Day 51 (Part 2) – Victoria Embankment – Whitehall – Horse Guards Road

Second leg of this one resumes outside New (Old New) Scotland Yard on the Victoria Embankment, proceeds down to Westminster tube, goes up Parliament Street and Whitehall past Downing Street and cuts through Horse Guards Parade before finishing at the Mall.

Day 51 Route

I had hoped to take a look at the Crime Museum (aka The Black Museum) attached to New Scotland Yard but it turns out it’s only accessible to serving police officers. So with the river on my left I walk down the Victoria Embankment to Westminster Tube and then turn right up Westminster Bridge Road towards Parliament Square. Heading away from the square north up Parliament Street on its west side the next major government building that comes our way is HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs). This stands back to back with HM Treasury (of which more later) as part of a complex of government buildings developed between 1908 and 1917, originally called the New Public Offices but later referred to as GOGGS (Government Offices Great George Street). Great George Street flanks the southern side of the buildings.

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Across the road is the Red Lion pub which is the closest hostelry to Downing Street, though the last sitting Prime Minister to pop in for a drink apparently was Edward Heath. Less surprising is the fact that Charles Dickens was a regular back in the day (since just about every pub in central London claims the old literary boozehound as a one-time habitué).

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The next block up, standing to the west of the cenotaph where Parliament Street changes into Whitehall, is home to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This was completed in 1868 and was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1878) who was later responsible for the Midland Hotel at St Pancras (see Day 9).  Scott designed the new Foreign Office as ‘a kind of national palace or drawing room for the nation’ with the use of rich decoration to impress foreign visitors. The building is adorned with a series of sculptural reliefs which, in typical Victorian fashion, take the form of a woman with her top at least half off accessorised to represent either a geographic area or a high concept. So in these creations of H.H Armistead and J. Birnie Philip we have Australia, Africa, America, Asia and Europe (more modestly depicted than the others of course) along with Education, Government, Law, Literature, Agriculture, Manufacture and Commerce. And I didn’t choose this one so I could make some cheap jug-based quip – it just happened to be the easiest to photograph.

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Which brings us to Downing Street and something of a breakdown in the mission because, since 1989, access to the street has been blocked by a security checkpoint and it has been patrolled by armed police since the IRA mortar bomb attack of 1991. The street is named after the diplomat George Downing (1624 – 1684) who had the street and its houses built in the 1680’s. Described by the official Government website as unpleasant, miserly and brutal, Downing came to prominence under Cromwell and then switched allegiance with alacrity when the Restoration became inevitable. For his assistance in purging many of his former Parliamentarian allies he was knighted by Charles II in 1660. The first Prime Minister to take up residence at no. 10 was Sir Robert Walpole in 1735, it having been presented to him by King George II. It was used on and off by subsequent 18th century Prime Ministers more as an office than as a home. Viscount Goderich engaged Sir John Soane to do a makeover on the house in the 1820’s but this didn’t tempt any of his immediate successors to move in. And although no.11 was made the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1828 the surrounding area became increasingly seedy and demolition looked a real possibility. However during the era when Disraeli and Gladstone traded the premiership the house was refurbished and modernised several times. It was later fully renovated during the 1950’s and again in the Thatcher and Blair years. The IRA mortar bomb mentioned above was fired from a white transit van in Whitehall and exploded in the garden of Number 10, only a few metres away from where then PM John Major was chairing a Cabinet meeting to discuss the Gulf War.

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We’ve passed over many of the statues and memorials on Whitehall but I quite admire this equestrian bronze of Field Marshal Earl Haig (1861 – 1928), a 1936 work of Alfred Hardiman. At the time, however, it aroused considerable controversy on account of the riding position and the stance of the horse. Earl Haig commanded the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front during WW1 including during the Battle of the Somme which saw the highest number of casualties in British military history. Although treated as a national hero in the aftermath of the war subsequent reappraisals of his wartime strategies have earned him the soubriquet “Butcher of the Somme”. Bizarrely there is a football club in Argentina named after him. Club Atletico Douglas Haig was founded in 1918 and currently plays in the second tier of Argentinian football.

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We continue a short way further up Whitehall and turn left to pass through the central arch of the Horse Guards building to get to Horse Guards Parade. The first building on the site was commissioned by Charles II in 1663 but the current one dates from the reign of George II. The originally commissioned architect for the new building, William Kent, more or less retained the plan of the original with its clocktower, courtyard and two oversize sentry boxes but utilised the then fashionable Palladian style of architecture. The Duke of Wellington was based here while Commander in Chief of the British Army. The building is still in use by the military and also houses the Household Cavalry Museum (gave that one a miss). There are a lot of jobs I don’t envy people having to do but standing for hours in full military regalia while gurning tourists act the prat in front of you must be high up on the list.

Horse Guards Parade occupies the site of the old Palace of Whitehall’s tiltyard where jousting tournaments were held in the time of Henry VIII. For much of the 20th century is was used as a car park for civil servants but following that mortar attack a review of security arrangements recommended that it be restored to public use. So in 1996 it was resurfaced and a year later car parking banned (apart from tourist coaches apparently). Horse Guards Parade notoriously hosted the beach volleyball tournament during the London 2012 Olympics.

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Circling around the Parade we arrive on Horse Guards Road to the east of St James’s Park and head north back up to the Mall. We turn right towards Admiralty Arch as far as the bronze statue of Captain James Cook (1728 – 1779), by Thomas Brock and erected in 1914, before doubling back. Cook, born the son of a farm worker, is one of the most remarkable examples of 18th century social mobility. After his success in exploring and mapping the Antipodes, Cook’s luck ran out on his third voyage to the South Pacific when a dispute with Hawaiian islanders escalated to the point where he tried to take a local leader hostage and in the ensuing melee was stabbed and killed.

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Incidentally, the flag on the left there is that of Mozambique, one of the many put up along the Mall for the meeting of the Heads of Commonwealth. As you can see it includes an image of an AK-47 rifle – meant to represent defence and vigilance. It’s one of three national flags to feature a firearm, the others being Guatemala and Luxembourg (only kidding it’s actually Haiti). In 2005 a competition was held to design a new flag; a winner was selected from 119 entries but rejected by the ruling government.

So we head right down to the southern end of Horse Guards Road and HM Treasury which occupies the western side of GOGGS (hopefully you were paying attention earlier) and has been based here since 1940. The royal treasure was originally located in Winchester, and was moved to the Whitehall area following the Norman Conquest. The Treasury then operated from the Exchequer Receipt Office in Westminster Cloisters until the Restoration in 1660. On ascending to the throne Charles II, perhaps wanting to keep a close eye on his finances, allocated it rooms in Whitehall Palace. In 1698 a huge blaze, caused by a servant airing some linen too close to the fire, destroyed all of the Palace but the Banqueting House (see last post) and Cardinal Wolsey’s wine cellar which is now under the Ministry of Defence building. Following the fire, the homeless Treasury moved to Henry VIII’s former Cockpit (near today’s Horse Guards Parade). Then in 1734 a new Treasury was built by William Kent on Horse Guards and this was later joined by an adjacent expansion building designed by John Soane. Both those buildings were severely damaged by bombs in 1940 prompting the move to GOGGS.

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In the north-west corner of GOGGS you can visit Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms. In the build–up to the Second World War, the government began looking for a strong basement in which a map room and a Cabinet Room could be constructed without major alterations. The basement of GOGGS was chosen, not only because it was convenient for Downing Street, but because its concrete frame 2 would help prevent the collapse of the building if it received a direct hit from a bomb. Initially, only a few rooms were commandeered but when Horse Guards was bombed on October 14, 1940, wrecking parts of 10 Downing Street, all Churchill’s staff moved into GOGGS. After the war the War Rooms were left in aspic, with access restricted to small groups and strictly regulated, until the Imperial War Museum took them over and opened them up to the public in 1984.

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The entrance to the War Rooms is located at the western end of King Charles Street which intersects GOGGS (I may have overdone that particular acronym just a tad) and the Foreign Office. In the middle of the steps leading up to the street stands a statue of Robert Clive (aka Clive of India) (1725 – 1774) by John Tweed which was positioned here in 1916 having been unveiled outside what is now the Welsh Office on Whitehall four years earlier. Clive is indelibly associated with the British East India Company and its excursions into India, laying the foundations for the establishment of the Raj. His finest hour came in 1756 when, having just been appointed as a Lieutenant Colonel and Deputy Governor of Fort St David, he re-took the city of Calcutta from the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj ud Daula, with just 3,000 men against the Nawab’s 68,000-strong French-backed army. This led to release of 23 out of 146 captured Britons held in the so-called “Black Hole of Calcutta”, a cell just 18 feet square. Though that doesn’t necessarily compensate for his overall impact on Anglo-Indian relations.

At the other end of King Charles Street is a triumphal arch connecting the Foreign Office and Treasury buildings erected in 1908 and incorporating a frieze by sculptor Paul Montford of nine figures representing trade and travel by sea.

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And so with just a short stroll back to Westminster tube station to finish that’s Whitehall and its surroundings done and dusted. Next time it’s the turn of Parliament.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 51 (part 1) – Trafalgar Square – Northumberland Avenue – Whitehall

So, technically this should probably be Day 51 and Day 52 (part1) as I had to have two cracks at it. First time out I only got as far as covering the few missing streets east of Charing Cross station when I realised I’d lost my wallet somewhere en route. I retraced my steps a couple of times to no avail and then it started to pour with rain so I gave it up as a bad job and went to see Black Panther at the cinema instead. When I resumed several weeks later the weather couldn’t have been more different; hottest day of the year in fact. Less than ideal for fighting my way through the wilting hordes of tourists loitering in Trafalgar Square and wandering up and down Whitehall.

Day 51 Route

That ill-fated first foray kicked off at Embankment Tube from where we weaved through the Victoria Embankment Gardens to the York Watergate which we originally encountered quite a few posts back. As a reminder, this was built in 1626 by Inigo Jones for George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham and marks the original northern bank of the Thames prior to the construction of the Embankment. On the other side we follow Watergate Walk east to York Buildings then turn north up to John Adam Street. At no.16 a blue plaque identifies this as a one-time residence of the Georgian artist and caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson (1756 – 1827).

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After a quick visit to the dead-end that is Durham House Street we head west on John Adam Street before cutting through Buckingham Arcade up to the Strand. Keep left and then turn left down Villiers Street just for a few paces before turning left again down York Place and allowing Buckingham Street to take us back down to the Watergate. This time we cross back over Villiers Street and follow Embankment Place west beneath the railway. At the end of the tunnel we emerge onto Northumberland Avenue and swing north before forking right into Craven Street by the Playhouse Theatre. It’s been a while since we had a West End theatre on our route and this one is a bit of an outlier stuck down here by the river. It opened for business in 1907, reconstructed from the ashes of the Avenue Theatre of 1882 which suffered extensive damage when part of the roof of Charing Cross Station collapsed on it in 1905. The interior was being remodelled at the time and sadly six workmen lost their lives. The Playhouse was used by the BBC as a studio from 1951 until the mid-Seventies when it fell into dereliction and was threatened with demolition before being rescued in the late 80’s.

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No.25 Craven Street has a blue plaque commemorating the Moby Dick writer Herman Melville (1819 – 1891). Inspired by the five years he spent as a seafarer, working on merchant ships and as an ordinary seaman in the US Navy, Moby Dick was published in 1851. In the UK it originally came out under the title The Whale in three separate volumes.

It was at this point that things went pear-shaped as described above and three weeks went past before I picked up where I left off.

Another one-time literary resident of Craven Street was the German poet, Heinrich Heine (1797 – 1856) who lived here in 1827 having left Germany to avoid the fallout from his latest work which contained a satire on German censorship.

