Blog Archives

Three centuries of Blewcoat School: From educating the poor to a ‘Posh Frock Shop’

The former Blewcoat School building in Westminster

On an ‘island’ in the side streets of Westminster stands an old remainder of a Georgian poor school. Although the pupils have long moved on, the listed building is now home to an upmarket bridal boutique. At the junction of Buckingham Gate and Caxton Street is a 17th century schoolhouse building. Blewcoat School was originally founded in Duck Lane (now known as St Matthew Street) in Tothill Fields, slightly south of its present site, in 1688. It was established as a charity school to educate 50 impoverished boys from the parish of St Margaret’s and St John. Pupils wore a uniform of long blue coats and yellow stockings, the colour blue being associated with charity at the time.

In 1709, local brewer William Greene (d.1732) leased some land from the Dean and Chapter of Westminster to build a permanent building for the school. Greene and his brothers had inherited a lot of land in the areas of Chelsea, Kensington and Westminster from their brewer father John. The family had owned the Stag Brewery at Tothill Fields since 1641 and it was rebuilt and enlarged in 1715 by William. In the 19th century, the brewery was taken over by Watney, with the Westminster site eventually closing in 1959. Today, there’s a nod to the former brewery with a road by the school being named Brewer’s Green. William Greene built a school and schoolmaster’s house on Caxton Street, with many of the pupils being sons of his brewery workers. The timing to move locations was good as Duck Lane was swiftly going downhill, with the area dubbed Devil’s Acre by Charles Dickens. Devil’s Acre had become one of the capital’s most notorious slums in the mid 18th century, renowned for its stench, dire sanitation standards, and cheap, dark dwellings.

Blewcoat School © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

The Georgian building was built by local brewer William Greene in 1709

Blewcoat School © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

A statue of a pupil in the school uniform of a blue coat and yellow stockings

Although there is no record of the architect, there has been speculation it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). The two-storey building was built of brown brick with two tiers of windows on every side. The main entrance on Caxton Street features a Doric porch with a statue of a Blewcoat pupil in the famous blue coat above the door. The interiors feature pilasters, coving, Corinthian columns and fireplaces.

Now established in Caxton Street, the Blewcoat School pupils spent their days learning to read and write and about religion and trades. The school paid for the education of 20 boys for free, alongside fee-paying boys. Around four-five years after the move to Caxton Street, the school started admitting girls, who were also taught needlework and household chores. In 1842, records showed there were 86 poor children enrolled (52 boys and 34 girls). The school educated generations of boys and girls until 1876 when it ceased hosting female pupils. In 1899, the governors obtained an order to close the school and give the land and the buildings to the Vestry of St Margaret’s and St John. The Blewcoat moved premises to another site, with the original building being used for the Infants’ Department of the Christchurch School. The building ceased educating children in 1926.

During World War II, the Blewcoat School building was used by US services as a store. In peacetime, it was utilised for a spell by the Girl Guides. In 1954, the building was Grade I listed by Historic England and bought by the National Trust. The NT used the school as a membership and head office, later being converted into a gift shop. In 2013, fashion designer Ian Stuart gained permission to refurbish the interior and use the building as a boutique for bridal gowns and evening wear. It was opened the following year, and Stuart remains in business today. You may have seen him and the school building in the Channel 4 show The Posh Frock Shop.

  • Ian Stewart – Blewcoat, 23 Caxton Street, Westminster, SW1H 0PY. Nearest stations: St James’s Park or Victoria.

For more London history posts, click here.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Exploring the history of 55 Broadway with Hidden London

55 Broadway © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

Visit 55 Broadway on a London Transport Museum Hidden London tour

Tube train monitoring dials in the lobby

If you’re interested in London history, architecture or its transport network, then check out a Hidden London tour from the London Transport Museum. Run for limited periods, I’ve previously visited the disused Aldywch tube station and the former World War II shelter underneath Clapham South tube station and found them fascinating. Although the Hidden London group offers visits to other disused platforms and tube stations, my last booking with them saw me remaining above ground. The tour lasts 90 minutes and covered many of the 14 floors of the building.

