Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Stuart period’ Category

royal hospital chelseaIf you watched the moving Remembrance concert at Albert Hall on Saturday evening you will have seen the contingent of Chelsea Pensioners prominently featured. This is one of their busiest times of year, understandably. But you see small numbers of them out and about at other great occasions and if you’re ever in Chelsea, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter them simply out for a walk.

I had walked past their home – the impeccably symmetrical Royal Hospital Chelsea – many times, usually on my way to the National Army Museum nearby. With three sets of imposing gates out front, I had no idea that the place was open to members of the public. But it very much is (see below for details). During the summer I joined a group of our friends from the Westminster Guide Lecturers Association for a wonderful tour of the complex. Led by the excellent Michael Allen, who features in these pictures.

The moving spirit behind the Royal Hospital was Charles II, inspired during his exile by Les Invalides in Paris. With a waft of the royal hand, Sir Christopher Wren – with quite enough on his plate thanks very much – was contracted to design our very own version, using 66  acres of land originally acquired by James I in Chelsea, then of course pretty much countryside. Unsurprisingly, he did a fantastic job, which is more or less unchanged to this day.

In Wren’s day and from medieval times, the word hospital had a much wider meaning than today, being a derivation of “hospitality” rather than more narrowly a place for sick people, although it did generally imply a charitable function. There are usually around 300 in-pensioners (colloquially: “Chelsea pensioners”). As these terms imply, for a place in the Royal Hospital,  you must be over 65 and surrender your army pension in return for total accommodation and provision. You must be able to look after yourself in day-to-day normal routine and until very recently, you had to be male. There is a tiny handful of female pensioners. (In a ballot, the overwhelming vote by the pensioners in favour of staying all-male was overruled.). Generally, inmates are from “other ranks”. The only officers who may apply will have spent 12 years or more in the ranks. Pensioners retain the rank they left the forces with, hence you will see badges of rank on the tunics of some.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

Figure Court. Accommodation in the wings ot the left and right. Great Hall and Chapel immediately left and right of the main portico and tower.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

Statue of Charles II in classical garb, by Grinling Gibbons. Gilded for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. I’m not convinced such a great idea.

Royal Chelsea Hospital

Central cupola.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

The Great Hall, where the pensioners take their meals.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

The chapel.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

Extremely rare example of a Royal Mail letter box with two slots, for when the gate is locked.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

The public cafe does excellent cream teas.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

Warriors on mobility scooters. Old soldiers are less steady on their pins than once they were.

In addition to what you see in these pictures, the Royal Hospital also has an excellent museum and shop, the entrance to which is the Wellington room, featuring portraits or the Iron Duke himself, Her Majesty, a superb diorama of the Royal Hospital in the 18C and a panorama of the battle of Waterloo painted in 1820.

You may visit the places here described for free if you’re on your own or in a small group. Groups of 10 or more must make a group booking which comes with a Chelsea pensioner guide. Or you can join an existing group booking if you want the tour. These occur twice a day. Details and opening times here.

For more of our images from the Royal Hospital Chelsea, see our Flickr account here.

Read Full Post »

Review: The Cheapside Hoard, London’s Lost Jewels

The Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London

In June 1912, workmen digging under the former premises of a goldsmith in the City’s once-fashionable shopping thoroughfare of  Cheapside discovered a sensational stash of treasure. It comprised over 500 pieces of precious jewels and stones, mainly from the late 16th to early 17th centuries, but some very much older pieces too. The objects were encrusted in the raw mud and clay. The excited diggers took their haul directly to the antiques dealer GF “Stoney Jack” Lawrence at his shop in Wandsworth. Stoney Jack was known to every navvy, builder and mudlark in London as the man who would know what to do with your find and give you a good deal.

The Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London

Stoney Jack

From there the collection found itself split between the Guildhall Museum (1826) and the London Museum (1912), but reunited when those institutions joined together as Museum of London (1976). Amazingly, the Cheapside Hoard as it became known, has never been exhibited in its entirety. Until now.

