Category Archives: History
A bit of historical background and historic events
Long before planes dominated international travel, cruise liners were the way to go abroad. Throughout the 19th century and early 20th century, huge swathes of Europeans crossed the Atlantic to start a new life or explore the Americas. Today, the cruise liner is stereotypically associated with pensioners on holiday and has been getting a bad rap in recent years for the ‘negative’ tourism it brings to port cities such as Venice, Barcelona or Dubrovnik. While current cruise liners are apparently very comfortable and have all the mod cons, we don’t quite associate them with the glamour they had in yesteryear. A current exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum delves into their history, starting as far back as Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Eastern in 1857, which revolutionised boat transport.
The exhibition kicks off with the advertising – with posters, brochures and flyers showcasing famous liners such as the Normandie, Olympic, Titanic and Mauretania. Like a would-be passenger of the time, this is usually the first impression you would have of a liner before seeing it in the flesh. The dozens of shipping companies in the 19th and early 20th century were incredibly competitive. New liners always tried to boast some new feature the others didn’t have, with the Titanic’s claim to being unsinkable proving horrifically untrue.
However, as in real-life for travellers, the advertising is simply a warm-up. We are then introduced to the first of 200 pieces of artefacts from cruise liners gone by, including furniture, uniforms, art work, film footage, panelling and more. As someone who has long been interested in the Titanic’s history beyond the film, it was amazing to see the ‘Honour and Glory crowning Time’ clock panel from the RMS Olympic – Titanic’s sister ship. Fans of the 1998 film will remember this was faithfully recreated as the meeting place for Jack and Rose on the grand staircase. The exhibition also features two artefacts from the Titanic – a deckchair and a panel from the first class lounge rescued from the north Atlantic after the ship went down in April 1912. The wooden panel is displayed at the end of the exhibition appearing to float at sea, just how it was found over 100 years ago. From around the same time period is furniture from the RMS Mauretania (1906). Run by Cunard, it was the world’s largest ship until it was overcome by the Olympic in 1911. On show is a bed from first-class cabin C23, designed by workers at the Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson shipyard at Wallsend Tyne and Wear.
One liner that often appears throughout the exhibition is the Normandie, launched in 1935 by the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. Although not a huge commercial success, she is widely labelled as one of the greatest liners ever due to her stunning design and interiors and was the largest and fastest when she entered service. An Art Deco lacquer panel, designed by Jean Dunand for the first-class smoking room, is stunning and huge. Going back two decades is another example of a striking Gallic liner by the same company, the SS France (1910). The doors and panelling from the embarkation hall and communication gallery from around 1912 are joined by two armchairs from the first class dining room and they give you a good understanding of why the ship was nicknamed ‘the Versailles of the Atlantic’. However, as the exhibition progresses through the decades, the furniture and decoration rather deteriorates into more simple and bland designs by the 1950s and the 1960s. Looking back over 150 years of mass transit, it’s clear the Victorians and inter-war period were clearly leading the way in terms of style. Read the rest of this entry
Standing across the road from the Tudor-style Liberty department store is a striking building which couldn’t look more different. Palladium House is a Grade II listed Art Deco office block on the corner of Great Marlborough Street and Argyll Street. With its Egyptian detailing and black granite, the building wouldn’t look out-of-place in Manhattan. So it’s not surprising to discover it was built as a smaller twin to another skyscraper across the pond by an American architect for an American company.
Great Marlborough Street dates back to the early 18th century when the road was named in honour of the Duke of Marlborough’s victory at Blenheim in 1704. The Duke of Argyll then added Argyll Street in 1736. Various buildings came and went over the remaining centuries, with the site becoming empty and ready for Palladium House in the early 20th century.
Today, we tend to think of radiators as a relatively modern invention, with many British homes not embracing the technology until the 1970s and 1980s. One of my childhood homes had no central heating when we moved in and installing some was fortunately my parents’ first priority. However, the central heating we have today stems back to the mid 19th century thanks to inventors like Franz San Galli, Joseph Nason and Robert Briggs. In 1902, the National Radiator Company was formed in Pennsylvania, USA, with the hopes of bringing this technology to homes across America and beyond. By the 1920s, the NRC’s business was going so well they bought a plot of land in Bryant Park area of Manhattan, New York City. American architect Raymond Hood (1881-1934) and French architect Jacques André Fouilhoux (1879–1945) co-designed the American Radiator Building with a combination of Art Deco and Gothic styles in 1924. Today, the building is one of Manhattan’s iconic skyscrapers and is now home to the Bryant Park Hotel.
