We’ve finished our series on London sites related to the story of Thomas Becket. Before we move on to our next special series, here’s a recap…
We’ll launch our new series next Wednesday.
We’ve finished our series on London sites related to the story of Thomas Becket. Before we move on to our next special series, here’s a recap…
We’ll launch our new series next Wednesday.
• English Heritage – which manages a number of historic properties in London including Eltham Palace, Kenwood House and Marble Hill House – has announced they will reopen progressively from 29th March. Initially only the grounds of more than 60 properties across England will be open with building interiors to open from 17th May. A summer events programme is scheduled to start on 21st June. Visits must be booked in advance and the organisation has asked that people bear in mind the government’s latest advice, and be aware that they shouldn’t travel outside of your local area. For a full list of properties that are reopening, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/plan-your-visit/.
• It’s a unique place to receive a coronavirus vaccine. The NHS announced this week that a new COVID-19 vaccination clinic has opened in Westminster Abbey’s South Transept, home to Poet’s Corner. Run by Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, on behalf of the local GP network, the location is expected to provide up to 2,000 inoculations each week. The clinic is only open for those with an appointment. Invitation letters will explain how people can book a slot and NHS leaders are urging people not to turn up at the centres without an appointment.
• A fragment of a meteorite which was located in Gloucestershire after recently falling to Earth in a rather spectacular fireball has been brought to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. The 300 gram chunk of meteorite, which is known as a carbonaceous chondrite, was discovered on a driveway in the Cotswold town on Winchcombe. It’s path tracked by specialised cameras across the country as part of the UK Fireball Alliance, the meteorite was retrieved in such a good condition and so quickly after its fall that scientists say it is comparable to the samples returned from space missions, both in quality and size. Other pieces of the meteorite have also been recovered in the area. The rare meteorite – it is the first known carbonaceous chondrite to have been found in the UK and the first meteorite to be recovered in the UK in 30 years – will now undergo further study.
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It was 360 years ago late last month that the body of Oliver Cromwell, one time Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, was, having previously been exhumed from his grave in Westminster Abbey, hanged from a gallows at Tyburn before being beheaded.
Cromwell had died two years previously on 3rd September, 1658, at the age of 59. It’s thought he died of septicaemia brought on by a urinary infection (although the death of his favourite daughter Elizabeth a month before is also believed to have been a significant factor in his own demise).
He (and his daughter) were buried in an elaborate funeral ceremony in a newly created vault in King Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster Abbey.
Cromwell’s son Richard had succeeded him as Lord Protector but he was forced to resign in May, 1659, and divisions among the Commonwealth’s leadership soon saw Parliament restored and the monarchy restored under King Charles II in 1660.
In late January, 1661, on Parliament’s order, Cromwell’s body as well as those of John Bradshaw, President of the High Court of Justice for the trial of King Charles I, and Henry Ireton, Cromwell’s son-in-law and a general in the Parliamentary army during the English Civil War, were all exhumed from their graves.
The bodies of Cromwell and Ireton were taken to the Red Lion Inn in Holborn where they lay under guard overnight and were joined by that of Bradshaw the following day.
That morning – the 30th January, a date which coincided with the 12th anniversary of the execution of King Charles I in 1649 – the shrouded bodies in various states of decomposition and laying in open coffins were dragged on a sledge to gallows at Tyburn were they were publicly hanged.
The bodies remained on the gallows until sunset when they were removed and beheaded (Cromwell’s beheading apparently took eight blows). The bodies were believed to have been subsequently thrown into a common grave at Tyburn (although there’s all sorts of speculation surrounding the fate of Cromwell’s – indeed some believe his body had already been removed from Westminster Abbey before the exhumation took place and that it was the body of someone else which was hanged and beheaded).
The decapitated heads, however, were kept. They were placed on 20 foot long spikes at Westminster Hall for public display (Samuel Pepys was among those who saw them).
In 1685, however, the spike holding Cromwell’s head broke in a storm. Cromwell’s head is said to have ended up in the possession of a soldier who took it and hid it in his chimney (a reward was offered but searches were unsuccessful). The fate of the head then remains somewhat clouded but in 1710 it was being displayed in the London museum of Swiss-French collector Claudius Du Puy.
