When it comes to London’s royal palaces, most of them tend to be rather young, with the oldest parts of Buckingham Palace dating back to 1703 and Clarence House, a few years shy of its 200th anniversary. However, long before the monarch resided at Buck House, the King or Queen had a home in the huge Palace Of Westminster. Today, the title belongs to the Houses of Parliament, the seat of our Government.
Most of the Medieval Palace of Westminster was destroyed by a huge fire in the 1800s, to be rebuilt as the iconic masterpiece, which remains today. However, two buildings managed to survive, the 11th century Westminster Hall, and the 14th century Jewel Tower. Now owned by English Heritage, the diminutive Jewel Tower is open to the public. Recently, I paid a visit to this small, but interesting piece of Medieval London. It’s a small space with the exhibition taking about an hour to see.
The Jewel Tower was built around 1365-6 at the southern end of the Palace of Westminster to house the treasures of King Edward III (1312-1377). The Tower stood at the end of the garden and was protected by a moat to the south and west of the building. It was built under the direction of master mason Henry Yevele (1320-1400) and master carpenter Hugh Herland (1330-1411) on land which had been appropriated from Westminster Abbey, to the chagrin of the monks. The keeper would have worked on the ground or first floor, logging the King’s treasures coming in and going out of the Tower. The most valuable goods were kept on the second floor.
For 150 years, the Tower was used to house the subsequent Kings’ treasures until a fire at the palace in 1512. The building then became home to less valuable items, such as clothing, bed linen, furniture and royal children’s toys, according to an inventory in 1547. In 1600, the building was repurposed for the Government, rather than royals, when it became a parliamentary office. A three-storey timber extension was added to the side of the Tower as a house for the Clerk of the Parliament. The ground floor of the Jewel Tower became the kitchen and scullery, while the first floor was used as a repository for various parliament documents. In 1621, the building was renovated to become more secure to protect the important documents. On the first floor, a brick vault was added with a metal door featuring the year inscribed on the exterior and the cipher of King James I (1566-1625). That very door still exists today and can be seen on your visit.
By the 18th century, the Tower was apparently a bit of a state so work was taken to renovate and improve it. Larger windows and a new chimney were added, while the building was made more fireproof to protect the documents inside. Throughout the century, the Tower was gradually hidden by the buildings popping up around it. By 1827, the House of Lords’ records had been moved out of the Tower because it was too small and it was known as part of Old Palace Yard, with the name Jewel Tower dropping out of use. Read the rest of this entry
Eltham Palace is one of South London’s best kept secrets. After visiting the stunning palace and gardens for the first time last summer, I was surprised that the palace isn’t higher up on visitors’ to do lists when it comes to the capital. Unlike many palaces across the country, what makes Eltham unique is the amalgamation of two different, iconic periods of architecture – late Medieval and Art Deco. It sounds like an unusual mix, but thanks to the Courtaulds, who were responsible for the restoration of the original buildings and the creation of the 1930s home, they complement each other.
Located just four miles from Greenwich, the original Medieval palace was initially a moated manor house which was given to King Edward II (1284-1327) in 1305. During the 14th to 16th centuries, the house was used as a royal residence. King Edward IV (1442-1483) added the Great Hall in the 1470s, which still stands today and has the third largest hammerbeam roof in England. The hall was frequently used by a young King Henry VIII (1491-1547) – then Prince Henry – during his childhood.
When the riverside Greenwich Palace was rebuilt in the late 15th century, Eltham’s popularity with the royals began to drop. After the royal family ceased to use Eltham as a royal residence from the 16th century onwards, the Medieval and Tudor buildings went into decline. The estate was ravaged during the English Civil War, stripping the land of trees and deer. Following the Restoration, King Charles II (1630-1685) bestowed the ruined palace on Sir John Shaw (1615-1680) in 1663, who went on to build a separate dwelling, Eltham Lodge in the Great Park. The old palace buildings were then used as a farm, with livestock actually living in the Great Hall. In 1793, artist J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) painted the Hall full of haybales. In 1828, the Great Hall was lined up for demolition, however a campaign to save it resulted in a restoration, despite it continuing to be used as a barn. The estate remained in the Shaw family until the 1890s, by which time only the ruined Great Hall, the 15th century bridge across and the moat and some walls remained. By the 19th century, Eltham’s estate had been greatly reduced, with only two small areas of 21 hectares and 29 hectares featuring parkland.
It wasn’t until the 1930s that the fortunes of Eltham Palace turned around. The estate was acquired by the wealthy Sir Stephen Courtauld (1883–1967) and his wife Virginia (1883-1972) in 1933. A new private house was built on the site of the original adjoining the Great Hall. The new house was designed in the Art Deco style with Swedish architect Rolf Engströmer (1892-1970) creating the stunning Entrance Hall, featuring wood panelling and a domed roof. They also restored the Great Hall and added a minstrels’ gallery, as well as extensively relandscaped the grounds. The Coultards remained at Eltham during World War II, with Stephen firewatching from the Great Hall’s roof. Like much of South London, the Hall was bombed in September 1940 – with some of the scars still visible in the woodwork today. The Courtaulds ended up leaving Eltham before the war ended in 1944, with it then being acquired by the Royal Army Educational Corps, who remained on site until 1992. Some of the upstairs quarters in the house today are as they were during the Army’s residence, while the ground floor and master bedrooms have been restored in the style of the Courtaulds.
