Category Archives: London Parks

The Story of a Square 3: Lincoln’s Inn Fields

lincolns-inn0001

Lincoln’s Inn Fields is the largest square in London and records exist concerning it from the 14th century when it really was a field – or rather, two – Purse Field and Cup Field. They adjoined the west wall of the grounds of Lincoln’s Inn, one of the four Inns of Court, and were the natural playground for the legal students’ ball games. The survival of this vast open space in the middle of the city, surviving Stuart property developers and massive Victorian road improvements and slum clearance, is due to an early example of NIMBYism.

In the Middle Ages, and well into the 17th century, there was nothing resembling a civilized park – the fields were leased out as pasture and, occasionally, used as places of execution. In 1586 the Babington Plot conspirators were hanged, drawn and quartered there, Catholic martyrs were burned in the 1580s and Lord Russell was beheaded in about the centre in 1683 for his involvement in the Rye House Plot.

As London expanded outwards developers began to cast an eye over such a tempting expanse of open ground and the first attempt to build a house there was in 1613. This was successfully resisted by the Society of Lincoln’s Inn – lawyers powerful enough to influence the government on the subject. It was clear that improving the open space would assist in preserving this asset, so the Society and the neighboring parishes petitioned Charles I in 1617 that “for their general Commoditie and health [the fields should be] converted into walks after the manner of Morefeildes.” The proposal appealed to the King and the Privy Council supported the scheme “as a means to frustrate the covetous and greedy endeavors of such persons as dailye seeke to fill up that small remainder of Ayre in these parts with unnecessary and unprofitable Buildings.” Resistance to developers seems to be as strong then as it it now.

Neither development nor improvement as an ordered public space happened immediately, but in the 1630s the leaseholder of the fields petitioned the King to allow the building of 32 houses. After some wrangling the permission was granted but the developer agreed that the centre of the area was  “for ever and hereafter to be open and unbuilt.” The houses were built by 1641 and the area became a fashionable place to live despite the Fields themselves being a dangerous place with fights and robberies (and the odd execution) commonplace.

In 1716 John Gay wrote  in Trivia that, despite the square being railed, it was unwise to venture in at night. The beggar that the benevolent pedestrian had given coins to during the day would turn his crutch into a weapon at night “and fell thee to the ground” and the linkboy offering to guide him through the area will lead him into the clutches of robbers and “quench the flaming brand and share the booty with the pilfering band.”

Nell Gwynne had lodgings here, and another of Charles II’s mistresses, the Duchess of Portland, had a house. Numerous aristocrats, politicians and high-ranking lawyers lived around the Fields in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries but the person whose name is nowadays most closely associated with the square is the architect Sir John Soane. His house is now one of the most atmospheric and eccentric museums in London and is located in the middle of the north side. The print at the top of this post, from Ackermann’s Repository, shows the view from the north-west corner in 1810 and you can get more or less the same view today by standing at the point where Gate Street and Remnant Street enter the Fields. (The Remnant name reflects the fact that this was once the end of Great Queen Street before the Victorians drove Kingsway through the tangle of medieval streets to the west of the Fields.)

The tall buildings to the right of the print occupy the site of what is now the Royal College of Surgeons which contains the extraordinary Hunterian Museum, a fascinating, if gruesome place to visit for anyone interested in the history of surgery and anatomy.

Lincoln’s Inn Fields is included in Walk 7 of Walking Jane Austen’s London (an excellent stocking-filler for any history buff’s Christmas stocking!) As well as the two museums there are still a number of fine 18th century houses and the gardens themselves to enjoy – open to the public since 1894.

 

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“One of the Most Agreeable Walks in London” – a stroll through The Green Park

Green Park0001

“No inhabitant of the metropolis, and scarcely any person who has visited it, needs to be told that the spot delineated in the annexed view [above] forms one of the most agreeable walks in London.” (Ackermann’s Repository October 1810).