55 Broadway in St James was London’s first skyscraper because of the way it was built. Standing tall at 53 metres (175ft), the Grade I listed office block is an impressive piece of art deco architecture in Portland stone. The structure was originally built in 1927-1929 to a design by English architect Charles Holden (1875-1960). As well as 55 Broadway, Holden was also responsible for the University of London’s Senate House, Bristol Central Library and many tube stations, such as Acton Town, Balham, Clapham Common and Leicester Square, among others. 55 Broadway was briefly the tallest office block in London, before it was surpassed by Holden’s Senate House in the mid 1930s. It was originally constructed as the headquarters for the Underground Electric Railways Company of London Limited (UERL), on top of St James’s tube station.

The pink ceiling of the Executive Office

55 Broadway corridor © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

Walnut panelled doors and travertine marble on every landing

Read the rest of this entry

The story of Cecil Court: Arson, Mozart, movies and books on London’s literary lane

Cecil Court © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Cecil Court is known as Booksellers’ Row

In centuries gone by, hundreds of roads in the capital used to be pedestrian only. When the car wasn’t even a twinkle in Henry Ford’s eye and not everyone owned a horse, walking was the dominant form of transport. In the past 100 years, war and technological advances (e.g. the motor car) have caused many of these alleys and other pedestrianised lanes and roads to be destroyed or built upon. However, one such road has managed to remain throughout history and is a charming little passage in the bustling West End.

Cecil Court Storey's © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Storey’s Ltd at No.1-3 is an antique print and map shop

Cecil Court is a 300ft long street linking Charing Cross Road and St Martin’s Lane. While today is it known as Booksellers’ Row, it has a long and varied history dating back to the 17th century. The land encompassing Cecil Court and the surrounding streets were bought by Robert Cecil, first Earl of Salisbury (1563-1612) in 1609. He served as Secretary of State under Queen Elizabeth I and King James I and was the principal discoverer of the Gunpowder Plot. He built the family seat, Hatfield House, in Hertfordshire in 1611. The Jacobean mansion continues to be the home for the Cecil family and the current Marquess of Salisbury, who still owns a lot of the land around Cecil Court. The first Earl of Salisbury bought four acres on the west side of St Martin’s Lane, from Newport Street to the south-west corner of the lane. It didn’t take long before the Earl built houses there to lease out. Cecil Court is believed to have been laid out in the 1670s by one of his descendants.

By the 18th century, Cecil Court housed some pretty unsavoury characters with residents appearing in court for various crimes. One particular character was an Irish, Catholic woman, Mrs Elizabeth Calloway, who ran a brandy shop and alleged brothel in Cecil Court. In early 1735, she had taken out a £150 fire insurance policy with the Royal Exchange Assurance. One night in June 1735, she bought kindling, emptied her brandy barrels and was drinking locally with friends when a fire broke out at her shop. The blaze spread quickly and damaged 16 houses in neighbouring St Martin’s Court and four in Cecil Court. Mrs Calloway was charged with arson, but was later acquitted because she appeared to have genuine reasons for insuring her property. She testified at the Old Bailey: “The cook’s shop joining to mine, the wainscot of my closet was often so very hot that I was afraid it would some time or other be set on fire and for that reason I insured my house.” Witnesses also testified that Mrs Calloway was often concerned her drunken lodgers could set the house on fire with their candles. The fire inadvertently resulted in the death of local resident Anne Hogarth, the mother of famous satirical artist William Hogarth, who lived in nearby Cranbourn Alley. Her cause of death was deemed to be ‘shock’ from the fire.

Cecil Court quickly recovered with new properties being erected on-site. In 1764, a young child prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) and his family lodged with barber John Couzin at 9 Cecil Court. Tickets for Mozart’s first London concerts were sold at Couzin’s shop. During his time there, the eight-year-old composer played twice for King George III. In 2011, a plaque was unveiled at the site to commemorate Mozart’s time in the capital. Read the rest of this entry

Jewel Tower – a Medieval survivor of the Palace Of Westminster

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The Jewel Tower is a small remainder of London’s Medieval history

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.

Jewel Tower door © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The fireproof door contains the year 1621 and the mark of James I

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.

Jewel Tower stairs © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The spiral staircase

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

Westminster Hall: Stand in some of Britain’s most famous footsteps at Parliament’s oldest building

The history of a Medieval remnant of the old Palace of Westminster.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Westminster Hall is the oldest building in Parliament and has been the setting to many historic events

Westminster Hall in 1810 (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Westminster Hall in 1810 (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Whatever your taste in architecture, few Brits would deny the Palace Of Westminster is one of our greatest architectural treasures. While the current buildings mostly date back to the mid 1800s during Sir Charles Barry‘s reconstruction, the oldest part of the building, Westminster Hall, has been there since Medieval times. There has been a palace on the site since the 11th century, although the royals have chosen other properties as their main residences from around the 16th century.