Despite their success in the US, the ARC had global dreams. They had already had a factory in Hull since 1906, and had subsidiaries in France and Germany. A few years after erecting the American Radiator Building in the Big Apple, they bought a plot of land in London’s West End for their UK headquarters. They brought Hood over from America to design their new building and enlisted British architect Stanley Gordon Jeeves (1888-1964). Their design was in the Art Deco style and a scaled down version of its New York counterpart. Palladium House is the only European building by Hood, who also designed or co-designed Chicago’s Tribune Tower and New York City’s Rockefeller Center and New York Daily News buildings. Meanwhile, Jeeves went on to create the Earls Court Exhibition Centre and Dolphin Square flats in Pimlico. Read the rest of this entry
Long Acre is a busy shopping thoroughfare in the Covent Garden area of London. Linking Drury Lane with St Martin’s Lane, it has a host of shops from affordable to expensive, attracting both tourists and Londoners. As a one-way road, Long Acre isn’t particularly wide so most pedestrians rarely look up to see the Georgian and Victorian detailing of its many historic buildings. I have walked down Long Acre hundreds of times in my life and never noticed the stunning façade of No. 30-31. Now home to a branch of Gap clothing, the former carriage shop dates back to the late 19th century and shows a clue to its past life.
From the 13th to the 16th century, the area we know today as Covent Garden was ‘the garden of the Abbey and Convent’. The land covered 40 acres and was looked after by the monks of Westminster. However, King Henry VIII (1491-1547) seized the land during the dissolution of the monasteries and in 1552, it was given to John Russell, Earl of Bedford (1485-1555). The northern boundary of the estate was referred to the ‘long acre’ after the first pathway was constructed. In the early 17th century, King Charles I (1600-1649) criticised the condition of the road and houses along Long Acre, prompting estate owner Francis Russell, 4th Earl of Bedford (1593-1641), to try to tidy up the area with more attractive dwellings. As well as improving Long Acre, Russell laid out Covent Garden Piazza and commissioned architect Inigo Jones to design St Paul’s Church in the 1630s.
By the late 17th century, Long Acre started to attract the coach and carriage building trade. In the late 18th century, one of Long Acre’s most famous coach makers was Hatchett & Co at No.121, on the current site of the Calvin Klein boutique and directly opposite Nos 30-31. John Hatchett, whose family were in business from 1750-1870, was credited with creating high standards and innovative designs of carriages copied by his rivals (click here for one of his designs). According to the Carriage Journal, the Hatchetts employed several hundred workers, while John served as chief of The Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach-Harness Makers livery company in 1785, which still exists today. As the 19th century progressed, Long Acre was dominated by coach builders and harness makers, with names such as Pearce & Countze; Edwin Kesterton; Silk & Sons; Wyburn, Meller & Turner; Holman & Whittingham; G. Amery; T George & Co, and, finally, C. S. Windover and Co., Ltd, who was coach builder to her Majesty and next door neighbour at No.33. Read the rest of this entry
The architecture of London’s tube stations vary wildly, from Victorian façades to modern 21st century designs. However, the exteriors’ designs tend to be exclusively for Transport for London. However, there is an exception to this, where a separate business has been immortalised in the iconic ox blood-red tiling of Leicester Square station. If you look at the Cranbourn Street exit, you’ll see a set of cricket stumps, a ball and a pair of bats along with the words ‘J Wisden & Compy No.21′.
Long before Leicester Square station was built, there was a Victorian cricketer named John Wisden (1826-1884), who played for Kent, Middlesex and Sussex over a career that spanned 18 years. However, it was his ventures off the field that he is mostly remembered for today. While still playing, he teamed up with sports outfitter Fred Lillywhite(1829-1866) in 1855 to create a side business. The pair opened a cricket and cigar shop at 2 New Coventry Street, just off Leicester Square. However, their partnership was dissolved in January 1859 with Lillywhite handing over the business to Wisden. In the 1861 census, he is listed as living above the shop with his sister, his teenage cousin and a porter, Joseph Williams. In addition to being a good cricketer, it appears Wisden was a successful businessman and expanded into publishing following early retirement. In 1863, Wisden hung up his bat at the age of 37 because of his rheumatism. The following year, he launched the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, a reference book of the sport published annually. Wisden wanted the book to compete with his former business partner-turned-rival Lillywhite’s The Guide To Cricketers.