This shows the eastern end of The Green Park (these days ‘The’ is always dropped) from Piccadilly, looking south. It seems the artist would have been somewhere between Clarges Street and Bolton Street. Westminster Abbey can be seen in the distance and on the left are the houses looking out onto the Queen’s Walk. St James’s Palace is hidden behind them at the far end. Nowadays Green Park tube station would be just out of sight on the left with the Ritz (on the site of The White Horse Cellar) just beyond that.

“In summer the eastern end of the Green Park forms a favourite promenade for the inhabitants of the metropolis: and in fine weather, on every evening and on Sundays in particular, is always extremely crowded with genteel and well dressed company. At the north-east corner of this park there is a fine piece of water, which is supplied by the water-works of Chelsea [The reservoir was built in 1775 and filled in in 1856] and forms at once a beautiful embellishment and a useful reservoir. The guards parade every day between ten and eleven o’clock, and a full band of music renders this spectacle cheerful and attractive.” (John Wallis London: Being a Complete Guide 1810)

Green Park is a triangular space of about 53 acres. To the south Constitution Hill divides it from the gardens of Buckingham Palace and St James’s Park butts up to it in the south-east corner with the Mall. In the 17th century it was part of St James’s Park, the Tudor hunting grounds, which swept around the south and west of the palace, but by the time of Roque’s map of 1738 the tree lined avenue of the Mall leading up to Buckingham House cut it off and it is labelled The Green Park. The gardens of Buckingham House were much smaller and the park crossed Constitution Hill, occupying the area that is now the large roundabout of Hyde Park Corner. The second print is from The Beauties of England & Wales Vol. 1 (1801) and shows the view west from the southern edge of the park towards Buckingham House which, by that time, had become The Queen’s Palace or House.

Green Park Q House

Before Henry VIII seized monastic properties St James’s Palace was the site of a religious foundation and a leper hospital and the legend persisted that Green Park was so green (and without flowers) because it was the burial place for the lepers. There is no evidence for this! Charles II was responsible for the park’s lay-out and Constitution Hill is thought to be named because it was a favourite walk, or ‘constitutional’ of his. He also built a snow, or ice, house and the mound can still be seen in the park opposite 119, Piccadilly.

The park, as well as being a fashionable promenade, was also popular for duels in the 18th century. Count Alfieri fought Lord Ligonier the husband of his mistress there and famously remarked (when he returned from the fight to finish watching the play at the Haymarket Theatre with a wounded arm) “My view is that Ligonier did not kill me because he did not want to, and I did not kill him because I did not know how.” The park was also an excellent location for balloon ascents and firework displays such as the 1814 Peace celebrations.

The gravel walk on the eastern boundary of the park is known as The Queen’s Walk and was created for Caroline, the wife of George II. She had a pavilion built for breakfasts looking out on the park, but no trace of it remains. The most distinguished house overlooking the Walk is Spencer House. It can be seen in the top print, identified by the roof ornaments, and in the print below. (1831  Earl Spencer’s House). It is open to the public  on Sundays (except in August) by bookable guided tours.

spencer

 

 

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Filed under Architecture, High Society, London Parks, Royalty, St James's Park, Walks

1814 – the Summer of Celebrations

The summer of 1814 – and London is en fete to celebrate not only the victory over Napoleon but also the anniversary of Hanoverian rule. For three months Londoners had the opportunity to view, and enjoy, some of the most lavish celebrations the capital has ever seen.

Ack transp

On April 20 there was a triumphal procession for Louis XVII from Hyde Park to Grillon’s Hotel in Albemarle Street where he was staying with his entourage. On June 7 the Russian Czar Alexander I, King William III of Prussia, Marshal Blucher, Prince Metternich, the Prince of Liechtenstein, and Prince Leopold arrived in London and on June 11 the Prince Regent entertained all the Allied Leaders at the opera at Covent Garden. On June 16 they were the guests at a dinner held by the merchants and bankers of London in the City and on June 18 the Prince Regent, Marquess of Wellesley, Lord Liverpool, Marshal Blucher, Prince Metternich, Czar Alexander I, and Catherine Grand Duchess of Oldenburg were guests of honour at a dinner given by the Corporation of London.