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Next we head back under the railway through the Arches, first passing between the two halves of the Ship and Shovell pub. As I heard some chap ahead of me explain to his partner, this is the only pub in London divided in this way. The pub takes its name from the brilliantly-monickered 17th century admiral, Sir Cloudesley Shovell (so not a sanitising misprint).

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The Arches is also home to the iconic gay nightclub, Heaven, which opened in 1979 replacing a roller-disco called Global Village. The club has also played host to many live performances over the years including the first London gig by New Order in 1981.  Goth pioneers, Bauhaus were filmed here in 1982 performing their classic Belo Legosi’s Dead, footage of which was used in the Catherine Deneuve / David Bowie film The Hunger.

At the other end of the Arches we turn northward back up to Charing Cross Station. Charing Cross was opened by the South Eastern Railway in 1864. After the aforementioned roof collapse of 1905 it was extensively rebuilt, and at the same time the tube lines were constructed. The Charing Cross monument which stands in front of the station is an 1865 replica of one of the 12 Eleanor Crosses built by Edward I to mark the funeral route of his wife Eleanor of Castile who died in 1290. The original Charing Cross was demolished on the orders of Cromwell’s Parliament in 1647. By the 21st century the replica itself needed serious renovation work which was completed during 2009/10.

To the west of the station we turn south down Craven Street again then take a right along Corner House Street into Northumberland Street. Continuing south takes us past the Sherlock Holmes pub, which houses a collection of memorabilia relating to the eponymous detective that originally formed an exhibit of the 1951 Festival of Britain.  Whitbread, then owners of what was then called the Northumberland Arms, acquired the collection in 1957 and refurbished and renamed the pub to be its permanent home.

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We nip down Craven Passage to make a final visit to Craven Street, the section which contains at no.36 the 1730 built house where Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790) lived from 1757 to 1775. During this time Franklin’s main occupation was mediating unrest between Britain and America, but he also served as Deputy Postmaster for the Colonies and pursued his love of science (exploring bifocal spectacles, the energy-saving Franklin stove, inoculation, air baths and cures for the common cold).

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Having made the return trip along Craven Passage we head up the eastern side of Northumberland Avenue towards Trafalgar Square. No.18/21 is now the Citadines Hotel but it was built in 1934 as the headquarters of the Royal Commonwealth Society, “a meeting place for gentlemen interested in colonial and Indian affairs”. The building is unremarkable except for the pair of nude male statues supporting the balcony above the entrance and the keystone over the door which features a pair of mythical merlions, half lion half fish creatures that crop up in Etruscan and Indian art as well as Western heraldry. IMG_20180419_145803

On the corner with the Strand stands the Grand Buildings, a 1990’s redevelopment of the 1879 Grand Hotel which is adorned with carvings of endangered animals and human faces by sculptor Barry Baldwin.

And so we come to Trafalgar Square, created in the 1840’s and named in commemoration of victory against the French and Spanish in the naval Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. By this time the National Gallery, which we covered way back in Day 33, was already in situ on the north side. When its architect, William Wilkins, died in 1840 responsibility for the layout of the square was handed to Charles Barry (1795 – 1860). The final designs included a terraced area in front of the National Gallery, four sculptural plinths and two ornamental fountains at an estimated budget of £11,000. When construction work  began the earth removed was used to level Green Park. The hero of Trafalgar was of course Lord Horatio Nelson (1758 – 1805) and a memorial in his honour was planned as a separate project. A competition was held and won by the architect William Railton, who proposed a 218ft Corinthinan column topped by a statue of Nelson and guarded by four sculpted lions. The design was approved, but received widespread objections from the public. Construction still went ahead but with the height reduced to 145ft. The column was completed and the statue raised in November 1843. The four lions were only installed at the base in 1867 having been designed by Sir Edwin Landseer in collaboration with Baron Marochetti (a French sculptor ironically). The two plinths on the south side of the square are occupied by statues of General Sir Charles James Napier (1782 – 1853) and Major-General Sir Henry Havelock (1795 – 1857) both of whose reputations rest on their service during various campaigns in India. On that basis  the opprobrium that Ken Livingstone received when, in 2000, he suggested they be replaced by more familiar figures seems more than harsh.

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An equestrian statue of George IV stands on the plinth in the north-eastern corner while the fourth plinth in the north-west corner, which was originally reserved for a similar equestrian statue of William IV, was left empty right up until the end of the last century. Since 1998 it has been used to show specially commissioned works of art. By coincidence the latest such work, and the 12th in the series, was unveiled on the day of my aborted first excursion, 28 March 2018. The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist by Michael Rakowitz is a recreation of the statue of a Lamassu, a deity with a human head and the body of a winged bull, that guarded the ancient city of Nineveh (in modern day Iraq) and was destroyed by ISIS in 2015. Rakowitz’s sculpture is made from 10,500 empty Iraqi date syrup cans and is a welcome return to form following David Shrigley’s little admired giant erect thumb.

As you can probably tell the photos above were taken on that earlier date.

Across the road on the west side stands the Canadian High Commission which, on the latter date. was subject to additional security on account of President Trudeau’s attendance for the meeting of the Heads of Commonwealth. What came to be known as Canada House was built between 1824 and 1827 to designs by Sir Robert Smirke, the architect of the British Museum. The Canadians acquired the building in 1923. In 1993 their government of the time closed it as a cost-cutting measure but the succeeding government reversed that decision four years later and then got the Queen to officially re-open the building.

On the other side of Canada House in the apex of Pall Mall East and Cockspur Street is an equestrian statue of George III. The so-called “Mad King” presumably wasn’t deemed suitable for a starring role in the Square itself.

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On the other side of Cockspur Street, the Embassies of Brazil and Kazakhstan stand side by side, the former somewhat more imposing than the latter.

There’s a former Embassy at 21-24 Cockspur Street as well. Built at the time of the First World War with sculptural adornments by Louis Roselieb (later Roslyn) it became Norway House after the war. The name remains even though the Norwegians decamped to Belgrave Square in 1949.

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 Warwick House Street is another road to nowhere…

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….as is Cockspur Court which leads off from Spring Gardens by the side of the HQ of the British Council and the offices of NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence though why they don’t rename it the National Institute for Clinical Excellence to fit the acronym heaven knows).

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Anyway in front of this lovely building is a cut-through down onto the Mall right by Admiralty Arch. The Arch was commissioned by Edward VII in memory of his mother Queen Victoria. It was designed by Aston Webb and completed in 1912. The sculptural figures, Navigation and Gunnery, at the end of the two wings are the work of Thomas Brock. The building originally served as official residence for the First Sea Lord and later housed various government offices. In 2011 as part of the Cameron government’s austerity programme it was put up for sale and acquired (for a reported £75m) by a Spanish real estate developer who (well I’ll go to the foot of our stairs !) are currently converting it into a Luxury Hotel and Private Members’ club.

Turning left underneath the Arch we circle round the equestrian statue of Charles I which stands on its own separate island to the south of Trafalgar Square and head back down the west side of Northumberland Avenue.

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About half way down is the Nigerian High Commission which was under siege from marchers demonstrating for an independent Biafra. While familiar with the horrors of the Biafran War (1967 – 1970) I am ashamed to say I was unaware that the struggle for secession by the tiny home state of the Igbo people continues to this day.

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We continue to the end of Northumberland Avenue then turn right through Whitehall Gardens which are laid out in front of what is now the Royal Horseguards Hotel but was built as a block of luxury residential apartments, modelled in the style of a French chateau, in 1884 by the Liberal MP and property developer Jabez Balfour. The building’s construction was the centrepiece of an elaborate pyramid scheme fraud by Balfour, through the Liberator Building Society which he controlled. In 1892 the Society collapsed, leaving thousands of investors penniless.

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At the southern end of the gardens we turn west on Horse Guards Avenue then swing right into Whitehall Court which takes from the memorial to the Brigade of Gurkhas to the memorial to the Royal Tank Regiment on the junction with Whitehall Place.

We turn left up Whitehall Place the right into Scotland Place which leads out into Great Scotland Yard where the rear (and what became the public) entrance to the original headquarters of the Met Police is to be found. The Met was formed in 1829 with the passing of Robert Peel’s Metropolitan Police Act and took over 4 Whitehall Place, formerly a private house, as its base of operations. The commemorative blue plaque is sited at this front entrance. The Met expanded into several adjoining properties during the 19th century and then in 1890 moved to a new location on the Victoria Embankment (more of which later).

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Proceeding west (m’lud) on Great Scotland Street takes us onto Whitehall itself. Whitehall is of course synonymous with the upper echelons of the UK Civil Service and the first of many government departments residing here is the Department for International Trade, where I imagine they have their work quite cut out at the moment. Beyond the DIT and covering the entire block between Whitehall Place and Horse Guards Avenue is the Old War Office Building. This massive 1906 neo-Baroque edifice took five years to build at a then whopping cost of £1.2m. Its approximately 1,000 rooms spread across seven miles linked by 2.5 miles of corridors became the new home for the Imperial General Staff. The building was a focal point for military planning throughout the major conflicts of the 20th century, housing numerous secretaries of state, including Winston Churchill. When the War Office as an institution was abolished in 1964 the building continued to be used by the Ministry of Defence up until 2013 when it was announced that it would be put up for sale on the open market. It was acquired by the Hinduja Group and OHL Developments for more than £350m and I guess I really don’t need to spell out what they intend to do with it. You have to wonder though whether once the whole of central London has been turned into luxury hotels anyone will bother coming to patronise those hotels.

Next stop heading south down Whitehall is Banqueting House which Charles I appointed Inigo Jones to design and was completed in 1622. The USP of the Banqueting House is its carved and gilded ceiling containing 9 paintings by Rubens that were installed in 1636. Unfortunately the building was closed to visitors when I got there so you’ll have to visit the link above to see the ceiling in all its glory.

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Behind and extending beyond the Banqueting House lies the monolithic and more than a touch 1984-ish Ministry of Defence building. This covers the site where once stood the Palace of Whitehall, main residence of English Monarchs from 1530 to 1698 when most of the structures other than the Banqueting House were destroyed by fire. Subsequently it was occupied by Georgian townhouses a number of which were taken over as government offices. The decision to construct a new large-scale government building was taken as far back as 1909 but the outbreak of WW1 put the plans on hold. A new Neoclassical design of architect Vincent Harris was agreed in 1933 but work didn’t start until five years later and was halted again almost immediately by the onset of WW2. Construction recommenced after the war and in 1951 the Board of Trade moved into the completed northern end. It was another eight years before the Air Ministry occupied the southern end. When the MOD as we know it today was created in 1964 it took over the entire building. The northern portico entrance to the building, on Horse Guards Avenue, is flanked by two large statues, Earth and Water, each weighing 40 tonnes, by the sculptor Sir Charles Wheeler (1892 – 1974) who was also responsible for some of the fountain figures in Trafalgar Square. During the 1950s, building staff nicknamed the statues “Mr and Mrs Parkinson”, after Cyril Northcote Parkinson, the Board of Trade civil servant who devised Parkinson’s Law which states “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. More recent MOD staff refer to the statues as the “two fat ladies”.

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The southern entrance is on Richmond Terrace which is flanked on its other side by the Department of Health which occupies Richmond House the façade and wings of which date back to 1822.

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There are several more memorials in the section of Victoria Embankment Gardens behind the MOD including another statue of General Charles Gordon (1822 – 1885). Gordon’s heroic but ultimately doomed defence of Khartoum against the Muslim revolt of 1884 seized the Victorian popular imagination and his death, after nearly a year withstanding the siege, just two days before relief forces arrived led to an “unprecedented wave of public grief”.

