourth son of King George III), and his wife, Princess Victoria Mary Louisa of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.

At the insistence of the Prince Regent (later King George IV), the christening was a small affair and was held a month after the birth on the afternoon of 24th June in the magnificent Cupola or Cube Room of Kensington Palace (pictured as it is now, above).

The guest list was small and included the Prince Regent, Prince Frederick, the Duke of York, and his wife Princess Frederica, Princess Augusta Sophia, Princess Mary, the Duchess of Gloucester, and her husband, Prince William, and Prince Leopold, who had recently become a widower after the death of Princess Charlotte.

The ceremony was conducted by Charles Manners-Sutton, the archbishop of Canterbury, and, thanks to the intransigence of the Prince Regent, her name was apparently only decided at the last minute.

The Prince Regent has earlier forbidden the use of such ‘royal’ names including Charlotte, Elizabeth, Georgina or Augusta and when asked by the archbishop what she would be named, he replied brusquely that she would be named Alexandrina in honour of the Russian Tsar Alexander, one of the new princess’s godparents.

Her second name was Victoria in honour of her mother, and while Victoria was often called “Drina” while a girl, she herself apparently preferred her second name to her first.

The gold font used in the ceremony formed part of the Crown Jewels and its origins go back to the time of King Charles II.

Interestingly, there were a couple of significant Victorian connections during Princess Charlotte’s christening – the font used at this christening was known as the Lily Font (like its predecessor, it is usually found with the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London).

It was commissioned by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for the christening of their first daughter, Princess Victoria, in 1841, apparently due to Queen Victoria’s dislike for the gold font used at her own christening – it had been used by King Charles II to christen his illegitimate children.

The Lily Font has apparently been used at every royal christening since except that of Princess Eugenie who had a public baptism in Sandringham in 1990.

Princess Charlotte also wore a replica of the christening gown worn by Princess Victoria.

WHERE: The Broad Walk, Kensington Gardens, Kensington (nearest Tube stations are High Street Kensington or Queensway); WHEN: Daily 10am to 6pm (until 31st October); COST: £17.50 adult/£14.10 concession/children under 16 free (online booking discounts available, Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace.

PICTURE: HRP/newsteam

It was on 9th May, 2015, 800 years ago this year that, in the lead-up to the creation of the Magna Carta in June, King John issued a charter granting the City of London the right to freely elect its own mayor.

The charter, which was issued at the Temple – King John’s power base to the west of the City (for more on it, see our earlier post here), was a fairly blatant bid to keep the support of the city.

King-John-CharterKnown simply as the King John Charter, it stated that the barons of the city, “may choose to themselves every year a mayor, who to us may be faithful, discreet, and fit for government of the city, so as, when he shall be chosen, to be presented unto us, or our justice if we shall not be present”.

In return, the mayor was required to be presented to the monarch to take an oath of loyalty each year – a practice commemorated in the Lord Mayor’s Show each November.

The charter, which has a particularly good impression of the king’s seal, is currently on display in the City of London’s newly opened Heritage Gallery, located at the Guildhall Art Gallery.

The event was one of a series leading up to the signing of the Magna Carta in June. Only 10 days after King John issued the charter to the City of London, rebel barons, who have previously taken Bedford, marched on the city to demand their rights and arrived their before the Earl of Salisbury (whom John had ordered to occupy the city).

Aldgate was apparently opened to them by some supporters within the city and the forces of the rebel barons went on to attack the home of royalists as well as those of Jews along with a Jewish burial ground in Barbican – the latter because Jewish moneylenders had lent money to the king.

They later besieged the Tower of London and while they couldn’t take the fortress, their seizure of the city was enough to help force the king to open negotiations late in the month, asking the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langdon, on 27th May  to arrange truce (which, while it was apparently not observed terribly well, did help pave the path to the Magna Carta).

The exhibition at the Heritage Gallery runs until 4th June. For more information, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visiting-the-city/attractions-museums-and-galleries/guildhall-art-gallery-and-roman-amphitheatre/Pages/Heritage-Gallery.aspx.

