December 9, 2016
A fixture of London’s Christmas festivities since 1947, the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree is given annually to the people of Britain by the city of Oslo as gift thanking them for their support of Norway during World War II.
The tree is harvested from forests near the Norwegian capital and the selection process for the giant, known by forestry workers as the “Queen of the Forest”, starts in May.
The tree is typically a Norway spruce aged somewhere between 50 and 60 years and stands at least 20 metres high. This year’s tree – the 70th – is said to be 116-years-old, stands 22 metres tall and weighs
In keeping with tradition, it was cut down on 16th November in a special ceremony attended by the Mayor of Oslo, Marianne Borgen, and the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Cr Steve Summers, along with various local school children so it can shipped to Britain ready in time for its unveiling at the start of December.
The tree is adorned with lights – in more recent years these are energy efficient light bulbs – in Norwegian style and these are turned on at a special ceremony on the first Thursday in December. The tree remains on display until just before the Twelfth Night of Christmas when it is taken down and recycled as mulch.
The tree now has its own Twitter account.
November 1, 2016
The HMS Belfast has marked 45 years since it sailed up the River Thames to its current mooring site off The Queen’s Walk, just to the west of Tower Bridge. The ship, which is Europe’s only surviving World War II cruiser and which, as well as taking part in that conflict, also saw action in the Korean War, opened to the public in 1971. More than nine million people have since visited the ship which features nine decks, all of which are open to sightseers. For more on the ship, see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/hms-belfast.
January 13, 2016
The final in our series looking at London ‘battlefields’, this week we take a look at the so-called Battle of London, the air war fought over London during World War II which, along with the bombing of other British cities, is best known by the phrase The Blitz (it forms part of the greater Battle of Britain).
Taking place from the afternoon of 7th September, 1940, until May, 1941, the Blitz saw London sustain repeated attacks from the German Luftwaffe, most notably between 7th September and mid November when the city was bombed on every night bar one.
The night of 7th September, the first night of the Blitz (a short form of ‘Blitzkrieg’ – German for ‘lightning war’), was among the worst – with more than 450 killed and 1,300 injured as wave after wave of bombers attacked the city. Another 412 were killed the following night.
One of the most notorious raids took place on 29th December when incendiary bombs dropped on the City of London starting what has been called the Second Great Fire of London. Around a third of the city was destroyed, including more than 30 guild halls and 19 churches, 16 which had been rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666.
The city was only attacked sporadically in the early months of 1941 but the night of the last major raid of the Blitz – that of 10th May, a night subsequently known as The Longest Night – saw the highest casualties of any night with almost 1,500 people reportedly killed.
The Blitz killed almost 30,000 civilian in London, and destroyed more than a million homes with the worst hit districts poorer areas like the East End.
The battle wasn’t one-sided – the RAF fought the Luftwaffe in the skies and did have some wins – on 15th September (a day known as Battle of Britain Day), for example, they shot down some 60 aircraft attacking London for the loss of less than 30 British fighters.
It was this victory which led the Germans to reduce the number of daylight attacks in favour of night-time raids which, until the launch of the RAF’s night-time fighters in 1941, meant they met little effective resistance. This included that of ground defences – throughout December, 1940, it’s said that anti-aircraft fire only brought down 10 enemy planes.
Yet, the Blitz did not lead to a German victory. For the Nazi regime, the purpose of the constant bombing of London (and other cities) was aimed at sapping the morale of its residents to the extent that they would eventually be forced to beg for peace. But the plan failed and Londoners, digging deep, proved their mettle in the face of fear.
Hundreds of thousands of people were involved in Civil Defence working in a range of jobs – everything from air raid shelter wardens to rescue and demolition teams – and worked alongside firefighters whose numbers were supplemented by an auxiliary service. Naturally all suffered a high level of casualties.
As the weeks passed, the carnage mounted in terms of the loss of and damage to life, destruction of property and psychological toll. And yet the Londoners – sheltering Underground, most famously in the tunnels of the Tube – survived and, as had been the case after the first Great Fire of London, the ruined city was eventually rebuilt.
