Category Archives: Monuments

The London Stone

I get my daily dose of the wonderful ravens at the Tower on Twitter from @RavenMaster1, thus doing my bit to support the realm because, as everyone knows for a fact, the continuing presence of ravens at the Tower is essential for the very existence of the nation.

The importance of ravens might be A Fact, but there are also myths about objects key to the existence of London, most famously, the London Stone. Normally this is quite difficult to get a good look at, because for years it has been stuck behind bars in a building that is now being demolished. Until it can be returned to Cannon Street, where it has been since at least the 11th century, it is on display at the Museum of London.

So what is the London Stone? No-one really knows. It is a block of Clipsham limestone, heavily weathered, with a rounded top with two grooves in it. An 11th century reference to it as ‘the Londenstane’ is the first written record, but it is probably Roman in origin. Cannon Street Station, very close to its traditional location, was the site of the Roman Governor’s Palace, so it might be a stone from there. There is also a suggestion, without any foundation, that it is a Roman milestone marking the centre of Londinium.

In 1450 the Kentish rebel Jack Cade, calling himself John Mortimer, led his men into London. He struck the Stone with his sword, announcing, ‘Now is Mortimer Lord of the City!’ Shakespeare makes much of this incident with a heavily-embroidered version in Henry VI Part 2.

The print of 1831 above shows it – or, rather, its protective housing – as it was from the 1780s, in the wall of Wren’s church of St Swithen’s. You can see an oval opening just behind the man who appears to be carrying something suspiciously like a coffin on his shoulders. The Stone has always been somewhere close to this location, but it has shifted about somewhat over the years. Originally it was on the southern edge of medieval Candlewick Street (the early name for Cannon Street), opposite the ancient church of St Swithen. In 886 King Alfred had laid out a grid of streets for Saxon London and the Stone would have been central in that, which might account for its significance.

The Great Fire swept over the site in 1666, leaving its mark on the Stone and destroying St Swithen’s, but it was still of enough significance in 1720 to have a protective housing built over it. When Wren’s new church was built the Stone in its shelter was moved across to stand in front of it and later it was built into the wall of the church, still in the 1720 cover.St Swithen’s was gutted during the Blitz, but remained standing as a ruin, complete with the Stone, until the 1960s when the church was demolished. The photograph below is 1962, just before the demolition. An unlovely building (111, Cannon Street) for the Bank of China was built on the site and the Stone was housed – or, rather, caged –  behind bars in the front of this building.(Colour photo).

 

Now the block is being redeveloped and the Stone is in the Museum of London for safekeeping before it can be replaced on site.

The earliest surviving list of Canterbury Cathedral’s London properties, which dates to between 1098 and 1108,mentions property given by a certain “Eadwaker æt lundene stane” (“Eadwaker at London Stone”). People living near the Stone adopted it as part of their surname, for example Ailwin of London Stone who was the father of Henry Fitz-Ailwin the first mayor of the City of London ( 1189 and 1193). Their house stood on the north side of St Swithin’s church.

By the 17th century the Stone was a tourist attraction  and remained an address for businesses. By that time it has accumulated a mish-mash of legends and ‘history’ – it had  been placed there by Brutus, by, King Lud, it was  Druidic sacrificial altar and finally that an ancient prophecy stated that, ‘So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish’. Unfortunately this appears to have been entirely made up by the author of an article in the journal Notes and Queries in 1862! So – catch the London Stone in all its enigmatic mystery while you can still see it from all sides.

 

 

 

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The Statue of Charles I – a London landmark Jane Austen would have known

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Standing on the southern edge of Trafalgar Square, facing down Whitehall, and in the midst of a permanent traffic jam, stands the bronze statue of Charles I, looking down towards the place of his execution as he has done since 1675. The surroundings have changed beyond recognition, but every Georgian Londoner and visitor would have been familiar with the statue which appears in numerous prints.

The statue was created by Hubert le Suer in 1633, but it was not erected immediately and by the time of the Civil War it had become a target for the Parliamentarians. It was sold to John Rivett, a brazier, in 1649 on the strict instructions that it was to be melted down. Rivett, obviously both a shrewd political forecaster and a businessman, buried it in his garden and made a great deal of money from small souvenirs allegedly made from the bronze. Charles II acquired it on his restoration and it was erected, more or less on the site of the medieval Charing Cross, in 1675. It can be seen on the map, just below the R of Cross. Behind it is the King’s Mews and the Golden Cross Inn, now occupied by Trafalgar Square. The bulk of Northumberland House is to the east, below the final S of Cross.

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The pedestal is said to have been designed by Wren and carved by Grinling Gibbons.

This print of 1811 from Ackermann’s Repository, shows the view east past Northumberland House and down the Strand.

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The statue was obviously a familiar landmark that enabled artists to locate their images. The 1823 print of ‘The notorious Black Billy “At Home” to a London Street Party’ (drawn by Samuel Alken, published by Thos. Kelly) shows it surrounded by lively street life. Despite being shown as white, “Black Billy” Waters (c. 1778–1823) was black and is said to have been a slave who escaped by joining the British navy and who lost a leg in a fall from the rigging. Whatever the truth, he was a popular street entertainer with his characteristic feathered hat and violin.