The Hall was first built in 1097 under King William II (1056-1100) and was the biggest hall in England, measuring 73 by 20 metres. However, the stunning hammer-beam roof you see today wasn’t added until 1393. Commissioned by King Richard II (1367-1400) in 1393, it was created by Chief Mason Henry Yevele and carpenter Hugh Herland. The roof is made of oak farmed in Surrey and weighs an impressive 600 tons. Aside from its practical use, the roof also featured decorative angels, with 13 statues of kings dating from Richard back to Edward The Confessor placed in niches along the walls. Six years later, it was under the very roof he commissioned that King Richard was deposed by Henry of Bolingbroke, who went on to become King Henry IV (1367-1413). The deposition went on to be immortalised in Act IV of Shakespeare’s play Richard II. King Richard later died in prison.

Over the centuries, the Hall was primarily used for early Parliament, legal matters and court cases, with Court of King’s Bench, the Court of Common Pleas and the Court of Chancery based there. The 1875, these courts merged to become the High Court of Justice and met at the Hall until moving to the Royal Courts of Justice in 1882. Notable historical figures to have undergone trial in Westminster Hall included King Charles I, William Wallace, Guy Fawkes and Thomas More. The building has also hosted the lyings-in-state for members of the royal family, such as Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother in 2002, but also a few notable state figures such as Sir Winston Churchill in 1965.

However, the Hall wasn’t just the location for serious functions, many monarchs’ coronation banquets took place between the 12th and 19th century. Addresses during the monarch’s jubilees and during foreign leader’s visits, such as Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama, have also been heard within the Hall.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

The stunning oak hammer-beam roof was constructed in the 14th century

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

A plaque to mark the trial of King Charles I, which took place in Westminster Hall, before he was sentenced to death in January 1649

By the early 19th century, the ageing Hall wasn’t looking too great so architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837) oversaw the dilapidated north façade being completely rebuilt between 1819-1822. Over a decade later, there was more work needed to maintain the crumbling building under Sir Robert Smirke (1780-1867), who replaced the wall facings with a layer of Huddlestone stone and lowered the floor between 1834-1837. During the building works in October 1834, a fire broke out at the Palace of Westminster’s House of Lords Chamber due to an overheated stove. A majority of the 11th century palace complex was destroyed, but the Hall was fortunately saved thanks to a change of direction in the wind and fire-fighting efforts.

After much discussion, a Royal Commission settled on Sir Charles Barry’s (1795-1860) Neo-Gothic design in 1836. The designs incorporated Westminster Hall, with the Palace eventually completed in 1870 – 10 years after Barry died. Under his plans, the grand south window was removed and was replaced by an arch and stairs to St Stephen’s Hall, which remain today. Between 1914-23, the roof was in dire need of repair after the discovery of damage by death-watch beetle, with many trusses replaced and the structure strengthened by hidden steelwork.
Read the rest of this entry

Duck Island Cottage: A ‘rural’ retreat in St James’s Park

Duck Island Cottage © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Duck Island Cottage is a 19th century building in St James’s Park

Entering St James’s Park from the Whitehall side, it’s likely you will have come across Duck Island Cottage. Situated on the eastern end of the park’s lake stands a 19th century cottage – quite a contrast with the nearby neo-classical, imposing grey stone government buildings and Buckingham Palace. Situated by the lakeside with a small stream running under a bridge linking the cottage’s two sections, it also includes a sweet little garden. When I first saw it, it reminded me of Mr McGregor’s garden in Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit tales.

As part a chain of royal parks (which are separated by roads), St James’s Park stands out from the others because of its birdlife. Established in 1603 under King James I (1566-1625), the park was named after a women’s leper hospital dedicated to St James the Less. After being landscaped, the park became home to exotic animals, including camels, crocodiles and an elephant! It wasn’t until 1664, the famous pelicans arrived as a gift by the Russian ambassador, and they still remain today. At the time, a long canal ran nearly the length of the whole park, with a duck decoy in the south-east corner to capture ducks for the royal dining table. The island in the middle of the decoy was given the name Duck Island, which was entrusted to the appointed Governor of Duck Island to oversee. The first cottage on the site wasn’t built until King William III’s (1650-1702) reign in the late 17th century, initially as a tea house. By the 18th century, Duck Island was removed due to the stench of stagnant ponds and replaced by grass.