On June 20, hopefully having had the opportunity for a rest and some digestion, the Prince Regent, the Duke of York, the King of Prussia, the Czar and  Generals Blucher, Lord Beresford and Hill reviewed 12,000 troops in Hyde Park. At 8pm that evening a re-enactment of the battle of Trafalgar was held in the park on the Serpentine with model ships three feet long (one metre) were deployed to recreate the main events of the battle. At the climax the French ships were sunk as the National Anthem was played.

The evening was staged as a popular entertainment and the park was transformed with stalls, arcades, and follies and pavilions. There were refreshments, taverns and fruit stalls and the crowd could listen to military bands as they watched acrobats or enjoyed the swings and roundabouts.

On June 22 the Allied Sovereigns watched a naval review at Portsmouth before leaving for the continent, but in London the celebrations were by no means over.

On June 28 Wellington was formally welcomed at Buckingham House by the Queen, and on July 1 a great ball was held in the Duke’s honour at Burlington House by White’s Club. It cost £10,000 and amongst the 1,700 guests was Jane Austen’s brother Henry. She was thrilled. On July 7 there was a Service of General Thanksgiving for the victory at St Paul’s Cathedral with Wellington carrying the Sword of State alongside the Regent and as a further sign of his pleasure the Regent held a fete in the gardens of Carlton House to honour the Duke on July 21.

Pagoda

August 1,1814 was the hundredth anniversary of the accession of George I of Hanover to the British throne. The Battle of the Nile was represented by rowing boats on the canal in St James’s Park which was crossed by a new ‘Chinese’ bridge with, in the centre, a seven-storey pagoda. According to Ackermann’s Repository “It appeared a blazing edifice of golden fire, every part being covered in lamps, and glass reflectors at proper intervals relieving the splendour with their silver lustre.” At the height of the fireworks the pagoda caught fire and two men and a number of swans perished, but the crowd thought it was part of the celebrations and cheered wildly.

Meanwhile in Green Park a castle-like structure was built. After firework display that lasted, according to Ackermann’s, “for more than two hours, a discharge of cannon enveloped the whole building in smoke so dense, that no part of it was visible to the innumerable spectators assembled…but when this obstruction cleared away, it burst upon them, metamorphosed into the Temple of Concord, most brilliantly illuminated… and revolving upon its centre.”

Concord

Many shops and businesses also rose to the patriotic occasion and decorated their premises. Ackermann’s Repository at 101, Strand, was decorated by a ‘transparency’ almost 30 feet (10 metres) high and “brilliantly illuminated” from the back “with carbonic gas.”. The lower section shows the seven Christian and Cardinal Virtues with the Royal arms above and the standards of the Allied nations. The upper part is the Temple of Peace with the word REGENT above and all crowned with the Prince of Wales’s feathers. It is shown at the head of this post.

You can  enjoy these two historic parks by taking Walks 4 and 6 in Walking Jane Austen’s London.

 

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Crossing the Knight’s Bridge

Today if you want to travel from the middle of London to visit the smart shops of Kensington and Chelsea, or the museums of South Kensington, or go to a concert at the Albert Hall, you will travel along Knightsbridge, the road that stretches for a mile from Hyde Park Corner to the east to the Royal Albert Hall in the west (becoming, these days, Kensington Road and the beginnings of Kensington Gore in the process). Are you in London? Of course you are.

When Jane Austen was staying with her brother Henry in his homes in Sloane Street and Hans Place, she was just as clear that Knightsbridge (or Knights Bridge, as it was known almost until the 19th century), was not London. ‘If the Weather permits, Eliza & I walk into London this morng.’ she wrote in April 1809 from 64, Sloane Street.

