From the Trafalgar Square end. PICTURE: Johen Redman/Unsplash
A memorial commemorating the role of the Chindit Special Forces in Burma during World War II has been awarded a Grade II listing on the National Heritage List for England in honour of the 75th anniversary of Victory in Japan (VJ) Day. Located in Victoria Embankment Gardens outside the Ministry of Defence building in Whitehall, the memorial’s granite plinth is topped with a bronze chinthe, a mythical beast that stands guard outside Burmese temples. The Chindit Special Forces, which were formed by British Army officer Major General Orde Charles Wingate and disbanded in early 1945, are credited with helping to turn the tide of World War II against Japan in the Far East. The memorial was designed by architect David Price and the chinthe sculpture the work of Frank Forster. It was unveiled by Prince Philip on 16th October, 1990. On Saturday, as the nation commemorated VJ Day, a military delegation lad a wreath at the foot of the memorial. PICTURE: Derek Voller (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were among those taking part in ‘Clap for Carers’ – in their case outside Number 10 Downing Street in Whitehall – on Thursday night. People across London took part in the countrywide initiative thanking healthcare workers for their efforts during the current coronavirus crisis. We join in thanking them! PICTURE: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Images of London from the 1960s showing, top, a view of Whitehall ad the Cenotaph, and below, looking across the Thames to the Houses of Parliament. PICTURES: Annie Spratt/Unsplash
The most grand of the entrances to the now demolished Whitehall Palace, this monumental gateway – located in what is now Whitehall, at the south end of and on the other side of the road to the Banqueting House – was built in 1531-32 on the orders of King Henry VIII.
The name apparently comes from the tradition that the three story gate was designed by Hans Holbein but there is apparently some doubt that was the case.
The gate had rooms on the first and second floor with small flanking turrets to either side. It boasted a Royal Coat of Arms over the archway under the gate along with other royal emblems including the Tudor rose. There were also several busts set into roundels on the black and white chequerboard facade, possibly by Giovanni da Maiano.
King Henry VIII apparently used the chambers as a study and library (and later, it’s said, to store the wheelchairs he required late in life). Most famously, the upper room is also believed to have been the location where he secretly married Anne Boleyn on 25th January, 1533.
The upper floor was used as the Paper Office between 1672 until 1756 while the lower floor was used as lodgings with residents including the Ludovic Stewart, 2nd Duke of Lennox and Barbara Villiers, Lady Castlemaine, famed as one of the mistresses of King Charles II.
Remarkably, the building, along with the Banqueting House, survived the fire of January 1698 which destroyed most of the palace. Proposals were subsequently put forward to demolish the gate to allow better flow of traffic but these were fended off until August, 1759, when it was destroyed along with an adjacent house.
PICTURE: Whitehall Showing Holbein’s Gate and Banqueting Hall by Thomas Sandby, c1760 (now at the Yale Center for British Art)
News today that Boris Johnson will be the next Prime Minister of the UK. Johnson, who will take over from Theresa May – only the second woman to hold the office – as PM tomorrow after winning the Conservative Party vote over Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, will be the 14th Prime Minister to serve in the office during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. PICTURE: US State Department
This year marks 350 years since London’s now famous diarist, Samuel Pepys, wrote the final entry in what was his private diary.
The final entry was written on 31st May, 1669, and mentions a liaison with one Betty Mitchell, a trip on the Thames to Whitehall where he met with the Duke of York, and an outing with his wife Elizabeth and friends to the The World’s End, a drinking house at the western end of Hyde Park in Knightsbridge.
Pepys had started writing the diary on 1st January, 1660, at the age of just 26, and over the next nine years, its more than a million words covered some of the critical events including the coronation of King Charles II, the Great Plague of 1665 and The Great Fire of 1666.
Many believe that the diary was never intended for a mass readership (although some scholars disagree with this opinion), but, if that was the case, Pepys did take some precautions just in case, using codes for the mistresses he met, for example.