Duck Island Cottage © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

The view over the lake and the Tiffany fountain from the bridge

Over the centuries, the park was re-landscaped many times, with the body of water changing shape between a stream, channels, smaller ponds and now the lake as we see today. The landscape of the park today is mostly down to the Regency architect John Nash (1752-1835), who remodelled the straight canal of water into a more natural looking curved lake in the late 1820s. He also reintroduced Duck Island, which had been missing for several decades at this point. With new trees and shrubs surrounding the cottage, birdlife returned to the park.

In 1837, the Ornithological Society of London was founded with the aim to protect the birds and three years later, work started on plans for a cottage to house a bird keeper. Architect John Burges Watson (1803-1881) designed the cottage comprising of two buildings – a dwelling for the bird keeper and a clubroom for the Society – which were completed in April 1841. The two buildings were connected by a small covered bridge, offering views across the lake and garden. The romantic design appears to be Swiss inspired and wouldn’t look out of place in the countryside.

From 1900 to 1953, Duck Island Cottage was home to bird keeper Thomas Hinton. The cottage was damaged during the Blitz in 1940 and by 1953, following Hinton’s death, the cottage was abandoned after it was considered unfit for habitation. Today, the cottage features water treatment facilities and pumps for the lake and fountain, while the garden is maintained by the Royal Parks. Duck Island is a nature reserve as a sanctuary and breeding ground for the park’s birds, including herons, mute swans and eastern or great white pelicans. If you want to see the pelicans being fed, head to the grassy bank adjacent to the cottage between 2.30pm-3pm every day.

  • Duck Island Cottage, St James’s Park, Westminster, SW1A 2BJ. Nearest stations: Westminster or St James’s Park. Park is open daily from 5am-midnight. For more information, visit the Royal Parks website.
Duck Island Cottage © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

The cottage grounds features an enclosed garden ‘in the Arts and Crafts style’


For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

‘We are all in the gutter…’ Oscar Wilde memorial near The Strand

A look at Maggi Hambling’s sculpture by the Strand.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Missing something: The head and shoulders of Oscar Wilde is missing a cigarette

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Take a seat: A Conversation With Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was one of the greatest poets and authors of the 19th century. Although born and raised an Irishman, he spent a lot of his life in London and, of course, many of his plays were first staged here, and continue to be staged in the capital over 100 years after his death.

Given his huge contribution to London’s West End with his masterpieces such as The Importance Of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband, it is only fitting there should be a memorial to him in the city. Unbelievably, it took until 1998 for the great talent to finally be honoured in his former home.

‘A Conversation With Oscar Wilde’ by Maggi Hambling is a bit more interactive than most memorials. I have often walked past it to see people sitting on it eating their lunch, perhaps completely oblivious to what they are resting their posterior on… but they could also be having a quiet moment with Oscar. Unveiled by actor Stephen Fry on the 98th anniversary of his death on 30 November 1998, the piece consists of a granite block, which looks rather coffin-shaped, with the bronze head and shoulders of Oscar peering out. Oscar’s hand originally held a cigarette, but is currently absent, despite being replaced several times. Describing the piece, Hambling has said in the past: ‘The idea is that he is rising, talking, laughing, smoking from this sarcophagus and the passerby, should he or she choose to, can sit on the sarcophagus and have a conversation with him.’

At the tail end of the piece is a quote from his 1892 play Lady Windermere’s Fan (first performed at St James’s Theatre), which is probably one of his most memorable and apt quotes. ‘We are all – in the gutter – but some of us – are looking at – the stars.’

  • A Conversation With Oscar Wilde is located on Adelaide Street, WC2, just near the junction of The Strand and Duncannon Street and around the back of St Martin-in-the-Fields Church. Nearest tube: Charing Cross.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

A quote from Lady Windermere’s Fan


For Metro Girl’s blog post on the memorial to composer Arthur Sullivan, a short walk away, read Arthur Sullivan memorial in Embankment Gardens: A racy tribute to a legendary composer

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Great Scotland Yard history: From a London base for Scottish kings to the Met Police’s HQ

Great Scotland Yard © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Great Scotland Yard is off Whitehall in the City of Westminster

The name Scotland Yard is synonymous with London’s Metropolitan Police. However, how did the name of a yard end up following the Met around Westminster as they moved headquarters over the decades?