This new show at the Museum of London displays the hoard in all its glory. All bags to be left in the lockers downstairs, you have to pass security guards and specially-installed thick barred high specification floor-to-ceiling turnstiles before entering the dimly lit exhibition space. Once inside, you encounter dozens of glass cabinets in which curator Hazel Forsyth and her team have lovingly arranged the long-lost treasure. Rings, necklaces, brooches, earrings, bracelets, costume jewellery, perfume bottles, scientific instruments, watches, hairpieces, combs, lockets, cameos and on and on. I used to drool over this sort of thing as a boy reading pirate comics.

What immediately strikes one is the design and the craftsmanship that went into these items. On display are some contemporary design books, works of art in their own right. But it is the skill that went into the build of this jewellery that is breathtaking (there are large magnifying glasses on hand, for the use of) – these Tudor and Jacobean jewellers must’ve ruined their eyesight over the years.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London

Museum of London staff had painstakingly to thread fine wire through each link of these necklaces to make this stunning display.

The oldest piece. Ptolomaic cameo, possibly of Cleopatra.

The oldest piece. Ptolomaic cameo, possibly of Cleopatra.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London

Gold and enamel scent bottle. Use of perfumes made a comeback during the Tudor period.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London.

An assortment of gorgeous pendants.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London.

Elizabeth Wrothesley, Countess of Southampton, 1620. National Portrait Gallery.

The fascinating thing about the hoard is that it tells us a lot, and yet it holds deep secrets too. Jewellery tends to be messed about over time. Fashions change, tastes change and so a lot of pieces get broken up, adjusted, reset, made into something else and so on. The jewels represent therefore a massive survival for jewellery and fashion historians to learn from. Second, a huge proportion of the precious stones are from the New World, particularly striking are emeralds from South America, reminding us how the maritime powers of Europe were dicing for global supremacy across the high seas, Elizabethan England not least of them, taking early steps on the road to becoming in time the number one player.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London.

Watch set in South American emerald. Amazingly, the translucent lid is actually closed!

Having recovered from the sensory assault dished out by the jewels themselves, one has time to take in the support displays which put the whole thing in historical context and the curators have done a fantastic job. Contemporary portraits of England’s elite hanging on the outer exhibition wall, showing of their bling. Puritanism still being in its infancy, this was a period was of ostentatious display among England’s ruling elite. Status symbols. We have a section showing what contemporary Cheapside looked like through maps and illustrations. It was London’s leading thoroughfare of posh retail, dominated by goldsmiths, silversmiths, jewellers. Another cabinet (my favourite after the jewels themselves) tells us about security, showing containers ranging from fancy jewellery cases through to ponderous iron-clad chests, secured by the most unimaginably complex locking mechanisms.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London

Braun and Hogenberg map of London, 1574. Pic: author.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London.

Reconstruction of contemporary jeweller’s workshop using actual tools from Museum of London collections. Pic: author.

Treasure containers. The fancy and the cautious. Pic: author.

Treasure containers. The fancy and the cautious. Pic: author.

Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London.

Ephemera. One of several typical shop signs from the era. Delightful. Pic: author.

So the hoard has told us much. But not its biggest secrets. Who owned it and why did they bury it? When did they bury it? And why didn’t they come back for it? The when has kind of been established. No earlier than 1640, because the newest piece has been successfully dated to that year. No later than 1666, the Great Fire, because the building under which the hoard was buried was destroyed in the Fire. As for the who and the why, there’s a short film clip at the end which throws up some possibilities. The English Civil war kicked off in 1642 and even after the Restoration in 1660, England was beset by religious and political uncertainty and strife. So they were dangerous times. In all likelihood the person who did the burying died and his secret died with him. But why did he do it, whose “side” he was on – religiously or politically? Who was he? We’ll almost certainly never know.

This is a landmark exhibition, wonderfully conceived and executed. highly recommended.
The Cheapside Hoard: London’s Lost Jewels runs until 27 April 2014.

All images Museum of London unless otherwise stated.

