Standing at the river end of the Privy Garden at Hampton Court Palace is a stretch of wrought-iron screen designed and made by Huguenot ironworker Jean Tijou for King William III and Queen Mary II.
The screen, which is one of the finest examples of 17th century ironwork in the world, was created between 1689 to 1692. It features 12 panels displaying symbols including the monogram of William and Mary, the garter emblem and representations of England, Ireland, Scotland and France.
William expressed his personal admiration for the work.
The screen was among numerous royal commissions created by Tijou, who had arrived in England in about 1689 and secured the patronage of the joint monarchs.
The screen fell into neglect in the 18th century and were subsequently repaired numerous times before being split up in the 19th century. It was re-erected at Hampton Court in 1902 and since been restored several times.
A monumental tapestry – and the only surviving one of its era depicting an English naval scene, the Solebay Tapestry was actually one a series of six designed by father and son team, Willem Van de Velde the Elder and Younger.
Commissioned by King Charles II and his brother, James, Duke of York (later King James II), the tapestry – known as The Burning of the Royal James at the Battle of Solebay, 28 May 1672 – commemorates the Battle of Solebay, a naval battle fought in Southwold Bay off the coast of Suffolk on 28th May, 1672. The first battle of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, it ended with both sides claiming victory and was the final naval battle in which James was engaged.
It depicts the dramatic climax of the battle and shows the Royal James engulfed in flames after it wasset alight by Dutch fireships. Edward Montagu, the first Earl of Sandwich whose was aboard the Royal James, died in the attack.
William Van de Veldes the Elder, who was a contemporary of Rembrandt and, along with his son, is considered the founder of English maritime painting, was present at the battle and made a series of sketches from a boat at the scene (he was actually there for the Dutch, not the English).
Subsequently commissioned to reimagine the battle from the English point-of-view, it was the studios of the Van de Velds in the Queen’s House in Greenwich that a series of ‘cartoons’ – large-scale paper designs – were produced using the sketches.
These were then presented to weavers who, once thought to have been based in Mortlake but now believed to have been based in either at Clerkenwell or Hatton Garden, used them to create the tapestries.
The tapestry in the collection of Royal Museums Greenwich was displayed behind King George VI during his speech at the opening of the National Maritime Museum in 1937 but hasn’t been able to be displayed for the past 22 years due to its fragile condition.
In urgent need of repair, the first phase of a conservation project was completed last year. Royal Museums Greenwich has now launched an urgent crowdfunding campaign through ‘Art Happens with Art Fund’ to raise £15,000 for the completion of the project. This will mean the tapestry can be included in an exhibition at the Queen’s House next February marking 350 years since the Van de Veldes’ arrival in England.
Held in the National Archives at Kew, this great seal was used during the second half of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign – from 1586 to 1603.
The seal, which replaced an earlier one used by Queen Elizabeth I, was used by the Chancery to prove the document it was attached to was issued in the Queen’s name. The seal also acted as a security device, ensuring the document couldn’t be read before reaching the intended recipient. Made of wax, it was created using a metal pattern or matrix.
The metal pattern for this seal was created by court miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard.
The obverse or front side of the seal, which is made of resin and beeswax which turns brown with age, shows Queen Elizabeth I on her throne, her hands holding a sceptre and an orb – royal insignia – and accompanied by the Royal Coat of Arms. The reverse (pictured) shows Queen Elizabeth I mounted on a horse and surrounded by symbols including the Tudor Rose, a harp representing Ireland and fleur de lys representing France. The inscription around the seal reads: Elizabetha dei gracia Anglie Francie et Hibernie Regina Fidei Defensor (‘Elizabeth, by grace of God, Queen of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith’).
The seal was traditionally carried before the Lord Chancellor and Keeper of the Great Seal in a purse or burse. One used to carry Queen Elizabeth I’s matrix is in the collection of the British Museum.
The matrix used to create the second seal was surrendered to King James I on his accession to the throne on 3rd May, 1603. James then used it for the next 11 weeks until his own was ready (at which time Queen Elizabeth I’s matrix was defaced).
Pelicans were first introduced to St James’s Park in 1664 when a pair of the rather large birds were presented as a gift from the Russian Ambassador to King Charles II. They’ve been there ever since.
More than 40 pelicans have apparently made their home at the park over the years. Past pelicans have included the solitary Daphne – nicknamed the ‘Lady of the Lake’, she lived alone at the park in the early 1970s as well as Astra and Khan, who came from Astrakhan in Russia and were presented by the Russian Ambassador in 1977. There’s also been a Louis, who came from Louisiana in 1982, and Vaclav and Rusalka, who were a gift from Prague Zoo in 1995.
