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Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Wren’

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.

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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.

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Today we enjoyed a special treat. As part of a guided walk of the St Paul’s to Guildhall area plus Wren churches in these environs, we focused strongly on Temple Bar. The reason for this was to celebrate Sir Christopher Wren’s 380th birthday, which was yesterday. By now I know this area quite well and furthermore, the weather today was filthy. The temptation to snuggle down on the sofa under a duvet with a good book was strong indeed. But who could resist the opportunity to penetrate Temple Bar itself? We popped up there for tea and coffee before the walk.

I have written about Temple Bar before. And also the remarkable Lady Valerie Meux, who was responsible for it being located in Hertfordshire from the late 19th century right up until 2004.

Many thanks to London Historians member Tina Baxter for making this happen.

Temple Bar

Upstairs in the Temple Bar with guide David Thompson.

Upstairs at the Temple Bar

Upstairs at the Temple Bar

Upstairs at the Temple Bar

Upstairs at the Temple Bar: a happy historian.

Upstairs at the Temple Bar

Upstairs at the Temple Bar: City dragon on the Paternoster Square side.

Upstairs at the Temple Bar: City dragon on the Paternoster Square side.

London Historians: Tina Baxter and Fiona Pretorius.

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The Monument LondonI’m ashamed to say after more than three decades in this wonderful city, I had not been up the Monument. Today we got our act together and climbed the 311 steps to the viewing platform of this most handsome column, bequeathed us by Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke. It costs £3 and when you return to ground level, they give you a rather nice certificate to commemorate your feat. The Monument was erected in six years between 1671 and 1677  to commemorate the Great Fire of London. It is at its own height in distance (202 feet) from the bakery in Pudding Lane where the fire started.

The panorama from the viewing platform near the top is as agreeable as you might expect. There is a particularly fine view of Tower Bridge just downriver and the all-but-complete Shard to the south. As you peek down across Lower Thames Street you can see the Wren church of St Magnus Martyr with its magnificent old clock (1711). This is where old London Bridge traversed the Thames (its current incarnation is about a hundred yards upstream).

The Monument London

The Monument London

The Monument London

The Monument London

The Monument London

St Magnus Martyr in front of the site of old London Bridge.

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Tomorrow is the 300th anniversary of the Act establishing the Commission for Building Fifty New Churches in London, following an earlier Act to set up the principal intention the previous year. They were enacted partially to fulfil the spiritual needs of London’s burgeoning populus, but mainly to cement the authority of the Church of England against Catholicism and popular non-conformist sects: the Jacobite threat still had over three decades to run its course. The moving force behind the Act was the new Tory government, freshly ensconced after 22 years of Whig rule.

The men who were to build the churches learned their trade at the foot of Sir Christopher Wren. They were led by Nicholas Hawksmoor, who began his career as an unschooled (in architectural terms) clerk and whom Wren took under his wing. Hawksmoor was a prodigious talent, a man who found practical solutions to any architectural challenge and who could, and did, turn his hand to many architectural styles, often mixing and matching, frequently nicking – magpie fashion – a bizarre design idea, the prime example being the ribbed steeple on St George’s Bloomsbury.

In the end, just twelve churches were built under the auspices of the Commissioners for Building Fifty New Churches. A further five were subsidised and two existing churches purchased. Of the twelve, Hawksmoor was responsible for six, and had a hand in another two.

Hawksmoor’s six – all of which survive, despite being blitzed and unsympathetically altered – are:
St Alfrege’s, Greenwich
St George’s, Bloomsbury
Christ Church, Spitalfields
St George in the East, Wapping
St Mary Woolnoth
St Anne’s Limehouse

From the magisterial and magnificent Christ Church in Spitalfields to the intimate St Mary Woolnoth in the City, all will reward a visit, all have quirks and a tale to tell. All have the unmistakable stamp of Hawksmoor and an inevitable whiff of Wren, stronger in some than others. Christ Church and St George’s Bloomsbury have both benefitted from very recent total restoration, sympathetically executed. But be sure to check public access times, some are restricted.

