Have you spotted the hidden ruins of Queen Caroline’s Georgian mansion?
When visitors come to Greenwich Park, they usually make a beeline for the Royal Observatory with its historic GMT line and stunning views. However, in the south-west corner of the park, there’s a fascinating piece of London’s royal history hidden behind a hedge. Situated just a metre from the park’s wall is the remains of Queen Caroline’s bathhouse.
Caroline Amelia Elizabeth, Princess of Brunswick (1768-1821), was born in Germany and was betrothed to her cousin, the future King George IV (1762-1830) in an arranged marriage. The pair wed at St James’s Palace in April 1795, with the heir-to-the-throne apparently drunk during the ceremony! Their coupling was a disaster and they separated shortly after the birth of their daughter Princess Charlotte (1796-1817). By the time their child was a year old, Princess Caroline was living in a separate house in Charlton, eventually moving a few miles away to Montagu House in Blackheath around 1797-1799 (see a sketch of the house in 1800).
Montagu House was built in the late 17th century for Ralph Montagu, 1st Duke of Montagu (1638-1709). His son John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu (1690-1749) employed Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780) as a butler at the house for two years. Sancho was born on a slave ship, but gained his freedom and educated himself, partially with the books from the library at Montagu House. He went on to become an early prominent figure in the fight for the abolition of slavery and wrote many letters on the subject. Today, there is a plaque commemorating Sancho on what was the wall of Montagu House. The bathhouse is believed to be an addition added by Princess Caroline in the early 19th century. It was a structure of glass and light lattice, with an adjoining greenhouse. Bathhouses were trendy in Georgian times for improving health and entertaining guests. Surprisingly to us 21st century Brits, the Georgians usually wore their clothes while bathing.
Returning to Princess Caroline, by the time she moved into Montagu House she was being subjected to harsh custody arrangements over her daughter Charlotte. Under English law at the time, the father’s rights were considered more important than the mother’s, and partially out of hatred for his estranged wife, George made things incredibly difficult. Princess Caroline was only allowed to see her daughter in the presence of a nurse and governess, overnight stays were forbidden and she was banned from making any decisions about Charlotte’s care or education.
During her 15 years or so living at Montagu House, Princess Caroline was the target of some wild rumours. A sociable and confident woman, Charlotte hosted famously wild parties at Montagu House and was romantically linked to several men. She was accused of flirting with Naval heroes, Admiral Sir William Sidney Smith (1764-1840) and Captain Thomas Manby (1769-1834) and having a brief relationship with politician and future Prime Minister George Canning (1770 –1827). She wasn’t just a known for her social skills, but also her generosity with poor neighbours. In 1802, Caroline adopted a baby boy William Austin when his desperate mother brought him to the house. Read the rest of this entry
Roman ruins of the gateway to the Cripplegate Fort were uncovered in the 1950s.
There aren’t many Roman remains visible in London today, with most destroyed over the centuries by evolution of building and war. In the early centuries of the 1st Millennium AD, the area we know today as the City of London was home to a population of 60,000 people. Although provincial by today’s city standards, Londinium was a bustling centre of trade and industry and included a Basilica, Forum, Amphitheatre, Temples, Bath houses and a Fort.
Roman London had a tricky start and was razed to the ground by Boudica, queen of the Celtic Iceni tribe in 60/61AD, when it had only been established around 20 years prior. The invading Romans were undeterred and rebuilt, creating a stone fort just outside the main town in the north east around 110AD. Built in what we know as the Barbican area today, the Cripplegate fort was home to the city garrison with an estimated 1,000 soldiers.
Between 190 and 225AD, the north and west walls of the Fort were incorporated into the new London Wall, part of an extensive programme of public works. The new wall, made of mostly Kentish ragstone, enclosed the city from Tower Hill to Blackfriars and was over 3 kilometres long and surrounded by a defensive ditch. If you wanted to enter Londinium, you had to do so via one of the main gates: Aldersgate, Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Cripplegate, Ludgate and Newgate. Meanwhile, the Fort had two gates on the north and west, with remains of the latter still visible.
Today, what’s left of the West Gate is protected in a locked room in a car park in the City. I recently had the chance to visit the ruins on a tour by the Museum Of London. The remains were discovered in 1956 during extensive excavation and rebuilding after the City was seriously damaged during the Blitz. You can see the foundations and lower parts of the Fort Wall, North Turret and Guard Room and the Central Pier of the Double Gateway. Parts of the South Turret were excavated at the time, but were not preserved. There is also a scale model of how the gate would have looked in its heyday.
- The Museum Of London run occasional tours of the Western Gate ruins. Keep an eye on the MOL’s events page for dates and booking.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
Down a small side street near the Aldwych campus of King’s College is an extraordinary piece of hidden London.
Known as the ‘Roman’ Bath on Strand Lane, the building is rarely open to the public. I visited a few months ago during Open House London and found the origins of the baths weren’t quite as romantic as they sounded. At one point there were two baths on the site – named ‘Essex’ and ‘Roman’ respectively, however it is the latter (which is also the oldest), that can be seen today.