He stopped writing the diary because he assumed he was going blind – he asks in the final sentence for God to help him “prepare all the discomforts that will accompany my being blind”.
You can read Pepys’ final entry and the the complete diary of Pepys online at www.pepysdiary.com.
Thousands of people, including Queen Elizabeth II and members of the Royal Family, attended Whitehall on Sunday to take part in the National Service of Remembrance, this year marking 100 years since the end of World War I. The event included two minutes silence at 11am and wreaths were laid at the base of the Cenotaph to commemorate the servicemen and women killed in all conflicts from the World War I onwards. In an historic first, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier laid a wreath during the ceremony. Following the service, a procession involving 10,000 members of the public who were selected by a ballot marched past the monument and through London. ALL PICTURES: Crown Copyright/Ministry of Defence.
• The 803rd Lord Mayor’s Show will this Saturday wend its way through the streets of the City of London as new Lord Mayor Peter Estlin takes office. This year’s hour-and-a-half long procession features more than 7,000 people, 200 horses and 140 motor and steam-driven vehicles. Leaving from Mansion House at 11am, it travels to the Royal Courts via St Paul’s and then returns along Embankment at 1.15pm. And while there will be no fireworks this year, there will be two new ‘family entertainment zones’. The first, in Paternoster Square and around St Paul’s Cathedral, will include a film show featuring archival footage, art installations and street theatre as well as food stalls. The second, in Bloomberg Arcade near Mansion House, will feature music and dance, art and sound installations, the MOLA’s (Museum of London Archaeology) Time Truck, as well as technology and apprenticeship workshops and food. For more information, head to https://lordmayorsshow.london. PICTURE: The Lord Mayor’s coach during last year’s procession (John; licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
• The National Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall will this Sunday mark a century since the end of World War I. Starting at 11am (the public will be admitted to Whitehall from 8am), the service commemorates the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women involved in the two World Wars and later conflicts. This year’s ceremony will be followed by ‘The Nation’s Thank You – The People’s Procession’, featuring 10,000 members of the public. Large viewing screens will be placed to the north of the Cenotaph, near the green outside the main Ministry of Defence building and outside the Scotland Office, and south of the Cenotaph on the corner of King Charles Street. For more on the day, follow this link and for more on bell-ringing ceremonies across the day, see https://armistice100.org.uk.
• The relationship between the British Royal Family and the Romanovs in Russia is explored in a new art exhibition opening at the The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, this Friday. Highlights of Russia: Royalty & the Romanovs include a series of watercolours specially commissioned by Prince Alfred, second eldest son of Queen Victoria, to record his wedding to Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna, daughter of Alexander II, at the Winter Palace in St Petersburg in 1874 so that his mother, who was unable to attend, didn’t miss out. There’s also works by Fabergé and portraits of royal figures by the likes of Sir Godfrey Kneller and Sir Thomas Lawrence. The exhibition is accompanied by another display featuring renowned photographer Roger Fenton’s images from the war in Crimea in 1855. Both exhibitions run until 28th April. Admission charges apply. The exhibition is accompanied by a programme of events. For more, see www.rct.uk/visit/the-queens-gallery-buckingham-palace. PICTURE (above): Nicholas Chevalier, The Bal Polonaise at the Winter Palace, St Petersburg, 23 January 1874, 1876 (Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018).
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OK, this is an unusual one – a TV show instead of a person, but given it’s 30 years this month since the last episode was broadcast on 28th January, 1988, we thought we’d pause to remember a landmark couple of TV series.
Yes Minister, which starred Paul Eddington as the hapless newly-elevated first time government minister Jim Hacker, first aired on BBC on 25th February, 1980.
The show centred on the trials and tribulations of Mr Hacker as he tried to bring about the sort of changes he had dreamed about as a candidate, opposed by an obstructionist civil service – in particular the Permanent Secretary to the Minister for Administrative Affairs, Sir Humphrey Appleby (played by Sir Nigel Hawthorne). Caught between the two – with loyalties to both – was Mr Hacker’s Principal Private Secretary Bernard Woolley, played by Derek Fowlds.