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We’ll wrap things up for this time on the corner of Richmond Terrace and Victoria Embankment where you’ll find New Scotland Yard (or re-New Scotland Yard as it should probably be called). After leaving 4 Whitehall Place in 1890 the Met moved to a new building at this location on the Victoria Embankment which became known as New Scotland Yard. In 1906 and 1940 respectively two further buildings were added but by the Sixties even that wasn’t room enough for the burgeoning force and a new New Scotland Yard was built at 10 Broadway in Victoria opening in 1967. Then in 2014 (as we covered in Day 48) the Broadway building was sold to the Abu Dhabi Financial Group and two years later the Met returned to the Victoria Embankment moving into a redeveloped Curtis Green Building (the third building of the original New Scotland Yard). The new New Scotland Yard building was to have been opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 23 March 2017, but that same day it was announced that the Royal opening would be postponed, due to the preceding day’s terrorist attack at Westminster.

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Day 50 – The Mall – Waterloo Place – St James’s Park

The weather has put paid to any excursion attempts for the last couple of weeks but normal service is belatedly resumed with a meandering route taking in the western end of the St James’s district between Piccadilly and Pall Mall, then moving east around the area between Pall Mall and The Mall and finishing off with a circuit of St James’s Park. On the way we pay a visit to Waterloo Place which has the largest outdoor collection of statues to dead national heroes to be found in the capital. So if you’re a fan of the odd bronze memorial or ten stay tuned. And if you’re not stay tuned anyway for some nice photos of the wildfowl in the park at the end.

Day 50 Route

Starting point for today is once again Green Park tube but this time we’re heading south along the eastern edge of the park down Queen’s Walk. First of many historical buildings of note on today’s journey is Spencer House, built between 1756-1766 for John, first Earl Spencer, an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales. Designed by architect John Vardy it is proclaimed as London’s finest surviving eighteenth-century town house and was one of the very earliest examples of the ne-classical style. It’s open to the public but only on Sundays.

Occupying the corner position with the Mall, and largely obscured by trees, is Lancaster House. This was commissioned in 1825 by Frederick Hanover (a.k.a the Grand Old Duke of York), the favourite son of King George III – more of him later – so it was originally known as York House. Unfortunately for Freddie the paint was barely dry before he died. The house was acquired by the then Marquess of Stafford and renamed Stafford House. His family held on until 1913 when one Lord Leverhulme bought the lease for the nation and, perhaps, in a cheeky nod to the Wars of the Roses, changed the name again to Lancaster, after his home county. Today the building is run by The Foreign & Commonwealth Office and is regularly hired out as a film location for productions such as the King’s Speech and The Crown. Just ahead of Lancaster House is an alleyway by the name of Milkmaids Passage which is now closed off at both ends, presumably because there are no longer any milkmaids to pass through it.

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My arrival on the Mall happens to coincide with end of Buckingham Palace’s Changing of the Guard routine so I am able to follow the St James’s Palace detachment of the Old Guard as they return to their quarters accompanied by the 1st Battalion Irish Guards Corps of Drums & Pipes. This isn’t exactly a long march, just first left off the Mall up Marlborough Road and then left again into Friary Court (at the eastern end of St James’s Palace) for a final presentation of arms and dismissal.

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En route along the Mall we pass in front of Clarence House which is now the official residence of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall (so near yet so far from Buckingham Palace). Like the next door Lancaster House this was built in 1825-27 only the architect this time was John Nash and the prospective resident was Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence, 3rd son of George III and later to be King William IV. Like its neighbour and St James’s Palace, Clarence House is covered by Section 128 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) of 2005 which deals with Trespass on Protected Sites.

Opposite Friary Court on Marlborough Road, set into the garden wall of Marlborough House, is the Queen Alexandra Memorial, installed in 1932 in commemoration of the wife of King Edward VII. It was the last major work of Sir Alfred Gilbert (1854 – 1934), the man also responsible for the statue of Eros at Piccadilly Circus.

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As Marlborough Road joins with Pall Mall we head left along Cleveland Row which runs parallel with the north side of another Royal residence, St James’s Palace. SJP was largely built between 1531 and 1536 in the reign of Henry VIII. Much of the original red-brick building still survives today, including the Chapel Royal, the gatehouse, some turrets and two surviving Tudor rooms in the State apartments. It was here in 1558 that Mary Tudor signed the treaty surrendering Calais to the French and Elizabeth I was resident during the threat posed by the Spanish Armada and set out from St James’s to address her troops assembled at Tilbury. The last monarch to use this as a residence was the aforementioned William IV (whose successor Queen Victoria was the first to take occupancy of Buckingham Palace as we learned previously).

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Perhaps a little surprisingly, the building opposite, adjacent to Russell Court, is the Embassy of Sudan.

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From Cleveland Row we turn north then east along Little St James’s Street bypassing Catherine Wheel Yard and the back of Dukes Hotel.

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This takes us into St James’s Street, which like many of its neighbours as we reported last time out, is a bastion of niche, (let’s say) traditional emporia aimed at the refined gentleman (or possibly lady) about town. At no.3 is Berry Brothers & Rudd, Wine & Spirit Merchants and holders of two Royal Warrants courtesy of HM and Prince Charles. The shop was opened in 1698 by a lady known as the Widow Bourne, originally selling Coffee and exotic spices. During the 19th century, by which time the Berry family had taken over, the focus became more and more on wines and spirits eventually to the exclusion of all else though the “Sign of the Coffee Mill” remains outside to this day. While in exile in London during the 1830’s the future Napoleon III held secret meetings in no.3’s cellars and the Titanic sank in 1912 69 cases of the firm’s wines and spirits went with it.

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Just past Pickering Place on the same side of the street is another holder of two Royal Warrants (Phil & Charles this time), John Lobb Ltd., bootmakers, described by Esquire magazine as “the most beautiful shop in the world”.  Their premises at no.9 once housed the bachelor pad of Lord Byron. The original John Lobb started life as a Cornish farmboy but acquired shoemaking skills that eventually led to international recognition and Royal approval.

Further up still at no.19 is one of a number of cigar merchants on the street.  James J Fox was formed in Dublin in 1881 and opened its first tobacco shop in London in 1947. In 1992 it acquired the business of Robert Lewis whose family concern had begun trading fine tobacco in St James’s Street in 1787.

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At the top of St James’s Street we turn left on Piccadilly for just a block before heading south again down Arlington Street by the side of the Ritz Hotel. The Ritz opened in May 1906 having been conceived by the renowned hotelier Cesar Ritz whose aim was create the most luxurious hotel in England. After an indifferent start, the hotel eventually began to flourish thanks in good measure to the patronage of The Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) who was a loyal client of César Ritz and is reputed to have said; “Where Ritz goes, I go”.  The Aga Khan and Paul Getty had suites at the hotel, and Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower and Charles de Gaulle met in the Marie Antoinette Suite to discuss operations during the Second World War. It was reputed that The Ritz was the first hotel to allow young unmarried women to visit unchaperoned. Since 1995 the hotel has been owned by the controversial Barclay Twins who from their fiefdom on the Channel Island of Sark also run the Telegraph newspapers and, unlike the EU nationals that their papers vilify, allegedly pay just about sod all in tax to the British exchequer.

Across the road at no.5 is the one-time home of Sir Robert Walpole (1676 – 1745) generally regarded as de facto the first Prime Minister of this country and also the longest serving incumbent of that position (20 years during the reigns of George I and George II). His youngest son, Horace Walpole (1717 – 1797) took over the lease on the house upon his death. By comparison with his father, Horace had a less than glittering parliamentarian career hence the plaque’s rather nebulous description of him as a connoisseur and man of letters.

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From Arlington Street we return to St James’s Street via Benet Street then turn south down the west side of the former. At the end of Park Place sits the London clubhouse of the Royal Overseas League which refers to itself as a non-profit private members’ club dedicated to championing international friendship and understanding. Despite its Imperial inspirations when Sir Evelyn Wrench launched the Overseas Club, as it was initially called, in 1910 he drew up a ‘creed for membership’ which refreshingly for the time emphasised that the club was non-sectarian, non-party, open to women and non-jingoist. (The ROSL is the building in the background in the photograph below).

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Next cul-de-sac down is Blue Ball Yard which leads to the rear of the Stafford Hotel another grand 5-star establishment which celebrated its centenary in 2012. During World War II, The Stafford London served as a club for American and Canadian officers stationed overseas who sought refuge in the Wine Cellars. This transatlantic connection is reflected in the institution that is the American Bar and the flying of the Stars and Stripes alongside the Union Jack over the front entrance. The Carriage House in Blue Ball Yard was originally built as stables and was converted into luxury accommodation in the 1990’s.

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The front of the hotel is reached by swinging round St James’s Place which is the next turning off St James’s Street on the right. En route we pass three more plaques, two blue and one green. The former two are at no. 4 and no. 28 commemorating respectively, the house from which Frederic Chopin left to give his final public performance in 1848 and the residence of the statesman William Huskisson (1770 – 1830). Huskisson served during several parliamentary terms, including as Leader of the House of Commons and Secretary of State for War but, sadly for him, is best known for being the world’s first casualty of a train accident, having been run over and fatally wounded by Stephenson’s Rocket. The green plaque is at no.29 where Winston Churchill lived from 1880-1883.

We carry on down to the end of St James’s Street then retrace our steps down Marlborough Road to the Mall where we continue eastward past Marlborough House which is the headquarters of the Commonwealth of Nations and the seat of the Commonwealth Secretariat. The house was built in 1711 for Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough and a close friend of Queen Anne. It was yet another piece of work by Sir Christopher Wren, this time aided by his son. The Crown took it over for use as another Royal residence in 1817 and from 1853 to 1861 it housed the Royal College of Art, courtesy of Prince Albert’s patronage.

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Beyond Marlborough House we ascend the steps by the memorials to Queen Elizabeth II and her father King George VI.

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This takes us up to Carlton Gardens where we find the former home of Lord Horatio Kitchener (1850 – 1916). Kitchener is best known for winning the 1898 Battle of Omdurman which facilitated the reconquest of the Sudan after the ignominy of the siege of Khartoum and the annihilation of General Gordon’s forces in 1885. He also played a key role during the Boer Wars and was Secretary of State for War at the outset of WWI. He died in 1916 when HMS Hampshire, on which he was travelling to attend negotiations in Russia, struck a German mine.

No.4 Carlton Gardens was where General Charles de Gaulle (1890 – 1970) set up the headquarters of the Free French Forces in 1940. In a previous incarnation it was also another of the houses where Lord Palmerston lived. There’s a statue to De Gaulle on the other side of the street and given his staunch opposition to the UK joining the EU I couldn’t help but imagine I detected a bit of a smirk on those bronze lips.

Carlton Gardens meets Carlton House Terrace at the corner of Waterloo Gardens. The statue here is of George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 – 1925), Viceroy of India from 1899 to 1905 and failed Prime Ministerial candidate in 1923 (he was passed over in favour of Stanley Baldwin). His three daughters by his first wife were prominent and controversial figures during the 20’s and 30’s as documented in the book The Viceroy’s Daughters  which I can recommend.

The terraces of white stucco-faced houses that give Carlton House Terrace its name were built between 1827 and 1832 to designs by John Nash with input from other architects such as our old friend Decimus Burton. Current occupants of the terrace to the west of Waterloo Place include the Royal Academy of Engineering at no2. 3-4, the Turf Club at no.5 and the Royal Society at nos. 6-9 (this was once the German Embassy). The Royal Society is yet something else we have that man Christopher Wren at least partly to thank for. It was after a 1660 lecture given by Wren at Gresham College that a so-called ‘invisible college’ of natural philosophers and physicians first got together. Almost immediately this society received the approval of Charles II and his Royal Charter and by 1663 the name ‘The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge’ was established. To date there have been around 8,000 Fellows from Newton to Darwin to Einstein and beyond. Current Fellows include Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Richard Dawkins and Tim Berners-Lee. Up until this week that second list would have included the now sadly departed Stephen Hawking. If you get a chance to visit their Summer Exhibition which usually takes place at the start of July I can thoroughly recommend that as well. (The pictures of the interior below were taken during the 2106 exhibition).