PICTURE: City of London: London Metropolitan Archives

Three days of events kick off in London tomorrow to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day. Events will include a Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall at 3pm tomorrow (Friday) coinciding with two minutes national silence while Trafalgar Square – scene of VE Day celebrations in 1945 – will host a photographic exhibition of images taken on the day 70 years ago (the same images will be on show at City Hall from tomorrow until 5th June) and, at 9.32pm, a beacon will be lit at the Tower of London as part of a nation wide beacon-lighting event. On Saturday at 11am, bells will ring out across the city to mark the celebration and at night, a star-studded 1940s-themed concert will be held on Horse Guards Parade (broadcast on BBC One). Meanwhile, on Sunday, following a service in Westminster Abbey, a parade of current and veteran military personnel will head around Parliament Square and down Whitehall, past the balcony of HM Treasury where former PM Sir Winston Churchill made his historic appearance before crowds on the day, to Horse Guards. A flypast of current and historic RAF aircraft will coincide with the parade and from 1pm the Band of the Grenadier Guards will be playing music from the 1940s in Trafalgar Square. Meanwhile, starting tomorrow, special V-shaped lights will be used to illuminate Trafalgar Square, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament as a tribute. For more information, see www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/ve-day-70th-anniversary.

The works of leading London-based photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg are on show in at new exhibition at the Museum of London in the City. London Dust will feature three major newly acquired works by Luxemburg including Aplomb – St Paul’s, 2013, Walkie-Talkie Melted My Golden Calf, 2013, and the film London/Winterreise, 2013. Blees Luxemburg’s images – others of which are also featured in the exhibition – contrast idealised architectural computer-generated visions of London that clad hoardings at City-building sites with the gritty, unpolished reality surrounding these. In particular they focus on a proposed 64 floor skyscraper, The Pinnacle, which rose only seven stories before lack of funding brought the work to a halt. The free exhibition runs until 10th January next year. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

The Talk: The Cutting Edge – Weapons at the Battle of Waterloo. Paul Wilcox, director of the Arms and Armour Research Institute at the University of Huddersfield, will talk about about the weapons used at Waterloo with a chance to get ‘hands-on’ with some period weapons as part of a series of events at Aspley House, the former home of the Iron Duke at Hyde Park Corner, to mark the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo. To be held on Monday, 11th May, from 2.30pm to 4pm. Admission charge applies and booking is essential – see www.english-heritage.org.uk/apsley for more.

On Now: On Belonging: Photographs of Indians of African Descent. A selection of ground-breaking photographs depicting the Sidi community – an African minority living in India – is on show at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square. The works, taken between 2005 and 2011, are those of acclaimed contemporary Indian photographer Ketaki Sheth and the exhibition is his first solo display in the UK. They provide an insight into the lives of the Sidi, and include images of a young woman named Munira awaiting her arranged wedding, young boys playing street games, and the exorcism of spirits from a woman as a young girl watches. Admission is free. Runs in Room 33 until 31st August. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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Gun-salute

Guns fired a royal salute in Hyde Park on Monday to mark the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s new daughter (and Prince George’s new sister), named Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana (or more formally, Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte of Cambridge). Seventy-one horses pulling six World War I-era 13-pounder field guns from the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery rode out in procession with the Royal Artillery Band from Wellington Barracks, past Buckingham Palace, up Constitution Hill to Wellington Arch, and into Hyde Park to fire the salute. The 41 gun salute was fired at the same time as a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. By custom, gun salutes are fired for the birth of every prince or princess, regardless of where they sit in the order of succession. A basic salute is 21 rounds with an additional 20 rounds fired because Hyde Park is a Royal Park while at the Tower of London an extra 20 rounds are fired because it is a royal palace along with a further 21 because of its City of London location. The princess, fourth in line to the throne, was born at 8:34am on Saturday at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, and weighed 8lbs, 3oz (3.7kg). PICTURE: © Courtesy of Ian Wylie Photo.

This week we’re starting a new series in honour of the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta in which we look back at the London of 1215. First up we take a look at the Tower of London which was a smaller version of the complex of buildings which today exists on the site.

By 1215, the Tower of London – the fortress first constructed on the orders of William the Conqueror – had already existed for more than 100 years, nestled into a corner of the city’s walls which had existed since Roman times.

Then, as now, the White Tower – initially itself known as the Tower of London, it was later dubbed the White Tower thanks to the whitewash used to cover the Kentish limestone to protect it from the weather (and for its visual impact) – stood at the heart of the complex. Unlike today’s building, it lacked the large windows which date from the early 18th century, and while the towers were believed to be capped with cones, the present cupolas date from the reign of King Henry VIII.

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While it had long been surrounded by a palisade and ditch, in 1189, King Richard I’s chancellor William Longchamp, the Bishop of Ely, had begun to extend the castle’s defences while the king was on crusade (in fact, the first siege of the Tower took place in 1191 when the then Prince John did so in opposition to Longchamp’s  regime – it only lasted three days before Longchamp surrendered).

This extension, which was completed by King John following his accession to the throne in 1199, saw the size of the bailey around the White Tower doubled and a new curtain wall and towers – including the Bell Tower – built around its outer perimeter with a ditch below (the ruins of the Wardrobe Tower, just to the east of the White Tower show where the original Roman-era wall ran).