Roque 1741

(Above: Detail of Roque’s map of London 1741 showing Knight’s Bridge and the beginning of Kensington)

Although the tentacles of development were reaching out from the new Sloane Street, down the Brompton Road and along towards Kensington, London still began at the Hyde Park Turnpike, situated until 1825 just about where Grosvenor Place meets Knightsbridge today. Apsley House, which became the home of the Duke of Wellington, was the first dwelling you came to entering through the gates – Number One, London, in fact.

Knights Bridge was never a parish or a manor, only a locality, known from Saxon times as Kyngesburig, or Knightsbrigg. There are many legends about the origins of the name, but none appear to have any basis in fact. The bridge in question crossed the Westbourne River, one of London’s “lost rivers”, as it left Hyde Park, where it had been turned into the Serpentine. The Westbourne ran on south along a meandering course which marks the boundary of Chelsea and St George’s parishes to meet the Thames in the grounds of Chelsea Hospital. It was finally covered over in 1856/7 and became the unromantically-named Ranelagh Sewer and its outfall can still be seen at low tide. The Albert Gate of Hyde Park marks the point where it went under the road and William Street follows its line southwards.Hyde Park pike0001

If you had ventured this far in the time of the Tudors you would have encountered an appalling road, the “Waye to Reading”, mired so deep in mud that it contributed to the defeat of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s rebel army. They marched against Queen Mary, but arrived so exhausted by the state of the ‘road’ that they were easy prey for the royal troops. Things did not greatly improve for hundreds of years and even as late as 1842 reports were made of pavements ankle-deep in mud.

Worse than the mud were the highwaymen and footpads who infested this road. The last highway robbery on Knightsbridge was as late as 1799, after which a light horse patrol was sent out from the barracks to patrol the road and it was one of the earliest to have street lighting. Mr Davis in his “History of Knightsbridge” (1854) records that even after the armed patrols were instituted, “pedestrians walked to and from Kensington in bands sufficient to ensure mutual protection, starting their journey only at known intervals, of which a bell gave due warning.”

If we are feeling brave we can set out along this perilous mile, guided by the charming little map from Cecil Aldin’s The Romance of the Road (1928). East is at the top and we begin with the Hyde Park Corner tollgate and just before it, at the junction with Grosvenor Place, is St George’s Hospital. That is still there, but is now the Lanesborough Hotel. Behind it was Tattersall’s sale ring until it moved in 1865.

Aldin map 1

Going east we would have passed the White Hart Inn on the north side and a barracks for foot soldiers (demolished 1836) on the south. The narrow entrance to Old Barrack Yard still marks the spot. We cross the Westbourne as we pass William Street and can see today the unlovely round tower of the Sheraton Hotel. Once this was the site of a house owned by a Mr Lowndes and behind it, where Lowndes Square is now, was a rural pleasure garden, Spring Garden (not to be confused with the one of the same name next to what is now Trafalgar Square) at the sign of the “World’s End”. It is referred to in Pepys’s diaries several times, including in the final entry, May 31st 1669: “To the Park, Mary Botelier and a Dutch gentleman, a friend of hers being with us. Thence to the ‘World’s End’ a drinking house by the Park, and there merry, and so home late.”

(Below: Spring Gardens from a Victorian engraving of an earlier drawing.)

Spring Gardens

More or less opposite was Trinity Chapel which was probably medieval in origin and functioned as a hospital, or lazar house, for the poor. Traditionally it was said to have taken in plague victims in 1665 and the dead were buried opposite under Knightsbridge Green at the present junction of Knightsbridge, Sloane Street and Brompton Road. Eventually the chapel fell into total disrepair and was rebuilt. Its present incarnation is further along the road in Kensington.
For a long time before the passing of Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act in 1753 it was the location for irregular, clandestine or runaway marriages and the registers for the chapel contain entries with notes such as “secrecy for life” or “secret for fourteen years” added to them. Possibly the most famous person married there was Sir Robert Walpole who wed a daughter of the Lord Mayor of London. (The chapel is shown below in a view of part of the north side of Knightsbridge in 1820)