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And so on to Waterloo Place, the southern end of which is dominated by the Duke of York column. As alluded to much earlier in this post, the column was erected as a memorial to the favourite son of King George III, Prince Frederick (the Grand Old Duke of York remember). The column is made from Aberdeenshire granite and was designed by Benjamin Dean Wyatt. It’s one centimetre shy of 42m in height and there is a spiral staircase of 168 steps inside that leads to a viewing platform that has been closed to the public for several decades. It would be something of an understatement to say that Frederick was a controversial figure – not many people have inspired a nursery rhyme commemorating their disastrous record on the battlefield. A womaniser and gambler, Frederick once drank and gambled his way through £40,000 in one year. He also found himself in serious trouble when one of his mistresses, Mary Clarke, admitted to having sold commissions to would-be army officers. Fortunately for him the House of Commons accepted his plea of ignorance and he was cleared of corruption charges.

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As I already noted, Waterloo Place, is a must-see destination for anyone who’s a fan of statues and monuments but I suspect that’s a rather small subset of the population so, for the sake of the rest of you, I’m not going to linger over any of them. Starting on the west side for now and moving south to north we have Field Marshal Sir John Fox Burgoyne (1782-1781) followed by Rear Admiral Sir John Franklin (1786 – 1847) and then Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Rodney Park (1892 – 1975). One from each of the armed services basically. And across the road in the middle of the place is the equestrian statue of Edward VII.

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Just north of Waterloo Gardens is the very grandiose-looking Athenaeum Club. It perhaps comes as no surprise that the architect of this extravagant piece of neo-classicism was once again the young Decimus Burton. Construction began in 1824, the year the Club was founded by John Wilson Croker as a meeting place for men who ‘enjoy the life if the mind’ (women were finally admitted in 2002). The frieze around the outside is a copy of the then recently rescued/stolen (depending on your point of view) Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon. It was executed by John Henning, a leading sculptor of the day, at a cost of over £2,000 which was about 5% of the entire budget for the building. Today the majority of the members of the Athenaeum are professionals concerned with science, engineering or medicine but the clergy, lawyers, writers and artists are also represented. A total of 52 past and present members have been the recipient of a Nobel Prize.

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At the north end of Waterloo Place we turn east along Charles II Street and then north up St Alban’s Street which leads past Carlton Street into St James’s Market. The St James’s Market Pavilion is currently showcasing an audio/visual exhibit (narrated by Stephen Fry) which tells the story of The Handsome Butcher of St James’s Market, a ballad written around 1790.

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Norris Street takes us into Haymarket where we drop south back to Charles II Street and then stroll through the Royal Opera Arcade to Pall Mall.

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A westward turn then brings us back to Waterloo Place and those remaining statues and memorials. In the square to the north of Pall Mall we have the Guards Crimean War Memorial  created by sculptor John Bell. Immediately in front of that on the left is Florence Nightingale (1820 -1910), nursing heroine of the Crimean War of course, and on the right a pensive-looking Sidney Herbert (1810 – 1961) who was her friend and confidant and Secretary of State for War during the Crimean conflict.

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Crossing over Pall Mall we pass, on the corner, the home of those cheerleaders for free market capitalism, the Institute of Directors. The IOD was founded in 1903 and moved into the Grade I Listed, John Nash designed, 116 Pall Mall in 1978.

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We now pass down the eastern side of Waterloo Place where the three honoured heroes of the nation are : Captain Robert Falcon Scott (1868 – 1912) the ill-fated “Scott of the Antarctic” who reached the South Pole five weeks after the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, got there first and, unlike Amundsen, failed to survive the return journey; Field Marshal Colin Campbell, 1st Baron Clyde (1792 – 1863), who managed to make it unscathed through the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny and the two Opium Wars; and John Laird Mair Lawrence (1811 – 1879) who was Viceroy of India in the             1860’s.

Turning left after the  last of these we enter the eastern section of Carlton House Terrace. Nos, 10-11 house the British Academy. Not to be confused with BAFTA this is the national academy for the humanities and social sciences – if you follow the link you can see which fields that encompasses but it definitely doesn’t include those upstarts Film and Television. No. 11 was also one of the many places where William Gladstone resided.

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No.12 is The Institute of Contemporary Arts (better known as just the ICA) though the public entrance for exhibitions, cinema, bookshop etc. is on the Mall which also holds true for the Mall Galleries which occupies no.17 (and pretty much the opposite end of the artistic spectrum). Nos. 13-15 are owned by the Hinduja Brothers, Indian industrial magnates the eldest two of whom are reputed to be the wealthiest men in Britain, £16.2bn between them if you really want to know,

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At the end of this stretch of Carlton House Terrace we descend the steps leading off to the south which take us down onto the Mall again. Turning right we pass the Graspan Royal Marines Memorial which commemorates the Royal Marines who died in the Boxer Rebellion and the Second Boer War.

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Since I’d never been in the Mall Galleries before I thought I’d better take a look. As I already knew, this celebrates those artists whose practice focuses on traditional media and technical proficiency rather than innovation and conceptual ideas. Nothing wrong with that but it’s not really for me. One of the current exhibitions did however include a painting of the Woodentops so brownie points for that.

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The ICA, on the other hand, I’ve visited countless times. You can always get a decent cocktail in the bar even if you don’t like the exhibition. On this occasion I popped in to buy a cinema ticket for the late afternoon screening of Ladybird – a bargain at £6. The ICA was founded in 1947 by Roland Penrose, Peter Watson, Herbert Read, Peter Gregory, Geoffrey Grigson and E. L. T. Mesens in 1947 who wanted to establish a space where artists, writers and scientists could debate ideas outside the traditional confines of the Royal Academy. It has occupied this site on the Mall, Nash House, since 1968. The ICA has always tried to push the envelope where artistic expression is concerned – in 1986   Helen Chadwick’s artwork, Carcass, consisting of a stinking pile of rotting vegetables, had to be removed after complaints from neighbours and a visit by health inspectors and in 1994 artist Rosa Sanchez installed a video camera in the men’s toilets to relay live images of urinating visitors.

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And so finally we cross over the Mall into St James’s Park. This is the oldest of London’s Royal Parks and takes its name from a thirteenth century leper hospital which was the first human intervention into the space. In 1532 Henry VIII acquired the site as yet another deer park and it continued as a private royal playground until Charles II had it made over with lawns and tree lined avenues and opened it to the public. It was later redesigned again by John Nash with the canal being transformed into the lake we see today. In 1837 the ancestors ( I like to think) of the wildfowl that inhabit the lake were introduced by the Ornithological Society of London who also had a birdkeeper’s cottage built. I’ve got into a bit of the old twitching (or birding) of late so I was pleased to be able to identify most of the feathered residents.

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I realise that we’re already getting into War and Peace territory in terms of word count but we’ve just got a small section south of the park to tidy up then we’re done. Birdcage Walk (named after the Royal Menagerie & Aviary from the time of Charles I) runs from Buckingham Palace along the south side of the park. The Wellington Barracks front onto a good part of its length. The Barracks is home to the Foot Guards battalion which shares  guard duty for Buckingham Palace with the regiment stationed at St James’s Palace.

Beyond the Barracks we turn right into Queen Anne’s Gate. After an initial pedestrian-only section this splits three ways and we take the eastward option. No.26 was once home to the politician, lawyer and philosopher, Lord Richard Burdon Haldane (1856 – 1928) and no.20 is the house where Lord Palmerston was born in 1784. There are blue plaques at 14 and 16 as well but I won’t detain you with those since far more exciting is the fact that no.15 stood in as the home of Lord Brett Sinclair the character played by (the sadly missed) Roger Moore in The Persuaders (still the greatest theme tune in the history of television). No.15 also stands on one side of the statue of Queen Anne herself which has been in situ here since at least 1708. At the end of the street we double back and then head south down Carteret Street which takes us to the familiar territory of Tothill Street and Broadway which on a westerly trajectory link up with the north-south section of Queen Annes’s Gate. Returning to where we came from we make our final stop of the day outside no.40 which between 1814 and 1831 was the home of father and son philosophers James Mill (1773 – 1836) and (the more well known) John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873). The latter, in particular, had an enormous influence on the development of social and political theory in the 19th century. He was an advocate of Jeremy Bentham’s theory of utilitarianism, in crude terms, “the greatest good of the greatest number” and a strong defender of the principle of free speech. He was also the first Member of parliament to publicly call for Women’s Suffrage – an appropriate note to end on in this anniversary year.

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Day 49 – Piccadilly – St James’s Square – Pall Mall

First excursion of the year and not a long one but this small area between Piccadilly and Pall Mall (yellow to pink on the Monopoly board) is rich in historical and social significance. From Fortnum and Mason to the Royal Automobile Club, St James’s (where nearly 50% of the property is owned by the Crown Estate) still clings to an aura of privilege and old money. It also contains the former residences of two women who, in very different ways, have played an important role in shaping the evolution of this country – Ada Lovelace and Nancy Astor.

Day 49 Route

Starting point today is St James’s Church on Piccadilly. This was consecrated in 1684 having been built to the order of Henry Jermyn, Earl of St Albans to the serve the new residential development of St James’s Square. And wouldn’t you know it but the architect was the ubiquitous Christopher Wren accepting a rare gig outside of the City of London. The reredos and the marble font were created by master carver of the age, Grinling Gibbons (there’s a forename that’s ripe for revival surely). And that font was where William Blake was baptised in December 1757. St James’s is well known as a classical music venue and I was fortunate enough that my visit coincided with a lunchtime recital by the prizewinning Greek pianist, Konstantinos Destounis. The church is also very actively involved in highlighting social and political issues and is currently host to Suspended, an installation by artist Arabella Dorman which highlights the plight of refugees attempting to flee from persecution and famine to the safety of European shores.

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We exit the church onto Jermyn Street, turn left and then return to Piccadilly via Church Place. Heading east towards Piccadilly Circus we pass Waterstones flagship store which occupies the Grade I listed building that came into being in 1936 as Simpsons of Piccadilly, at the time the largest menswear store in Britain. The building was designed by the modernist architect, Joseph Pemberton (1889 – 1956) and much of the interior was the work of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895 – 1946), one of the most influential professors at the Bauhaus school of art in 1920’s Berlin.

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A right turn down Eagle Place takes us back onto Jermyn Street where we continue east onto Regent Street St James’s (or Regent Street South if you’re pushed for time). The Lumiere London art festival had taken place the previous weekend and the area around Piccadilly had featured several of the installations, including this light projection onto the old Swan & Edgar building.

We drop down to the end of Regent Street St James’s where no. 1 with its ornate carved frontage, home of the Greek restaurant Estiatorio Milos, stands on the corner with Charles II Street.

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Charles II Street runs west into St James’s Square.  As already mentioned the square was laid out in the late 17th century by Henry Jermyn, the 1st Earl of St Albans one of the most influential courtiers of the Restoration period. The houses on the square quickly became some of the most desirable properties in London and by the 1720’s seven dukes and seven earls were among the residents. A century or so later the clubhouses arrived and the square lost a bit (but only a bit) of its cachet. Turning right to proceed anticlockwise around the square we pass the BP head office at no. 1, a turn of the 21st century building they acquired in 2001. The original house at no.3 next door was owned by at least three separate dukes at different times but was replaced in the 1930’s by this office block.