There are numerous Blitz-related memorials in London, many related to specific bombings. But among the most prominent are the National Firefighters Memorial, located opposite St Paul’s Cathedral, which pays tribute to the firefighters who lost their lives in the war (as well as in peacetime), and a riverside memorial in Wapping honouring civilians of East London killed in the Blitz.
September 30, 2015
The church – the third to serve the parish – was built here in 1740 but was replaced when the current parish church was built between 1813 and 1817.
In 1951, the St Marylebone Society created a Memorial Garden of Rest on the site (also known as the Old Church Garden). It was opened in March, 1952, by Viscount Portman.
The foundations of the former church were marked out in the sunken portion of the garden. The predominantly paved garden also contains numerous gravestones and memorials.
These include that of Methodist movement leader Charles Wesley, erected in 1858 to commemorate his burial in 1788 (pictured right). There’s also a plaque recording notable burials at the church, including the painter George Stubbs (1806), royal apothecary John Allen (1774), architect James Gibbs and bare knuckle boxer James Figg (1734). Other plaques detail some of the church’s history.
Also of note in the garden is a Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum), named for being the variety upon which Judas hung himself or, alternately, because its fruit pods resemble bags of silver. The current tree replaces an earlier one.
WHERE: Garden of Rest Marylebone, Marylebone High Street (nearest tube stations are St Paul’s and Barbican); WHEN: 7am to dusk; COST: Entry is free; WEBSITE: www.myparks.westminster.gov.uk/parks/garden-of-rest-marylebone/.
August 14, 2015
A series of secret tunnels, built behind the famous White Cliffs of Dover on the orders of former British PM Winston Churchill, have opened to the public for the first time.
More than 50 volunteers along with archaeologists, engineers, mine consultants and a geologist, spent two years excavating and restoring the tunnels which, known as the Fan Bay Deep Shelter, were aimed at housing men manning gun batteries designed to prevent German ships from moving freely in the English Channel.
The shelter, which was personally inspected by Churchill in June, 1941, provided accommodation for four officers and up to 185 men in five bomb-proof chambers for use during bombardments as well as a hospital and a store room. It was originally dug by Royal Engineers from the 172nd Tunnelling Company in just 100 days.
The tunnels, which were decommissioned in the 1950s and then filled in during the 1970s, were discovered after the National Trust bought the land above in 2012. More than 100 tonnes of soil and rubble were removed during the excavation.
Specialist guides now take visitors on 45 minute, torch-lit, hard hat tours into the shelter – the largest of its kind in Dover, taking visitors down the original 125 steps into the tunnels 23 metres below the surface. Inside can be seen graffiti dating from the war which includes the names of men stationed there as well as ditties and drawings. Other personal mementoes include homemade wire hooks, a needle and thread and ammunition.
Back above ground, there are two World War I sound mirrors which were originally designed to give advance warning of approaching aircraft but which had become obsolete when radar technology was invented in 1935 (pictured in action below).
The tunnels complement those which are already open at Dover Castle (managed by English Heritage).
WHERE: Fan Bay Deep Shelter, Langdon Cliffs, Upper Road, Dover (nearest train station is Dover Priory (two miles); WHEN: Guided tours only – from 9.30am daily until 6th September – tours then on weekdays only until 30th September); COST:£10 adults/£5 children (aged 12-16) (free for National Trust members); WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/white-cliffs-dover.
PICTURE: Top – National Trust/Barry Stewart/; Bottom – National Trust/Crown Copyright.
This Week in London – Duke of Wellington on show; wartime City bank recreated in Warwickshire; and early photographs at the Tate…
April 30, 2015
• The Duke of Wellington’s political and military career as well as his personal life is being explored in an exhibition running at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square until August. Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions features 59 portraits and other works including a rarely seen portrait of the Iron Duke painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence and commissioned by Sarah, Countess of Jersey, a year after Wellington had become Prime Minister. The portrait (pictured) remains unfinished – the state it was in when Lawrence died in 1830 – and, held in a private collection, hasn’t been shown in public for any significant period until now. The exhibition also includes a John Hoppner portrait of the duke as a young soldier, a daguerreotype taken by Antoine Claudet on Wellington’s 75th birthday in 1844 and drawings by Lawrence of Wellington’s wife, Kitty. The exhibition – which is part of the commemorations marking 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo, runs until 7th June. Admission is free. For more see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1829), © On loan to National Portrait Gallery by kind permission of Mr. & Mrs. Timothy Clode.