But it wasn’t until the reign of King John’s son, King Henry III, that the royal palace which now stands on the river side of the White Tower was constructed. Until that point – and at the time of the signing of the Magna Carta – the royal apartments remained within the White Tower itself, located on the upper floor.

Like those of the garrison commander known as the constable (located on the entrance level), the king’s apartments would have consisted of a hall and a large chamber, which may have been divided into smaller chambers with wooden partitions as well as a chapel (on the upper level this was the still existing Chapel of St John the Evangelist, although it would have then been more more richly decorated). Unlike the lower levels, the king’s level was of double height with a gallery (this level now has its own full floor).

The royal apartments had a variety of uses – as well as a residence and refuge for the king, they were also at times a place to keep high profile prisoners such as the Bishop of Durham, Ranulf Flambard, who was imprisoned on the orders of King Henry I (and who escaped from an upper window on a rope which had been smuggled in to him and fled to Normandy).

It is also worth noting that while King John apparently kept exotic animals at the Tower, it is his son, King Henry III who is usually credited with founding the Royal Menagerie there.

And it was his son, King Edward I, who expanded the Tower to its current size of  about 18 acres by rebuilding the western section of the inner ward and adding the outer ward.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £24.50 adults; £11 children under 15; £18.70 concessions; £60.70 for a family (discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.  

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London has been making headlines around the world recently thanks, in part, to the estimated £200 million  heist which took place in Hatton Garden last week. So we thought it was a good time to take a look back to one of London’s most famous robberies (or attempts at least)…

The attempt dates back to 1671 when a self-styled colonel, Irish adventurer Thomas Blood, made an attempt to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.

The Irishman – whose history included fighting on both sides in the English Civil War, first with the Royalists and then with the Parliamentarians when he saw the tide was turning – visited the Tower of London several times in the lead-up to the attempt as he, disguised as a parson, cultivated a relationship with Talbot Edwards, an elderly keeper of the jewels, and his family.

On the night of 9th May, he and a group of accomplices, including his son, attended a dinner put on by the Edwards at the Tower. While waiting for the meal, Blood asked to see the jewels which were housed behind a grille in the basement of the Martin Tower (pictured above) above which the Edwards had an apartment.

Edwards complied and once in the Jewel House, Blood and his accomplices attacked him, knocking him to the floor with a mallet and then stabbing him before binding and gagging him.

They then turned their attention to the jewels – Blood used a mallet to flatten St Edwards Crown so he could hide it beneath his coat while his brother-in-law Hunt filed the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross in two to fit it in his bag and a third man, Robert Perot, stuffed the Sovereign’s Orb down his trousers.

Things didn’t go smoothly after that and the alarm was raised before the gang could make their getaway. It has been suggested it was Edwards who raised the alarm – that despite efforts to shut him up he managed to remove his gag and raise the alarm  – but other versions say it was his son, returning from service in Flanders, who raised the alarm on seeing the gang.

In any event, the gang fled, evading efforts of the warders to stop them, before Blood, Hunt and Perot were captured on the Tower of London wharf. The crown, globe and orb were all recovered, albeit damaged.

Blood refused to speak after his capture and was eventually taken before King Charles II for interrogation. But he was evidently so impressed with his captive that he not only pardoned Blood but also rewarded him with land in Ireland.

Blood did later end up briefly in prison after a dispute with the Duke of Buckingham and died soon after his release in August, 1680, but in the intervening years he had become something of a celebrity around London including the Royal Court.

Security around the Crown Jewels, meanwhile, was upgraded somewhat in the wake of the attempt. While others have tried to steal them, none have ever been successful.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station is Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Saturday and Monday (last admission 5pm); COST: £24.50 an adult/£11 a child (5-15 years)/£18.70 concession/£60.70 a family of four (discount applies to online bookings); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/.

Poppies4The Tower of London is bidding farewell to the sea of poppies that has filled its dry moat while two major features of the instalment – created to mark the centenary of World War I – prepare to head off on tour. Known as Weeping Window (shown above) and Wave (shown immediately below) – the two features of the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation will both tour various locations across the UK for the next few years before going on permanent display at the Imperial War Museum in London and Manchester. So, we thought we’d take a look back at what has proved to be one of the most popular and moving memorials to appear in the capital in recent years. Created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins (with setting by stage designer Tom Piper), the project saw as many as 888,246 ceramic poppies –  representing all British and Colonial fatalities during the war – planted by volunteers in the moat. The last one was planted on Armistice Day  – 11th November – last week before the process of removal began. PICTURES: ©Richard Lea-Hair and Historic Royal Palaces. 