It subsequently passed through various hands until it was eventually bought by Dr Josiah Henry Wilkinson in the early 19th century. It remained in the possession of his family until, following tests which concluded it was indeed Cromwell’s head, it was offered to Sydney Sussex College, Cromwell alma mater, where, in 1960, it was buried in a secret location.
Theobold of Bec, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in whose household Becket had previously served before becoming Lord Chancellor, died on 18th April, 1161. King Henry II, apparently hoping to install a friendly face in the post, ensured Becket was nominated to replace him several months later.
In keeping with tradition, the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury, apparently somewhat reluctantly, were persuaded to elect Becket, who was merely an archdeacon, to the post.
And it was at Westminster Abbey, on 23rd May, 1162, that a council of clergy and noblemen was convened to ratify the decision.
Sitting under the chairmanship of Bishop Henry of Winchester, who had only recently returned from exile, the council was told by the Prior of Christ Church that Thomas had been “unanimously and canonically” elected as Archbishop. The council, despite a lonely objection from Gilbert Foliot, the Bishop of Hereford, had then confirmed the decision and Bishop Henry read out the formal election result in the refectory or monk’s dining hall.
Becket, who was present, was then presented to the seven-year-old Prince Henry (later known as Henry, the Young King), the ill-fated eldest son of King Henry II who had been empowered by his father to give royal consent to the decision.
Becket headed for Canterbury soon after and there was ordained a priest on 2nd June and consecrated as Archbishop the following day. The stage was set for one of English history’s most infamous clashes of church and state.
Westminster Abbey, meanwhile, was also to play a key role in the antipathy that developed between King Henry II and Archbishop Thomas over the coming years. It was here that King Henry II had his aforementioned son Henry crowned as King of England in 1170 – against the wishes of Archbishop Thomas. It was that coronation which brought the simmering tension which had grown between them to a head.
And, in an footnote, in May, 2016, a relic of St Thomas, said to be a bone fragment from his elbow, stayed overnight in the Abbey’s Shrine of St Edward the Confessor. Usually kept at the Basilica of Esztergom in Hungary, the relic’s visit was part of a week-long tour of locations in London and Canterbury – the first time it had visited the UK in more than 800 years.
• A landmark exhibition on the work – and times – of JMW Turner opens at the Tate Modern in Millbank today. Turner’s Modern World features some 160 works and attempts to show how the landscape painter found “new ways to capture the momentous events of his day, from technology’s impact on the natural world to the dizzying effects of modernisation on society”. Highlights include war paintings such as The Battle of Trafalgar (1806-8) and Field of Waterloo (1818), works capturing political events like The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons (1835) and maritime disasters like A Disaster at Sea (1835) and Wreck of a Transport Ship (c1801), as well as works related to the industrial advances taking place such as Snow Storm (1842), The Fighting ‘Téméraire’ (1839), and Rain, Steam and Speed (1844). Admission charge applies. Runs until 7th March (online booking required). For more, see www.tate.org.uk.
• An exhibition at the National Army Museum in Chelsea marks the 100th anniversary of the Unknown Warrior being laid to rest in Westminster Abbey. Using objects, paintings, photography and personal testimony, Buried Among Kings: The Story of the Unknown Warrior tells the story of the creation of this symbolic memorial dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of British servicemen who died during World War I. Highlights include a union flag on loan from the Railton family (it was Chaplain David Railton who conceived the original idea for an Unknown Warrior following an encounter in 1916 with a wooden cross on the Western Front which was inscribed ‘An Unknown British Soldier’), a Bible carried by Chaplain George Kendall during the selection of the Unknown Warrior, a fragment of the original wooden Cenotaph erected in 1919-1920, and Frank O Salisbury’s large scale painting, The Passing of the Unknown Warrior, which depicts the procession of the Unknown Warrior from Victoria Station to Westminster Abbey. In connection with the exhibition, Victoria Station is hosting a pop-up display between 9th and 16th November on the journey of the Unknown Warrior from the Western Front to Westminster Abbey (the coffin actually arrived in London on 10th November, 1920). Admission charge applies (at Chelsea). Runs until 14th February (online booking required). For more, see www.nam.ac.uk.