By 1872, he moved his shop to the other side of Leicester Square at 21 Cranbourn Street. At the time, Cranbourn Street connected St Martin’s Lane to Leicester Square, as Charing Cross Road did not exist until 1886. He expanded his business into manufacturing and retailing other sports equipment, as well as cricket. In April 1884, Wisden died of cancer in his flat above the shop aged 55. He passed away unmarried and childless, so his estate went to his sister. She sold the company to Wisden’s general manager Henry Luff (1856-1910), who went on to open a second store in Great Newport Street – just a few minutes walk away – in 1896.
Luff died in 1910 – the year Leicester Square tube station opened. Three houses on Cranbourn Street were compulsory purchased by tube bosses and demolished to make way for the new transport. The new station, which serviced the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway, was designed by architect Leslie Green (1875-1908), known for his signature style of ox-blood red tiling and semi-circular first-floor windows. Following the opening of the tube, the Wisden store was relocated in the new station. As a sign of Wisden’s respected reputation and standing, Green had incorporated Wisden signage into his iconic red tiling.
The Wisden store was subsequently run by Luff’s son Ernest and it received the royal warrant for their “appointment as Athletic Outfitters to the King”, George V, in 1911. Despite this honour, the station shop went on to close in 1928, with the nearby Great Newport Street branch hanging on longer until 1961. While the shops are long gone, Wisden’s publishing company still continues today and is now an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing. The Almanack is still published annually today and remains popular with cricket fans around the world.
- The Wisden sign can be seen on the exterior of Exit 4 of Leicester Square tube station. Above Wok To Walk, 21 Cranbourn Street, Westminster, WC2H 7AA. Nearest station: Leicester Square.
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We all know about the Victorian origins of the London Underground, which has been transporting commuters since 1863. However, did you know it’s not the capital’s only underground railway in existence? For eight decades, the Post Office ran their own subterranean train system to transport letters and parcels under the city’s streets. Affectionately known as the ‘Mail Rail’, it closed for good in 2003. However, in September 2017, the railway was brought back to life and adapted for human passengers as part of a new experience at the Postal Museum.
Road traffic has been a problem in London for centuries, stemming back to the days of horses and carts. For owners of the Post Office, the impact on their deliveries arriving late was not good for business so something had to be done. In 1909, a committee was set up to devise a traffic-proof delivery system, and by 1911 had settled on the idea of driverless electric trains. Construction began in 1914 with a trial tunnel in Plumstead Marshes, south-east London, with the main 6 1/2 miles of tunnels completed by 1917. By this time, World War I was in full swing so lack of labour and materials meant the project was put on hold. However, the tunnels did find some use during WWI as the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate stored some of their artworks in them for safe-keeping. Following the end of the Great War, costs of materials had risen so much, it wasn’t until 1923 that work could finally resume. Finally, on 5 December 1927, parcels were transported underground between Mount Pleasant and Paddington for the first time.
The trains run in a single 9ft tunnel featuring a double 2ft gauge track. Approaching each station, the tunnel would split into two 7ft tunnels with a single track each. The railway’s deepest point was 70ft, although the stations tended to be slightly closer to street level. By 1930, the original rolling stock were knackered so they were replaced with new trains. These new ones featured a 27ft single car train with each container having a capacity for 15 bags of letters or six bags of parcels. These were used until they were replaced in 1980 by a new fleet. Over the decades, some of the stations came and went, including the Western Parcels Office and Western District Office, with the latter name being reused at a new station at Rathbone Place, which opened in 1965. In 1987, the train system was renamed ‘Mail Rail’ to mark its 60th anniversary. In 1993, the whole system was computerised so the trains could be controlled from a single point. By the end of the 1990s, only the stations at Paddington, Western Delivery Office, Mount Pleasant, and the East District Office were being used, carrying over 6 million bags of mail annually. However, as the system aged, Royal Mail decided it was becoming too costly to run the railway, claiming road transport was cheaper and its death warrant was signed. On 31 May 2003, the Mail Rail was closed for good. Read the rest of this entry
Standing in a quiet square sandwiched between South Kensington tube station and the Victoria & Albert Museum is a rather unusual block of flats. No.5 Thurloe Square, nicknamed ‘the Thin House’, is thought to be one of the narrowest homes in the capital. Looking at the block from the south-west corner of the square, the house looks ridiculously narrow. However, it’s somewhat of an optical illusion as the building is actually triangular, which widens as you move further east.