There are currently six members of the ‘scoop’ or ‘squadron’ (just two of the collective nouns used for pelicans) in the park. They include Isla and Tiffany – gifted from Prague in 2013 – and Gargi (gifted in 1996 after he was found in a Southend garden) as well as newer arrivals, brothers Sun and Moon, and a female named Star, all of whom came from Prague Zoo in 2019. Five are Eastern Whites and one is a South American White.
The pelicans are fed fresh fish each day between 2:30pm and 3pm, next to Duck Island Cottage, and while they are free to go where they wish, they rarely go far from the almost 57 acre park. But they did make headlines for eating a pigeon in 2006.
Royal Parks are offering a walking tour of St James’s Park which ends with watching the daily feeding on 5th November. Head here for details.
Built by King Edward I in the 13th century as a water gate to provide access from the Tower of London to the River Thames, the name ‘Traitor’s Gate’ came to be applied to this portal in Tudor times in relation to those accused of treason who were brought into the tower under its arch.
The double gateway is part of St Thomas’s Tower, which was designed by a Master James of St George, and behind it is a pool which was used to feed water to a cistern on the roof of the White Tower. While the gate was originally built to give access directly to the river, Traitor’s Gate now sits behind a wharf which runs along the river bank (and where can be seen the bricked up entrance says ‘Entry to the Traitor’s Gate’ – this was bricked up in the 19th century when embankment works were carried out)
Sir Thomas More, Sir Walter Raleigh and even the future Queen Elizabeth I (when a princess) were among those who were brought in by barge through the Traitor’s Gate (their journey would have led them under London Bridge where the heads of executed prisoners were on display). Whether Henry VIII’s disgraced Queen Anne Boleyn entered the tower through the gate remains a matter of some dispute.
This small chamber off The Long Gallery at Ham House – which was designed as an up-close and personal gallery to display both cabinet pictures and miniatures – is a rare survivor from the reign of King Charles I.
It retains many of its original contents and features carved woodwork and painted ceilings installed by Franz Cleyn during a 1637-39 refurbishment of the chamber carried out on the orders of the home’s then owner, William Murray.
The room, which would have been used for private meetings, was hung with green silk damask in 1655 (the present hangings are copies) and architecturally the room has remained unchanged since 1672 when a door into the North Dining Room was opened.
Of the many pictures hanging in the chamber, 22 were here in 1683 and another 10 of those now hanging here were hanging elsewhere in the house at the time.
The more than 80 works on show include a miniature of Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard created around 1590, a couple of David Paton – one of King Charles II (dated 1668) and one depicting John Maitland, the Duke of Lauderdale (dated 1669), one of the owners of Ham House.
The larger works include Gerard Dou’s Bust of an Old Man (1635), a rare posthumous portrait of Edward Seymour, the 1st Duke of Somerset (18th century) and the convivial scene, Boors smoking and drinking, by Adriaen Brouwer which, regarded as an original work in 1683, was then one of the most highly valued works at the house.
WHERE: Ham House, Ham Street, Ham, Richmond (nearest Tube station is Richmond). WHEN: Selected dates – check the website; ADMISSION CHARGE: Yes (National Trust members free); WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house-and-garden.
Southwark Bridge celebrated its 100th birthday earlier this month so we thought it a good time to have a quick look at the bridge’s history.
The bridge was a replacement for an earlier three-arch iron bridge built by John Rennie which had opened in 1819.
Known by the nickname, the “Iron Bridge”, it was mentioned in Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend and Little Dorrit. But the bridge had problems – its narrow approaches and steep gradient led it to become labelled “the curse of the carman [cart drivers] and the ruin of his horses”.
Increasing traffic meant a replacement became necessary and a new bridge, which featured five arches and was made of steel, was designed by architect Sir Ernest George and engineer Sir Basil Mott.
Work on the new bridge – which was to cost £375,000 and was paid for by the City of London Corporation’s Bridge House Estates which was originally founded in 1097 to maintain London Bridge and expanded to care for others – began in 1913 but its completion was delayed thanks to the outbreak of World War I.
The 800 foot long bridge was finally officially opened on 6th June, 1921, by King George V who used a golden key to open its gates. He and Queen Mary then rode over the bridge in a carriage.