• Model making in the “age of the railways” is the subject of a free exhibition now on at the Science Museum in South Kensington. Brass, Steel and Fire features intricate models from the Science Museum Group Collection as well as stunning miniature locomotives and a display of almost 200 tools used by model-maker Keith Dodgson. Highlights include ‘Salamanca’, the world’s oldest model locomotive (on loan from Leeds Museums and Galleries), a model of ‘Fire King’ – made in the 1840s by apprentice Josiah Evans who used his experience to later build full size locomotives, and the world’s oldest working model steam engine, the Etherley winding engine model. The exhibition is free and runs until 3rd May. Online booking required. For more, see sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/brass-steel-and-fire.
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Dignitaries including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Michael Wigston, were among those attending a service commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in Westminster Abbey on Sunday. The service, which was witnessed by fewer people than would normally have been the case due to the coronavirus pandemic, included an Act of Remembrance during which the Battle of Britain Roll of Honour – containing the names of the 1,497 pilots and aircrew killed or mortally wounded during the 112 days of fighting – was carried through the church and placed beside the High Altar. After the service three Spitfires and a Hurricane from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight took part in a flypast over the Abbey. Pictured above are the standard bearers formed up on the altar at the service (all pictures via MOD © Crown copyright 2020)
Above: The Queen’s Colour Squadron lining the entrance to Westminster Abbey.
Above: Prime Minister Boris Johnson carrying out a reading during the service.
Above: FO Buckingham saluting the Battle of Britain memorial stained glass window at Westminster Abbey.
Above: The four planes from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight fly above the Abbey.
• Princess Beatrice, who married Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi in a private ceremony in The Royal Chapel of All Saints at Windsor’s Royal Lodge last week, has sent the bouquet she carried during the wedding to rest on the Grave of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey. The tradition of royal brides sending their bouquets to rest on the grave was started by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, when she lay her bridal bouquet on the grave in memory of her brother Fergus who was killed in 1915 at the Battle of Loos during World War I. Brides including Queen Elizabeth II, the Duchess of Cambridge and Princess Beatrice’s sister, Princess Eugenie, have since continued the tradition. The grave commemorates the fallen of World War I and all those who have since died in international conflicts.
• The Charles Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury reopens on Saturday, 25th July, with a new exhibition marking the 150th anniversary of the author’s death. Technicolour Dickens: The Living Image of Charles Dickens explores the power of the writer’s image and features paintings by the likes of William Powell Frith, Victorian-era photographs, ink drawings by “Automatons”, and letters from Dickens in which he explains what he really thought of sitting for portraits. The museum has also commissioned artist and photographer Oliver Clyde to create eight colourised portraits based on images taken from its collection. For more see www.dickensmuseum.com. Other reopenings this coming week include the Horniman Museum (Thursday, 30th July).
• The Royal Parks are launching a ‘Summer of Kindness’ campaign to keep the parks clean after unprecedented levels of rubbish were left in the parks during the coronavirus lockdown. The Royal Parks, which played a key role in the physical and mental wellbeing of many people during the lockdown, report that some 258.4 tonnes of rubbish – the equivalent in weight of 20 new London buses or 74 elephants – were collected from London’s eight Royal Parks in June alone with staff having to spend more than 11,000 hours to clear up. And, with groups now able to gather, the littering has continued, prompting The Royal Parks to call for visitors to care for the parks by binning litter or taking it home. So, please, #BeKindToYourParks.
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• The Tower of London will officially lower the drawbridge in a symbolic ceremony this Friday morning to announce its reopening after a 16 week closure, the longest since World War II. A new one-way route has been introduced to allow for social distancing and while the Yeoman Warders, known as Beefeaters, won’t be restarting their tour immediately, they will be able to answer visitor questions. The Crown Jewels exhibition will also be reopening. Online bookings are essential. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/.
• Westminster Abbey reopens its doors to visitors on Saturday after the longest closure since it did so to prepare for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The abbey will initially be open to visitors on Saturdays and on Wednesday evenings, with a limited number of timed entry tickets available solely through advance booking online.
• The Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace as well as Royal Collection Trust shops reopened to the public this week. The Queen’s Gallery exhibition George IV: Art & Spectacle has been extended until 1st November while Japan: Courts and Culture, which had been originally due to open in June this year, is now expected to open in spring 2022. Tickets must be booked in advance at www.rct.uk/tickets.