Thurloe Square was built in 1840-1846 on land belonging to the Alexander Estate. The square was named after the Thurloe family – from which brothers John and James Alexander inherited the land following the death of their great-grandmother Anna Maria Harris’ son from her second marriage. Anna Maria, who inherited the estate in the early 18th century, was left widowed from her first marriage to John Browne (the Alexanders’ great-grandfather), and remarried John Thurloe Brace – grandson of the Puritan statesman John Thurloe (1616-1668). Their son Harris Thurloe Brace died without an heir in 1799, so the estate passed on to his mother’s family from her first marriage.
Most of the houses in Thurloe Square were designed by London-born architect George Basevi (1794-1845), a student of Sir John Soane and a cousin of Benjamin Disraeli. The terraces were designed in his signature neo-classical style with Doric columned porches at the front doors. This entrance feature is now a signature design of mid-Victorian terraces in the area. However, just two decades later, 23 houses in Thurloe Square were designated to be handed over to the Metropolitan District Railway, who were working on a new transport advancement, now known affectionately as ‘the tube’. Landowner at the time, H.B. Alexander was thoroughly unimpressed and fought against the plans, but the Government overruled him. Mr Alexander could only be grateful that the Government banned the railways from erecting an entrance to South Kensington station in Thurloe Square as it would have ruined the amenities and character. The railways bought Nos. 1-11 Thurloe Square for £3,000, but in the end, only five houses (Nos. 1-5) on Thurloe Square were demolished in 1867. The company had bought a total of 42 houses from the Alexander Estate over various roads, but only destroyed 19. Some of the surviving buildings had their back gardens dramatically reduced. In 1868, South Kensington station opened, providing services on the Metropolitan and the Metropolitan District Railway lines.
By the late 19th century, Kensington and Chelsea were world-renowned as a hub for art. Flocks of artists built studios in the area, many of which still exist today. Two Victorian artists’ homes Leighton House Museum and 18 Stafford Terrace are currently open as museums. With the railway lines just a few feet away from the south side of Thurloe Square, the triangular site of former Nos.1-5, remained vacant for many years. However, prolific local builder William Douglas saw its potential for seven artists’ studios. The wedge-shaped red brick block was built between 1885-1887. The large north-facing windows are perfect for letting in lots of light for the artists to work in. Building plans were submitted to the Metropolitan Board of Works by surveyor C.W. Stephenson on behalf of Douglas, suggesting he may have been the architect. At its narrowest point, the building is said to be 6ft wide, spanning to 34ft at its largest.
In 1899, Thurloe Square was surveyed by Charles Booth for his poverty map. Notably, the houses on the south of the Square overlooking the railway were labelled ‘middle class’, while the remaining residences were ‘upper middle and upper class, wealthy’. Today, Kensington remains an area with some of the most expensive houses in the country. Most of the original Basevi terraces are Grade II listed, as is South Kensington station. While not listed, the artists’ studios are an impressive piece of real estate today. In 2016, a top floor artist studio apartment covering just 600 square foot in 5 Thurloe Square went up for sale for £895.000.
- ‘The Thin House’, 5 Thurloe Square, Kensington, SW7. Nearest station: South Kensington. NB: This building contains private residences and are not open to the public.
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It’s the florist’s favourite holiday… yes we’re talking about Valentine’s Day. Now, admittedly it can seem like contrived romance, but if you don’t spend enough time treating your loved one, it can be a good kick up the backside to crank up the lurve! However, if gazing in each others’ eyes over a candlelit meal seems too cliché, there’s a host of different Valentine’s themed events to cater for all kinds of interests. With Valentine’s Day falling bang in the middle of the week, plenty of places are holding early or late celebrations over both weekends. If you’re single, or hate any kind of romance, then there’s also some fun activities and parties going on too.
- 9 – 10 and 16 – 17 February : Film & Fizz at One Aldwych
Enjoy a three-course dinner at Indigo, a glass of Champagne Lallier and watch All The Money In The World or Darkest Hour in the hotel’s private screening room. Tickets: Dinner, drinks & film: £55pp. One Aldwych Hotel, 1 Aldwych, WC2B 4BZ. Nearest station: Charing Cross or Temple. For more information, visit the One Aldwych website.
- 10 February : The Candlelight Club’s Valentine’s Ball
Pop-up vintage roaming nightclub The Candlelight Club host a Valentine’s ball. Featuring live jazz from the London Dance Orchestra and DJ Auntie Maureen, performances from Gatsby Girls, while in the Cabaret Lounge there will be live music from Café Manouche, two cabaret shows hosted by Champagne Charlie, featuring song and dance from Ginger Blush, tap dancing from Josephine Shaker and acrobatics from Deux Ailes. 7pm-12am. Tickets from £30pp. Tables also available. At a secret London location. For tickets, visit the Candelight Club website. For Metro Girl’s review of TCC, click here.