Having been taken over by English Heritage in 1995, Eltham Palace and gardens are now open for the enjoyment of the public. The audio tour of the palace and grounds is really informative and, I believe, essential for any visit. There’s also a good café on-site when you need a rest, we had a really good lunch there.
- Eltham Palace, Court Yard, Eltham, Greenwich, SE9 5QE. Nearest station: Eltham or Mottingham. For more information, visit the Eltham Palace website.
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The Wellington Arch is one of London’s famous landmarks, being beamed to televisions around the world during ceremonial, historical events. However, to many Londoners, it is often dismissed as an ornament on a traffic island in the middle of one of the city’s busiest and stressful traffic junctions. Being one of a few ornate arches in the capital, it is often confused by tourists with Marble Arch just up the road. Although upon first look, you would assume the Wellington Arch has stood in its spot for centuries as the world changed around it. However, the structure has in fact gone through two major changes over the years – with its Quadriga statue on the top not actually being the original and the location in a different spot from where it used to stand.
In the early 19th century, Hyde Park Corner – where Kensington Road met Piccadilly – was widely thought of as the entrance to London. A tollgate stood in front of Hyde Park, to the west of Apsley House (the London residence of the Dukes of Wellington). Apsley House’s location just inside the tollgate lead to its nickname as being No.1 London, when in actual fact it is 149 Piccadilly. Following Britain’s success in the Napoleonic Wars, King George IV was keen to commemorate the victories with the Wellington Arch and Marble Arch. Young architect Decimus Burton (1800-1881) was commissioned to create a grand entrance to Green Park and the longer screen entrance to Hyde Park Corner. His initial design was considered too modest, so he submitted a second design with an arch that was deemed more triumphal featuring a more ornamental exterior and would be christened with a Quadriga – a car or chariot driven by four horses.
Building on the arch started in 1826 in the architecture style of the Corinthian Order, featuring elaborate capitals at the top of the columns. However, in 1828, the Government was unhappy when construction costs exceeded Burton’s original budget, along with the fact the rebuilding of Buckingham Palace at the same time was also hugely over budget. The Treasury declined to fund the rest of the project so Burton had to scale back his exterior ornamental features and the Quadriga never materialised.
After years of standing as an arch, the Wellington Memorial Committee thought it would be fitting to have an equestrian statue of the Duke Of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, 1769-1852) atop the arch. As well as commemorating his victory at the Battle of Waterloo, it was deemed a perfect location as it was outside his London residence. Eight years after it was commissioned, Matthew Cotes Wyatt’s bronze statue of Wellington was erected in 1846. At the time, it was the largest equestrian statue in the country, standing at 30 foot high and weighing 40 tons. While Britain was incredibly proud of the Duke of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo, his bronze likeness was not so popular. Many thought the statue was disproportionate to the arch, Burton hated it and even Queen Victoria wasn’t a fan, believing it disturbed the view from Buckingham Palace. Despite its lack of popularity, it would have been seen as a huge insult to the Duke if it was moved, so it remained during his lifetime. The Duke actually said he would feel obliged to step down from all his public posts if it was removed, so the Government and Queen decided it should remain in situ.
By the 1870s, the traffic around Hyde Park Corner had reached chaotic proportions. In the 1880s, the Government proposed moving the arch 20 metres away so the road could be widened. From 1883 until 1885, the arch was dismantled and bit by bit, moved to its current location, facing south-east down Constitution Hill. Its new location meant the original relationship between the arch and the Hyde Park Corner screen was lost. After a brief stay in Green Park during the relocation, the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) suggested Wyatt’s sculpture of Wellington should be moved to Aldershot, Berkshire, as a gift to the British Army, where it remains today.
At its new site, the arch was marooned on a traffic island on land which used to be the western part of Green Park. The southern pier of the arch was used as a residence for the park-keeper, while the northern pier was used as a police station (said to be the smallest in Britain) until the 1950s. After decades without a crowning glory, the Prince of Wales suggested sculptor Adrian Jones’s Quadriga, (of which he had seen a smaller version during a Royal Academy exhibition), would be a fitting topper. Although no funds were available at the time, thanks to a donation from banker Sir Herbert Stern, Jones’s full-size bronze ‘Triumph’ was finally created and placed upon the arch in 1912 – when the Prince was King Edward VII. The Angel of Peace riding the chariot was said to be modelled on Beatrice Stewart. The statue is the largest bronze sculpture in Europe.
After being acquired by English Heritage in 1999 and restored, the arch is now open to the public. As well as presenting a history of the arch and an exhibition area, visitors can also check out the vistas from the two balconies.