• Upton House is Warwickshire has turned the clock back to 1939 with a display dedicated to the time when the Bearstead family moved their City-based bank, M Samuel & Co, to their historic family mansion to escape the Blitz in London. Twenty-two bank staff took over the house, sleeping in shared dormitories and taking meals of rook pie in the home’s Long Gallery while secretaries typed surrounded by works of art. The National Trust has returned 12 rooms to their wartime look based on research conducted by 80 of the volunteers at the house. They’re filled with thousands of objects, from ration-book toothpaste to wartime toilet rolls, to recreate a wartime experience at the home. Outside an Anderson Shelter stands in the garden where heritage vegetables are being grown in an allotment. Visitors will also find out how 40 of the most precious works in the home were sent to a special storage facility in a Welsh slate mine to protect them. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/upton-house/
• On Now – Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840-1860. This exhibition at Tate Britain in Millbank is the first major exhibition in Britain dedicated to salt prints, the earliest form of paper photography, and features 90 images including some of the best and rarest early photographs. The salt print technique was invented in Britain in the 1840s and 1850s and spread across the world, hence as well as portraits, still lifes and scenes from ‘modern life’, the images on show include from William Fox Talbot’s images of a Paris street to Nelson’s Column under construction, Linnaeus Tripe’s views of Puthu Mundapam in India and Auguste Salzmann’s studies of statues in Greece. Runs in the Linbury Galleries until 7th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.
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April 24, 2015
Tomorrow is the 25th April – commemorated every year as Anzac Day in Australia in memory of that country’s soldiers who lost their lives. This year marks 100 years since Australian troops first landed at Gallipoli during World War I.
While attention will be focused on Anzac Cove in modern Turkey and the Australian war memorials on what was the Western Front in western Europe, in London there will be several events including a wreath laying ceremony at The Cenotaph in Whitehall, a commemoration and thanksgiving service in Westminster Abbey and a dawn service held at the Australian War Memorial in Hyde Park Corner.
This last memorial, dedicated to the more than 100,000 Australians who died in both world wars, was unveiled on Armistice Day, 2003, in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II, then-Australian PM John Howard and then British PM Tony Blair.
It records the 23,844 names of town where Australians who served in World War I and II were born.
Superimposed over the top are 47 of the major battles they fought. Principal architect Peter Tonkin said the somewhat curvaceous design of the memorial, made of grey-green granite slabs, “reflects the sweep of Australian landscape, the breadth and generosity of our people, the openness that we believe should characterise our culture”.
For more on the wall – including the ability to search for town names – see www.awmlondon.gov.au.
There are numerous memorials to Sir Winston Churchill around London and today we’ll look at a handful of them (while next week we’ll take a look at a couple of the most unusual memorials). We’ve already looked at the most famous statue of him in Parliament Square (in an earlier post here), but here’s some more…
• Allies, Mayfair. These almost life-size bronze statues, located at the juncture of Old and New Bond Streets, depict Churchill and US President Franklin D Roosevelt in an informal pose, sitting and talking together on a bench. The sculpture was a gift from the Bond Street Association to the City of Westminster and was unveiled by Princess Margaret on 2nd May, 1995 commemorating 50 years since the end of World War II. It is the work of US sculptor Lawrence Holofcener. There’s a space between the two World War II leaders where the passerby can sit and have their picture taken between them.
• Member’s Lobby, House of Commons. We’ve already mentioned this bronze statue (see our previous post here), erected in 1969, which stands just outside Churchill Arch opposite one of another former PM, David Lloyd George. It is the work of Croatian-born sculptor Oscar Nemon who also created numerous other busts of the former PM now located both in the UK (one of which is mentioned below) and around the world.