- 11 – 16 February : Valentine’s @ Keats’ House
A series of Valentine’s events at the stunning house where poet John Keats fell in love with Fanny Brawne, who inspired his most romantic verses. Valentine’s Guided Tour: ‘Love is my religion’ on Sun 11 Feb at 11.30am, 1pm and 3.30pm; The Poetry of Desire with Liz Berry and Richard Scott on Wed 14 Feb at 7pm and Late Night Keats: Ah! Dearest Love on Fri 16 Feb at 7pm. Ticket prices vary. Keats’ House, 10 Keats Grove, Hampstead, NW3 2RR. Nearest station: Hampstead Heath or Hampstead. For more information, visit the City of London website.
- 12 February : A Night Of Whitney
A musical tribute to the Queen of love ballads with her greatest hits performed by a full live band. 7pm-11pm. Tickets: Early Bird £12, Standard £16. Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, NW1 7PG. Nearest station: Camden Town. For more information, visit the Jazz Café website.
- 14 February : A Romantic Renaissance @ British Museum
Daytime talk exploring symbols of love and marriage in the Waddesdon Bequest at the British Museum. 1.15pm-2pm. Free entry. Room 2a, British Museum, Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, WC1B 3DG. Nearest station: Russell Square or Tottenham Court Road. For more information, visit the British Museum website.
- 14 February : Valentines with Patti Boulaye – Billie and Me
Enjoy a three-course feast while listening to a live performance of Patti Boulaye OBE, singing Billie Holiday. Shows @ 7.15pm and 9.30pm. Tickets: £30 (music, no dinner) or dinner packages start from £69.50. Boisdale, Cabot Place, Canary Wharf, E14 4QT. Nearest station: Canary Wharf. For more information, visit the Boisdale website. Read the rest of this entry
Down a side street in the City of London lies an unusual piece of architecture. Located on Bury Street in the shadow of the Gherkin is Holland House. Today, most of the City’s architectural landmarks tend to be 17th century (St Paul’s and other churches) or late 20th century/early 21st century (Barbican, Lloyd’s Building, Heron Tower, Walkie Talkie). However, Holland House is notable for kicking off a new era of modern design in the Square Mile, decades before it was dominated by skyscrapers.
In the early 20th century, shipping was big business for both transportation of goods and people. A host of big companies had offices in London, including Cunard, the White Star Line and Wm. H. Müller & Co. The latter was a Dutch company which specialised in shipping and trading, particularly transporting ore mined in Spain and North Africa. Wm. H. Müller & Co, which was founded by German-born Wilhelm Müller in 1876, already had offices in The Hague and Rotterdam and were keen to set up a London base. In April 1913, the company’s co-owner Helene Kröller-Müller (1869-1939) bought a site on Bury Street in the City. Bury Street dates back to at least the 16th century and is believed to have been named after the Abbot of Bury, who owned nearby Bevis Marks. The firm purchased land facing the north-west and south-east sides of Bury Street (which bends around to the left), but could not buy the whole block as the owners of No.33-34 on the south-west corner refused to sell up. As a result, Holland House has two entrances on both sides of Bury Street.
The Müllers commissioned prominent Dutch architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage (1856-1934) to design an office block for their London base. Berlage is known as the ‘father of Modern architecture’ in his native Holland and is responsible for the Beurs van Berlage (Amsterdam Commodities Exchange) and the Swissôtel Amsterdam. By the time construction started in 1914, World War I had begun, however building wasn’t affected as the Netherlands were neutral. When designing Holland House, it is believed Berlage took inspiration from the works of pioneering American architect Louis Sullivan (1856-1924), following a trip to the US in 1911.