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In this, the final in our series looking at London’s World War I memorials, we’re taking a look at one of the city’s most visited monuments – the grave of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.

Located at the west end of the minster nave (pictured is the west front of the abbey inside of which lies the grave), the grave is that of a British soldier whose body was brought back from France and buried on the site on 11th November, 1920. The grave, which also contains soil brought from France, is covered by a slab of black marble from Belgium.

Westminster-Abbey2The slab bears an inscription written by Herbert Ryle, then dean of the abbey, which commemorates the “many multitudes” who died during World War I. “They buried him among the kings because he had done good toward God and toward his house”.

It is believed the idea for the memorial was that of a chaplain at the front during the war – Rev David Railton – who in 1916 saw a grave in northern France which featured a cross upon which was written, “An Unknown British Soldier”. He wrote to Ryle about what he’d seen and the idea for the new memorial slowly took shape – albeit with the initial misgivings of some including King George V.

Representing servicemen from the army, navy or air force from anywhere within Britain and its dominions who died in the war and have no other memorial or known grave, the unidentified body which lies in the grave is believed to have been selected at random from among a number bodies of soldiers who died early in the war – accounts suggest they numbered either four or six – and which were exhumed from battle areas at the Aisne, the Somme, Arras and Ypres.

Covered with Union flags, the bodies were taken to a chapel at St Pol on 7th November, 1920, and one selected by Brigadier General LJ Wyatt, commander of troops in France and Flanders. 

The three remaining bodies were reburied while the selected remains were placed in two coffins, the outer one made of oak harvested from a tree which had grown at Hampton Court Palace. A 16th century crusader’s sword taken from the Tower of London’s collection was placed in the wrought iron bands of the coffin and it was then covered with a flag which Rev Railton had used as an altar cloth during the war (known as the Ypres or Padre’s Flag, it now hangs nearby in St George’s Chapel at the abbey).

The coffin was then transported on the destroyer HMS Verdun to Dover and then taken by train to Victoria Station before, on the morning of 11th November, it was placed on a gun carriage drawn by six black horses and transported through massive but silent crowds which lined the streets.

Pausing at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, King George V unveiled the monument which represent an empty tomb (see our earlier post here) and placed a wreath on the coffin and then, followed by the king, other royal family members and dignitaries, it was taken to the abbey minster and lowered into the grave at a special service attended by the king, Queen Alexandra, the queens of Spain and Norway, and Prime Minister David Lloyd George and former Prime Minister HH (later Lord) Asquith (a recording made of some of the service – apparently conducted simultaneously with one at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris – became the first ever electrical recording to be sold to the public).

Thousands of mourners paid their respects at the open grave before the grave was filled in and covered with temporary stone on 18th November. The marble stone which now stands there was unveiled at a special service on 11th November the following year. A framed US Congressional Medal of Honor, conferred by General John J Pershing on the unknown warrior on 17th October, 1921, hangs from a pillar nearby.

WHERE: Westminster Abbey, Westminster (nearest Tube station is Westminster or St James’s Park); WHEN: Generally open to tourists everyday except Sunday  (times vary so check the website); COST: £18 an adult/£15 concessions/£8 schoolchildren (11-18 years), free for children aged under 11/£44 for a family (two adults, two children); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org.

Fusiliers-MonumentLocated at Holborn Bar – one of the traditional entry points to the City of London, this memorial was erected in 1922 to the memory of the almost 22,000 solider of the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) who died during the Great War.

The monument, which stands on a traffic island in the middle of busy High Holborn, was designed by sculptor Albert Toft (and hence is known affectionately as “Albert”) along with architects Cheadle and Harding at the behest of several senior officers from the regiment.

It was originally intended to be erected in one of the capital’s many parks. Hounslow Barracks was the next intended location but, after consultation with the City, the site in Holborn was eventually settled upon.

The larger-than-life bronze figure, which stands on a Portland stone pedestal holding a rifle with fixed bayonet, was apparently modelled on an actual person – a Sgt Cox, who served with the Royal Fusiliers throughout the war. The east face features a plate listing all the battalions who served in World War I; the west face features the regimental crest and dedication.

The Grade II-listed memorial, which was officially unveiled by the Lord Mayor of London (we think it was Sir Edward Cecil Moore) on 4th November, 1922, was later updated with inscriptions commemorating those who fell during World War II and in subsequent conflicts.

The original model for the monument can now be seen in the Fusilier Museum at the Tower of London. Interestingly, there is a twin monument, dedicated to the 41st Division, at Flers on the Somme, in France. It was unveiled in 1932.