• Other reopenings include Kew Gardens’ famous glasshouses (from last weekend) and the Painted Hall, King William Undercroft and interpretation gallery at Greenwich (from Monday 13th July).
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PICTURE: Nick Fewings/Unsplash.
The next two entries in our countdown…
While there are plague columns and crosses commemorating those who died in plagues during the Middle Ages in other parts of the UK and Europe, London oddly doesn’t have a grand monument. But there are some smaller monuments to be found for those who really look.
A poignant one to just a few of the thousands who died in London of the “Black Death” (a particularly severe form of bubonic plague) between 1348 and early 1350s can be found in Westminster Abbey’s cloisters.
A large black marble stone set in the floor, it is inscribed with a statement recording that, according to the Victorian-era Dean, Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, the remains of 26 monks of Westminster who died in the Black Death of 1348 lie beneath it.
But the story isn’t so simple. The original stone – which had indeed been put in place by Dean Stanley with the inscription “Beneath this stone are supposed to be interred twenty six monks of Westminster who died of the Black Death in 1348” – was lifted to be recut in 1972 and it was found that there were, in fact, no bones beneath it – just one coffin which belonged to a Henrietta Pulteney who died in 1808.
It has been suggested that the bones may have been moved when new pipework was laid in the cloister in the 1750s and that the bones may have been reburied in the cloister garth (the grassed area at the centre of the cloister ‘courtyard’) due to the fact that a number of skeletons had been found here in the 19th century.
The current inscription – “Dean Stanley records that beneath this stone are interred twenty-six monks of Westminster who died in the Black Death in 1348” – was added in the 1970s.
Interestingly, there is another plague victim buried nearby – Abbot Simon de Bircheston, who only held the post for five years before he died during the Black Death in 1349, was buried in the east cloister. His name and dates were cut on a white stone in 1922 but the original epitaph was apparently more elaborate, reading: “Simon de Bircheston, venerable abbot, deservedly stands pre-eminent, with an everlasting name. Now, fortified by the prayers of the brethren, may he, with the kindly fathers, flourish in felicity before God”.
Jonas Hanway is famous for being the first man in London to dare carry an umbrella publicly, but there was much more to the life of this merchant, traveller and philanthropist.
Hanway was born in mid-1712, in Portsmouth on England’s south coast, and he was still just a child when his father Thomas, whose job involved ensuring the supply of food to the Royal Navy, died in 1714.
Hanway’s family may have subsequently settled in Hampshire but in 1728 Jonas himself was in London. There, it is speculated that he stayed with his uncle Major John Hanway (after whom Hanway Street, which runs off Tottenham Court Road, is named) in Oxford Street briefly before he was packed off as an apprentice to the English ‘factory’ in Lisbon, Portugal.
Hanway is said to have spent more than a decade in Lisbon learning the job of a merchant before returning to London in 1741. He joined the Russia Company as a junior partner in 1743 and subsequently headed off to St Petersburg where he planned and then launched an expedition to Persia via Moscow and Astrakan with hopes of selling English broadcloth in exchange for Russian silk and evaluating the trade potential of the region.
But his caravan robbed by Khyars, allies of the Turkomens, before he even reached Persia and he was forced to flee in disguise along the southern shore of the Caspian Sea until he was rescued by fellow merchants.
Returning to St Petersburg, Hanway spent the next five years working there before returning to England, via Germany and the Netherlands.
Back in London, he continued working with the Russia Company (as well as penning an account of his adventures in Russia and Persia in 1753 – it was the most popular of several books he wrote).
He also started venturing into philanthropy, becoming a governor of the Foundling Hospital and founding The Marine Society – an organisation to ensure the ongoing supply of sailors for the Royal Navy – in 1756. In 1762 he was appointed a commissioner for victualling the Royal Navy, a post he held for a couple of decades.
Hanway was also an instrumental figure in the founding of Whitechapel’s Magdalen Hospital for women who had become pregnant outside of marriage which opened in 1758. Other causes among the wide variety he was vocal on included helping ensure poor children were better looked after through the keeping of better records, advocating for better working conditions for child chimney sweep apprentices, and calling for an end to tea drinking (a cause which saw him cross swords with none other than Samuel Johnson).