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Then at no.4 we have an original Georgian House built 1726-28 by Edward Shepherd and the only one on the square to retain its garden and mews house at the rear. It is now the Naval and Military Club but was once one of the homes of Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor (1879 – 1964) the first woman to sit as an MP in the House of Commons. Nancy Witcher Langthorne Astor, to give her her full name, was an American citizen who moved to Britain at the age of 26 when she married, for the second time, to Waldorf Astor heir to the massive fortune of the Astor family with its origins in the 18th century US fur trade and New York real estate. Their primary home was the 375 acre Cliveden Estate in Buckinghamshire, a wedding gift from Waldorf’s father. Waldorf had enjoyed a promising political career prior to WW1 but when he succeeded his father’s peerage to become the 2nd Viscount Astor he was automatically shunted off to the House of Lords. This left the way open for Nancy to contest the vacant seat and she duly won the November 1919 by-election. She was in actual fact not the first woman to be elected to parliament, that milestone was achieved by Constance Markievicz in 1918 but as she was an Irish Republican she was barred from taking her seat. I think it’s fair to say that Lady Astor’s success is now viewed as purely a symbolic one. Her political accomplishments were largely negligible although she remained an MP until 1945.  Her personal ideology was also pretty suspect in many ways – she had not been a strong advocate of women’s suffrage and held strong anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic views. However, while she and many of her circle were in favour of appeasement suggestions that the “Cliveden set” were pro-fascist appear to be exaggerated.

Across the road from no.4, just outside the gardens, is a memorial to WPC Yvonne Fletcher who on 17 April 1984, at the age of 25, was killed by a shot from the Libyan People’s Bureau (Embassy) which at the time occupied no.5. WPC Fletcher was on duty monitoring a demonstration against the Gaddafi regime, eleven of the participations in which were also wounded. Although diplomatic relations between the UK and Libya were severed no-one was ever brought to account for the murder. Two years later US fighter planes conducted bombing raids on Libya having taken off from UK air bases with the acquiescence of Margaret Thatcher.

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We leave the square temporarily via Duke of York Street off to the right of which is the now (thanks to the eponymous book and TV series) infamous Apple Tree Yard. You’d be hard pushed to find anywhere quite so unappealing as a venue for a spot of alfresco hanky-panky but then that’s probably the point. Though I’m pretty certain the scenes in the TV series weren’t actually filmed here anyway. The yard’s other claim to fame is that it was home to the office where Sir Edwin Lutyens designed the enclave of New Delhi (within the metropolis of Delhi) to replace Calcutta as the seat of the British Colonial Government in 1912. This was marked in 2015 by the installation of a sculptural work in granite by the artist Stephen Cox.

Back on Duke of York Street it’s a short hop up to Jermyn Street again for a quick eastward foray to tick off Babmaes Street before retracing our steps to Ormond Yard which is opposite Apple Tree Yard and ends in a small passage that cuts through To Mason’s Yard. Bang in the middle of Mason’s Yard is the White Cube Gallery which was constructed here on the site of an old electricity subs-station (and is the first free-standing structure to be built in the historic St James’s area for more than 30 years). In its architectural style the White Cube aims for a spot of nominative determinism though White Orthotope would be nearer the mark (this is also true of its sister gallery, White Cube Bermondsey). It’s a good old space inside and usually showcasing something worth a visit. Current exhibition by Korean artist, Minjung Kim, which just opened today is a case in point.

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To the west Mason’s Yard leads out onto Duke Street St James’s where we head south as far as King Street which takes us east back to St James’s Square. This time we go clockwise round the square (if you see what I mean). First stop is no. 16 which was formerly the East India Club and displays a black plaque commemorating the official dispatch of the news of the victory at Waterloo carried by Major Henry Percy. After initial delivery to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for War at Grosvenor Square, Major Percy continued on to this address to lay two captured French Imperial Eagles before the Prince Regent who was attending a soirée here.

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At no. 14 is the London Library the world’s largest independent library created at the instigation of Thomas Carlyle (who objected to some of the policies of the British Museum Library). It opened in 1841 and moved to St James’s Square four years later. Alfred Lord Tennyson served as President, from 1855 to 1892, as did T.S. Eliot who, on his appointment in 1952, declared  “whatever social changes come about, the disappearance of the London Library would be a disaster to civilisation”. Today the library is home to over a million books covering more than 2,000 subjects and stored on 17 miles of shelves. Membership costs £525 a year.

Next door at no.13. is the only Embassy on the square – the High Commission of Cyprus.

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Turning the corner onto the north side we reach, at no.12, the former residence of the other woman I mentioned in the preamble, Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace (1815 – 1852) better known, simply, as Ada Lovelace. Part of Ada’s fame rests upon the fact that she was the only legitimate child of Lord Byron – by his wife Annabella Milbanke, Lady Wentworth. But far more important than that is her contribution to the fields of mathematics and science. As a teenager, Ada’s mathematical prowess, led her to form what came to be a long working relationship and friendship with Charles Babbage (1791 – 1871) the man who first came up with the concept of the computer, or Analytical Engine as he called it. However it was Ada who recognized that such a machine could have potential applications beyond pure calculation and published the first program intended to be carried out by the “computing machine”. For this she is regarded by many as effectively the world’s first computer programmer. Her personal life though was not a happy one; her relationships with men were fraught and complicated and she took to gambling with disastrous results – losing more than £3,000 on the horses in her early thirties. And she was always haunted by her father who had to all intents and purposes abandoned her at birth. In any event she never saw him again during his eight remaining years of life. But when Ada died of uterine cancer at the age of 36, the same age Byron had been, she was buried, at her request, next to him at the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire.

Two doors further along at no.10 is Chatham House aka the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the world-famous independent policy institute. In 1919 British and American delegates to the Paris Peace Conference, under the leadership of Lionel Curtis, conceived the idea of an Anglo-American Institute of foreign affairs to study international problems with a view to preventing future wars. In the event, the British went ahead on their own, founding the British Institute of International Affairs in July 1920. Chatham House is immortalised for originating the Chatham House Rule – When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed. Or, more succinctly, “what’s said in the room stays in the room”. No.10 (appropriately enough) is also celebrated for being the home at various times of three separate British Prime Ministers – William Pitt the Elder (PM from 1766-68), Edward Stanley, Earl of Derby (PM for just 299 days in 1852 and 1 year and 243 days between 1866 and 1868) and William Ewart Gladstone (PM for most of the 2nd half of the 19th century).

See what I mean, just this one corner of the square has elicited the best part of 1,000 words. Anyway, once past no.10, we turn south through the middle of the gardens. In the centre is an equestrian statue of William III erected in 1808 and at the southern end is a small pavilion with a memorial to architect John Nash (we’ve met him more than once on previous journeys) who supervised the design and layout of the gardens.

Back on the east side of the square is no.31, Norfolk House, which was U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s headquarters during World War II, and where Operation Torch and Operation Overlord were planned.

We leave the square again briefly, exiting onto Pall Mall from the south-east corner. Across the road is the Royal Automobile Club, founded in 1897 by Frederick Richard Simms with the primary purpose of promoting the motor car and its place in society. The Royal part of the monicker was granted by King Edward VII in 1907 (Victoria would have had no truck with these new-fangled automobile things). Today it’s a glorified private members’ (including women) club with Edwardian Turkish baths that were renovated in 2003–4, an Italian marble swimming pool, squash courts (including a doubles court), a snooker room, three restaurants, two bars, and a fully equipped business centre. It is now completely divorced from the motoring services group, the RAC, which it once owned.

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We head back into the square for a final time past another bastion of London clubland (of the cigars and brandy rather than ecstasy and glo-stick variety), the Army and Navy Club. This one has been around since 1837 and its first patron was the Duke of Wellington and the current one is the Queen – nuff said. The club is colloquially known as ‘the Rag’ – if you want to know why check out the link. I think I need to move swiftly on before I go all champagne socialist.

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We leave the square for the final time back along King Street heading west. On the north side is the global HQ of fine art auctioneers, Christie’s, where they have been since 1823.

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On the south side we pass Cleveland Place and Rose & Crown Yard before taking the next turning, Angel Court. The following picture is of the middle of those three and I took it and flipped it to b&w purely on account of the striking quality of the mannequin figure in the window.

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On the corner of Angel Court and King Street, the Golden Lion pub occupies the site where the St James’s Theatre, which staged the first performances of Oscar Wilde’s two best known plays, once stood. Further down Angel Court is a set of, now rather forlorn looking, commemorative reliefs by E. Bainbridge Copnall. The reliefs were commissioned for the office block that replaced the theatre, which was demolished itself in 1986.

Back on Pall Mall we head east initially along the north side then double back west on the south side. Pall Mall was constructed in 1661 and takes it’s name from the game of pall-mall which was a bit similar to croquet and was introduced to England by James I. London’s first pall-mall court was built in St James’s Field where St James’s Square now stands. As we return along the south side we pass no.82 which is adorned with a blue plaque marking this as a former residence of the artist Thomas Gainsborough (1727 – 1788) and no.80 which has one noting that Nell Gwynne (1650 – 1687) once lived in a house on the site. And at no.71 is the Oxford and Cambridge Club where. I imagine, the real metropolitan elite meet and greet.

We switch back northwards up Crown Passage which, if you ignore the rubbish bags, has a charming touch of the olde-worlde about it…

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…there’s even a Milliner’s for goodness’ sake (that’s someone who makes hats in case there happens to be anyone under the age of forty reading)

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So now we’re back on King Street from where a quick right then left takes us into Bury Street. The area of St James’s is particularly known for its galleries. Not the sort I tend to frequent that show contemporary art (though as we’ve seen there are a couple of those) but the ones that specialise in just about every niche in the fine arts and antiques firmament – from old masters to maps to Japanese art and armour and weaponry as you can see below.

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We turn east off Bury Street along Ryder Street back to Duke Street St James’s where we continue north and then turn the corner into Jermyn Street past the Cavendish Hotel. In its present form The Cavendish is a particularly unlovable example of 1960’s concrete pragmatism. Its predecessor was built in the early 1800’s, taking on the Cavendish name in 1836. In 1902 the Cavendish was bought by one Rosa Lewis (1867 -1952), who had worked her way up from kitchen maid (aged 12) to be head chef of the Duc d’orleans at Sandhurst. She was also engaged as a dinner-party cook by Lady Randolph Churchill, the Asquiths and many of the hostesses who entertained Edward VII. Rosa originally put her husband, the grandly named ex-butler Excelsior Tyrel Chiney Lewis, and his sister Laura in charge of the hotel. But within two years their spending and his drinking were out of control so Rosa divorced him and threw the pair of them out. Once she was in charge the hotel flourished and expanded. She was known for her generous spirit – allowing impoverished WW1 military officers to stay for free at the hotel for example – and Evelyn Waugh described her as warm hearted, comic and a totally original woman. She continued to dress in Edwardian style and enjoyed a grandiose and majestic decline from 1918 to 1952. Her life was the inspiration for the 1970’s TV series, “The Duchess of Duke Street” (with Gemma Jones in the title role) as is recognized by a Westminster Council commemorative plaque.

After a couple of blocks we make our way back to Piccadilly up Princes Arcade which continues the area’s general theme of old fashioned luxury. Opposite the entrance to the arcade at no.87 Jermyn Street is another of those old London County Council blue plaques marking this as the home of Sir Isaac Newton. Newton actually lived in the building that was knocked down in 1915 but the plaque had been installed seven years prior to that and so was taken down a re-fixed to the new building.

On reaching Piccadilly again we turn left to get to Hatchards the UK’s oldest bookshop. John Hatchard opened the store at 173 Piccadilly in 1797 and moved it to (what is now) 187 in 1801. The store has three Royal Warrants and is now owned by Waterstone’s.