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By the middle of the 19th century street life was rather more decorous and this undated Victorian engraving shows a pristine Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery (with columns recycled from Carlton House).

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Today the traffic around the statue is unrelenting, and so often jammed solid, that bus and taxi passengers have ample opportunity to study Charles in all his melancholy glory!

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Looking Down on London Bridge

Last week I went up the Shard on the south bank of the Thames and, knees shaking at the height, looked down on London Bridge, 800 feet below. In the photograph you can see its northern end, the Monument to the Great Fire on Fish Hill and the spire of the church of St Magnus the Martyr.

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London Bridge is broken down,
Gold is won and bright renown.
Shields sounding,
War-horns sounding,
Hildur shouting in the din!
Arrows singing,
Mailcoats ringing,
Odin makes our Olaf win!

Not quite the cheery little 17th century nursery rhyme we are familiar with but a Norse poet writing of the attempt of Saxon King Ethelred the Unready (who wasn’t really Unready but Unraed-y – suffering from bad councillors) to recapture London from King Cnut (who never really believed he could hold back the tide, but chroniclers don’t seem to have any sense of irony) with the help of King Olaf of Norway in 1014.
This was the wooden London Bridge that had been rebuilt several times since the Romans left and, for centuries, was the only crossing point in London.
(Oddly, despite burning the bridge, Olaf became a popular saint. His church at the southern end of the bridge is now under an office block bearing his name.)
Even without the intervention of marauding Vikings, wooden bridges needed constant repair, so in 1176 work started on a stone bridge, completed in 1209. All the versions of London Bridge for over a thousand years have been more or less on the same spot, but we know exactly where this one, now known as Old London Bridge, was located because it survived, albeit endlessly adapted, until 1830. DSCN7280edit
The bridge had a drawbridge in it to allow taller ships to pass, gatehouses to guard it – and, from the 14th century, to act as convenient places to stick the heads and assorted limbs of traitors – and a chapel. Almost from the beginning houses and shops were built along the bridge, narrowing the roadway to between 12 and 15 feet (3.7 – 4.6 metres). After the Great Fire in 1666 when some were destroyed they were rebuilt hanging further out over the river, but even so it was hideously congested.
From 1722 tolls were charged on vehicles which meant that they tended to stop in Southwark on the southern side and unload their passengers and goods. Numerous inns grew up to deal with this business. In an attempt to control the flow on the bridge three men were employed to try and enforce driving on the left, the first time a ‘keep left’ rule was applied in England. Stonegate at the southern end was rebuilt in 1728 with a wider arch but even so, when there was a major event at Vauxhall gardens, for example, three hour traffic jams were not uncommon.London Bridge Frost Fair
By the time Westminster Bridge opened in 1750 London Bridge was looking decidedly shabby by contrast and drastic modifications were carried out between 1757-62. All the buildings were demolished, a wider central arch was created and the bridge was widened by 26 feet (8 metres) and refaced in Portland stone. Alcoves were added along its length, some with domes, and the lighting was improved. In 1763 the Stonegate was demolished and arches made in the tower of the church of St Magnus the Martyr at the northern end for pedestrians using the widened road. The clock that overhung the roadway is still there, blocked from the river now by an ugly modern office Monument0002building. In the print looking down Fish Hill you can see the tower of St Magnus and the clock.
Even with the renovations the old bridge was failing and the final straw was the damage in the severe winter of 1813-14 when the last Frost Fair was held on the Thames. (The black and white print above shows one of the arches during the Frost Fair). Work began in 1824 on a new bridge, built alongside the old one so that traffic could continue. The new alignment shifted the approach to the bridge westwards from Fish Hill, site of the Monument, and obliterated the waterworks on the upstream side of the old bridge. The works had waterwheels that took 4 million gallons a day from the river to supply 10,000 customers and they can be seen on the far side in this print of 1814.

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The new bridge, designed by John Rennie, opened in 1831 and the old bridge was demolished over the next two years. Rennie’s bridge was replaced in 1972 with the present structure.
So what remains of Old London Bridge? Not a lot, considering what an iconic feature of the London landscape it was for so long. One of the 18thc alcoves is in the grounds of Guy’s Hospital, two are in Victoria Park, Hackney and a fourth in the gardens of a block of flats in East Sheen. A stone from an arch is in the churchyard of St Magnus the Martyr where the clock can still be seen and you can walk through the arch in the tower. There is an excellent model of the old bridge with its houses and shops in the church and an even bigger model in the Museum of London.
If you walk into Southwark and find Newcomen Street you’ll see the King’s Arms, a Victorian pub with a fine stone coat of arms on the front. This used to say GIIR, for George II, and was fixed on the Stonegate, the entrance to old London bridge from the Southwark side, in 1728. When the gate was demolished in 1760 it was removed, the inscription changed to 1760 and GIIIR for the current king, and put up on a tavern that stood in Axe Yard.

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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.”

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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.

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“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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