The bridge, now Grade II-listed, was significantly damaged in a 1941 air raid and was temporarily repaired before it was properly restored in 1955. More recently, the bridge was given a facelift in 2011 when £2.5 million was spent cleaning and repainting the metalwork in its original colours – yellow and ‘Southwark Green’.
The current bridge has appeared in numerous films including 1964’s Mary Poppins and, in more recent times, 2007’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Said to have been modelled on a rose window once inside Old St Paul’s Cathedral (which was destroyed in the Great Fire of London), the window, also known as Catherine (Katharine) Wheel, features some beautiful examples of 17th century stained glass.
The window, which is located in the chancel of the church of St Katharine Cree in Leadenhall Street in the City not far from Leadenhall Market, was installed when the church was rebuilt in the early 1630s (replacing an earlier medieval church – the church’s tower, however, dates from 1504 and was part of the earlier church on the site). It is abstract in design but
The window, which was removed to ensure its protection during World War II, has undergone repairs and the centre of the wheel was replaced after it was blown out in 1992 when a massive truck bomb went off at the nearby Baltic Exchange.
The Catherine Wheel, incidentally, was an execution device associated with the martyrdom of St Catherine of Alexandria. Catherine had upset the Emperor Maxentius in the early 4th century by speaking out against his persecution of Christians in the early fourth century. Tradition has it that after failing to break her spirit through torture (and, so say some, a marriage proposal which she refused), Maxentius ordered her to be put to death on a spiked wheel, it broke at her touch and she was later beheaded.
This ornate triple stone entrance in the south-east corner of Hyde Park (better known as Hyde Park Corner), was designed by Decimus Burton when he was just 25-years-old.
Made of Portland stone, the gate, also known as the ‘Apsley Gate’ (after the nearby home of the Duke of Wellington) or the ‘Hyde Park Screen’, was installed in the late 1820s and replaced a former tollgate.
Several designs were proposed in the late 18th century but it was only after work started to transform Buckingham Palace from a home into the grand building we know today that Burton, who was already working on designing a series of gates, lodges and railings around Hyde Park for the Office of Woods and Forests, was asked to design the screen alongside plans for a grand memorial arch to serve as an entrance to Green Park which would be located opposite.
Burton’s designs for the Hyde Park gateway were approved by none other than King George IV and it now stands true to his original design. Decorative elements in the gate include scroll-topped columns and friezes by John Henning which were copied from the Elgin Marbles. Burton also designed the classical-style lodge house just inside the gates.
Burton’s initial plans for the Green Park arch, however, were deemed not to be grand enough – after all, this would be one of the approaches to Buckingham Palace – and so he produced a second design which is now largely embodied in what became the Wellington Arch.
While the Hyde Park gateway originally stood in line with Wellington Arch, traffic management matters saw the latter moved to its current position in the 1880s, putting it out of alignment with the gateway.
The Museum of London is currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic but we run this story in the hope you’ll be able to visit soon.
The Museum of London contains a large collection – in fact, it’s said to be the largest in the UK – of pilgrim badges relating to the commemoration of the Archbishop of Canterbury, St Thomas Becket, who was brutally murdered in 1170.
Produced largely in Canterbury (possibly some in London), the lead-alloy badges were worn, typically on a hat or staff, by pilgrims as a means of commemorating their pilgrimage to the Shrine of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury.
They came in various shapes and sizes. Many simply depict a bust of Becket’s head wearing the Archbishop of Canterbury’s mitre (see picture right).
But others are more elaborate and depict the full-length figure of the archbishop, scenes of his martyrdom at the hands of King Henry II’s knights (see picture above) and even the elaborate bejewelled shrine housing St Thomas’ remains that was erected in about 1220 in Canterbury Cathedral (the endpoint of the pilgrimage).
The museum also has small tin ampullae which were created to hold “Canterbury Water” or “St Thomas’ Water” – water into which drops of the martyred archbishop’s blood were dripped before it was blessed – which was given to pilgrims to take home as a kind of “cure all”.
The collection of badges can be seen when the museum reopens. Keep an eye out for the reopening at www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
This spectacular Anglo-Saxon helmet – perhaps the most famous Anglo-Saxon object in a museum today – was among the finds made at the Sutton Hoo burial site in Suffolk in the late 1930s, the story of which is told in the current Netflix film, The Dig.
The ornately decorated helmet, the manufacture of which is dated to the late 6th or early 7th century, was found buried in the grave mound of an important figure whom some believe was an East Anglian king named Rædwald. The grave mound had been constructed over a ship containing the body and artefacts including the helmet. The ship itself had disintegrated but its imprint was uncovered during the excavation.