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Since that move in 1801, Hatchards has been neighbour to Fortnum & Mason which preceded it in opening on Piccadilly by nearly a hundred years. It was 1707, to be exact, when Hugh Mason and William Fortnum set up shop at no.181 and it all began with them selling off Queen Anne’s half-used candle wax. In 1738, by which time it was established as one of the most prominent grocery stores on the capital, Fortnum and Mason’s invented the Scotch Egg while brainstorming ideas for food that travellers could eat on the go. In 1851 Fortnum’s won first prize as importers of dried fruits and dessert goods at London’s Great Exhibition and in 1886 became the first grocer’s in Britain to stock Heinz baked beans. In 1911 they sent hampers to the suffragettes who had been imprisoned for breaking their windows and they provided the 1922 Everest expedition with, amongst other things, 60 tins of quail in foie gras and four dozen bottles of champagne (amazing that they didn’t reach the summit with that to fortify them). The famous clock on the storefront was installed in 1964 and its bells come from the same foundry that produced Big Ben. The only record that F&M have ever sold is Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas ?” These days Fortnum’s is more of a tourist destination than anything. There are no doubt still a few members of the landed gentry that pop up to town to stock up on comestibles and haberdashery but I didn’t see very many while doing the rounds. Since I mentioned it earlier I should also note that the selling of foie-gras was the subject of a PETA campaign in 2010 that was supported by a number of high-profile celebrities.

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We exit the store (purchase-free) onto Duke Street and at the end of the block turn west for a final visit to Jermyn Street. Outside the Piccadilly Arcade is a statue to the Georgian “dandy” Beau Brummel (1778 – 1840). Poor old Beau’s not looking quite so dandy-ish at the moment having been boxed in by the workmen repairing the street.

Jermyn Street has historically been second only to Savile Row in term of catering to the sartorial needs of the discerning London gentleman-about-town but these days it seems to consist mainly of branches of T.M Lewin. So I was pleased to finally encounter one of the few remaining proper old-style independent outfitters on the corner with the top of Bury Street.

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And that’s just about it. From Bury Street we turn right to make the western section of Ryder Street our last call of the day and I’ll leave you wondering, like me, what story lies behind this intriguing shot.

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Day 48 – Victoria Street – Buckingham Gate – Broadway

A relatively short walk this one, especially since the first part of it actually took place at the end of Day 47. That took us from Victoria Station back up to the southern side of Buckingham Palace then down Buckingham Gate and a westward loop ending up on Palace Street. Day 48 proper takes us east from that point covering most of the area around St James’ Park tube station between Birdcage Walk and Victoria Street.

Day 48 Route

Just outside the perimeter of the small triangular garden across Buckingham Palace Road from Victoria Station stands a statue of Marshal Ferdinand Foch (1851 – 1929) the French general who led his country’s forces in World War One and was appointed as Allied Commander-In-Chief in March 1918. Foch was an advocate of imposing the most draconian of peace terms on the defeated Germans; far more so than those eventually agreed in the Treaty of Versailles. As the treaty was being signed he declared “This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years”. Although those words proved prophetic historians generally tend towards the view that the rise of National Socialism can be in large part attributable to the armistice terms being overly harsh rather than too lenient as Foch believed. Foch was made a British Field Marshal 1919.

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Heading north up Buckingham Palace Road we cross over Victoria Street and then turn left down Eaton Lane. On reaching Beeston Place we turn right then right again to arrive at Victoria Square. The small garden at the heart of this contains a statue of the eponymous monarch, depicting her in her younger days. This was commissioned from the artist Catherine Anne Laugel and installed in 2007. Former residents of the square include Ian Fleming, Michael Portillo and Mike Oldfield. Casino Royale, the first of Fleming’s Bond novels, was published shortly after he took up residence.

On the other side of Victoria Square we cross over Buckingham Palace Road again and enter one of the many new retail and leisure developments that have sprung up in this area in recent times. This one is constructed around Sir Simon Milton Square, named after the one-time leader of the Tory-run Westminster City Council. The artwork below is Places for Nova by Saad Qureshi and was installed in 2017.

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At the north end of the square we emerge onto Bressenden Place and, having done an eastward circuit of this, continue north into Warwick Row. An alleyway at the end leads into Palace Place which links to Palace Street. Here we turn right and then left up Stafford Place and then another alleyway brings us back onto Buckingham Palace Road. Turn right up to the south eastern corner of Buck House and then right again down Buckingham Gate. At no.15 is a blue plaque commemorating the Diplomat, Poet, Traveller and Founder of the Crabbett Park Stud, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (1840 – 1922). Blunt was married to Lady Anne Noel, the daughter of Ada Lovelace and, therefore, granddaughter of Lord Byron, until his unabashed philandering led to their legal separation in 1906. The Stud which they had founded together in 1878 was stocked with the first Arabian horses to be brought to England.

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A little way further down is the High Commission of Swaziland which occupies a late 19th century building designed by Reginald Blomfield and featuring sculpture-work by Henry Pegram.

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We next make a left-turn into Wilfred Street then make a figure of eight involving that along with Catherine Place, Palace Street and Buckingham Place. We end up back on Palace Street just north of Westminster City School.

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We head back east from here along Castle Lane. The tenement blocks on either side of the street were originally built in 1882 to provide accommodation at the nearby Watney’s Stag Brewery (demolished in 1959). In more recent times the properties had been used as a homeless shelter but have stood empty since their purchase in 2010 by Land Securities. The original proposal to refurbish the blocks to provide 63 affordable homes as a quid-pro-quo for receiving planning permission for the conversion of a nearby office building into luxury flats has now been shelved and it looks likely that the Castle Lane properties will now be developed into upscale townhouses instead.

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At the eastern end of Castle Lane, on the corner with Buckingham Gate, stands Westminster Chapel. The chapel was opened in 1865 as a Congregational church with seating capacity for 1,500. It was designed by William Ford Poulton (1822 – 1901) in a Lombard Romanesque Revival style. The auditorium is almost oval-shaped with two tiers of galleries. The church is now part of the evangelical Commission family of churches which means, as explained to me by the young man who kindly let me into the building for a look around, that they follow the text of the Bible very closely and have a far less liberal approach to matters such as the role of women than moral capitulators like the Baptists. This statement of one of their key values will give you an idea of what lies behind the happy-clappy outward persona “A church where Biblical family life is highly valued, where husband and wife embrace male servant leadership and joyful female submission, where godly parenting is taught and practised, and where the special value of singleness and its unique opportunities are affirmed.”

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Continuing down Buckingham Gate we reach the St James’ Court hotel, the work of Victorian architect C.J Chirney Pawley, which first opened its doors in 1902. In 1982 the hotel was acquired by the Indian Hotels Company Ltd (now Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces) owned by the Tata family who established the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Bombay (also at the turn of the 20th century) and who are best known in this country for acquirng both the remnants of British Steel and the Tetley tea company.

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Beyond the hotel we make a right turn down Spencer Street and then, blocked off by another construction site, take Seaforth Place down on to Victoria Street. Head west initially as far as the junction with Palace Street and then double back to the bottom of Buckingham Gate. On the corner here stands the Grade II listed pub, The Albert, built in 1862 by the Artillery Brewery and still in possession of its original Victorian façade. It was built on the site of an earlier pub named The Blue Coat Boy after the nearby charity school (which we shall come to very shortly).

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The Bluecoat (or Blewcoat) School was founded in 1688 by voluntary subscription as a charity for the education of the male offspring of the poor. It moved into purpose-built premises in the apex of Brewer’s Green, Caxton Street and Buckingham Gate in 1709 and from five years after this date also began to teach girls. It remained in use as a school until 1926 and was purchased by the National Trust in 1954. In 2013 fashion designer Ian Stuart was granted permission to refurbish the interior to house his bridal and evening gown collections.

Having circumnavigated the old school building we continue to retrace our steps up Buckingham Gate before shifting east into Petty France. The name is thought to derive from the settlement of French Huguenot refugees in the area in the 17th century (Petty being a corruption of Petit). From the second half of the 18th century until 1925, when the earlier name was restored, the street was called York Street after the son of George II (the Duke of York). On the north side is the exceptionally unattractive rear side of the Wellington Barracks (though not altogether out of keeping with some of the other buildings nearby).

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Once past the barracks we turn south down Vandon Passage which leads into Vandon Street which in turn curves round back to Caxton Street. From here we head east as far as Palmer Street then turn north back to Petty France, emerging opposite the equally unlovely building that houses the Ministry of Justice and Crown Prosecution Service.

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We carry on going east to the roundabout from where Petty France turns into Broadway and where St James’ Park tube station sits beneath the monolithic 55 Broadway. This imposing and, frankly, totalitarian-looking product of the late 1920’s was designed by Charles Holden (1875 – 1960) and won him the RIBA London Architecture Medal in 1931. It was built as a new HQ for the Underground Electric Railways Company (UERL) of London the forerunner of London Underground which still occupies the building today (they were due to move to new premises in the Olympic Park in 2015 but this still hasn’t happened at the time of writing). When it was completed the building was the tallest office block in the city. The sculptural artwork on the building’s exterior includes works by Eric Gill and Jacob Epstein (1880 – 1959). At the time it was the latter’s prominently sited figures, Day and Night, which provoked public opprobrium and a newspaper campaign that almost cost the UERL managing director, Frank Pick, his job. In the end the naked figure on the Day sculpture had 1.5 inches taken off his little chap and the outcry eventually died down. Ironically, these days it is Gill’s work that causes consternation in the light of posthumous revelations about his public life. 55 Broadway was originally Grade II listed in 1970 and upgraded to Grade I in 2011.

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We cut through the building and emerge the other side on St Ermin’s Hill which leads out onto the north-south running stretch of Broadway (about as far removed from its New York namesake as you can imagine). Turning right back onto Caxton Street we pass the St Ermin’s Hotel, nicely done out for Christmas.

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And a short way further on come to the Caxton Hall which was designed in 1878 by William Lee and F.J Smith and built using red brick and pink sandstone. It was originally the Westminster Town Hall on opening in 1883 and has since hosted a variety of political and artistic events. It was also the registry office of choice for high society and celebrity civil weddings from the end of WWII up to 1979. Those who married there during that period included Elizabeth Taylor (to husband no.2 Michael Wilding), Donald Campbell (twice), Diana Dors (twice), Peter Sellers (to Miranda Quarry), Orson Welles, Roger Moore, Joan Collins, a couple of Beegees and Anthony Eden (to Winston Churchill’s niece). Going back to the political events these ran the full gamut from the first Pan-African Conference in 1900 and the hosting of the Suffragette Movement’s “Women’s Parliament” to the founding of the National Front in 1967. In light of all this it seems a bit feeble that the green plaque outside merely refers to the fact that Churchill made a few speeches here during the war. The building was redeveloped as apartments and offices in 2006.

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Take the bottom section of Palmer Street down to Victoria Street with a brief detour into Butler Place which is where the branch of Lloyds that holds my account is even though all the correspondence comes from Chelmsford. Heading east again on Victoria Street there is another massive ongoing development; this time if the former site of New Scotland Yard. The Met took up shop here in 1967 and bought the freehold of the building in 2008. Then in 2013 they announced that 10 Broadway would be sold and the force’s HQ would relocate to the Victoria Embankment where it had been situated from 1890 to the late sixties. The 10 Broadway site was bought by an Abu Dhabi investment group for £370m in 2014.

We circle round the site via Dean Farrar Street and Dacre Street before heading back up Broadway to where it merges into Tothill Street. Then we return south down Dean Farrar Street and resume going east on Victoria Street. As Westminster Abbey comes into view on our right we turn left into Storey’s Gate and nip into Central Hall Westminster for a very brief shuftie. CHW can lay claim to being the world’s first purpose-built meetings facility. It was constructed on the site of the former Royal Aquarium to a design of Lancester and Rickards opened in 1912. Funding came from the Wesleyan Methodist Church’s 20th century Fund set up to mark the 1891 centenary of John Wesley’s death. £250,000  was allocated to the building of a ‘monumental Memorial Hall’ that would not only house a worshipping congregation and the new Methodist headquarters  but would also be a meeting place for all people, regardless of religious persuasion. The Suffragettes met here in 1914, Mahatma Ghandi spoke in the Lecture Hall in 1932 and De Gaulle founded the Free French movement here in the 1940’s. Most famously it was the venue for the very first General Assembly of the United Nations in 1946 attended by representatives of 51 countries. Slightly less auspiciously it was where I sat a number of professional examinations back in the nineties.