Read Full Post »

The Rainborowes, Adrian Tinniswood

It was appropriate and a little strange seeing the Commons assert its authority during the Syria debate while at that very moment reading of the House doing a similar thing about two thirds through this new book by Adrian Tinniswood. For most of The Rainborowes takes part during the English Civil War. Centre stage is Thomas Rainborowe – the Colonel Rainsborough of Putney Debates fame – who among many things, is a Puritan Leveller and seige specialist par excellence. Utterly loathed by the Royalists, he is widely admired by his men and Parliamentary leaders alike; he is physically courageous, intelligent, militarily talented and not unambitious politically. Could he rather than Cromwell have become the head of a Republican England? It’s not unthinkable, but Thomas was too intransigent, too doctrinaire, too – well – left wing.

Thomas Rainborowe

Thomas Rainborowe

Although he is the leading light in this story, Thomas is but one of a remarkable family of siblings who experienced first-hand the tumult and violence of the Civil War or eking out an existence in colonial Boston. Or both. But we start with the telling of how their father and patriarch of the family, William Rainborowe senior, establishes the family fortunes as a merchant mariner of the Levant trade and also as the scourge of Barbary pirates along North Africa’s Atlantic seaboard. He ruthlessly leads the successful blockade of the pirate stronghold of New Sallee, freeing hundreds of English captives destined for slavery. But his adventures against Irish rebels a few years on were signally less successful.

William senior leaves us just as the Civil War kicks off. His sons and daughters are intermarrying into an extended network of ambitious Puritan families on both sides of the Atlantic, in London and in colonial Boston. His daughters Martha and Judith marry into the elite of Boston Puritan society many of whom also have origins in East London; his sons Thomas and William Junior – the latter returning from New England – fight for Parliament against the king.

That’s the basic narrative, a lot of history there. Two generations of a high-achieving London maritime family in a relatively short and tumultuous period of violence and rapid change which witnesses the birth of one nation and the re-birth of another.

The author has succeeded totally in arranging and compiling a huge amount of evidence – particularly with regard to complex trans-Atlantic family networks. –  and delivering a compelling, pacy work of history. It encompasses on one hand intimate domesticity – the Puritan household – to warfare on a grand scale, on land and on sea. He achieves this seemingly effortlessly, though it is perfectly clear that a lot of hard work lies behind this fabulous account.

I fully expect The Rainborowes to be cited on those book of the year lists you see in the pre-Christmas newspaper supplements.

There is a section of well-chosen images at the centre of the book, which include a portrait of Thomas Rainborowe (above) and others, engravings featuring the Thames and contemporary ships (very fancy, no wonder they were expensive), and what I particularly like: crude contemporary propaganda pamphlets, both religious and political.

The book has two maps, always a good thing: The British Isles showing the main Civil War sites featured; and the Massachusetts Coast. Plus, there is a contemporary one of Old and New Sallee, in the images pages. Index, Notes, Bibliography, all present, thorough and excellent.

The Rainborowes (407pp) by Adrian Tinniswood is published by JonathanCape on 5 September. Cover price is £25.00 but available for less.

Putney Debates.

Thomas Rainborowe’s famous quote at St Mary’s, Putney, where he clashed with Cromwell.

Read Full Post »

This show has been on at Somerset House for a while now and has just over a month to run. It comprises large scale black and white photographs of Hawksmoor’s London churches. These are complemented with models of their towers or facades suspended on wires from the ceiling.

The exhibition curated by Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean of Harvard University Graduate School of Design. It features the work of architectural photographer Hélène Binet. Using digital plans, the models were made from resin.

Nicholas Hawksmoor (c.1661–1736) was the brilliant protege of Christopher Wren, most of whose London churches have survived.

They are beautifully and simply presented in this exhibition: the approach is wholly successful. Recommended.

nicholas hawksmoor

nicholas hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor:  Methodical Imaginings runs until 2 September at Somerset House. Entrance in free.

Read Full Post »

I spent some time most profitably on Saturday at the Guildhall Library’s inaugural Open Day. It was nice unexpectedly to bump into fellow Members and as far as I can tell, the event was a resounding success. We congratulate the library and look forward to many more of these.