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Now we reach the Albert Gate into Hyde Park, the point where the Westbourne still runs under our feet. On the park side of the bridge was the Fox and Bull Inn (shown as the Fox on Aldin’s map), patronised by artists such as George Morland and Sir Joshua Reynolds, who painted its sign. Less pleasantly it was a receiving house for the Humane Society, founded to assist drowning persons, or deal with their bodies. It was to this inn that the body of Harriet Shelley, the poet’s first wife, was brought after she drowned herself in the Serpentine in 1816. Immediately after the Fox and Bull was the Cannon Brewery, so called from the cannon mounted on its roof. That was surrounded by “low and filthy courts with open cellars” – a far cry from the elegant Kuwaiti and French Embassy buildings which occupy the site now.

Almost opposite is the junction with Sloane Street, developed after 1780 along the old track from the King’s Road in Chelsea. Another old road, the Brompton Road, comes in at an angle at the same point and led to the village of Brompton and on to Fulham. At this junction was Knightsbridge Green with a watch house for the constable, a pound for straying livestock, and possibly the site of Trinity Chapel’s plague pit. This was the point where the granite sets that made up the road surface ceased and the mud really began. It is also close to this point that Tattersall’s moved in 1865.

Just past the brewery were the barracks for the Horse Guards, giving them direct access into Hyde Park, just as they have today. Originally built in 1794/5 the barracks were rebuilt in 1878/9 and then again in the 20th century, slightly further west on Knightsbridge. From here on there were virtually no buildings on the north side, only the brick wall of Hyde Park. The road now becomes Kensington Road.

On the south side of Knightsbridge, following the Brompton Road turning, were the Rose and Crown (the oldest of Knightsbridge’s inns, shown below) and the Old King’s Head and then the floor-cloth manufactory of Messrs. Smith and Barber. It had been established in 1754 and lasted well into the Victorian era.

Rose and Crown
Then came three mansions that were, when they were built, true “country houses”. The first was Rutland House, the next Kent House, home for a while of the Duke of Kent, Queen Victoria’s father, and then Kingston House. Kingston House was built in 1769 for the scandalous Elizabeth Chudleigh whose story is so amazing that I will save it for another post. She died in 1796 and it later became the home of the Marquis of Wellesley who died there in 1842. He was the elder brother of the Duke of Wellington.

Half Way House

An area of nursery gardens followed on the south side of the road, part of the great expanse of fruit and vegetable-producing land that surrounded London. Somewhere along this stretch we enter what is now known as Kensington Gore – nothing to do with blood, but named after Gore House which stood on the site of the Royal Albert Hall. It was built in the 1750s, decorated by Robert Adam and was the home in the 1780s of Admiral Lord Rodney. It was acquired in 1808 by William Wilberforce, the great campaigner for the abolition of the slave trade, who lived there until 1821.
Opposite Gore House, a most insalubrious neighbour for a fine mansion, was the Halfway House Inn (shown above). This was where the spies for the highwaymen of Hounslow Heath would congregate to see who was travelling and pass the word on to alert the highwaymen about fine carriages or vulnerable riders. Just beyond it on the park side was the first milestone from the Hyde Park turnpike, the point where we can leave the dangers of Knightsbridge behind us and enter the village of Kensington with a sigh of relief for our arrival safe from the mud and the footpads.

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Londoners Take to Their Skates

Everyone has heard of the Thames Frost Fairs where the river froze solid and Londoners could walk across, drive across – and on one notable occasion in 1814, lead an elephant across. The first recorded frost fair was in 1608, the last in 1814, after which warmer winters changes in the river’s flow because of  alterations to the bridges prevented it ever being possible again. Below is a detail from Luke Clennel’s picture of that last fair.

Frost Fair

But the Thames did not freeze every year, even before 1814, and when it did the ice was covered in booths and stalls. More reliably Londoners could take to the frozen ponds and lakes in their parks and skate. Below is a detail from an original pen and ink sketch by George Morland in my own collection and you can see the simple skates laced onto the boots or shoes of the skaters.