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We circle round the CHW via Matthew Parker Street and end up back on Tothill Street where we take a westward turn past the Department of Work and Pensions.

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It’s starting to get dark now so we quickly turn north up Dartmouth Street and then east down the alley that is Lewisham Street to finish for the day back on Storey’s Gate. And that’s it for 2017 !

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 47 – Green Park – Hyde Park Corner – Grosvenor Place – Buckingham Palace

Before we dive into today’s journey there’s just time for a quick update on overall progress to date. As you can see below, we’re about three quarters of the way there now with only a relatively small section north of the river still to cover.

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Ok back to the programme. Today’s walk starts out from Green Park tube station from where we head west through the eponymous park to Hyde Park Corner. We then venture further west and finish off the area between Grosvenor Place and Belgrave Square before circling round Buckingham Palace and flirting with Victoria (so to speak).

Day 47 Route

The 40 acres of Green Park provide a link between St James’s Park and Hyde Park.
The park was first enclosed by Charles II in 1668, stocked with deer and provided with a ranger’s house. It was known as Upper St James’s Park but by 1746 it was called The Green Park. The park now has no buildings and virtually no other man-made structures within it but it once contained lodges, a library, an ice house and two vast ‘temples’ called the Temple of Peace and the Temple of Concord. Ironically, the Temple of Peace, erected to mark the end of the War of Austrian Succession, exploded during a firework display in 1749 and in 1814 the Temple of Concord, erected to mark 100 years of the Hanoverian Dynasty, was destroyed in a similar way during the Prince Regent’s gala.

It was the beginning of November when I walked through the north side of the park and the trees were just about hanging on to their autumnal glories.

Just before the western apex of the park you reach the Bomber Command Memorial, dedicated to the 55,573 airmen who lost their lives during the Second World War. The Memorial, which was unveiled in 2012, was designed by architect Liam O’Connor and  built using Portland stone. Within the memorial are the bronze sculptures of a Bomber Command aircrew and the design for the roof incorporates sections of aluminium recovered from a Handley Page Halifax III bomber shot down over Belgium on the night of 12 May 1944, in which eight crew were killed.

Beyond the memorial we cross over Duke of Wellington Place to enter the island in the middle of the Hyde Park Corner roundabout. This is all about the celebration and commemoration of Britain’s (and the Commonwealth’s) military past with the D of W taking centre stage. Proceeding anti-clockwise we pass the New Zealand war memorial and arrive at the Machine Gun Corps Memorial. The oddly fey nude statue of David which tops the marble plinth is by Francis Derwent Wood (1871 – 1926).

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In the background there you can see Apsley House which houses the Wellington Museum, having been home to the man himself from 1817 (it had been designed and built by Robert Adam in the 1770’s). As luck would have it the museum had switched to Winter opening hours the day before this walk took place and so was closed on weekdays – otherwise I would have felt obligated to visit and report. Instead I turned south past Edgar Boehm’s equestrian statue of the Duke and parted with a fiver to ascend the Wellington Arch.

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Turned out this wasn’t such a bad move as I had the place to myself. There’s not a lot to detain you but the small exhibitions on the history of the arch itself and on the Battle of Waterloo are both illuminating and well done and the external viewing gallery affords a couple of interesting perspectives (though not of the Buckingham Palace grounds).  Like Marble Arch, the Wellington Arch was conceived to commemorate victory in the Napoleonic wars.  It was also designed to be a grand entrance to Central London from the west and was originally sited, about 100 yards away from its present location, immediately opposite Apsley Gate (see last post). Like the Gate the Arch was commissioned in 1824 and was designed by the then 24 year-old Decimus Burton. Burton originally intended the Arch to be crowned with a sculpture of a quadriga (chariot drawn by four horses) but, because the rebuilding of Buckingham Palace ran hugely over budget (see further down), the Treasury declined to fund this and most of the other proposed decoration. In the 1830’s a committee formed to determine the nature and scope of a national memorial to the Duke of Wellington came up with the idea of sticking a giant equestrian statue of the Duke on top of the Green Park Arch (as it was then called). The chosen sculptor was Matthew Cotes Wyatt (1777-1862) and the work was erected in 1846, supposedly for a trial period. It was immediately greeted with derision  being totally disproportionate in size. The Government demanded its removal but had to back down when the Duke himself objected.

The statue was finally got rid of in 1883 when the Arch was moved to its new site as part of a road development scheme. It was relocated to a new pedestal near the Garrison Church at Aldershot and the Arch was once again topless. However, in 1891 the sculptor Adrian Jones (1845–1938) exhibited a magnificent plaster work of (you’ve guessed it) a quadriga and The Prince of Wales suggested that it would make a suitable adornment for the rebuilt Wellington Arch. Initially no funds were available, but eventually a banker, Sir Herbert Stern, made an anonymous donation of about £20,000, and the final bronze version was erected on top of the arch in January 1912.

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From the early twentieth century until the late 1950’s the inside of the arch was used as a police station (arguably the smallest in London) and it 2001 after major repairs and refurbishment English Heritage opened it to, if today was anything to go by, a largely indifferent public.

And so to those views from the top…

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As you can see in the slides above if we resume our anti-clockwise circumnavigation of the island next up, on the west side, is the Royal Artillery Memorial , designed by Charles Jagger and Lionel Pearson, and featuring a giant sculpture of a BL 9.2-inch Mk I howitzer upon a large plinth of Portland stone. Behind this is the Lanesborough Hotel, reputedly the most expensive in London. Lanesborough House was built in 1726 and converted into a hospital, St George’s, in 1733. Almost a hundred years later it was demolished to make way for a new 350-bed facility designed by architect William Wilkins. The new hospital was operational by 1844, serving continuously as a hospital until transferred to Tooting, south London in the 1970s. In 1980 the Duke of Westminster took up an option to buy the then vacant building for £6,000 (its value in the nineteenth century).
It was refurbished and re-opened as a hotel in 1991 and is currently managed by the Oetker Collection.

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Completing the circuit is the Australian war memorial beyond which you can see the massive redevelopment taking place next to the Lanesborough. It’s from here that scores of Eastern European construction workers flock into the island to eat their lunch.

And so we eventually escape from the island via the underpass that emerges on Grosvenor Place and swing west round Grosvenor Crescent back towards Belgrave Square. First embassy of the day is Belgium’s then on the corner with Halkin Street (but officially known as 49 Belgrave Square) is the Argentinian, occupying the Grade-II listed Herbert House, built for Sidney Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Lea in 1851.

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Further down Halkin Street is the Caledonian Club, a private members’ club founded in 1891 that styles itself as a little bit of Scotland in the heart of London. Coincidentally, about a week after this walk I received an invite to a function here (which I was unable to attend).

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We return to Grosvenor Place and turn south. There are some fine facades along here but many are in a state of severe disrepair.

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At no.17 which is the Embassy of the Republic of Ireland we turn right down Chapel Street but only as far as Headfort Place which takes us north again back to Halkin Street.

From here Montrose Place and Chapel Street get us back to the Irish Embassy and the next turn off west from Grosvenor Place is Chester Street. From here we take Groom Place back to Chapel Street then head west past the south-eastern corner of Belgrave Square into Upper Belgrave Street. We swing round the corner, on which stands the Embassy of the Ivory Coast, into Chester Street once more then turn right onto Wilton Mews. Next left is Little Chester Street then up Chester Mews passing the shell of a pub, the Talbot, I had occasion to frequent many years ago.

We retrace our steps on Chester Street before taking a further turn south on Grosvenor Place. No. 33 which was once the HQ of Associated Electrical Industries is undergoing reconstruction along with its neighbours but you can still just about view the grotesques created by Maurice Lambert (1901-1964) (who was apprentice to Francis Derwent Wood and assisted with the Machine Gun Corps Memorial).

We next make a right turn onto Wilton Street where they haven’t yet got (or should I say gotten) over Halloween and there is the most meta of all of London’s blue plaques in that it commemorates the politician and reformer William Ewart (1798 – 1869) who was the person who first came up with the idea of the Blue Plaque (in 1863).

At the end of Wilton Street we turn briefly north on Upper Belgrave Street before continuing west along Eaton Place. No.15 was the home of Scots-Irish physicist and engineer William Thomson (a.k.a Lord Kelvin) (1824 – 1907) after whom the temperature scale that takes absolute zero as its lowest point is named (that’s the Kelvin scale not the Thomson scale just to be clear). But Eaton Place is probably more famous as the home (at no.165) of the Bellamy family and their servants in the seventies’ TV series “Upstairs Downstairs”. (Somewhat less famous is the BBC’s 21st century remake that unsuccessfully attempted to compete with Downton Abbey).

At the end of the first section of Eaton Place we turn north up Belgrave Place, past Belgrave Mews South and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Norway then proceed anti-clockwise round Belgrave Square passing two further embassies, those of Serbia and Bahrain, on our right.

On our left, outside the south-east corner of the garden, is a statue of our old friend Simon Bolivar (1783-1830) the Venezuelan military and political leader who not only played a leading role in the foundation of his own country but was also key to the liberation from the Spanish of Bolivia (which takes its name from him of course), Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama. The north-east corner also has a statue, of Bolivar’s contemporary Jose de San Martin (1778-1850) who was similarly crucial to the successful independence struggles of Argentina, Chile and Peru.

In between the statues, across the road on the eastern side of the square, we have the Italian Cultural Institute and the Turkish Embassy which is not only covered in scaffolding but the only Embassy encountered to date (apart from the Saudi one) that has an armed guard outside.

The only embassy on the north side of Belgrave Square is the one belonging to Syria at no.8 and which has been closed since the Ambassador was expelled in 2012.

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Leaving the square and heading north round Wilton Crescent we pass between the Romanian Cultural Institute at No.1 and a statue of Robert Grosvenor, 1st Marquess of Westminster (1767–1845) which was only erected in 1998. Outside of his political life, he was both a Tory and a Whig MP, Grosvenor was best known for his art collection which included four Rubens’ and Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy, for which he paid £100, and as a breeder of racehorses. The finest horse produced by his stud was Touchstone who won 16 of the 21 races he entered and went on to sire 323 winners of over 700 races.

Wilton Crescent is home to the Luxembourg Embassy and once we’ve passed that we veer off down Wilton Row to arrive at today’s pub of the day, The Grenadier. Located in what is essentially another mews, the Grenadier was originally built in 1720 as the officers’ mess for the senior infantry regiment of the British army, the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards.  It was opened to the public in 1818 as The Guardsman and was subsequently renamed in honour of the Grenadier Guards’ actions in the Battle of Waterloo.  Past patrons  have included the Duke of Wellington, King George IV and, more recently, Madonna.  It is also said to be haunted by the ghost of a subaltern who was beaten to death for cheating at cards. The beer’s expensive but I did have a very good fish finger sandwich.

After leaving the pub we wend our way round the appropriately named Old Barrack Yard and find ourselves back on Knightsbridge. Turning east we pass by the Libyan Embassy, which appears to be fully operational still, and the Wellesley Hotel which occupies the building that started life as the original Hyde Park Corner tube station, designed by architect Lesley Green, and was later for many years the home of iconic jazz and cabaret venue, Pizza on the Park.