Hanway died on 5th September, 1786, and was buried in the crypt of St Mary’s Church in Hanwell. A monument to him, sculpted by John Francis Moore, was erected in Westminster Abbey in 1786 in commemoration of his philanthropy.
As for that umbrella carrying? While women had apparently been carrying them in public since 1705, Hanway become the first man to do so in the early 1750s following a trip to Paris. Despite the public opprobrium he attracted – particularly from the hackney coachmen, whose business his habit threatened if widely adopted – it was Hanway who, evidently, had the last laugh.
PICTURE: A portrait of Jonas Hanway by James Northcote (1785) © National Portrait Gallery (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Located on the banks of the River Wandle in Morden, south London, Morden Hall was built for the Garth family in the 18th century on the site of an earlier manor house.
The manor, which had once been held by the abbot of Westminster Abbey, had been in the Garth family since it was purchased by Richard Garth, a clerk and son of a successful lawyer, following the Dissolution in the 16th century. At the time, the newly built manor house, apparently known as Growtes, stood just to the south of where the hall now stands.
In 1867, the Garth family sold the altered house and estate to a tobacco merchant, Gilliat Hatfeild (Gilliat’s father, Alexander Hatfeild, had, since 1834, leased two mills on the site to ground tobacco from plantations in Virginia into snuff). Gilliat created a park from the land surrounding the hall, planting trees and demolishing cottages.
His son, Gilliat Edward Hatfeild, took over the running of the estate on the death of his father in 1906. During World War I, the hall saw service as a convalescent home for the military and was later used by the Salvation as a home for women and children.
In 1941, Alexander’s grandson, Gilliat Edward Hatfield – who had closed the mills and snuff-making factory in the early 1920s – left the house and the core of the estate (the remainder was occupied by new housing and roads) to the National Trust. The hall itself has since been used as a restaurant and, following a 2015 renovation, is now a venue for weddings.
The 125 acres of grounds, which are open to the public, contain a variety of landscapes including the remains of a deer park, meadows and a wetland. The restored rose garden was first planted by Gilliat Edward Hatfeild in around 1921 in part of what had been his father’s deer park. It was laid out in two halves separated by a small stream with rose-covered bridges. The rose garden also features a massive Westfelton Yew which is believed to be hundreds of years old.
The snuff mills, which were built in 1750 and 1830, are still standing (the western mill contains an exhibition on the life of the Morden mill workers in the Victorian era) as are various workshops, the former stables and Morden Cottage, parts of which date from the 1750s and which was used by GE Hatfeild who preferred living there to the hall. Facilities in the park include the Potting Shed Café near the main entrance and a second-hand bookshop in the former stable yard.
WHERE: Morden Hall Park, Morden Hall Road, Morden (nearest train station is Stableyard); WHEN: The rose garden is open from 8am to 6pm daily (check the website for other times); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/morden-hall-park.
And so we come to our annual countdown of the most popular stories published in 2019. Without further ado here’s the first two…
We’ll publish the next two tomorrow…
Yes, London has an officially dated oldest door. In fact, it’s the oldest door in Britain.
Made of five vertical oak planks – all cut from the same tree, most likely felled on abbey lands, possibly in Essex – and held in place by three horizontal iron straps, it opens from the Abbey Cloisters into the octagonal Chapter House’s outer vestibule. In 2005 it was dated, using ring-patterns in the wood, to around 1050.
The door now stands six-and-a-half feet high and four foot wide but it has been cut down. It’s believed the original door was nine foot high and slightly wider.
It’s thought to be probable that both faces were originally covered with animal hide (the iron straps are, unusually recessed into the wood on both sides to enable this, and were covered with decorative iron straps and hinges – only one of decorative straps remains today).
The door may have originally served as the door to the chapter house built for Edward the Confessor’s abbey. It is believed to have been moved into its current location in about 1250 when King Henry III’s Chapter House was built as part of extravagant reconstruction of the abbey.