PICTURE: Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)

A new display commemorating the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I has opened at the Tower of London, coinciding with the sea of ceramic poppies which has been ‘planted’ in its moat (see our earlier post on the poppies here). The exhibition, housed in the Flint Tower, features photographs and film from 1914 showing how the Tower was used for in the recruitment, deployment and training of the military and as a place for execution. Photographs from today have been combined with those from 1914 to create moving composite images. The display can be seen with general admission entry. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/.

A copper element which represented Team GB and was one of 204 – one for each country – used in the Olympic cauldron during the 2012 Games is on display at the Museum of London. It and Paralympic GB’s element will be on alternate display in a new gallery, Designing a Moment: The London 2012 Cauldron, which follows the cauldron’s journey its design and manufacture to its unveiling, ceremonial role, and legacy. The gallery features two seven metre long sections of the cauldron, which was designed by Heatherwick Studio and which featured one element for each country represented at the Games and then for the Paralympics. Until 27th August, it will also feature the Team GB’s element which will then be returned to the British Olympic Association/British Olympic Foundation and replaced with the Paralympics GB copper element, on loan from the British Paralympic Association, which will remain on show until 23rd October, after which it will be replaced by an unassigned Paralympic copper element. Admission is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

A portrait of author Roald Dahl as a young RAF pilot during World War II has gone on show at the National Portrait Gallery near Trafalgar Square. Painted by Matthew Smith, the work is featured in Colour, Light, Texture: Portraits by Matthew Smith & Frank Dobson, a new display which brings together Smith’s paintings with Dobson’s sculptures. The portrait was painted in 1944 when Dahl was in his late twenties. Found in Room 33, the display can be seen until April 6th. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

In this, the final in our series looking at Shakespeare’s London, we take a quick look at some of the plethora of London locations mentioned by the Bard in his historical plays. Some we have already covered, but here are a few more…

Westminster-AbbeyWestminster Abbey (pictured): We’ve already talked about Poet’s Corner but Shakespeare himself makes mention of Westminster Abbey in his plays, notably in Henry VI, Part I, when it’s the scene of Henry V’s funeral. The Jerusalem Chamber, principal room of Cheyneygates, the medieval house of abbots of Westminster is mentioned in Henry IV, Part II.

The Houses of Parliament: True, the buildings have changed somewhat since Shakespeare’s day but the former Palace of Westminster is the site of scenes in numerous plays including Richard IIHenry IV, Part II and Henry VI, Part III are set. Among rooms mentioned is Westminster Hall which survives today from the original building.

The Tower of London: As one would expect, this prominent London landmark pops up in several of Shakespeare’s plays including Henry VI, Part I and Richard III where its plays a rather central role – among the events recorded in the latter play are the infamous drowning of Richard III’s elder brother George in a butt of Malmsey wine.

Ely House: The London residence of the bishops of Ely, this long gone building is mentioned in Richard II (for more on Ely House see our earlier posts on Ye Olde Mitre Tavern here and St Etheldreda’s Church here ).

The London Stone: Now at 111 Cannon Street, the London Stone originally was located at another location in Cannon Street and its here in Henry VI, Part II, that rebel Jack Cade stops to strike his sword upon the stone (for more on the London Stone, see our earlier post here).

Other London sites mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays include generic “London Streets” (mentioned in a number of plays), “Eastcheap, near the Boar’s Head Tavern” (Henry IV, Part II), the Temple Garden (Henry VI, Part I) and Blackheath (Henry VI, Part II).

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More than 800,000 ceramic poppies are being “planted” in the moat of the Tower of London to commemorate the centenary of World War I.

The work of ceramic artist Paul Cummins, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red will grow throughout the summer until, by Armistice Day, 888,246 ceramic poppies are ‘planted’ in the dry moat, each one representing a British or colonial military fatality during the war.

The first poppy was planted by Yeoman Warder Crawford Butler back in July (pictured) and the work was officially “unveiled” today – 100 years since the first full day of Britain’s involvement in the war. 

More than 8,000 volunteers will be involved in planting the poppies which can be purchased for £25 with 10 per cent from each poppy plus all net proceeds shared equally among six service charities: the Confederation of Service Charities (COBSEO), Combat Stress, Coming Home, Help for Heroes, Royal British Legion and SSAFA (formerly the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association).

Starting today, the public will also be able to witness the daily twilight reading of a roll of honour featuring the names of 180 serving military killed during the World War I from Tower Hill terrace. The reading will be followed by the bugler playing the Last Post. Members of the public can nominate a name for the roll of honour. 

For more, see poppies.hrp.org.uk. PICTURE: Photo: © Richard Lea-Hair/Historical Royal Palaces