hawksmoor, st alfrege's greenwich

St Alfrege's, Greenwich

hawksmoor, st alfrege's greenwich

St Alfrege's, Greenwich. Interior.

hawksmoor st mary woolnoth

St Mary Woolnoth.

hawksmoor st mary woolnoth

St Mary Woolnoth. Interior.

hawksmoor st mary woolnoth

St Mary Woolnoth, altar.

hawksmoor st mary woolnoth

St Mary Woolnoth. Original pulpit. Exquisite.

hawksmoor, christ church spitalfields

Christ Church, Spitalfields. The famous aspect.

st george's bloomsbury

St George's Bloomsbury. Image doesn't really do justice to the wacky spire, sorry.

st george's bloomsbury

St George's Bloomsbury. Very traditional classical portico. A riot of Corinthian columns.

st george's bloomsbury

St George's Bloomsbury interior. Alignment 90 degrees to the spine of the building by Hawksmoor to maximise the length of the altar axis. Clever man.

Nicholas Hawksmoor timeline.

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This morning I left the house in bright sunshine. A bit later as I emerged from Bank station, it was tipping down. No coat, no hat, no brolly. I whizzed past St Mary Woolnoth in Lombard Street, a pretty little Hawksmoor Church which I had seen very recently (more on this tomorrow!), dashed past Mansion House, hung a left, and took shelter in St Stephen Walbrook, a church I had not visited but which was high on my list. (warning if you’re browsing at work: their home page has a chanting monks soundtrack).

It did not disappoint. Like many Wren churches, St Stephen Walbrook has Tardis qualities, that is to say much bigger inside than it appears from without. In fact, from outside it is as plain as can be. But the interior is quite beautiful, simply a Wren masterpiece. The Henry Moore lump in the middle was far less jarring than I had expected, sitting there like a massive piece of brie (actually travertine by the looks of it, but guessing). I’ll let the pictures take over.

st stephen walbrookst stephen walbrookst stephen walbrookst stephen walbrookst stephen walbrook

st stephen walbrook

The Samaritans was founded in 1953 by Dr Chad Varah, former rector of St Stephens. This is the original phone.

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We all know that central London comprises three bits: the cities of Westminster and London, plus Southwark. The border with Southwark is self-evidently the Thames. But what about Westminster and the City? Well, it is where the Strand becomes Fleet Street, the spot in question known as Temple Bar. The name derives from the fact that it is immediately north of the Temple area, that is to say the district that contains the Inner and Middle Temples – both being Inns of Court – and the Temple Church, which dates from the 12th Century. Temple Bar is marked by this monument in the middle of the street, erected in 1880 and identifiably Victorian.

Temple Bar, Strand

Today's Temple Bar in the Strand, almost opposite the Law Courts

But this is a relatively modest item compared with what existed here before. The old Temple Bar was a decorative gated wall which straddled the whole road. Designed by Wren and erected in the 1670s, this impressive structure celebrated the Stuart dynasty.

Prior to this, the Temple Bar existed from at least the 13C, first as just a chain, and then from 1351 as a gate (surmounted by a small prison as was the custom) which served for three centuries and survived the Great Fire.

The job of Temple Bar was to regulate traffic between the two cities. Indeed, whenever the monarch wishes to enter the City, he or she has to be welcomed by the Lord Mayor of London. As an act of loyalty, he bestows the Sword of State to the sovereign who then returns it to be hoisted at the front of the procession.

The site of Temple Bar was also used as a pillory (both Titus Oates and Daniel Defoe being victims) and to display the severed heads of traitors.

Once the two elements of central London were as one, the traffic down the Strand/Fleet Street was such that the existing barrier became impractical. So Wren’s magnificent gate was removed. Luckily for us, one Sir Henry Meux fancied it as a folly on his farm in Hertfordshire. So there it remained forgotten, unloved and increasingly decrepit for almost a century. Then in the 1970s it was decided to bring it home, and in 1994, the old Temple Bar was eventually re-erected in Paternoster Square as part of the re-development of that space. And so there it is, once again witnessing thousands of Londoners going about their business every day.

temple bar paternoster square

Wren's Temple Bar now lives in Paternoster Square, appropriately near St Pauls

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