I took in a talk by Assistant Librarian Jeanie Smith on the Lloyd’s Marine Collection (1741 – the present, the most amazing maritime stories) and drank in the displays featuring some of the library’s treasure: a Shakespeare First Folio (one of only 14 complete ones in existence); a John Stow First Edition; the first London Gazette, 1665 (named Oxford Gazette because Parliament had decamped there owing to the Plague); The Great Chronicle of London (1189-1512), a major source for John Stow; Bills of Mortality collection, also 1665; and so on.

Less valuable but more eye-catching and more fun, is London’s Armory from 1677. This is by a fellow called Richard Wallis, “citizen and Arms painter of London.”

London Armory

London Armory

To save your eyesight, the inscription reads:

London’s Armory
Accuratly delineated in a Graphical display of all the Arms Crests Supporters Mantles & Motto’s of every distinct Company and Corporate Societie in the Honourable City of London as they truly bear them; faithfully Collected from their severall Patents which have been approved and confirmed by divers Kings at Arms in their Visitations. A Work never till now exactly perfected or truly Published by any, and will rectify many essential Mistakes and manifest Absurdities Committed in Painting & Carving.
London
Printed for the Author Rich: Wallis Citizen & arms painter of London and are to be sold by him at his Shop against ye Royall Exchange.
1677

The idea here is that Wallis is sucking up to the Members of the companies represented on the right hand panel. When they cough up for their copy, I imagine that he inscribes their name in the blank panel on the left.

The most noteworthy thing, I think, are the two slaves at the foot of the page among much maritime paraphernalia and presided over by Neptune himself. Here is a man celebrating the hegemony of the City of London over lesser peoples of the world. But what of the arms and badges of which Wallis makes such proud boasts? I can’t match any of them with either livery companies, or the great trading companies or City wards. Militia companies?

I’ve sent a note to Guildhall Library and one or two academic historians who are our Members. But I’d also like to throw this open to the floor, so to speak. Please chip in if you know what they are. This is more a fun item than a serious academic exercise, I must point out.

Thanks to The Londonphile who took the pictures for me. 

Read Full Post »

alison balsomThe Globe Theatre, Sam Wanamaker‘s magnificent replica Elizabethan theatre on Bankside. I last attended a production here in 2005. The reason I remember this is because – just as now – the Ashes were on and I recall during the interval having to catch up on the score from Old Trafford.

Yesterday evening we were transported not backwards in time from Shakespeare’s London, but forward to the London of the 1690s, during the reign of William and Mary: Wren’s London, a London fizzing with  religious tension, the Catholic James II only recently having been shown the exit. The streets, houses, palaces and the Thames, of course, are the scenes for a brand new production by Samuel Adamson: Gabriel.

Gabriel is a large ensemble musical play. It is a play rather than a musical, really, because although there are songs, they are relatively few. It is, nonetheless, a play about music: Purcell’s music; baroque music; specifically music for trumpet. Along with the violin players, cellists, woodwind tooters and kettle drummer, the cast includes at least four trumpets, led by virtuosa Alison Balsom.

Early on, two of the comic characters – a fictitious, sickly Royal prince and an alcoholic trumpeter – assert that the trumpet can only be used for rousing, martial-like music. From here the production comprises a series of scenes and stories which serve to disprove this clearly simple-headed thesis, through the music of Purcell. These pieces are in turn rousing, sad, funny, tragic, bawdy. All are wonderfully done. The writing, acting, music and performing are all rock-solid and delivered with great confidence and panache, a wonderful achievement for the opening weekend. A special mention must be made for the costumes and, in particular, wigs. Fantastically over the top, yet realistic for the time. The leading ladies’ frocks are particularly stunning.

There is good swearing, boasting, joshing and violence from our friends, the Watermen who live up to their historic stereotype. There is some near total nudity (socks), unfortunately only male. A trumpet comes in handy in these circumstances. Another scene features a wonderfully written and delivered diatribe against lovers of the English Opera amid much farting (delivered, of course, via trumpet special FX) and giggling.