Excavated in hundreds of corroded fragments, the iron and bronze helmet, which is believed to have weighed about 2.5 kilograms, was painstakingly reassembled in the mid-1940s to reveal a helmet featuring cheek and neck guards and a mask with sculpted facial features including a nose, eyebrows and moustache as well as holes for the eyes. It features a number of other decorative elements including representations of dragons and warriors as well as geometric patterns. Gold and silver were used in the decorations.
The helmet underwent a second reconstruction in the early 1970s after issues were identified with the first.
The helmet, along with other artefacts found at the site, were deemed to be the property of Suffolk landowner Edith Pretty who subsequently donated it to the British Museum. It is on permanent display in Room 41 of the museum.
Among the treasures to be found at Dickens’ former house (and now the Charles Dickens Museum) in Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, is the desk and accompanying chair where Dickens’ wrote several of his later novels including Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend and the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Dickens purchased the mahogany pedestal writing desk as well as the walnut and fruitwood smoker’s armchair in 1859. He used them in the study of his final home at Gad’s Hill Place in Kent (Dickens also had an identical chair in his London office which is now in the New York State Library).
After the author’s death in 1870, the desk and chair – which feature in Luke Fildes’ 1870 work The Empty Chair and the RW Buss’ 1875 work Dickens’ Dream – were passed down through the Dickens family until they was auctioned in the 2000s with the funds raised used to benefit the Great Ormond Street Hospital.
While the desk and chair had previously been loaned to the museum for display, in 2015 the establishment was able to purchase the desk and chair and make it part of its permanent collection thanks to a £780,000 grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.
While the museum is currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, we include these details for when it reopens.
WHERE: 48-49 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury (nearest Tube stations are Russell Square, Chancery Lane or Holborn). WHEN: Currently closed; COST: £9.50 adults/£7.50 concessions/£4.50 children (under six free); WEBSITE: www.dickensmuseum.com.
This fountain and statue ensemble – also known as Diana of the Treetops and the Constance Fountain (and not to be confused with the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park or the Diana Fountain in Bushy Park) – for many years stood at the centre of Green Park.
The fountain replaced an earlier one by Sidney Smirke – installed in 1860 – that had fallen into disrepair.
The Ministry of Works approached the Constance Fund – which had been established by artist Sigismund Goetze and was administered by his wife Constance following his death – to provide finances for a replacement and after they agreed, a competition for the design was held overseen by Sir William Reid.
Escourt J “Jim” Clack, a teacher from Devon, won and designed a bronze statue of the Greek goddess Diana to top the fountain. Depicting a naked Diana unleashing a hunting dog, it sits atop a stylised tree under which sit the fountain basins. The fountain was unveiled in 1954.
In 2011, the statue was removed, restored and some gilding added and then placed near the entrance to Green Park tube station in the north-east corner of the park.
While the lockdown means buildings are now closed, we continue with our regular series for visits at a later time…
This 300 foot long, now Grade I-listed, conservatory was constructed on the orders of the 6th Duke of Devonshire in the grounds of the neo-Palladian Chiswick House to the west of London and completed in 1813.
Then one of the largest of its kind in the world, the conservatory was designed by Samuel Ware (he also designed the Burlington Arcade in Piccadilly) and while its east and west ranges are of a conventional design, its centre features an unusual domed roof.
The conservatory, which was built on land which the duke had acquired by buying a neighbouring estate, is seen as a forerunner to Decimus Burton’s famous building at Kew Gardens as well as Joseph Paxton’s conservatory at Chatsworth and even the Crystal Palace itself.
In 1828, the Duke filled it with his exotic collection of camellias. The glasshouse now stands at the heart of Chiswick House’s annual Camellia Festival.
The collection of camellias is, of course, a treasure in its own right. It was first created by the 6th Duke and his gardener, William Lindsay, with plants acquired from Alfred Chandler’s nursery in Vauxhall.
The collection includes 33 different varieties, including some of the earliest introduced to the UK, and one of the rarest plants in the world – a deep pink camellia japonica known as ‘Middlemist’s Red’ which was originally brought to Britain from China in 1804 by Shepherds Bush nurseryman John Middlemist, and apparently presented by one of his descendants to Chiswick sometime after 1823.
No, it’s not a memorial to that Diana, but a bronze statue depicting a mythological figure which forms the centrepiece of the Great Basin in Bushy Park.
Commissioned by King Charles I for his wife Queen Henrietta Maria, the statue (and other statuary on the monument) was the work of sculptor Hubert Le Sueur (he was also the sculptor of the famous equestrian statue of King Charles I which sits at the top of Whitehall).