As I write, the Metropolitan police are preparing to move their headquarters again from the current site of New Scotland Yard on Broadway in Victoria to the Curtis Green Building on Victoria Embankment in 2015. While the name New Scotland Yard will follow wherever the Met goes, the name originates on a short road in Westminster, which still exists to this day.

Great Scotland Yard is a short road spanning between Whitehall and Northumberland Avenue, taking just three minutes to walk from one end to the other. While today, the road is relatively quiet from pedestrian and vehicle traffic, in the 19th century it would have been a hub of activity with police officers, victims and criminals passing through it.

The name of the road is said to stem back to a medieval palace which was used as a base for Scottish kings and diplomatic representatives visiting London. By the 17th century, the road was home to various government buildings and residences for civil servants. Two notable residents include the architects Sir Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones and the poet John Milton.

Great Scotland Yard © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The former headquarters of the Metropolitan Police in Great Scotland Yard is being converted into a luxury hotel

The name Scotland Yard was first linked to police when the original Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s office at 4 Whitehall Place, had a rear entrance on Great Scotland Yard. By the early 20th century, the force had outgrown the Great Scotland Yard site and moved to the nearby Norman Shaw Buildings on Victoria Embankment – located next door to where Portcullis House stands today – which were built between 1887-1906. New Scotland Yard remained at the site until 1967 when it moved to the current site in Victoria. The move in 2015 brings New Scotland Yard full circle as it returns to the Embankment – next door to the Norman Shaw Buildings.

While the Met has moved on from Great Scotland Yard, the association will be enshrined forever thanks to the road name. At time of writing, the Edwardian, Grade II-listed building on the site of the old Metropolitan Police headquarters at No.3-5 Great Scotland Yard is being converted into a five-star Hyatt hotel, due for opening in 2019. On the corner of Whitehall and Great Scotland Yard, stands The Clarence pub, which dates from 1896.

  • Great Scotland Yard, off Whitehall, SW1. Nearest stations: Westminster, Embankment or Charing Cross.
Great Scotland Yard © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Quiet: The road is relatively calm to what it would have been in the 19th century as a hub of police activity


For Metro Girl’s blog post on nearby Banqueting House or for the history of nearby Charing Cross.

To watch rare video footage of Whitehall taken in 1927, click here.

For more of Metro Girl’s history blog posts, click here.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Neo-classicism, masques and an execution site: The history and beauty of Banqueting House

Gaze at Ruben’s stunning ceiling at a 17th century survivor of the old Palace of Whitehall

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Inigo Jones’s Banqueting Hall and Ruben’s canvasses are accessible to the public

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The Southern End of Rubens’s ceiling depicts the ‘Peaceful Reign of James I’

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The chandeliers are now lit by electricity rather than candles

Like many Londoners, I have walked or rode a bus past Banqueting House more times than I could count. I must confess I didn’t know much about it until I decided to visit during Open House London and was totally stunned by the beauty and history of the building. However, unlike many of the buildings open during the September weekend, Banqueting House is open to the public all year round (the only difference was Open House was free). Located halfway down Whitehall, at the junction with Horse Guards Avenue, it is just across the road from Horse Guards Parade.

Banqueting House is the only surviving building of the old Palace of Whitehall, which was mostly destroyed by fire in the late 17th century. A previous banqueting house on the same site was destroyed by a fire (yes, another one) in January 1619 when over-zealous workmen cleaning up after a New Year’s celebration decided to burn the rubbish inside the building (not exactly the most worldly of men I would say…). King James I of England (1566-1625) immediately ordered it to be rebuilt and commissioned architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652) to design one. Jones had spent a lot of time studying the architecture of Italy and was a leading figure bringing the fashion for neo-classicism to London. His designs helped architecture move away from the largely timber-framed and Jacobean English Renaissance style in favour of simpler designs influenced by the classical world. The building was eventually finished in 1622 at a cost of £15,618 – a considerably large sum in Stuart England.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Takes your breath away: This is the splendour which awaits when you enter through the main door