Just wonderful. Congratulations to all concerned.

More about the play, including interviews etc, and booking, here.

Gabriel runs until 18 August.
Until the 20 July, London Historians members can book tickets for just £10, saving up to £29, an astounding discount. If you’re a Member reading this, email admin@londonhistorians.org for the promotion code. And if you’re not? Go anyway, or join us in the tent.

globe theatre

Read Full Post »

St Bride'sThe other day, Matt Brown of Londonist invited me to join him on an inspection tour of St Bride’s steeple, which is undergoing emergency repairs. What a question. We’re talking about one of London’s tallest, whitest, most elegant and famous church towers. It’s the inspiration behind every tiered wedding cake. And it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, London’s genius architect, after the Great Fire destroyed the sixth incarnation of a St Bride’s church on the site.

So, accompanied by filmmaker Geoff Marshall, we donned the compulsory building site H&S paraphernalia of hi-vis bib and helmet, and set off. Unlike the image on the right, from tip to toe, the tower is currently shrouded in very sturdy scaffolding. Despite this – and the fact that many years ago I’d spent six incident-free months as a scaffolder – after 50 feet or so, I was feeling decidedly uneasy. That oo-er, help me mummy feeling.

st bride's fleet street

Matt n Geoff

But there was no turning back from this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Through gritted teeth, I grimly continued and after a further 100 feet things improved substantially. It’s a question of one’s head getting used to the environment, even after the steps finished and we proceeded on ladders. I stopped counting after 20 of them. Eventually we reached the top platform which surrounds the golden weather vane, 230 feet in the sky over Fleet Street. What a view!

st bride's fleet street

Heavily worn steeple embellishments requiring TLC.

st bride's fleet street

The weather vane. Site of the world’s first lightning conductor, designed by Benjamin Franklin. Yes, him.

st bride's fleet street

From one Wren masterpiece to another. A little hazy, but not complaining.

Christopher Wren’s St Bride’s is the seventh church building on this site since the 6th Century, when the first one dedicated to St Bridget went up.

Check out Geoff’s film of our adventure on the Londonist web site.
More photos on our Flickr site here.
Previous St Bride’s post by me here.

Please consider contributing to St Bride’s INSPIRE! campaign to complete emergency works on all parts of this wonderful church’s fabric.

Read Full Post »

For some reason that life’s too short to find out, the Royal Mint and its museum are based in Wales. So a new exhibition at the Tower of London adds a welcome and much-needed minty flavour to the capital. And rightly so, because the Royal Mint was based at the royal fortress from the late thirteenth century right through to 1812. The new show – Coins and Kings: The Royal Mint at the Tower – is based in rooms which were once part of the old money factory in what was, and is, known as Mint Street.

royal mint, tower of london

Mint Street.

There is a strong focus on technology. At the beginning of our period it was very basic; coins were literally stamped with a hammer and dye, and then cut into shape. As a technique it was thousands of years old. During the Restoration a new way of making milled coins using machinery was introduced from the Continent. Apart from automation, that’s essentially still the method used today.

I love the story of James Turnbull, a soldier who was seconded to do hot, sweaty work in the mint. With the help of an accomplice, after breakfast one morning in December 1798 he locked his colleagues in a cupboard and made off with much bullion. He was caught trying to escape to Europe several weeks later. Next stop, Newgate gallows by way of the Old Bailey. Exactly a century previously William Chaloner, a notorious counterfeiter and fraudster had been running rings around the authorities. Unfortunately for him, the new Warden of the Mint was possibly the cleverest man in the world: Isaac Newton. Newton meticulously built a water-tight case against the felon and prosecuted him, the inevitable result being a one way ticket to Tyburn. In a final letter to Newton, the now contrite Chaloner begged for his life:

O dear Sr nobody can save me but you O God my God I shall be murdered unless you save me O I hope God will move your heart with mercy pitty to do this thing for me I am Your near murdered humble Servant…

These are just a few of the stories you’ll learn. Key objects from the Tower itself have been united with items from the Royal Mint Museum in Wales, the British Museum and other institutions to give a compelling narrative of coin production down the centuries. The great and the good – kings, scientists, forgers and brigands – all are featured.

royal  mint, tower of london

Spanish eight reales coins were an international currency. During the crisis of 1797, it was quicker to stamp George III’s portrait onto foreign coins than to melt them down to make new ones.