WHERE: Westminster Abbey (nearest Tube stations are Westminster and St James’s Park); WHEN: Times vary – see the website for details; COST: £23 adults/£20 concession/£10 children (discounts for buying online; family rates available); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org
• Two 13th century manuscripts from Westminster Abbey’s collection have this month gone on show in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries at the abbey to mark the 750th anniversary of King Henry III’s rebuilding of the church originally constructed on the orders of Edward the Confessor. Believed to have never before been displayed to the public, the manuscripts – which feature ink script on vellum and have wax seals on silk cords attached – include a royal charter dated 1246 in which King Henry III announces his intention to be buried alongside Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey and an inventory of Edward the Confessor’s Shrine dating from 1267 which shows how much gold, precious stones and jewels were taken from it and pawned to provide the king with much-needed money. The documents can only be seen until 28th October. Admission charge applies. For more, www.westminster-abbey.org/visit-us/plan-your-visit/the-queens-diamond-jubilee-galleries. The display is one of number of special events taking place to mark the anniversary of the third consecration of the abbey church which took place in the presence of King Henry III on 13th October, 1269. While Queen Elizabeth II and the Duchess of Cornwall attended a special service to mark the occasion on Tuesday, other events aimed at the public include a special family day next Wednesday (23rd October) featuring medieval re-enactors in the cloisters, the chance to meet some of the abbey staff and to take part in a family-friendly Eucharist as well as a late opening for amateur photographers to take photographs inside the abbey (23rd October), and special family tours of the abbey (22nd and 24th October). Meanwhile, this Saturday, the abbey will host the National Pilgrimage to the Shrine of St Edward the Confessor. For more on other events at the abbey, head to www.westminster-abbey.org/events.
• The National Gallery launched its first mental health awareness tour to mark World Mental Health Day last week. The tour, which is available as a smartphone app, aims to improve understanding of mental health among gallery visitors with an alternative perspective on the collection which draws on young people’s experiences of mental health – gleaned through workshops with 16 to 25-year-olds – and connects visitors with the gallery’s paintings to challenge common myths about mental health. The tour includes a focus on paintings by Van Gogh, Cima, Crivelli and Joseph Wright of Derby as well as the gallery’s architecture and figures from its portico entrance mosaic flooring such as Virginia Woolf and Winston Churchill. The tour – co-created by researchers from King’s College London, the McPin Foundation, a group of young people affected by mental health issues and members of the Gallery’s Young Producers programme and funded by Medical Research Council and the British Academy – is available free to visitors for six months. For more, see nationalgallery.org.uk.
• Kenwood House in Hampstead is hosting a special display commemorating 350 years since Rembrandt’s death on 4th October, 1669. The exhibition – Rembrandt #nofilter – centres on the artist’s Self-portrait with Two Circles which has been taken from its usual place in the former dining room and represented in the dining room lobby alongside a digital photo mosaic of the painting made of “selfies” taken by visitors to Kenwood. Entry is free Runs until 12th January. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/kenwood/.
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Architect Nicholas Hawksmoor was a key figure in the creation of the fabric of London as we know it, working alongside Sir Christopher Wren as well as alone, and responsible for numerous works with can still be seen in London today.
Hawksmoor was born into a yeoman farming family in Nottinghamshire in around 1661-62 but little else is known of his early life. He probably received a fairly basic education but is believed to have been taken on a clerk to a justice in Yorkshire before, thanks to encountering a decorative plasterer by the name of Edward Gouge, travelling to London.
There, Hawksmoor was introduced to Wren who, agreed to take on the young man as his personal clerk at just the age of 18. He moved through a number of junior positions in Wren’s household before becoming deputy surveyor at Winchester Palace – between 1683 and 1685 – under Wren.
He went on to work with his mentor on numerous further projects; these included Chelsea Hospital, St Paul’s Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace and Greenwich Hospital as well as Kensington Palace where, thanks to Wren’s support, he was named clerk of works in 1689 (as well as deputy surveyor of works at Greenwich). He remained in these posts for some 25 years before he was removed thanks to political machinations (although he later returned to the secretaryship).
Hawksmoor also worked with Sir John Vanbrugh, assisting him in building Blenheim Palace, taking over command of the job in 1705. Vanbrugh made him his deputy and Hawksmoor later succeeded him as architect at Castle Howard in Yorkshire, designing a number of monuments in the gardens, including the great mausoleum.