Thanks to centuries of redevelopment, bombing and fires, there isn’t much left of Roman London today. Within the borders of old Londinium, we have some of the Roman wall at Tower Hill, the remains of the Amphitheatre at Guildhall and an old bathhouse at Lower Thames Street. While the bath at The Strand continues to be named ‘Roman’, it turns out it is significantly younger than two millennia.
Recent research by historians at nearby King’s College London has found the bath was originally constructed in 1612 as a feeder cistern for an elaborate fountain in the gardens of an earlier incarnation of Somerset House (prior to the current building, which dates back to 1796). At the time, the house was the residence for Anne of Denmark (1574-1619), Queen Consort of King James I of England (1566-1625). Following their deaths, it is believed the fountain was demolished around 1630 during extensive remodelling under the reign of their son King Charles I (1600-1649). This research by Professor Michael Trapp and Dr Kevin Hayward rejects an earlier theory the bath was a spring water reservoir for Arundel House, home to Thomas Howard, 21st Earl Of Arundel (1586-1646). Read the rest of this entry
As Open House London took place this weekend (20-21 September 2014), I joined thousands of Londoners going through the doors of usually private or iconic buildings which are often off-limits to the public, or cost to visit. While some of the buildings I visited this year were more well-known, such as Westminster Hall and Lambeth Palace, I also stepped away from the Open House hotspots of Westminster and the City of London to visit the little-known Caroline Gardens Chapel in Peckham.
Now known as ‘Asylum’, the part-ruined Georgian chapel is now a flexible project space which hosts art exhibitions, concerts and is used for weddings and other functions. The chapel is sandwiched between the almshouses located in Caroline Gardens, on Asylum Road – named for the buildings’ original name Licenced Victuallers’ Benevolent Institution Asylum. Although named an asylum, which immediately makes you assume of a residence for the mentally ill, the site was actually a retirement home for former pub landlords.
The chapel was built in 1827 and 1833, with 10,000 people coming to the opening ceremony of the asylum site. As well as an organ by Messrs Bovington and Sons, the chapel featured stone and marble tablets honouring donors and supporters, most of which still exist today. The Asylum estate was visited by Prince Albert (1819-1861) in 1858 to open the Albert Wing, which added 31 further homes.
Sadly, like many homes and buildings in South East London during the war, the chapel was heavily damaged by a bomb in World War II, destroying the roof and west-facing back wall. Although the chapel was made water-tight by the addition of an asbestos-cement roof and filing the crypt with concrete, it soon fell into disuse. The Asylum relocated to Denham, Bucks in 1960 and the almshouses went into ownership of Southwark council. The chapel was briefly used over the decades, but was mostly left derelict. It was only in 2010 that Jo Dennis and Dido Hallett took over the chapel to be used as an arts and entertainment space.
A friend and I visited the chapel early in the morning on the Saturday of Open House. The gardens were a quiet, peaceful place and we were impressed by the chapel immediately upon entry. While I usually champion the restoration of old, historic buildings, the part-derelict state of Asylum is utterly charming. What remains of the altar contains several marble memorials and the lit candles sitting on the cracked and ravaged concrete floor certainly added to the romanticism. The stained glass windows are stunning and in varying states of condition, from good to decaying. Some of the original paintwork – blue and gold leaf still remains along the walls, as well as some inscriptions on the wall honouring some donors. The back wall includes stairs to nowhere… ghostly remnants of the stone steps heading up to where presumably a mezzanine where a choir or extra congregation may have sat. I loved the building and am looking forward to hopefully coming back one day for an exhibition, concert or wedding.
- Asylum @ Caroline Garden’s Chapel, Asylum Road, Peckham, SE15 2SQ. Nearest station: Queens Road Peckham. For more information, visit the Asylum website.
Here’s some links to Metro Girl’s other blog posts on Open House London:
- Middle Temple Hall: Legal life, Twelfth Night and a rare survivor of Elizabethan architecture.
- Knights, Shakespeare and lawyers: Visit the Medieval Temple Church at Open House London.
- Neo-classicism, masques and an execution site: The history and beauty of Banqueting House.
- Open House London 2015: Royal residences, Roman baths and more.
- Regency London, John Nash and the Third Reich: Visiting The Royal Society’s Carlton House Terrace with Open House.
- Highlights gallery from Royal Courts of Justice, Foreign Office & City Hall.
- Visit the ruins of an old Roman bath house with Open House London.