While the Houses of Parliament (pictured above) are shown as a drawing on the opening credits, the action rarely moves to the House of Commons but largely takes place in Mr Hacker’s Whitehall office and other offices and private clubs in the Westminster area under the premise that it’s behind the scenes where the real work of politics does (or doesn’t) get done.
The show was famous for almost always finishing with Sir Humphrey muttering those immortal words “Yes, Minister”, even as he has thwarted another of the minister’s plans.
Three series of seven episodes were made which ran until 1984 (there were also two Christmas specials) . A follow-up series, Yes Prime Minister, first aired in 1986 and centred once again on Jim Hacker, this time following his elevation to the role of PM. Sir Humphrey continued to be a thorn in his side.
The show, which was also adapted for radio, won several BAFTAs and was said to be a favourite of British PM Margaret Thatcher. It was later made into a stage play and this in turn lead to a “revival” series being produced.
The show has been referenced numerous times in popular culture as well as real-life politics – Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke was a fan and even Humphrey, a former Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office, was named after Sir Humphrey.
PICTURE: Jamie Street/Unsplash
Located beneath the Banqueting House – a remnant of the Palace of Whitehall, the undercroft was originally designed by Inigo Jones (who designed the building as a whole) as a private drinking den for King James I.
French landscaper and architect Isaac de Caus was commissioned to decorate one end of the vaulted undercroft as a shell grotto where the king could relax with his friends. In 1623, it received a dedication from Ben Jonson:
“Since Bacchus, thou art father
Of wines, to thee the rather
We dedicate this Cellar
Where now, thou art made Dweller.”
Following the Restoration, during the reign of King Charles II, the basement was used to hold lotteries – John Evelyn describes one such event taking place in 1664 in his famed diary, although soon after this was moved into a purpose-built facility nearby.
The undercroft was subsequently used for storage including during the reign of King James II when it was apparently used to store furnishings from the Privy and Council Chambers of Whitehall Palace while they were being rebuilt.
From the late 1890s until the 1960s, it became part of the museum of the Royal United Services Institute (which also used the hall upstairs) but following a restoration in 1992, is now open to the public and also used for special events at the building.
WHERE: Undercroft, Banqueting House, Whitehall (nearest Tube is Westminster or Charing Cross); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily (check if there is a private function); COST: £5.50 adults (16+)/children under 16 free/Historic Royal Palaces members free; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/banqueting-house/
Palmerston, the ‘chief mouser’ to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall, captured by photographer Steve Way during the Open House London weekend, apparently oblivious to the crowds. Palmerston was recently the subject of a Freedom of Information release which stated that since his arrival at the FCO in April, 2016, he had been seen capturing 27 mice (although the Office of the Permanent Under-Secretary at the FCO reports the actual figure is “likely to be much higher as these are only reported sightings”). The FOI document also revealed Palmerston eats a variety of food brands, usually ‘Whiskas’ and is cared for by a number of volunteers from across the FCO.
With the recent change at 10 Downing Street – David Cameron out/Theresa May in – we thought it a good time to look back at when the man considered Britain’s first PM moved in.
Sir Robert Walpole, commonly considered Britain’s first Prime Minister although he was never formally known by that title, was actually First Lord of the Treasury when in early 1730s King George II presented him with the terrace house at 10 Downing Street, off Whitehall, and the large mansion behind it (in fact the title of ‘First Lord of the Treasury’ can still be seen inscribed on the brass letter-box on the property’s front door).
Sir Robert accepted the king’s gift, but only on condition that it be made available to all future First Lords of the Treasury And he didn’t move in until 22nd September, 1735, having had architect William Kent join the terrace house with the mansion behind it before doing so.
Kent had joined the houses on two levels with the main entrance facing onto Downing Street instead of Horse Guards. The Walpoles would live at the back of the new house where Kent had created a series of grand rooms – suitable for receiving honoured guests – and had built an unusual three sided staircase which remains a star sight of the building today.
Walpole used the ground floor of the new property for business and set-up his study in what is now the Cabinet Room. Lady Walpole used the upstairs room now known as the White Drawing Room as her sitting room and what is now called the Terracotta Room (although the name of this room changes with the colour scheme) as the dining room.
Among those who attended 10 Downing Street during the Walpole’s residency were luminaries such as Queen Caroline (wife of King George II) as well as prominent politicians, writers and military figures.
The Walpoles left in 1742 and it was more than 20 years later before another First Lord of the Treasury moved in.
PICTURE: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC/ Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.
The site of the climatic showdown in V for Vendetta between the silent hoards of masked protestors and the military, Parliament Square is featured in some dramatic aerial shots before, moments after midnight in the early hours of 5th November, the Houses of Parliament explode to the sprightly sounds of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
Of course, it’s far from the only London location to feature in the 2006 film which is largely set in the city – among other locations are Trafalgar Square where the protestors gather before marching down Whitehall, and the Old Bailey which explodes in the first scene as well as the former Underground station of Aldwych – located on a former spur line of Piccadilly Line which closed to the public in 1994.
Meanwhile, the Houses of Parliament – also known as the Palace of Westminster (for more on its history, head here) – and the Clock Tower (see our Treasures of London article for more here) have made innumerable appearances on the big screen, including in several Bond films including Thunderbolt (1965), 28 Days Later (2002), and, more recently, in Suffragette (2015).
It’s not often that we feature living people in ‘Famous Londoners’, but this prominent figure, albeit not a human, deserves special mention.
A resident of Number 10 Downing Street in Whitehall, Larry the cat is officially Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office – a position for which he has won accolades (and, at times, reproaches, for a seeming lack of action in the face of invasion – this includes, most recently the arrival of a heron at the residence, with Larry nowhere to be found).
Larry arrived at Downing Street (then home to Conservative PM David Cameron) in February, 2011, then a four-year-old tabby who came from the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in south London and was apparently recruited to deal with a rodent problem after they were spotted in news broadcasts behind correspondents. It was June, some four months later, before he apparently made his first kill.
Larry has had an at times prickly relationship with the media – it started soon after his arrival at Downing Street when he scratched ITV reporter Lucy Manning who was trying to get him to pose for a news item (you can see it here).
He’s also apparently had some run-ins with visiting dignitaries – although US President Barack Obama apparently was able to stroke him without incident – and with Freya, Chancellor George Osborne’s cat (who has since been exiled to Kent).
Larry isn’t the first cat to live at Downing Street – his predecessors include Wilberforce who lived there for 18 years during the tenure of PMs including Edward Heath, Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, and Margaret Thatcher, and Humphrey, who served Ms Thatcher, John Major and, briefly Tony Blair, before he retired in 1997. But Larry is the first who has officially held the title of Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office.
PICTURE: HM Government (via Wikipedia).
The headquarters of the East India Company, the ‘New’ East India House, was built in the 1720s at the corner of Leadenhall and Lime Streets on the site of what had been a late Elizabethan mansion known as Craven House.
The company, which was founded in 1600, was housed in several different properties (including Crosby Hall – now located at Chelsea) until it moved into Craven House in 1648 – built by a former Lord Mayor, Sir Robert Lee, and named after one of its later occupants Sir William Craven. In 1661 an ornamental wooden structure featuring paintings of some of the Company’s ships and a wooden sculpture of a seaman, was added to the facade of the building.
By the 1720s, the mansion was crumbling and so construction began on a new building on the site designed by Theodore Jacobsen (the Company was relocated to a temporary premises in Fenchurch Street while it was built).
The three storey building on Leadenhall Street was designed with five bays and beyond the facade featured grand meeting rooms including the Directors’ Court Room, offices for the directors as well as a hall, courtyard, garden and warehouses. Famous art works inside included the fresco The East Offering its Riches to Britannia by then little known Greek artist Spiradone RomaThe East Offering its Riches to Britannia which once adorned the ceiling of the Revenue Committee Room (it’s now in the collection of the British Library).
The building was renovated and extended significantly in the 1790s creating what was essentially a grand new neo-classical building. Among the new additions – although it seems a matter of some debate the building was apparently designed by Henry Holland with the work was overseen by the Company’s surveyor Richard Jupp until his death in 1799 – were a museum and library. A new pediment topped by Brittania dominated the facade.
When the East India Company was wound up in 1858 after the Indian Mutiny its assets were transferred to the government and the building briefly became home to the India Office (which subsequently moved to a new purpose-built building which still stands in Whitehall).
In 1861, the building was sold for redevelopment and subsequently demolished. Many of its fittings, art collection and furnishings were transferred elsewhere including the British Library, V&A and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall where many of the fittings of the Directors’ Court Room – including a great marble chimneypiece – were reused.
The location of the property is now covered by the landmark Lloyd’s building with little to indicate such a grand premises had once stood here.
PICTURE: The extended East India House in about 1800, by Thomas Malton the Younger (1748-1804)/via Wikipedia.
For more on the history of the East India Company, see John Keay’s The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company.
• 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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One of the most famous streets (and photographed) in London (though sadly not open to the public), Downing Street in Whitehall is these days most well-known for being the location, at Number 10, of the official residence of the British Prime Minister.
But Downing Street’s history dates back to a time before the first British PM moved in (this was Sir Robert Walpole in the 1735 and even after that, it didn’t become a regular thing for Prime Ministers to live here until the Twentieth century). And its name bears testimony to its creator, Sir George Downing, a soldier and diplomat described as “a miserly and at times brutal” man who served first under both Oliver Cromwell and, following the Restoration, King Charles II (and was, coincidentally, one of the first graduates of Harvard University).
In the 1650s, Sir George took over the Crown’s interest in land here, just east of St James’s Park, and intended to build a row of townhouses upon it. His ambitions were delayed, however, due to an existing lease with the descendants of Elizabethan courtier Sir Thomas Knyvet who had once lived in a large home on the site of what is now Number 10 Downing Street.
By the 1680s, however, the lease had expired and between 1682-84, Downing was able to construct a cul-de-sac, closed at the St James’s Park end, featuring either 15 or 20 two storey terraced townhouses with stables and coach-houses, designed by no less than Sir Christopher Wren.
While the homes were apparently of shoddy craftsmanship and stood upon poor foundations (Churchill famously wrote that Number 10 was “shaky and lightly built by the profiteering contractor whose name they bear”), the street apparently attracted some notable residents from the start.
These included the Countess of Yarmouth, who briefly lived at Number 10 in the late 1680s, Lord Lansdowne and the Earl of Grantham, and even, briefly, apparently the diarist James Boswell in the mid 1700s. Downing himself isn’t thought to have ever lived here – he retired to Cambridge a few months after the houses were completed.
The houses between Number 10 and Whitehall – on the north side of the street – were taken over by the government and eventually demolished in the 1820s to allow for the construction of offices for the Privy Council, Board of Trade and Treasury while the houses on the south side remained until they were demolished in the early 1860s to make way for the Foreign, India, Colonial and Home Offices.
The numbers in the street have changed since Downing’s houses were first built. Of the original homes in the street only Number 10 (home of the PM) and Number 11 (home of the Chancellor of the Exchequer) survive.
Access to the street has been restricted since the 1980s with the current black steel gates put in place in 1989.
An underground tunnel apparently runs under the street connecting number 10 with Buckingham Palace and the underground bunker, Q-Whitehall, built in the 1950s in the event of nuclear war.