Hawksmoor is described as one of the masters of the English Baroque style – Easton Nelson in Northamptonshire, which he designed for Sir William Fermor, is an exemplar of his work (and the only country house for which he was sole architect, although it remain uncompleted).
Hawksmoor also worked on buildings for the university at Oxford and while All Soul’s College was among buildings he completed, many of his proposed designs were not implemented for various reasons (as were grand plans he had for the redesign of central Oxford).
From 1711, Hawksmoor was busy again in London where, following the passing of an Act of Parliament, he was appointed as one of the surveyors to a commission charged with overseeing the building of 50 new churches in London.
The commission only completed 12 churches, but half of them were designed by Hawksmoor (and he collaborated with fellow surveyor John James on two more). Hawksmoor’s completed churches include St Alfege in Greenwich, St George’s, Bloomsbury, Christ Church in Spitalfields, St George in the East in Wapping, St Mary Woolnoth, and St Anne’s Limehouse (the churches he collaborated on include James are St Luke Old Street and the now demolished St John Horsleydown).
In 1723, following Wren’s death, he was appointed Surveyor to Westminster Abbey and, as well as aspects of the interior (some of which still survive to this day) designed the landmark west towers (although they weren’t completed until after his death).
Hawksmoor died at his home in Millbank on 25th March, 1736, from what was described as “gout of the stomach”, having struggled with his health for a couple of decades previously. He was buried at the now deconsecrated church in Shenley, Hertsfordshire.
Hawksmoor was survived by his wife Hester by a year, and a daughter, Elizabeth.
PICTURES: Top – The West Towers of Westminster Abbey; Right – St Anne’s, Limehouse. (David Adams)
Many people are aware of the memorial to 17th century playwright and poet Ben Jonson that sits among the who’s who of the literary world commemorated in Westminster Abbey’s famous Poet’s Corner. But fewer people visit the poet’s actual grave, located a short distance away in the northern aisle of the nave.
And while visitors to the northern aisle of the nave may think its a small stone set into the wall above the floor itself, with the inscription ‘O rare Ben Johnson’ (note the ‘h’ used here in his name), which marks the grave’s location, we’re not quite there yet.
The stone, which was indeed the original stone covering Jonson’s grave, was actually moved from the floor to this position when the entire nave floor was being relaid in the 19th century. For the actual location of Jonson’s grave you have to head back to the aisle’s floor and there, just to the east of a brass commemorating John Hunter, you’ll find a small, grey lozenge-shaped stone which marks the actual grave site (and bears the same inscription with the same spelling).
The inscription can also be found on his Poet’s Corner memorial. It was apparently put on Jonson’s grave stone when one Jack Young passed by the grave as it was being covered and gave a mason 18 pence to carve it (Young is said to have been knighted later on).
All that’s very well but what really sets Ben Jonson’s grave apart from the other more than 3,500 graves buried in the abbey is that Jonson is the only person known to have been interred below the abbey floor standing upright.
The poet died in a somewhat impoverished state and it’s that which is said to explain the unusual arrangement. One version of the tale has the poet begging for just 18 square inches of ground for his burial from King Charles I; another has him telling the Abbey’s Dean that he was too poor to be buried with his fellow poets and that a space two foot square would serve him (the Dean apparently granted him his wish which meant Jonson’s coffin lowered into the ground end on end).
The fact he was buried upright in his coffin was apparently confirmed in 1849 when a clerk saw skeletal remains of a standing person in the spot Jonson was buried while doing another burial nearby.
The monument in Poet’s Corner, meanwhile, was erected in the early 1720s by the Earl of Oxford. It features a medallion portrait of him with actor’s masks and a broken golden lamp symbolising death on top. It was designed by James Gibbs and attributed to the sculptor JM Rysbrack.
WHERE: North Aisle, Westminster Abbey (nearest Tube stations are Westminster and St James’s Park); WHEN: Times vary – see the website for details; COST: £23 adults/£20 concession/£10 children (discounts for buying online; family rates available); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org
PICTURES: Top – The original grave marker now set in the wall; Below – The tile marking the actual grave site (Google Maps – images have been treated to improve resolution).