Following completion in 1916, Holland House was aesthetically very different to the buildings surrounding it. Said to be the first steel framed building in Europe, it features a black marble plinth base with green-grey glazed terracotta bricks rising up and projecting outwards. The bricks were made in Delft and shipped to London on Müller vessels. When Berlage designed Holland House, Bury Street was very narrow, with the old Baltic Exchange (partially destroyed in a fatal 1992 IRA bombing) standing a few metres across the road, instead of the current open courtyard at the base of the Gherkin. Due to the projecting tiled columns, you wouldn’t have been able to see the windows as you approached the building walking down Bury Street, giving an illusion of privacy. On the south-east corner of the building is a granite relief of a steaming ship by Dutch artist Joseph Mendes da Costa (1863–1939), who was a favourite of Helene Kröller-Müller. Ahead of its time, in the centre of the building was a large air well, rising up from the ground to the sixth floor. Former chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, Peter Palumbo has claimed this may have been the first atrium in Britain. Read the rest of this entry
Spitalfields is full of fascinating buildings, with Georgian, Victorian and early 20th century well represented. Many businesses are moving into the area, with some redeveloping or demolishing older buildings. While some historic architecture has been restored and changed for the better, there are others which meet a sorry fate (see my post on a crime against architecture in Artillery Lane). One of the things I love about the Spitalfields area is its many old lanes and alleys. Although many were destroyed during the Blitz, some still remain despite the encroaching modernity and skyscrapers of the City. As businesses come and go from the area, it’s interesting to see which ones embrace the history and heritage of the buildings they occupy… or completely annihilate any original features.
This post focuses on one particular street and one of its buildings. Widegate Street is just 200ft long and connects Middlesex Street and Sandy’s Row. The name Widegate comes from the former ‘white gate’ entrance into the Old Artillery Ground, which was established in the 16th century. Areas of the ground were sold off for housing and shops in subsequent centuries, with its legacy living on today in names such as Fort Street, Gun Street, Artillery Passage and Artillery Lane. Widegate Street used to be longer than what you see today, but some of it was absorbed by Middlesex Street in the 1890s. Today, Widegate Street features a mix of narrow historic buildings, including two listed houses at No.24 and 25 dating back to 1720.
No.12-13 is currently home to Honest Burgers, who have branches across London in a variety of historic premises. However, long before burger buns were being served, more traditional buns were being baked on site. The building was designed in the 1920s by architect George Val Myer as a bakery, in a neo-Georgian style to complement neighbouring buildings. The ground floor features glazed white bricks, giving a clean, clinical look. The two upper stories are made of red brick, Crittal windows and a strong cornice projecting above. The most striking part of the building are four ceramic panels, giving a permanent reminder of its origins as bakery. ‘Bakers Relief’ were created by Brixton-born sculptor Philip Lindsey Clark (1899-1977) in 1926 and were fired by Carters of Poole. The white and blue glazes are 1.2metres by 50 centimetres and depict the baking process. The panels start with a man carrying a sack of flour; a baker kneading the dough, baking the loaf in the oven and a baker carrying a tray of loaves. The original business itself was called the Nordheim Model Bakery and was opened by Charles Naphtali Nordheim (1864-1941). Although the bakery has long moved out, today customers their getting their carb fix in buns with their beef burgers.
- 12-13 Widegate Street, Spitalfields, E1 7HP. Nearest station: Liverpool Street.
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Somerset House is one of my favourite London buildings. It’s so versatile, full of history, is beautiful to look at and has a wealth of entertainment and art options. The current building we see today dates back to the 18th and 19th century, but its history goes way back to the 16th century. With over 450 years of history on the site, there’s a lot to take in. However, the Historical Highlights Tour, which takes place every week is a good place to start.
The first large house on the site was a two-storey property, which started to be built in 1547. It was a home for the Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset (1500-1552), who was given the land by his brother-in-law King Henry VIII. He served as Lord Protector of England for the first two years of his nephew King Edward VI’s (1537-1553) reign from 1547-1549, who was only nine when he came to the Throne. However, Somerset was overthrown in October 1549 and was executed on Tower Hill in 1552. His house, known as Somerset Place, was taken into the crown’s possession, with the future Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) living there during her half-sister Queen Mary’s (1516-1558) reign. However, the house hadn’t been completed decades later, with 16th century historian John Stow (1524/25-1605) referring to Somerset Place as still ‘yet unfinished’ in 1598 – over 50 years after building work started.
By 1603, Anne of Denmark (1574-1619), Queen Consort to King James I of England (or James VI of Scotland) was given Somerset Place for her London residence, with it renamed Denmark House in her honour. Anne enrolled architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652), among others, to make some improvements and additions to the long neglected house. Following Anne’s death, Jones designed a chapel in 1636 where her daughter-in-law, Henrietta Maria of France (1609-1669), wife of King Charles I, could quietly worship as a Roman Catholic, when Protestant was the dominant religion of the time. A small cemetery was established outside the chapel, with some of the 17th century gravestones being shown during the tour. Read the rest of this entry