Morland skaters crop

The Serpentine, the lake in Hyde Park formed from the Westbourne River, provided a particularly popular venue. The Picture of London for 1807, my favourite London guidebook describes it:

‘In severe winters, when the Serpentine River is frozen over, the ice is almost covered with people. One winter there were counted more than 6000 people at one time on the ice. A number of booths were pitched for the refreshment of the populace; and here and there was a group of six, eight or more, fashionable young men, skating, and describing very difficult figures, in the manner of a country dance, with particular neatness and facility of execution. In general, however, the English do not excel in this very exhilarating and wholesome exercise.
From the number of accidents which happen annually on this river when frozen over, his majesty gave the Humane Society a spot of ground on its banks on which they have erected a most convenient receiving-house for the recovery of the apparently drowned; it cost upwards of £500 and is worthy the inspection of the curious. The society, during the time of frost, keep men on the river to guard the unwary from danger, and to relieve those who may require their aid.’

The lake in St James’s Park was also a good size for skaters as this detail from an undated print shows. Some skaters are obviously far better than others!

St James Park

The building on the far bank is the Queen’s House – Buckingham House – which eventually became Buckingham Palace.

Finally here is the image I am using for my Christmas card this year. The lady in her gorgeously warm-looking crimson pelisse seems very snug as she watches the skaters, especially the gentleman with his frozen fingers tucked into his armpits! Her rather bizarre hat is decorated with holly and there is a full description of her outfit at the end of this post.

Walking dress crop

A Very Merry Christmas and Happy 2016 to all my readers!

A Winter Walking Dress from La Belle Assemblée Feb 1812

A scarlet Merino cloth pelisse, lined with straw coloured sarsnet, trimmed with light coloured spotted fur, and attached with loops of black silk cordon and rich frog tassels; the broad fur in front, forming a tippet, pointed at the back. A narrow fur passes from the top of the sleeve,
is brought down the side seams, and relieved by fastenings of black silk cordon; four loops with frog ornament the shoulders and cuffs; plain standing up collar tied with cordon: a fine cashmire (sic) shawl, with brown ground, and richly variegated border, is generally thrown over the dress, in which is united both comfort and elegance. A Swedish hat of the same materials as the pelisse, lined with straw colour, and fastened up on one side; the crown trimmed with two rows of narrow spotted fur, and one still narrower at the edge of the hat; a bunch of the Christmas holly in front, and two tassels falling from the summit of the crown, of black, to answer the pelisse, which is worn over a white round dress, either plain or corded cambric. Beaver gloves, and demi-broquins of scarlet Morocco,
laced with black, and lined with fur, complete the dress.

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Horse Guards Parade – Crocodiles, Cardinal Wolsey & Beach Volleyball