While the 2.38 metre tall bronze statue, which weighs some 924 kilograms, is commonly referred to as Diana – the Roman goddess of hunting, she has none of the usual attributes of Diana, such as a bow, and is believed by some to actually represent Arethusa, a nereid or sea nymph from Greek mythology.
The statue is set on a marble and stone fountain carved with depictions of shells and sea life, and is surrounded, at a lower level, by groups of bronze statues -depicting boys holding fish or dolphins and water nymphs or mermaids astride sea monsters – through which water is discharged into four bronze basins.
The bronze figures were originally commissioned for a fountain, designed by Inigo Jones and built in the 1630s, in the Queen’s garden at Somerset House. Oliver Cromwell had the statues moved to the Hampton Court Palace’s Privy Garden in 1656 where they were incorporated into a fountain designed by Edward Pearce the Younger in 1689-90.
In 1713 the ensemble was moved again, this time to onto a new purpose-built podium in the middle of the Great Basin, located at the end of Bushy Park’s Chestnut Avenue, a grand avenue of trees designed by Sir Christopher Wren. While most of the statuary is believed to be from the original fountain designed by Inigo Jones, it’s thought some of the statues of the boys were recast for the new fountain.
The Grade I-listed monument was restored in 2009 and and during this process a stone which uncovered on its base which had a crown and the date AR 1712 (AR for ‘Anne Regis’) which would have been added when the statue and fountain were installed in the basin.
WHERE: The park lies north of Hampton Court Palace, just west of Kingston and Hampton Wick and south of Teddington (nearest train station is Hampton Wick or Hampton Court). WHEN: 24 hours except in September and November when it’s open between 8am and dusk; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/bushy-park
Newly awarded upgraded heritage status, Ropers Garden in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, was created in the wake of World War II.
The buildings which had formerly stood here were destroyed on 17th April, 1941, thanks to a parachute mine.
The first gardens were planted on the site by the Chelsea Society but these were then redesigned by Peter Shepheard in 1960.
Shepheard used the basements of the terraced housing previously on the site to create a sunken garden, maintaining a link with the history of the site and reducing the noise of traffic from nearby Chelsea Embankment.
The centrepiece of the now Grade II-listed gardens – which were recently added to the Register of Parks and Gardens – is a sculpture called “The Awakening”. The work of Gilbert Ledward, who lived and worked in the area, it depicts a bronze standing nude figure of a woman (apparently modelled on the artist’s wife and cast in the 1920s).
The sculpture (pictured at the top with Chelsea Old Church in the background) was recently added to the garden’s Grade II listing.
Other features of the garden include an unfinished stone relief by Jacob Epstein (pictured, right) who had a studio nearby in the early 20th century (the sculpture was unveiled in 1970) and a cherry tree which commemorates Gunji Koizumi the father of British Judo (1885-1965).
And the garden’s name? That comes from the history of the land on which it lies – once an orchard and part of the marriage gift of Sir Thomas More to his daughter Margaret and son-in-law William Roper in 1521.
PICTURES: Top – David Adams; Right – Andy Scott (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)
Having recently been granted protection as a scheduled monument, the landscape feature known as King Henry’s Mound is located in Richmond Park in south-west London.
It is believed to be a prehistoric round barrow, possibly dating from between 2,400 and 1,500 BC – a period spanning the Late Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age.
Its name, however, comes from the legend that King Henry VIII waited on top of the mound on 19th May, 1536, watching for a rocket to be launched from the Tower of London that would confirm his wife Anne Boleyn had been executed for treason (and so allow him to marry Jane Seymour).
The truth of that is unlikely – although it is possible to see St Paul’s Cathedral from the mound (it’s a view that is protected, as well as, to the west Windsor Castle and the Thames Valley), King Henry VIII was apparently in Wiltshire at the time.
The mound, however, was linked to kings as far back as 1630 when a map was published listing it as ‘Kings Standinge’, ‘standinge’ being a reference to a platform on which those not involved in a hunt could stand and watch.
Both King Henry VIII and his daughter Queen Elizabeth I are known to have hunted here – in fact, it was King Henry VIII’s father, King Henry VII, who built a royal palace at Richmond and named it after his estate in Yorkshire.
The mound was later incorporated into the gardens of Pembroke Lodge in the 19th century, during much of the latter half of which the property was home to Prime Minister Lord John Russell.
Today the Grade I-listed Richmond Park is managed by the Royal Parks.