This exhibition hasn’t been confirmed as “permanent”, but it is on “until further notice”, which means for a long time. Entry is free with the Tower of London ticket, so do make sure you make account for it whenever you next visit, easily worth 45 minutes to an hour of your time.

Read Full Post »

middle templeYesterday, a group of Members went on one of our behind-the-scenes: a tour around the Middle Temple whose ancient hall dates from the Elizabethan era. It’s a magnificent structure with a handsome double hammerbeam roof, one of only four in the world. Middle Temple is one of London’s four Inns of Court, the other three being its near neighbour Inner Temple plus Lincoln’s Inn and Grey’s Inn slightly to the north on t’other side of Fleet Street. Before universities proliferated, along with Oxford and Cambridge the Inns collectively were main centres of learning for young gentlemen who perhaps preferred to hang around the capital. Sir Walter Ralegh was one such.

Today the hall’s main function is a refectory for members and students. But in its early days it was also a venue for revels, lectures, drama. Twelfth Night’s first performance was here in 1602. Our tour started and ended here for afterwards we enjoyed a fabulous buffet lunch seated on one of the long bench tables. Between these bookends in time, we were led through a series of wood panelled function rooms, all richly decorated with portraits of luminaries of the past who had close connections with this Inn. King Edward VII and the late Queen Mother were both enthusiastic supporters who enjoyed the convivial hospitality of the Middle Temple.

The guided part of our visit ended in the Library. The books are old; the building is modern, for the old library was irretrievably Blitzed. It’s the home of the Molyneux globes, one terrestrial, the other celestial. They are among the earliest of the type ever made, remarkable survivors.

Members of the public are permitted to visit the hall, but only if it’s not being used and at the discretion of the porters, so it’s all a bit random. But we had our fill and much more besides, all thanks to the Inn’s senior librarian Renae Satterley @resatterley whose knowledge, enthusiasm and warm hospitality are a credit to this ancient institution.

Rather than repeat what’s available elsewhere, read the history of Middle Temple on Wikipedia here or, better still, on their own web site here. Look out for the PDF download.

Related post: Agnus Dei.

middle temple

Our group at the high table. donated by Elizabeth I. A massive plank of Tudor oak which was manoevred in only by removing the stained glass window.

middle temple london

Double hammerbeam roof.

There are hundreds of these members' coats of arms throughout the Middle Temple.

There are hundreds of these members’ coats of arms throughout the Middle Temple.

middle temple london

Contemporary Portrait of Elizabeth I.

middle temple hall

This bench top is a hatch from the Golden Hinde, where newly qualified barristers are sworn in.

middle temple london

The Bench Apartment.

middle temple london

Charter from James I granting possession of the Middle Temple in perpetuity.

middle temple london

The spot where a Zeppelin-delivered bomb pierced the floor. Middle Temple was a victim of bombs in both World Wars.

middle temple london

The Prince’s Room, named in honour of Prince William, formerly the Members’ Smoking Room.

middle temple london

The library.

Read Full Post »

I posted quite a few pictures last year of the King’s Army Parade which commemorates the regicide of Charles I at the Banqueting House in Whitehall (then part of the massive Whitehall Palace complex). The actual date of arguably the most dramatic and momentous event in our history is 30 January, but the parade is always on the last Sunday of January and organised by the English Civil War Society, who do a fantastic job.

This time, I thought I’d just feature pictures of the wreath and wreath ceremony at Banqueting House. You can see the full set of images in our Flickr space, here.

king's army parade 2013

king's army parade 2013

king's army parade 2013

king's army parade 2013

king's army parade 2013

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 488 other followers