One of the emptiest, yet most evocative, spaces in London is Horse Guards Parade. In my last post I wrote about the Regent’s Bomb – the fantastical mortar and gun carriage that sits on one side of the Arch. This time I’m writing about a little of the history of the parade ground and another cannon with a wonderful gun carriage.Guardsman
Horse Guards Parade sits between Whitehall and St James’s Park and began life as open land next to the grounds of York Place, the London palace of the Archbishops of York. Its main entrance faced down the road that is now Horse Guards Avenue, the bishop’s route to his landing stage on the river. With the fall of Cardinal Wolsey Henry VIII seized York Place and then set about acquiring “…all the medowes about saynt James, and all the whole house of S.James and ther made a fayre manision and a parke…” according to Edward Hall.
When the king began his work on what was to become Whitehall Palace a willow marsh for the farming of osiers for basketwork, Steynour’s Croft, covered much of what is now Horse Guards, the Bell Inn stood at the southern edge and an old track crossed it from the scrubland that became St James’s Park.
By 1534 the Palace of Whitehall was largely complete. Part of the area, a longitudinal strip running west across Horse Guards became his tiltyard, scene of tournaments and knightly exercises. Under Elizabeth I the Tiltyard was used for animal baiting and tournaments and pageants which were set pieces for state occasions. Under James I elaborate masques were held – including one involving an elephant carrying a castle – but the increasingly theatrical nature of royal masques led to the building of the Banqueting House on the other side of what was then King Street (now Whitehall) and the last masque in the tiltyard was planned for 1624. After that it became known as the Bearstake Gallery and it continued to be used for baiting sports until 1660.
A standing guard was stationed in a specially built guardroom at the tiltyard from 1641 and the area continued to house soldiers throughout the Commonwealth period.
On May 8th 1660 Charles II was proclaimed on the site of the old Tiltyard ‘Green’ and the renovation of Whitehall Palace began. A plan of c1670 shows Whitehall as a wide street coming down from the north and ending at the pinch-point of a Tudor gate. The range of buildings that were the old Horse Guards were built in 1663 with a yard in front and behind the range the open expanse of ground that became Horse Guards Parade.
In January 1698 a great fire destroyed the Palace of Whitehall, sparing only the Banqueting Hall and Old Horse Guards. A letter of the time records, “All parts from near the house my Lord Lichfield lived in to the Horse Guards were yesterday covered with heaps of goods rescued from the flames.”
The king moved to St James’s Palace, across the park, and Whitehall became the location for many government offices and from the 1730s the buildings surrounding Horse Guards were gradually replaced. The dilapidated old building was demolished in 1750 and the new building – the one we see now – was designed by William Kent, with additions by Isaac Ware.

 

Horse Guards

The large open space was referred to as the Parade ground, but the first written reference to “Horse Guards Parade” as a title comes as late as 1817. By then the area looked much as it does today as can be seen in this print of 1809 by Rowlandson and Pugin, published by Ackermann. Only the high brick wall that closes off the gardens at the rear of Downing Street today (to the right of the picture) is missing.
The space is uncluttered now – when it is not being used for events such as Trooping the Colour and the Olympic Beach Volleyball, or in the Victorian era, the marshalling point for the vast funeral procession of the Duke of Wellington. However there are two interesting weapons exhibited there, either side of the arch. On one side is the Regent’s Bomb, on the other a 16th century Turkish cannon brought to the site in 1802 after its

capture in the siege of Alexandria (1801) when the British invaded Egypt to fight Napoleon’s army, an event that formed the setting for my recent novel Beguiled By

Her Betrayer.

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It was made in 1526 and the inscription on the barrel reads:
“The Solomon of the age the Great Sultan Commander of the dragon guns When they breathe roaring like thunder. May the enemy’s forts be razed to the ground. Year of Hegira 931.”
The gun carriage was made at Woolwich and depicts Britannia pointing at the Pyramids and a rather splendid crocodile.                                                                     You can visit Horse Guards Parade both in my Walks Through Regency London (Walk 8 Trafalgar Square to Westminster, which follows the length of Whitehall)
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00HZ35V4K
and Walking Jane Austen’s London (Walk 6 Westminster to Charing Cross, which goes through St James’s Park).
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00CPOT0IC

 

 

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The Regent’s Bomb

Horse Guards’ Parade lies between St James’ Park and Whitehall and has many historical connections – it was Henry VIII’s tiltyard for the Palace of Whitehall, it was the only open place in London big enough for the funeral procession of the Duke of Wellington  to form up in, it is the location for today’s Trooping the Colour ceremony – and it was even the location for the beach volleyball in the 2012 Olympics.

It is also the home of possibly the most eccentric piece of ordnance in the British Isles – the Prince Regent’s Bomb. It is a mortar, a squat black cannon captured from the French during the battle of Salamanca in 1812. The battle resulted in the lifting of the siege of Cadiz and the mortar was presented to the Prince Regent “as a token of respect and gratitude by the Spanish nation.”