- Wellington Arch, Apsley Way, Hyde Park Corner, W1J 7JZ. Nearest station: Hyde Park Corner. Tickets: Adults: £4, Children: £2.40. Opening times vary depending on the season. Check the English Heritage website for further details.
To find out about the Duke Of Wellington’s old mounting stone, click here.
For the history of another London ‘traffic island’, read the history behind Parliament Square
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Cornwall is, without a doubt, one of England’s most beautiful counties. Surrounded by coastline north and south and at the end of England before it looks out to the Atlantic, it is renowned for its stunning scenery, among other things. Those who have been can’t help but fall in love with the place, while those who haven’t, admit they have long wished to go. What can put many off visiting is the long distance Cornwall is from many major cities. As a Londoner, it is a good five-hour drive to Cornwall or an equally as long train journey. Finally, in September this year, the wedding of two friends in Cornwall gave me the much-needed jolt to finally decide to go… and as I expected, I too fell in love with the place. Cornwall is an incredibly long county with a wide variety of places to go. As I was there for a long weekend – with some wedding festivities taking up some of my time – I will review some of the places I visited. Obviously, this is not a comprehensive overview of Cornwall, but what places I did see, I was charmed by.
A group of five friends – myself included – were all invited for the wedding so decide to rent a cottage together. After much searching around, we came upon a company called Natural Retreats. They own two holiday estates of self-catering properties in Cornwall – in Newquay on the north coast and Trewhiddle – just outside St Austell in South Cornwall. As our friends’ wedding was at the Eden Project a few miles away, we decided on Trewhiddle. We rented a four bedroom, four bathroom two-storey lodge, including parking space and outside dining area. Three of the rooms included ensuites with lots of hanging space and modern, contemporary furnishings. The kitchen was incredibly well equipped and we were greeted with a welcome hamper, including milk, juice, wine, bread, eggs and some other foods to tide us over at the beginning of our stay. The lodge include an open plan kitchen, diner, living area with lots of windows letting in the Cornish sunshine. All five of us found the beds incredibly comfortable and slept very well.
When it came to eating, we enjoyed a lot of seafood, pasties (of course!) and fish ‘n’ chips – which can be found easily in most seaside towns. Our first night, we walked a short distance from our lodge at Trewhiddle to Kingswood Bar and Restaurant in London Apprentice. It had been highly recommended on both TripAdvisor and in the local Natural Retreats guidebook, so we phoned ahead to book a table (which I would advise doing as it is incredibly popular). Set in a wide, open bungalow, the Kingswood is a comfortable and airy restaurant featuring contemporary interiors. I had the Creamy Field Mushroom Soup (£5) to start and the Hot Roasted Shellfish off the specials menu for my main, which featured mussels, prawns and scallops in garlic and parsley olive oil (£12). Both dishes were delicious and the service was fast and friendly. There was a really nice, warm atmosphere in the venue with lots of locals in attendance – evidence indeed of its good reputation.
While London has been in existence for over 2000 years, there is little that remains from the earlier centuries. The Tower Of London and sections of the old Roman Wall are just a few pre-17th century remnants of the City of London. Over the centuries, the city has been ravaged by fire, plagues and bombs. Back in the 13th Century, the population of London was extending beyond the City walls, as the adjoining City of Westminster was also rapidly growing since the 11th century – with people spreading across the River Thames to the South Bank.
Of course, during Shakespeare’s times, Bankside had become renowned for being the Soho or Shoreditch of London of the time – where the population went to party and be entertained. However, a few centuries before the Elizabethan playhouses entertained the masses, Bankside became home to Winchester Palace – a city base for religious leaders.
The town of Southwark belonged to the old Diocese of Winchester – when the Hampshire city was the capital of Saxon England – and was a handy base for the Bishop when he needed to visit London for royal or state business. Henry of Blois, the Bishop of Winchester at the time, decided to construct the palace in the 12th century as a permanent base. The palace included a Great Hall, prison, wine cellar, brewery and butchers, among other buildings on the large site. As well as providing somewhere to rest, it soon became a place for entertainment. The palace played host to royal guests over the decades and was the location of James I of Scotland and Joan Beaufort’s wedding reception in 1424. The bishops certainly lived well – even having access to tennis courts, garden and bowling alley.
The palace remained in use for nearly 500 years until the 17th century when the building was divided up into warehouses and tenements. However, like many of London’s greatest buildings, it was largely destroyed by fire in 1814. The existing ruins, which lie on the Thames Path, were partially re-discovered in the 19th century following another fire, and redevelopment of Bankside in the 1980s uncovered more. Today, all that’s left is the stunning rose window and the gable wall with doors leading to the pantry, buttery and kitchen.
- The remains of Winchester Palace lie on the Thames Path, just west of the Golden Hinde ship replica and a few minutes walk from Southwark Cathedral. Free to visit. Nearest station: London Bridge. For more information, visit the English Heritage website.
To find out about another historic building along the Thames Path, read the story behind Hay’s Galleria.
For the rest of Metro Girl’s blog posts on London history, click here.