This month (we’ve just managed to sneak it in) marks the 330th anniversary of the coronation of joint sovereigns, King William III and Queen Mary II – the first and only time such a coronation has ever happened in England.
The two were crowned in a joint – and glittering – ceremony at Westminster Abbey on 11th April, 1689, following what was known as the “Glorious Revolution” in which they assumed the monarchy after Mary’s father, King James, II fled to the continent following William’s invasion in late 1688.
At the coronation, King William took the abbey’s famous Coronation Chair while a second seat was brought in for the Queen.
William also used the coronation regalia which had been created for King Charles II in 1661 but Mary, a monarch in her own right, needed a new set. Given the time constraints (the ceremony was to take place as soon as possible given the uncertain political climate), she ended up using the repurposed regalia created for her step-mother, second wife and consort of King James II, Mary of Modena, as well as some newly created pieces.
Controversially, the ceremony was presided over by the Bishop of London, Henry Compton, after William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury – his title meant he would usually undertake such a task, refused to be involved thanks to his support of the now deposed King James II.
Earlier that day, the King and Queen had travelled separately from Whitehall to Westminster – him by barge and she by chair – and after being taken into Westminster Hall, processed, surrounded by dignitaries and to the sound of trumpets, to Westminster Abbey where the ceremony took place.
After the coronation, the newly crowned Sovereigns returned to Westminster Hall where a lavish banquet was held.
A new stained glass window depicting bright country scenes was unveiled in Westminster Abbey last week in honour of Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen’s Window, located in the south transept overlooking Poet’s Corner, is the work of world-renowned artist David Hockney and was commissioned by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster to celebrate her reign. The work is Hockney’s first in stained glass and features a Yorkshire scene with hawthorn blossom which uses his distinct colour palette of yellow, red, blue, pink, orange and greens. “The subject reflects The Queen as a countrywoman and her widespread delight in, and yearning for, the countryside,” the abbey said in a statement. The window was created by York-based stained glass artists Barley Studio to Hockney’s designs. Other artists who have completed stained glass works in the abbey include Sir Ninian Comper, Hugh Easton and John Piper with the last stained glass windows, by Hughie O’Donoghue, installed in the Lady Chapel in 2013. PICTURE: Alan Williams/Westminster Abbey
Opened on 22nd January, 1876, this short-lived building at the junction of Tothill and Victoria Streets in Westminster – across the road from Westminster Abbey, was designed as an entertainment venue offering a space for art exhibitions, concerts and plays in similar fashion to that of the famous Crystal Palace then located in Sydenham.
The classically styled and highly ornamented two storey building was designed by Alfred Bedborough and built of Portland stone and red brick. Its initial board of directors included composer Arthur Sullivan (he of Gilbert and Sullivan fame), retailer William Whiteley, and financier Henry Labouchére, covered an area of almost three acres.
It featured a central hall which stood 340 feet in length and 160 feet wide and was covered with a barrel-shaped iron and glass roof. The interior featured palm trees and other exotic plants, fountains, sculptures, space for a 400 member orchestra, and, 13 large tanks for sea creatures which were fed with fresh and sea water from four cisterns
These tanks, which gave the premises its name as well as its nickname, ‘The Tank’, didn’t prove all that successful. They were initially left empty, prompting author Charles Dickens to note that they become something of a “standing joke”, and even as late as 1896 were described as providing a “beggarly show of fish”.
As well as the main hall, the premises also boasted multiple smaller rooms including eating and drinking establishments, an art gallery, ice-skating rink, reading room, telegraph office, and, at its west end, the Aquarium Theatre, which in 1879 was renamed the Imperial Theatre. There was even apparently a division bell installed for MPs visiting from the nearby Houses of Parliament.
By the 1890s, the entertainments had become more low-brow and the building had become associated with illicit sexual liaisons. Its popularity declined.
In 1903, it was sold to the Methodist Church and Methodist Central Hall was built on the site in 1911. The theatre, however, wasn’t demolished until 1907 – the interior, however, was saved and apparently re-erected as the Imperial Palace of Varieties in Canning Town in 1909 (which itself was destroyed by fire in 1931).
PICTURE: A from 1896 book, The Queen’s London: a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, showing the Royal Aquarium in c1876.