Bomb 2

The plain and simple mortar was sent to Woolwich Arsenal and there a support and plinth was made for it in the shape of a dragon. It is a truly stupendous and bizarre construction and was unveiled, with great ceremony, on the 12th August 1816, the Prince’s birthday. Immediately it attracted  ridicule, for not only was the design completely over the top, as only something designed to appeal to the Prince of Wales’s taste could be, but “Bomb” sounded irresistibly like “Bum” and the Regent’s substantial backside was already the subject of many coarse caricatures.

Perhaps the cruelest is a companion to the verses below. I have not been able to locate a copyright-free image, but you can find it here in the British Museum’s collection  http://tinyurl.com/p6fxayy

The verses come from a broadsheet published by William Hone in 1816. I have filled in names that have been left blank in square brackets [ ]. The three ‘secret hags’ are the Regent’s three mistresses. ‘Old Bags’ was the Lord Chancellor, Lord Eldon (More about him in my post of April 21 2014: The Eloping Lord Chancellor). Vansittart was Nicholas Vansittart, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Tory Wellesley was Wellesley-Pole, elder brother of the Duke of Wellington, Castlereagh was Foreign Secretary and leader of the House of Commons and George Rose was Treasurer of the Navy. (My thanks to fellow historical novelist Melinda Hammond for help filling in the blanks (http://www.melinda-hammond.co.uk)

 

ON THE REGENT’S BOMB
Being uncovered, in St. James’s Park, on Monday, the 12th of August, 1816, His Royal Highness’s Birth-Day.

Oh! all ye Muses, hither come—
And celebrate the Regent’s bomb!
Illustrious Bomb! Immortal capture!
Thou fill’st my every sense with rapture!
Oh, such a Bomb! so full of fire—
Apollo—hither bring thy lyre—
And all ye powers of music come,
And aid me sing this mighty Bomb!

And first, with reverence this I note—
This Bomb was once a Sans culotte—
And next, by changes immaterial,
Became, at length, a Bomb Imperial!
And first exploded—pardon ladies!—
With loud report, at siege of Cadiz—
At which this Bomb—so huge and hearty,
Belonged to little Buonaparté;
But now, by strange metamorphosis,
(A kind of Bomb metempsychosis)
Has—though it odd may seem—become
Our gracious R[egen]t’s royal Bomb;
Who, after due consideration,
Resolved, to gratify the Nation—
Nor let his natal day pass over
Without some feat—to then uncover,
And there display—to strike us dumb—
His vast—unfathomable Bomb!

Oh, what a Bomb! Oh, Heaven defend us!
The thought of Bombs is quite tremendous!
What crowds will come from every shore
To gaze on its amazing bore!
What swarms of Statesmen, warm and loyal,
To worship Bomb so truly royal!
And first approach three ‘secret hags,’
Then him the R[egen]t calls ‘Old Bags;’
Methinks I see V[ansittar]t come,
And humbly kiss the royal Bomb!
While T[or]y W[ellesle]y, (loyal soul)
Will take its measure with a Pole;
And C[astlereag]h will low beseech
To kiss a corner of the breech;
And next will come of G[eorg]y R[os]e,
And in the touch-hole shove his nose!

For roundness, smoothness, breech, and bore,
Such Bomb was never seen before!
Then, Britain! be not this forgotten,
That, when we all are dead and rotten,
And every other trace is gone
Of all thy matchless glory won,
This mighty Bomb shall grace thy fame
And boast thy glorious Regent’s name!
In every age such pilgrims may go
As far t’outrival fam’d St. Jago!
And, centuries hence, the folks shall come,
And contemplate–the Regent’s Bomb!

[by] BOMBASTES.
August 12, 1816.

Bomb 1

“Bombastes” might have been surprised to discover that two hundred years later folks still come “and contemplate the Regent’s Bomb!” You’ll find the Prince’s Bomb on Walk 6 in my Walking Jane Austen’s London.

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Filed under London Parks, Monuments, Prince Regent, Regency caricatures, Royalty, Walks