- Inside out: A rare chance to step inside the Lloyd’s Building at Open House.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
The Complete History Of London is an abridged play covering the history of our fair city in one hour… sounds like quite a feat doesn’t it? Last week, I managed to obtain tickets to see the new play from ex-City worker Tim Chapman, who conceived the production while in Borneo. Being both a fan of history and London, I was hoping it would fulfil my expectations…. which it did. But also part of the attraction was seeing the play amongst the remains of London’s old amphitheatre in the Guildhall Art Gallery basement. The seats were placed roughly in the same area as the Roman Londoners would have sat – with the remains of the ancient walls either side of us. The ruins were only discovered in 1988 and dated back to AD70 and seated an estimated 6,000-7,000 people. Fortunately for us, the audience was a more manageable size.
With the play covering two millennia of history, it required a basic set of bench and British flags. On the night in question, the entire play was performed by a cast of three – Mark Steere (first narrator), Olivia Jewson and Dewi Evans (second narrator). Between them, I couldn’t even attempt to count the amount of characters they played because it was so fast-paced. With two narrators keeping the flow going by linking the different periods of history, the audience are given the story of how different invaders, diseases, fires and royals shaped the city. Starting with the Romans establishing Londinium, it goes on to cover the Vikings, Danes and Saxons. Royals including Henry VIII and his many wives, Queen Elizabeth II, William The Conqueror and King Charles II make an appearance as the cast bring the long-dead characters to life in humorous ways. Towards the end of the play, we were still quite a way off 2013, so the city’s modern history was summarised in a clever poem. Overall, I found the play informative, funny and entertaining. The historical setting could not have been more apt and it was quite a treat to see a play within the ruins. With tickets at just £15, it’s an affordable piece of theatre when money is tight for many. Highly recommended.
N.B. Photos during the play were not allowed, hence the before shots.
- A Complete History Of London runs at various locations and dates in London. Check out their website or follow their Twitter page to find out when the next shows are. Alternatively, if you want to find out more about the Roman Amphitheatre remains, visit the Guildhall Art Gallery website.
Or for more of Metro Girl’s history blog posts, click here.
Battersea Power Station has come to symbolise many things over the decades – industry, dereliction, Pink Floyd. Since it was decommissioned in 1983, Londoners have witnessed the iconic 1930s landmark lie ruined and neglected over the past 29 years – with the decline of the building sped up following the removal of the roof in the late ’80s (thanks Margaret Thatcher, for approving THAT decision!). It’s no surprise the Power Station has been on English Heritage’s At Risk register for a while.
Growing up in south London, I regularly passed the Power Station on the train or in the car as I made my way back and forth over the River Thames. Throughout my life there has been various plans – and long periods of inactivity – of what to do to the former station and its huge 39 acre site. In terms of the capital, the Power Station’s land overlooking the river is a prime spot of real estate and I think it’s a crime it has been left to rack and ruin for so long. Years of neglect mean the Malaysian consortium who bought the land this year will sadly have to knock down the Grade-II listed chimneys and replace them with replicas.
Of course, the main obstacle of turning this huge space into something usable has been the cost. The Power Station has been owned by various companies over the years and at one point in the ’80s was going to be transformed into a theme park, a prospect which excited me greatly as a child at the time, but in hindsight I’m grateful it didn’t happen. So following the purchase of the estate earlier this year and a £400million plan to transform the building and surrounding area into housing, offices and commercial areas, I’m keeping my fingers crossed this plan actually reaches fruition. Preparatory work has already begun on what is the largest brick building in Europe, with the builders moving in next year to start the 800 residential units, with phase one of the project estimated for completion in 2016.
Although Battersea is one of our favourite landmarks now, when it was being built from 1929 onwards, many complained it would be an eyesore. Londoners moaned it would spew out pollution into the nearby areas and there were even fears it could damage the paintings at the Tate Britain gallery a short distance down the river. In an attempt to appease concerns, acclaimed architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) was hired to design the Power Station. Scott, grandson of St Pancras architect Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878), was famous for designing the red telephone box, the Tate Modern building and Liverpool Cathedral. Construction of the A station started in 1929 and opened in 1933, with the creation of B station beginning shortly after the end of World War II and gradually coming into operation between 1953 and 1955. Once B station was up and running, Battersea had a generating capacity of 509 megawatts and was the third largest generating site in the UK and was the most thermally efficient power station in the world when it opened. Although Italian marble and Art Deco features were used in A’s turbine hall, Britain was too poor after World War II to afford the same lavish interiors for B.
Over time, the equipment became outdated. A Station was closed in March 1975, followed by B Station in October 1983. Following closure, there was talk of demolishing the Power Station, but it had been Grade II listed in 1980 ensuring its survival.
A few years ago, when Battersea was still owned by previous owners, Irish developers Real Estate Holdings, I was lucky enough to get the chance to visit the Power Station up close and see the plans. It was amazing seeing inside a building I knew so well from the outside – the Art Deco tile work, the ghostly wall markings of wrought-iron stairwells long since destroyed and the decorative wall in the old staff canteen. So here’s some of my photos of the striking station before it is transformed into a modern living and working space over the next few years.
- To find out more about the current plans for Battersea’s redevelopment, visit the official website.
For more of Metro Girl’s blog posts on London history, click here.