The building comprises of three floors – of which two are accessible on your visit. The ground floor was for store rooms and cellars, while the first floor and second floor encompassed the actual Banqueting Hall – with a gallery on the second floor where the less fortunate would watch the king and his chums having a raucous good time at their banquets, masques and royal receptions. Although built by King James I, it was really his son Charles I (1600-1649) who transformed the space into what we see today thanks to his commission of Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) to create the ceiling canvasses around 1629-1630. The canvasses were painted by Rubens at his studio in Antwerp and were unveiled at Banqueting House in March 1636. Today, his canvasses remain the only of his ceiling paintings still in-situ. The central image is The Apotheosis of James I, which celebrates the Stuart belief of kings as an absolute monarchy and their God-like status. The two other main canvasses show the Union of the Crowns (England and Scotland) and Peaceful Reign of James I.

For two decades, the Banqueting Hall played host to many celebrations under Rubens’ masterpiece. However, as we all know,  the fun all stopped during the English civil war and subsequent revolution, when Oliver Cromwell took charge. King Charles I was executed on a temporary wooden scaffolding outside the windows of his beloved Banqueting House,  the scene of many happy evenings in his past. His last words on 30 January 1649 were ‘I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible Crown, where no disturbance can be’.

Following the restoration, the Banqueting Hall was again used for royal parties, but this began to decline in the late 17th century. Throughout the 18th century, it was mostly used as a chapel to replace the Tudor one destroyed in the Palace of Whitehall fire in 1698. Throughout the 19th century, the building was being used as a place for entertainment once more as it hosted concerts, before being given as a museum to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) by Queen Victoria in 1893. It is now a Grade I-listed building and managed by the Historic Royal Palaces charity so the public can visit this important piece of history and architecture.

  • Banqueting House, Whitehall, SW1A 2ER. Nearest stations: Westminster, Charing Cross or Embankment. Tickets: £5 or £4 concessions, Under 16s: Free. For more information, visit the Banqueting House website.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Centrepiece: The Apotheosis of James I

Banqueting House © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The grand façade of Banqueting House – where Charles I met his maker outside


For other blog posts on Open House London, read:

To read about the story behind nearby Great Scotland Yard, click here.

For more of Metro Girl’s history blog posts, click here

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Cock a doodle doo! A blue cockerel takes residence on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock was erected on the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square in July 2013

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The fourth plinth, designed by Charles Barry, previously sat empty for decades

Trafalgar Square is easily London’s most famous square. Once marooned as a traffic island, the closure of the north road beside the National Gallery has made the space more pedestrian friendly. The square is a huge draw to tourists due to Nelson’s Column and his lions and the great view down Whitehall looking towards Victoria Tower and Big Ben. Dotted around the square, which was laid out in 1845 by Sir Charles Barry, are three plinths containing statues of notable figures: King George IV, General Sir Charles James Napier and Major-General Sir Henry Havelock. Which leaves the fourth plinth in the north-west corner, which stood empty for decades. It was originally designed to hold an equestrian statue of King William IV, but plans were dropped due to lack of funds.

Finally, after decades of debates about what would go there, it was decided in 1998 that the fourth plinth would play home to temporary contemporary artworks. Over the years, it has been the base of many sculptures, including Marc Quinn’s one of Alison Lapper, Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle and, most recently, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset’s Powerless Structures, Fig. 101.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock stands at 4.73 metres high

In July 2013, a striking and colourful creation was unveiled. Katharina Fritsch’s 4.73 metre high sculpture of a blue cockerel, entitled Hahn/Cock. Meant to symbolise ‘regeneration, awakening and strength’ and the British triumph at the Tour De France, it will remain on the fourth plinth for 18 months. German artist Fritsch admitted her work is a feminist sculpture, prompting a humorous juxtaposition in  a square full of alpha male historical figures.

N.B. Hahn/Cock has since been replaced on the Fourth Plinth by a new piece entitled Gift Horse. Click here to find out more. 

  • Trafalgar Square is located in the City of Westminster. Nearest tube: Charing Cross, Piccadilly Circus, Embankment or Leicester Square.

To find out the history of another famous London Square, read More than just a traffic island: The history behind Parliament Square.

To find out the story behind the nearby statue of Charles I and the Eleanor Cross which stood on the same site, read Civil war, centre of London and a memorial to a queen: The story behind Charing Cross.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin