Re-blogged because I have now accessed some images from Historic Royal Palaces which help flesh out the text.
To London last week with the British Guild of Travel Writers for our Annual Summer Outing which this year included a visit to the Banqueting House in Whitehall, a tour on a Big London Bus and a Cruise on the River Thames with City Cruises, the boat that allows you to get off at any stop along the route. The open-top bus tour and the river cruise took place in blazing sunshine and although London sights are familiar, the landmarks and historic sites never fail to thrill.
The Banqueting House is the last surviving part of the Palace of Whitehall*. It was once the greatest palace of its time in Europe, almost totally destroyed by fire in 1698, but I knew nothing of its history until this visit.
The Banqueting House was created for King James I in 1622 by architect Inigo Jones. Inspired by the classical architecture of ancient Rome it was revolutionary at that time, standing it is said, head and shoulders above the ragbag of buildings that composed Whitehall Palace. At the time of which we are speaking, a banquet was composed of little snacks and desserts, eaten after the main course when diners were waiting for the entertainment to begin, and was consumed in a separate little house or room, highly decorated and situated a short walk away from the main dining hall in order to aid digestion. The Banqueting House of Whitehall Palace was the biggest and grandest of them all.
It was during the reign of King Charles l that the magnificent ceiling paintings by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (which today can be viewed from comfortable leather cushions laid on the floor) were installed. Under these ceilings over 400 years ago, royalty and courtiers, ambassadors and aristocrats took part in some of the most exuberant and decadent masques every performed; today it is more likely to be celebrities and fashionistas who parade beneath the sumptuous ceilings as The Banqueting House has proved a popular ‘Events’ venue.
* Whitehall Place was for many years the property of the powerful Archbishops of York, who needed to be close to the monarch. The first was built in 1241 and was originally known as York Place, passing through time to Cardinal Wolsey who extended it greatly. As we know, he was deprived of his properties by Henry VIII who took it over in 1530 when it became Whitehall Palace. Two great fires saw the destruction of Whitehall Palace, the first in 1691 and the second in 1698 when it was almost totally destroyed.
What follows are images of London taken from the top of the Big Red Bus.
The Monument to the Great Fire of London
Looking Across to the South Bank
Big Ben and Houses of Parliament
The Shard can be seen from almost everywhere
The following are pictures taken from City Cruises boat which carried us from Westminster Pier down to the Tower of London and beyond, passing some very innovative architecture whose positioning evoked some heated argument amongst us, as well as the always sombre Traitors’ Gate leading into the Tower and almost certain death.
Tower Bridge with HMS Belfast
Big Ben and Houses of Parliament
Dr Samual Johnson said, “…..when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” Even after the long gap in time, I agree with him, every word.
The recent death of gardener and plant collector, Beth Chatto OBE, and her mention on Monty Don’s gardening programme on Friday reminded me of the retrospective to her work at the Garden Museum at Lambeth in London (formerly the Museum of Garden History) which I visited a few years ago. I was actually visiting the Tate at the time, just across the river from the Garden Museum, but on the spur of the moment decided to pop in to see what it had to offer.
This national resource for plants and garden history is situated on the South Bank of the Thames and sits right next door to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s London residence, Lambeth Palace and, as mentioned, is just across the river from Tate Britain.
It owes its existence to John and Rosemary Nicholson who, in 1976, discovered the neglected and forgotten tomb of the John Tradescants (1570-1638), father and son gardeners to Charles I and the first gardeners and plant hunters in British history. They introduced many of the flowers, shrubs and trees we grow today.
Copyright Garden Museum
Copyright- Garden Museum
The centrepiece of the tranquil Sackler Garden designed to reflect Tradescant’s life and spirit is John Tradescant’s magnificent tomb, erected in 1662 and sculpted with images of the gardeners’ travels and collecting. Before the founding of the Garden Museum in 1977, the church was earmarked for demolition and this masterpiece of funeral art had lain neglected for many decades, the sculpted images unrecognisable beneath the soot that covered it.
On its rescue from demolition over 40 years ago, the church was deconsecrated and subsequently converted into the world’s first museum dedicated to gardens and gardening. The neglected graveyard which adjoined the church is now part of the museum and contains not only the tomb of the Tradescants but the tomb of one whose name most schoolboys will recognise, Captain William Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, himself a native of Lambeth.
The garden has as its centrepiece, a 17th-century style knot garden designed by the Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury of Hatfield House in the traditional geometric style enclosed in a square. Knot gardens had been popular in Britain since the Tudor period, usually formed of woody herbs clipped in geometric designs but in this case dwarf box (Buxus sempervirens) was used rather than herbs.
Exhibitions of various kinds take place in The Garden Museum, but a Permanent Exhibition runs throughout the year. Among the permanent exhibits is one that charts the development of gardening from pre-historic times to modern day. The on-site library has a fine collection containing information from the Landscape Movement from Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton in the 18th century, to the 19th-century innovations that changed gardening thanks to travel (heated glasshouses and the lawnmower to name just two) and the gardens influenced by the Arts & Crafts Movement pioneered by William Morris.
We tend to forget sometimes how much we owe to the adventurous plant hunters who brought back to these shores the azaleas, jasmine, rhododendrons, clematis, camellias, magnolias and lilies, but here the plant hunters are given due credit for their determination and zeal in seeking these out. Planters like the John Tradescants, Ernest Wilson, William Dampier, Frank Kingdon Ward, Joseph Banks, David Douglas, George Forrest and Francis Masson are names only the dedicated gardeners are familiar with but they are responsible for much of what we love about English gardens today.
Unlike most museums, the Garden Museum is a quiet, tranquil place, the restaurant/cafeteria a delightfully cool and pleasant place in which to have some light refreshments. Take time after a visit to sit contemplatively in the garden for a few moments listening to the birds, or the drone of the bees, as they burrow into the vivid blue agapanthus and the sweet smelling lavender. The hustle and bustle of London seem far away.
I am planning a return visit sometime in late summer as I understand the gardens have had a makeover and there is an added attraction in that they have now opened the on-site medieval tower from which there is an amazing vista over Lambeth Palace and the River Thames.
This magical place is located right in the heart of the capital, just a ten-minute walk from the London Eye, Houses of Parliament, Tate Britain, and Waterloo and Victoria stations.
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Nearest Underground: Lambeth North or Westminster.
Writing is at standstill at the moment as I have an eye problem that prevents me from working on the computer (or it takes so long that I can’t do it anyway), so as doorways seems a popular feature of blogs, I thought I’d dig out a few of my favourites. The featured image is of a street of blue doors in East London, the others follow:
Truly abstract I think. Love the subtle muddy colours and the starkness of the image.
This is a piece of graffiti on a wall in London’s East End (Brick Lane area). It’s a wonderful place in which to make artistic discoveries. This one comes from the camera of London photographer Steve Moore who has given me permission to use it.
Having watched every episode of Tony Jordan’s 20-part brilliant evocation of Charles Dickens’ world (Dickensian, BBC 1), it has whetted my appetite for the London of the novels, for the streets and alleyways that he populated with an array of the most colourful characters ever to leap from a page.
The series is a true celebration of a master story teller, where people like Miss Haversham, Nancy, Bill Sykes, Fagin, Jaggers the lawyer, and the Cratchit family, are all cleverly interwoven into a Victorian tapestry, perfect for the small screen. Dickensian carried with it a constant surprise, as there were no hints given as to who would pop up or from which book. And as always, with a BBC production, the location, the settings and the atmosphere are pitch-perfect. And it’s fun trying to remember in which book a character appeared, and in admiring the clever way Jordan has stitched together a new story using these familiar characters.
Although Dickens wouldn’t recognize London should he return today, we are lucky enough to be able to suss out some of the haunts he mentions, the alleyways, streets, pubs and inns, many of which survive, although what the Blitzkrieg couldn’t destroy, the city planners have almost managed to accomplish.
The City of London was once a walled city covering a mere square mile, inside which the Guilds and Liveries reigned supreme – in fact they still do, along with the money merchants, the financiers, the major world Banks and the controllers of a shadowy world of high finance. Established in around AD50, seven years after the Romans invaded Britain, the City, or Square Mile as it has become known, is the place from which modern-day London grew. Walk through the surrounding areas, and with just a little imagination, you can begin to populate the streets with Dickens’ characters. A good place to start from is St. Paul’s Cathedral, built by Sir Christopher Wren, who, while his great church was being built, lived in a house on the other side of the River Thames from which rowed across the river daily, to check on its progress.
The historian Dr. Ruth Richards claims to have discovered the workhouse, the Strand Union in Cleveland Street, that inspired Oliver Twist. This wasnear where Dickens lived as a child, and it is thought possible that he worked with a lot of the poor apprentices from that workhouse during his time at the blacking factory. Most workhouse children were hired out, or apprenticed, to places like these, and if the young Dickens did work with the workhouse paupers, he would have heard tales of the hardship in that establishment, all of which were grist to the mill when it came to writing what is one of the best loved, and most often filmed, stories of all times.
When Pip in Great Expectations arrived in ‘ugly, crooked, narrow and dirty’ London he got off the coach at the Cross Keys Inn on Wood Street, a posting Inn and a terminal for the coaches from the countryside bringing passengers and parcels to the City (read Great Expectations for his description of the nearby Cheapside market and ‘the great black dome of St. Pauls). Little remains of the Cross Keys inn today save a paved area in the nearby churchyard in Wood Street, marked by railings with cross keys on them, the symbol of St Peter, keeper of the gates to Heaven.
This is also the inn where the young boy, Charles Dickens, aged 12 and alone, arrived from Rochester in Kent after his spendthrift father had once again made the family destitute (Dickens senior subsequently spent time at the Wood Street Compter just a little bit further down the road from Cross Keys). From Wood Street, Pip walked along London Wall to the offices of Mr. Jaggers, the lawyer, through narrow streets where the houses are crammed tightly together and jostle for space. You are near Postman’s Park here so a detour to this delightful spot can be recommended and although nothing to do with Dickens, I would recommend a detour to see this very Victorian location.
But it was Southwark, a less reputable area, that haunted Dickens and coloured his outlook and his novels ever afterwards. A portion of the Marshalsea Debtors Prison wall still stands in St. George’s churchyard off Borough High Street, the prison in which the Dickens’ family languished, and his vivid description in Little Dorrit leaves the reader in no doubt of his intense loathing of the place.
The George Inn, just off Borough High Street, has survived, one of the many “rambling queer old places” that the writer described in The Pickwick Papers. A little further along is Lent Street where the writer lived and from where he walked to the hated job at the Blacking Factory in the Strand. The factory that caused such grief to the young man but which gave him so much material for his novels is no longer there: on the site now stands Charing Cross Station.
There is to be another series of Dickensian, and I urge anyone who has not seen the first series to catch up with it and then follow on with the second series. Mr. and Mrs. Bumble we’ve met, Mrs. Gamp and Sarah Peggotty, but there are many characters yet to be given a backstory, characters who lived life on the edges of the tales, like Laura Badger, Ham Peggotty, Mrs. Ticket, and the one remembered by every child that saw the original black and white production of Oliver Twist – Magwitch.
Dickensian is not Tales from Dickens, it is a re-imagining of a Dickensian London peopled by the colourful characters from the novels of one of England’s greatest writers. It is not to be missed
Between July and November 2014, at the Tower of London, a magnificent display of 888,246 ceramic poppies filled the Tower’s famous moat to mark the centenary of the First World War. The number of poppies represented one for each British and Colonial death during the conflict.
Created by artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, the installation, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, attracted thousands, possibly millions, from all over the country and overseas, who queued for hours, often in the rain, to view the sea of scarlet progressively filling the Tower’s famous moat, between 17th July and 11th November 2014. The poppies encircled the iconic landmark, creating a spectacular visual commemoration, and although thousands wound their way around the magnificent display, it was noticeable that most people were given to inward reflection rather than discussion.
I was moved, as was everyone else who attended this magnificent tribute to the fallen, and the poppies that streamed from one of the windows or arrow slits in the wall of the Tower, recalled to mind the words of William Blake from Songs of Innocence and Experience:
“And the hapless soldiers’ sigh, Runs like blood down palace walls.”
These photographs were all taken by my friend, and London photographer, Steve Moore, who spent a couple of days there. Steve gave me a CD of about 150 pictures – it was not easy choosing images to represent the Photo Challenge as my mind kept switching to the reason for the poppy display, but I hope you like them. I wish I’d been there at night. There is something about that night scene that resonates deep within me.
Postman’s Park in London contains a simple but evocative Memorial to unsung heroes of the 19th and early 20th century, in the form of a collection of glazed Doulton plaques on a wall protected from the elements by a loggia. Each of these plaques commemorates someone who, in tragic circumstances, died a hero, trying to save the lives of others.
What and where is Postman’s Park in the City of London?
First the name: the park acquired the Postman’s Park name because during it’s heyday in the 19th century and before it became the site of the Memorial, it was popular as a lunchtime retreat with workers from the General Post Office in nearby Clerkenwell, long since demolished.
Situated between King Edward Street, Little Britain and Angel Street and just round the corner from St Paul’s Cathedral whose steps are normally crowded with tourists hugging backpacks and guitars and where the streets are full of bankers and financiers bursting with self-importance, it contains a gallery of tiled memorials to extraordinary people who were, nonetheless, just ordinary citizens.
The brainchild of the Victorian painter and philanthropist, G.F. Watts (1817-1904), a radical socialist who felt deeply about the dreadful conditions of the London poor, and who had twice refused a Baronetcy, it is now regarded as a Memorial to Watts who made no attempt to hide his dislike of the greed of the upper classes of the time.
About the Tiled Memorials
A long, high wall covered with Royal Doulton ceramic plaques, decorated in burnt orange and blue, names, ages, occupations and means of death engraved on the tiles – this is a wall before which people have been known to stand with tears in their eyes. Tragedy after tragedy told in a few simple phrases, bring to life drownings, raging fires, train disasters, and runaway horse accidents, in which these workers and children had saved someone’s life by giving their own.
There is seating under the plaques and the garden area of the park is a restful place with bright flower beds and a gently trickling fountain, interesting shrubs and flowering plants. Of special interest are the large banana tree, musa basjoo, which flowers in late summer, and the dove tree, davidia involucrata. In fact, Postman’s Park is a perfect place for a lunchtime picnic.
In 1887, Watts wrote to The Times to suggest the creation of a park to commemorate ‘heroic men and women’ who had given their lives attempting to save others. This, he said, would be a worthy way to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee year.
His letter to The Times did not stimulate any interest, however, but in 1898, St Botolph’s Church at Aldersgate purchased land that had previously been owned by the City Parochial Foundation, and they approached him regarding the Memorial. So, on the site of the former churchyard of St. Bolophs, there was erected a 50ft long open gallery along the wall of which he planned to place glazed Doulton tablets commemorating acts of bravery, each one detailing a heroic act.
One of Britain’s leading tile designers at that time, William de Morgan, agreed to work with Watts. Their collaboration, first unveiled in 1900, is what you see on the early plaques when you visit Postman’s Park.
About the Tiles and Plaques
The plaques could easily be overlooked in the somewhat hidden corner of the park, but these beautiful hand-lettered tiles hand-painted at the Royal Doulton factory, when once you see them, live with you forever. Each one tells the story of a boy or girl, man or woman, who died trying to save another at the expense of his own. Told in a few poignant words, they nevertheless manage to paint a picture of a life unfulfilled that ended in tragedy. Take, for instance,
the young Alice “daughter of a bricklayer’s labourer who by intrepid conduct saved 3 children from a burning house in Union Street Borough at the cost of her own young life”. Or
William “drowned in the Lea trying to save a lad from a dangerous entanglement of weed”.
The stories seem almost Dickensian until the very real tragedies these plaques represent hit home and one realises that this was real life, not fiction. Life was harsh for those who didn’t own land or property of some sort in those days: violence and disease were everyday events. Prostitution and child abuse were rife in late-Victorian London, and these children who died, many of them orphans or ‘indentured workers’, each and every one of them would have been working at some poorly paid job.
Reading the tiles one is struck by the occupations that don’t exist any more and the causes of death that remind one of nothing so much as a Victorian engraving – a runaway carriage of four with a child trampled beneath the horses, a boy in the Thames (probably a mudlark) attempting to swim to land with his friend in his arms.
G.F. Watts and his Reasons for Erecting the Memorial
GF Watts wanted to use his art as a force for social change and his intention was to build a memorial that honoured ordinary people, people who would not have had a burial tomb at Highgate, Brompton or even St. Pancras & Islington Cemetery.
Watts had for many years collected newspaper reports of heroic actions and the plaques were based on these cuttings.
It was planned to have one hundred and twenty tiles in place for the opening, but sadly, it was only possible to erect four. By this time Watts was too ill to attend the unveiling and only nine more were added during his lifetime. His wife Mary, took over the work and added what she could before her death. Then, 78 years later, in 2009, the Diocese of London added a new tablet to commemorate one Leigh Pitt who rescued a nine-year-old boy from drowning in a canal. The plaque reads:
Leigh Pitt, Reprographic operator, aged 30, saved a drowning boy from the canal at Thamesmead, but sadly was unable to save himself. June 7, 2007.
Today you can see rows of blank spaces, although no doubt there were unsung heroes in the intervening years who were never commemorated.
This wall of tiled plaques to these forgottenLondoners is one of the city’s most moving Memorials and in 1972, along with other key elements in the park, it was Listed as a Grade ll site.
Postman’s Park in Recent Film
The BAFTA and Golden Globe-winning film Closer which stars Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Jude Law and Clive Owen (based on the play of the same name by Patrick Marber) references Postman’s Park in that the character Alice Ayres (Natalie Portman) fabricates her identity based on Ayers’ tablet on the Memorial which the film character had read.
I am Brangien [Brangaine] of Weisefort, Ireland, lady-in-waiting to my cousin Isolde, who became promised to King Marc of Cornwall. His nephew Tristan escorted us to England by ship. But Tristan and Isolde fell in love at sea. As ye may know, or will find out, they cite the philter they drank as the cause, over which I was supposed to keep vigil. I would like to share my perspective of how I have created good in the world through my herbs and observations. There is much to tell, including how I have adopted this odd language. In good time. My life is in God’s hands. –Inspired by the modern French translations of the Tristan and Isolde texts