• Great Hall, Guildhall. Commissioned by the Corporation of the City of London and unveiled in 1955, this bronze statue shows Churchill, wearing a suit and bow tie, seated in an armchair and looking ahead. Another work of Nemon’s, it was commissioned as a tribute to “the greatest statesman of his age and the nation’s leader in the Great War of 1939-1945”.
• Outside former Conservative Club, Wanstead. A very thick-necked bust of Churchill, erected in 1968, sits outside the 18th century mansion in Wanstead High Street, north-east London, which was once the Conservative Club and is now occupied by a restaurant. The bigger than life-sized bust is the work of Italian artist Luigi Fironi and stands on a plinth once part of old Waterloo Bridge. Churchill was the Conservative member for this area between 1924-1964 and based at the club from 1930 to 1940.
Nestled next to Westminster Abbey opposite the Houses of Parliament, St Margaret’s has long been known as the “parish church of the House of Commons” (although we should point out it’s not officially a parish church). As a result, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that it has a couple of significant links to former PM Winston Churchill.
Among the most momentous personal occasions was when Churchill married Clementine Hozier in the church on 12th September, 1908, after a short courtship. A headline in the Daily Mirror called it ‘The Wedding of the Year’.
After the fighting of World War II ended in 1945, on VE Day Churchill, in a move reflecting that taken by then PM David Lloyd George after World War I, led the members of the House of Commons in procession from the Houses of Parliament into the church for a thanksgiving service.
In 1947, the church was the scene of another Churchill wedding, this time that of Sir Winston’s daughter, Mary who was wedded to Captain Christopher Soames of the Coldstream Guards on 11th February.
WHERE: St Margaret’s Church, Westminster (nearest Tube stations are St James’s Park and Westminster); WHEN: 9.30am to 3.30pm weekdays/9.30am to 1.30pm Saturday/2pm to 4.30pm Sunday; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org/st-margarets-church.
Churchill’s association with this landmark Mayfair hotel was a long one – not only did he convene key meetings here during World War II, the hotel also served as his residence.
Entertaining the upper crust since the mid 1800s, Claridge’s was the scene of many meetings during World War II, including all night meetings convened by Churchill with US military intelligence personnel which would only end when Churchill’s barber appeared at 6am.
The Brook Street hotel became something of a haven for deposed heads of state both in the lead-up to and during World War II – King Peter II and his family had moved in after he was exiled in 1941 and it was at the orders of Sir Winston that in 1945 Suite 212 was declared Yugoslavian territory so Crown Prince Alexander II could be born on “home soil” (there’s a story that a clod of earth from Yugoslavia was placed under the bed during the birth).
Alongside the king of Yugoslavia, other heads of state to have stayed here during this period include the kings of Greece and Norway.
The scene of many a Churchill dinner, Churchill and Lady Clementine made Claridge’s – specifically the sixth floor penthouse suite – their home for a period after his election defeat in 1945 (Churchill apparently wasn’t that keen on the idea of living so high up!).
For more on the history of Claridge’s, check out the hotel’s website here: www.claridges.co.uk.
This Week in London – War fashions; the “inventor” of Impressionism; looking a Gift Horse in the mouth; and, having a look at the Queen’s House…
March 5, 2015
• A new exhibition exploring how fashion survived and even flourished during World War II has opened at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth to mark the 70th anniversary of the war’s end. Fashion on the Ration brings together more than 300 exhibits including clothes and accessories like the ‘respirator carrier handbag’, photographs and films as well as official documents from the period, letters and interviews. The exhibition is divided into six parts which examine in detail everything from the uniforms worn during the period to clothes rationing (introduced in 1941) and how the end of the war impacted fashion. Runs until 31st August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.
• The UK’s first major exhibition devoted to Paul Durand-Ruel, the man who “invented Impressionism”, has opened at the National Gallery off Trafalgar Square this week. Inventing Impressionism features around 85 works including some of Impressionism’s greatest masterpieces, a number of which have never been seen in the UK before. The majority of the works were traded by Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) who is noted for having discovered and supported Impressionist painters like Monet, Pisarro, Degas and Renoir. Durand-Ruel purchased an astonishing 12,000 pictures between 1891 and 1922, including more than 1,000 Monets, about 1,500 Renoirs, more than 400 Degas’, some 800 Pissarros and close to 200 Manets. The images on display include a series of rarely-seen portraits of the dealer and his family by Renoir which are being exhibited in the UK for the first time as well as five paintings from Manet’s ‘Poplars’ series and all three of Renoir’s famous ‘Dances’, not seen in the country together since 1985. The exhibition finishes with a reference to an exhibition Durand-Ruel organised in London in 1905. Held at the Grafton Galleries, it presented 315 paintings. Admission charge applies. Runs until 31st May. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.
• Gift Horse, New York-based German artist Hans Haacke’s sculpture of a skeletal riderless horse, will be unveiled on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square today. The horse, derived from an etching by English painter George Stubbs – whose works are in the nearby National Gallery, features an electronic ribbon tied to the horse’s front leg showing a live ticker of the London Stock Exchange. The statue, described as a ‘wry comment’ on the equestrian statue of King William IV which was originally to occupy the plinth, is the 10th to occupy the plinth since the first commission – Marc Quinn’s sculpture Alison Lapper Pregnant – was unveiled in 2005.
• Contemporary artist Dryden Goodwin’s first feature-length film is on show as part of a new exhibition, Unseen: The Lives of Looking, at the Queen’s House in Greenwich. Continuing Goodwin’s investigations into portraiture, the newly commissioned film focuses on three individuals who have a “compelling” relationship to looking – eye surgeon Sir Peng Tee Khaw, planetary explorer Professor Sanjeev Gupta and human rights lawyer Rosa Curling. Alongside the screening is a series of drawings made by Goodwin after observing the three individuals as well as tools and papers related to each of their trades and a series of objects connected three leading observers related to the history of the Royal Museums Greenwich sites – John Flamsteed, first Astronomer Royal, Edward Maunder, who observed Mars from the Royal Observatory Greenwich, and the artist Willem van de Velde the Elder who made detailed drawings of naval battles in preparation for producing paintings in his studio at the Queen’s House. Runs until 26th July. Admission is free. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk.
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Sir Winston Churchill lived a number of residences in London but, of course, the most famous in its own right is the traditional home of British PMs, 10 Downing Street.
Located in a short street just off Whitehall (now closed to the public), the property has been home to Prime Ministers since Sir Robert Walpole, officially First Lord of the Treasury but effectively the first PM, took up residence in 1735.
Churchill moved in following his election to the office of Prime Minister in 1940 and he and his wife Clementine took up residence in a second floor flat. It was in this property where, cigar in hand, he is famously known to have dictated speeches and letters to his secretary while propped up in bed.
The building suffered some bomb damage during the Blitz – on 14th October, 1940, a bomb fell on nearby Treasury Green and damaged the home’s kitchen and state rooms. Three civil servants doing Home Guard duty were killed but the kitchen staff were saved thanks to Churchill who, dining in the Garden Rooms when the bombing raid began, ordered them to leave their duties and get into a bomb shelter.
The Garden Rooms – which included a bedroom, meeting area and the small dining room – were subsequently reinforced with steel and heavy metal shutters although these apparently would have made little difference had there been a direct hit.
Cabinet moved out of Number 10 into the underground bunker complex now referred to as the Churchill War Rooms (see last week’s post) in October, 1939, and, after several near misses, the Churchills – Sir Winston apparently very begrudgingly – moved into the Number 10 Annex above the war rooms in 1940 (although Churchill continued to visit Number 1o for working and dining).
Much of the furniture and valuables were removed from Number 10 and only the Garden Rooms, Cabinet Room and Private Secretaries’ office remained in use (along with a reinforced bomb shelter built underneath – King George VI is known to have sheltered here when he was dining with Churchill when a raid began).
At the end of the war the Churchills quickly moved back into Number 10 and it was from the Cabinet Room that he made his Victory in Europe (VE) Day broadcast on 8th May, 1945.
He vacated the premises after his election defeat later in 1945 but returned when re-elected PM in 1951 and left after he resigned in 1955 having held a dinner party attended by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip the night before.
A couple of interesting facts about Churchill’s time at number 10: Churchill had many pets who usually had free rein in the house – even at 10 Downing Street his poodle Rufus was known to have wandered into a meeting in the Cabinet Room (before he was ejected) – while in 1958, Georgina Landemare, the cook during his time at number 10, famously published a book, Recipes from No. 10, which featured an introduction by Churchill’s wife, Clementine.
There are apparently two portraits of Churchill among those of other PMs which grace the wall of the Grand Staircase.
For more on the history of 10 Downing Street, see www.gov.uk/government/history/10-downing-street
Of course, no look at London sites associated with Sir Winston Churchill would be complete without a mention of the Palace of Westminster, better known as the Houses of Parliament.
Churchill made his maiden speech in the House of Commons on 18th February, 1901, having won the seat of Oldham for the Conservative Party the year before (he switched to the Liberal Party in 1904 and eventually rejoined the Conservatives in 1924).
Over his long career in politics (he was an MP for 62 years), he served in a variety of roles including the President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary, First Lord of the Admiralty, Minister of Munitions, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and twice, Prime Minster.
Some of the most famous speeches Churchill gave in the House of Commons were during World War II – they include the ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’ speech given on 13th May, 1940 – the first after he had been made Neville Chamberlain’s replacement as PM, the ‘we shall fight them on the beaches’ speech given on 4th June, 1940, and the ‘this was their finest hour’ speech of 18th June, 1940, in which he gave the ‘Battle of Britain’ its name and, as the name suggests, first recorded the phrase “their finest hour” (the speech ended with it).
Churchill’s last speech to Parliament was given on 1st March, 1955, in which he spoke about the British development of a hydrogen bomb.
There’s several places within the Houses of Parliament which now bear Churchill’s name. Among them are the Churchill Room (named as such in 1991 when ownership of the room passed from the Lords to the Commons, it features two of his paintings and a bronze bust of the PM).
They also include the Churchill Arch – this leads from the Members’ Lobby into the Commons Chamber and is flanked by a 1969 statue of Churchill ( and one of fellow former PM, David Lloyd George (one foot on each of the statues has been burnished thanks to the practice of MPs to touch them as they enter the Commons Chamber).
It took on its current name after it was rebuilt following damage from bombs during World War II – at Churchill’s suggestion damaged stone was reused in its construction as a memorial to the “ordeal” Westminster had endured during the war. The statue of Churchill, incidentally, was the focus of recent commemorations on the 50th anniversary of his death.
Churchill’s stamp can also be seen on the Commons Chamber itself – it was he who recommended that when the chamber was rebuilt after World War II that it retain its rectangular shape rather than be redesigned in a semi-circle.
Churchill’s body lay in state in Westminster Hall prior to his funeral service in January, 1965 (for more on that, see our previous post here.
For more on Churchill’s Parliamentary career, check out the UK Parliament’s Living History page here: www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/private-lives/yourcountry/collections/churchillexhibition/.
This Week in London – Gothic literature at the British Library; founder of War Graves Commission honoured; and, New Year’s Eve tickets on sale…
October 2, 2014
• The UK’s largest exhibition of Gothic literature opens at the British Library in Kings Cross on Saturday (4th October), marking the 250th anniversary of the publication of the breakthrough book, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will feature manuscripts and rare and personal editions of Gothic classics like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist as well as the work of contemporary writers like Angela Carter and Mervyn Peake. There will also be Gothic-inspired artworks by the likes of Henry Fuseli and William Blake and modern art, photography, costumes and movies by the likes of Chapman Brothers and Stanley Kubrick. A range of literary, film and music events will accompany the exhibition which runs until 20th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/gothic/. PICTURE: Percival Delivering Belisane from the Enchantment of Urma, Henry Fuselli. © Tate.
• The founder of the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission, Sir Fabian Ware (1869-1949), has been honoured with an English Heritage blue plaque at his former home in Marylebone. Sir Fabian lived at the early 19th century Grade II-listed terraced house at 14 Wyndham Place between 1911 and 1919. It was during this period that he served with the British Red Cross in France and first began recording the graves of soldiers killed in battle. In 1917, the Imperial War Graves Commission was formed with the task of reburying the war dead in permanent cemeteries in France. Knighted in 1920, Sir Fabian was to be director of graves registration and enquiries at the War Office during World War II and it was at this time that he extended the war graves scheme to civilians killed in the conflict. The commission changed its name to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 1960. Today it cares for cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations in 153 countries. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.
• New Year’s Eve in London will be a ticketed event for the first time this year with 100,000 tickets being made available to the public with each costing a £10 administration fee – the entire sum of which will apparently be used to pay for the ticketing system. Making the announcement last month, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson’s, office, said the growth in numbers of those who have gathered to watch the fireworks on the Thames – from around 100,000 in 2003 to an estimated 500,000 last year – has put an enormous strain on transport and safety infrastructure and meant people have had to turn up earlier and earlier to get a good view, facing hours waiting in cold and cramped conditions, or risk being among the “hundreds of thousands” unable to get a good view or even see the display at all. Booking tickets – people may secure up to four – will guarantee “good views of the celebrations and a better visitor experience”. To book tickets, head to www.london.gov.uk/nye.
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September 17, 2014
Located at Holborn Bar – one of the traditional entry points to the City of London, this memorial was erected in 1922 to the memory of the almost 22,000 solider of the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) who died during the Great War.
The monument, which stands on a traffic island in the middle of busy High Holborn, was designed by sculptor Albert Toft (and hence is known affectionately as “Albert”) along with architects Cheadle and Harding at the behest of several senior officers from the regiment.
It was originally intended to be erected in one of the capital’s many parks. Hounslow Barracks was the next intended location but, after consultation with the City, the site in Holborn was eventually settled upon.
The larger-than-life bronze figure, which stands on a Portland stone pedestal holding a rifle with fixed bayonet, was apparently modelled on an actual person – a Sgt Cox, who served with the Royal Fusiliers throughout the war. The east face features a plate listing all the battalions who served in World War I; the west face features the regimental crest and dedication.
The Grade II-listed memorial, which was officially unveiled by the Lord Mayor of London (we think it was Sir Edward Cecil Moore) on 4th November, 1922, was later updated with inscriptions commemorating those who fell during World War II and in subsequent conflicts.
The original model for the monument can now be seen in the Fusilier Museum at the Tower of London. Interestingly, there is a twin monument, dedicated to the 41st Division, at Flers on the Somme, in France. It was unveiled in 1932.
PICTURE: Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)
September 15, 2014
We’re looking at some of London’s World War I memorials so it’s only fitting we look at the life of acclaimed architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, the man credited with designing the Cenotaph – the UK’s national war memorial – in Whitehall (pictured below).
Lutyens was born in London at 16 Onslow Square, South Kensington, on 29th March, 1869, and – the ninth son and 10th of 13 children of soldier Captain Charles Lutyens and his wife Mary – was named for painter and sculptor Edwin Henry Landseer, a friend of his father’s. He grew up in London and Surrey and in 1885 commenced studying architecture at the South Kensington School of Art. In 1887, he left before completing the course, briefly joining the practice of Ernest George and Harold Peto before starting his own practice in 1889.
Early commissions included country houses and it was during this period that he met with mentor and landscape gardener Gertrude Jekyll, a relationship which led him to design her home, Munstead Wood near Godalming in Surrey.
In 1897, Lutyens, known familiarly as ‘Ned’, married Emily Lytton – daughter of the late Viceroy of India and first earl of Lytton, Edward Buller-Lytton – and by 1908 the couple had five children. The family’s London addresses included 29 Bloomsbury Square (which also served as his office), 31 Bedford Square and 13 Mansfield Street, Marylebone, while his offices were located in numerous places including at 17 Queen Anne’s Gate.
Lutyens continued designing country houses – he eventually designed more than 35 major properties and altered and added many more – and among his commissions were Castle Drogo in Devon and the refurbishment of Northumberland’s spectacularly sited Lindisfarne Castle – both now National Trust properties. He was also involved in helping to plan and design Hampstead Garden Suburb in London, work which included designing two churches.
In 1912, Lutyens was invited to advise on the planning of the new Indian capital in New Delhi and his most important contribution was the design of the Viceroy’s House which combined elements of classical architecture with traditional Indian decoration. He was knighted in 1918 for his contributions in India and for his advice to the Imperial War Graves Commission.
It was his role in this latter effort which led to his becoming a national figure. He was involved in the creation of numerous monuments to commemorate the war dead, the best known of which are the Cenotaph in Whitehall – initially commissioned as a temporary structure (see our earlier post here) – and the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in Thiepval in northern France as well as the Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux and the Anglo-Boer War Memorial in Johannesburg.
He also designed more than 100 war cemeteries in France and Belgium and other war memorials – including overseas in places like Dublin – as well as London’s Tower Hill Memorial (see our earlier post here). Other London buildings he designed included the headquarters of Country Life magazine in Tavistock Street, Britannic House in Finsbury Square, the head office of the Midland Bank in Poultry and the Reuters and Press Association headquarters at 85 Fleet Street (now home to the Lutyens Restaurant, Bar and Private Rooms).
Lutyens was elected a fellow of the Royal Academy in 1920 (he was later president) and in 1924 was appointed a founding member of the Royal Fine Arts Commission. Even as he continued work in Delhi, he took on other commissions – such as the British Embassy in Washington, DC – and in 1924 he completed one of his most lauded – and smallest – designs: that of the one twelfth scale Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House which was shown at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley and which can still be seen at Windsor Castle.
In 1929 Lutyens was commissioned to design a new Roman Catholic Cathedral for Liverpool but when he died on 1st January, 1944, this work was still unfinished with only the crypt completed thanks to the outbreak of World War II broke. Lutyens’ funeral was held in Westminster Abbey a few days later and his ashes were subsequently placed in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral.
For more information on Lutyens’ life and works, check out The Lutyens Trust, founded in 1984 to preserve and protect his legacy.
September 10, 2014
Often deemed to be one of London’s finest war memorials, if not the finest (indeed London Historians’ Mike Paterson has said so previously on these very pages), the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner commemorates the more than 49,000 members of the Royal Artillery Regiment who died in World War I.
Designed by sculptor Charles Sargeant Jagger – who had served in the infantry during the war – and architect Lionel Pearson, it was unveiled in 1925 by Prince Arthur and Anglican priest, Rev Alfred Jarvis.
The monument, described by architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner as a “masterpiece of British 20th century sculpture”, features an oversized stone replica of a 9.2 inch Howitzer Mk I atop a stone plinth accompanied by a series of four realistic bronze figures and a series of carved reliefs depicting scenes of military life.
The figures represent a gun crew: a driver, artillery captain, shell carrier and, controversially at the time, a dead soldier lying beneath his cape and helmet with an inscription from Shakespeare’s Henry V – “Here was a royal fellowship of death”.
Three bronze panels were later added at the south end of the monument in commemoration of the almost 30,000 of the Royal Artillery who died in World War II. It was unveiled by the then Princess Elizabeth in 1949.
In late 2011, English Heritage completed a major restoration of the Grade I-listed work with a grant from the Bulldog Trust.
PICTURE: Above – David Adams. Below – virtusincertus/Flickr
August 27, 2014
The Tower Hill Memorial was originally built to commemorate those of the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets who died at sea in World War I and was later expanded to include those who died in World War II.
Located in the south-west corner of the garden in Trinity Square, the part of the memorial relating to World War I has the form of a 20-plus metre long vaulted corridor inside of which are a series of bronze plaques engraved with the names of 11,919 people whose grave was the sea.
Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and featuring sculptures by Sir William Reid-Dick, the Portland Stone memorial was unveiled on 12th December, 1928, by Queen Mary. The names are placed alphabetically under the names of their ships with the skipper or master the first name.
Located to the north of the original monument, the World War II extension, which was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II on 5th November, 1955, takes the form of a semi-circular sunken garden and features the names of almost 24,000 seamen who died in World War II. It was designed by Sir Edward Maufe with sculpture by Charles Wheeler.
The memorial’s register is located inside nearby Corporation of Trinity House office (Cooper’s Row entrance).
PICTURE: Chmee2/Wikimedia Commons