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Turning round the corner past the Lanesborough Hotel again we cross from Grosvenor Place onto Duke of Wellington Place and then pass through the Commonwealth Memorial gates and make our way down Constitution Hill.

This “hill”, which wouldn’t even merit that description if it was situated in the heart of the Fens, leads of course to Buckingham Palace.  It was George III who first brought Buckingham House (as it was known originally) into the Royal fold when he acquired it in 1761 for his wife Queen Charlotte to use as a family home. On his accession in 1820, George IV decided to transform the house into a palace with the help of architect John Nash. Nash retained the main block but doubled its size by adding a new suite of rooms on the garden side facing west in addition the north and south wings of Buckingham House were demolished and rebuilt with a triumphal arch – the Marble Arch – as the centrepiece of an enlarged courtyard, to commemorate the British victories at Trafalgar and Waterloo. By 1829 the costs had escalated to nearly half a million pounds which cost Nash’s his job, and on the death of George IV in 1830, his younger brother William IV took on Edward Blore to finish the work. William never moved into the Palace. In fact, when the Houses of Parliament were destroyed by fire in 1834, he offered the Palace as a new home for Parliament, but the offer was declined. So Queen Victoria was the first sovereign to take up residence in 1837 and a year later she was the first British sovereign to leave from Buckingham Palace for a Coronation. She was responsible for the creation of a fourth wing,  which necessitated moving the Marble Arch to the north-east corner of Hyde Park, paid for from the proceeds of the sale of George IV’s Royal Pavilion at Brighton. The present forecourt of the Palace, where Changing the Guard takes place, was formed in 1911, as part of the Victoria Memorial scheme.

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Cutting in between the front of the Palace and the Memorial takes us onto Spur Road and then Buckingham Palace Road. Immediately in front of the 19 State Rooms sits the Queen’s Gallery which really only seems to exist to justify its lavish accompanying gift shop (FYI if you want Canalettos you van get them for free at the Wallace Collection).

On the subject of gift shops, if you continue down to the Buckingham Palace Road you find two further bits of evidence for the case that the only reason the monarchy still exists is as a sop to the tourist industry.

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Entrance to the Royal Mews

Just after the Royal Mews we turn right into Lower Grosvenor Place then continue across Grosvenor Place into Hobart Place. At no.4 is a blue plaque marking this as a residence of the German composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). In his all too brief life Mendelssohn visited England ten times and spent a total of about four months at this address across four or five of those stays. His first impression of London was ambivalent, describing it in 1829 as ‘the grandest and most complicated monster on the face of earth’. Some years later though he admitted “[there is] no question that that smoky nest is my preferred city and will remain so. I feel quite emotional when I think of it.”

Continuing west we turn into Eaton Square and nip into St Peter’s Church. This was originally built between 1824 and 1827 in a neoclassical style designed by Henry Hakehill.  That building burnt down, and in 1837 was rebuilt from Hakewill’s drawings by one of his sons. Fire gutted the building again in 1987, the handiwork of an anti-Catholic arsonist who mistook the denomination of the church. The church was rebuilt around the Georgian shell and opened again in 1991 with a modernist interior. As chance would have it, when I visited the renowned violinist, Tamsin Little, was in rehearsal for a concert later that evening.

Leaving the church we retrace our steps part way back down Hobart Place then cut down Grosvenor Gardens which was once home to the extravagantly monickered Victorian archeologist, Augustus Henry Fox-Lane Pitt Rivers (1827-1900). Genealogical fact of the day : William Fox-Pitt, the Olympic equestrian, is his great great grandson.
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At this point we needed to head off-piste to visit the facilities at Victoria Station, which, unlike those at every other mainline station I can think of, are free of charge. And with that useful tip I think we’ll wrap it up there for today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 46 – Hyde Park – Knightsbridge – Belgrave Square

As flagged up in the last post, we’re now finally done with the City of London so for a complete change of scene we switch back over to the west side of our target area and swap the skyscrapers, livery halls and 17th century churches for green expanses, embassies and temples of consumerist excess. Starting out from Hyde Park Corner today’s walk takes us on a circuit of the south-eastern corner of the park before heading down through Knightsbridge to Belgravia and back.

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We enter the park through Apsley Gate, built in 1826-29 from Portland stone and designed by a then 25 year old Decimus Burton (who, if we assume the Jacob Rees-Mogg scoring system must have been at least the tenth child to emerge from his poor mother). We then head north up Lovers Walk which takes us almost immediately past the statue of Achilles. This was installed in 1822 by order of King George III in commemoration of the Duke of Wellington and was made using 33 tonnes of bronze from captured French cannons. Initially the statue was fully nude but a public outcry soon led to the addition of a strategic fig leaf. A short way further on is the memorial to the victims of the 7 July 2005 London bombings, comprised of 52 stainless steel stelae each representing one of those who died. At the Joy of Life fountain (which was the southernmost point of our previous foray into Hyde Park, what seems like eons ago now) we about-face and head back down Broad Walk. What struck me most about the park on this visit was the sheer number of squirrels around; they were always fairly plentiful but these days they’re giving the pigeons a run for their money in the proliferation stakes.

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At the end of Broad Walk we turn right along Serpentine Road past the bandstand which has stood on the north side here since 1886 when it was relocated from Kensington Gardens seventeen years after it was built. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers’s performance of “Isn’t it a Lovely Day to be Caught in the Rain” from the 1935 film Top Hat was supposedly set on the Hyde Park bandstand but, sadly, was actually filmed on a soundstage at RKO’s Hollywood studios.

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The Serpentine lake in Hyde Park, 11.34 hectares in size, was created in 1727-31 at the instigation of Queen Caroline, wife of George II. It was formed by damming the Westbourne stream and was one of the first artificial lakes allowed to settle into a natural shape. There is a small memorial to Caroline at the eastern end of the lake that was unveiled by HM in 1990. The Serpentine is a big magnet for wildfowl and for visitors willing to feed them. On the other side of the path running along the eastern edge of the lake is another small monument, erected in 1870, with a plaque the first line of which reads “A supply of water by conduit from this spot was granted to the Abbey of Westminster with the Manor of Hyde by King Edward the Confessor.” The spring this refers to supplied water to the precincts of Westminster until it was cut off by drainage work in 1861.

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Skirting the eastern end of the Serpentine takes us down onto Rotten Row which is a corruption of the French ‘Route de Roi’. After just a few yards we head off the road up by the side of the small garden known as the Dell and continue east through the Holocaust Memorial Garden to the Rose Garden. The Rose Garden incorporates two fountains : one with a statue of Diana the Huntress which was sculpted by (the wonderfully-named) Lady Feodora Gleichen in 1899 and the other dating from 1862 with a statue of a Boy and Dolphin by Alexander Munro. En route to the garden we pass a strange looking tree populated by a flock of the much maligned Green Parakeets. Somewhat lazily I was just going to refer to this as a runner bean tree (for obvious reasons) but having bothered to look it up I find it’s called an Indian Bean Tree (though it originates from the US). I like to think it’s related to the runner bean plant anyway; and if I had an allotment I’d stick one of these in there just to freak out the neighbours.

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On reaching the end of Rotten Row we turn west again and follow South Carriage Drive down to Albert Gate. This short stretch of road leading onto Knightsbridge houses two embassies; France on the east side and Kuwait on the west.

On Knightsbridge itself we turn right and pass in front of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The building was originally constructed in 1889 as an exclusive ‘Gentleman’s Club’ and was the tallest building in the capital, outraging local residents who petitioned unsuccessfully to have the number of floors reduced. Ten years after it opened a fire caused extensive damage and following restoration it re-opened in 1902 as the Hyde Park Hotel, considered the grandest in London at the time.   Tradition has it that Queen Victoria wouldn’t allow any form of advertising within the Park, and therefore insisted that the main entrance, with the hotel’s name above it, be moved from the Park side to Knightsbridge. As a corollary she decreed that the original entrance be preserved for Royal use, unless permission is otherwise granted by the Royal Household, a practice which has been upheld ever since. The Mandarin Oriental Group took over the property in 1996 and gave it a £57m makeover.

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Across the road is Harvey Nichols which traces its origins back to 1831 when one Benjamin Harvey opened a linen shop in a terraced house on this corner of Knightsbridge and Sloane Street. Over the next ten years it expanded into several adjoining properties and during this time James Nichols joined the business and eventually married Harvey’s niece. When Harvey died in 1850 his wife, Anne, went into partnership with Nichols and Harvey Nichols was formed. In 1889, by which time the Harveys’ son Benjamin Charles was the sole remaining partner, the block was demolished and a new purpose-built department store built over the next five years to the design of architect, CQ Stephens.  In 1985 Harvey Nic’s was bought by the Burton Group who sold it six years later to Hong Kong magnate, Dickson Poon, who in turn floated it on the Stock Exchange after a further five years. I ventured in and had a look around for the first time in a very long while; Menswear is stuck down in the basement then it’s three floors of Ladies’ fashion and ‘beauty’ products before Homeware on Level 4 and the Café and Foodmarket on 5. Wasn’t especially busy but then I guess even round here there’s a ceiling on the number of women prepared to pay £250 for a pair of jeans that are not so much distressed as given the full Psycho shower-scene treatment.

We turn the corner into Sloane Street and almost immediately fork off right into Basil Street. At no.16 is the former Knightsbridge Fire Station which closed up in 2014 after 107 years of service and is now of course undergoing conversion into luxury residences.

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Beyond the ex-Fire Station we veer left down Pavilion Road then fork right into Herbert Crescent before continuing south round Hans Place into Hans Street.

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Turn east briefly then head north again up Sloane Street. A short way up on the west side is the Danish Embassy and the kindest description I can find for this building is “jarringly modernist”.

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Three doors further up, at no.52, the Peruvian Embassy has a rather more typical home.

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On its own website Sloane Street describes itself as being “internationally recognised as one of the world’s most exclusive and luxurious shopping destinations.” Difficult to argue with that based on the sheer number of brand names lining either side of the road – from Armani to Versace via Dior, Gucci and Prada (to name but a handful). Makes Bond Street seem almost low rent.

Half way up this parade of glamorous excess we turn off to the right down Harriet Street and then follow Harriet Walk round to the bottom of Seville Street. After a quick visit to the latter we head south round the western side of Lowndes Square then circle round to return north up the east side. This brings us face to face with the brutalist monstrosity that is the Park Tower Hotel. Still it’s what’s on the inside that counts we’re always told and this inside will still set you back £300+ a night.

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William Street takes us back up to Knightsbridge where we turn eastward as far as Wilton Place. Go south for about 50m then head west into Kinnerton Street which quickly switches direction to continue southward. This is more of a mews than a street and has tried to cultivate a sort of urban village vibe (which makes a pleasant contrast to some of its neighbours) with a couple of bijou pubs and even a village store.

Kinnerton Street ends at Motcomb Street where a right turn takes us past what is almost certainly the poshest Waitrose in the country (if that’s not a tautology).

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Continue west into Lowndes Street then venture south on Cadogan Place, east on Pont Street and north on another stretch of Lowndes Street. At the top we turn back east onto West Halkin Street before heading south down Belgrave Mews West. This takes us past the back of the Austrian Embassy and through the middle of the complex of old and new that is the German Embassy. This is the new bit which fronts onto Chesham Place.

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The Embassy of Finland is opposite and Spain is on the corner with Belgrave Square.

Belgrave Square was created in the 1820’s for the 2nd Earl Grosvenor, later the Marquess of Westminster. The communal garden (from which the public are naturally excluded) is 2 hectares in size and has a Grade II listing in The Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. In the south western corner of the square is a bronze statue of Christopher Columbus, sculpted in 1992 and gifted by the people of Spain (yes every single one of them).

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We’ve only time to visit the west side of the square this time out and we’ve already noted that the Spanish Embassy is at no.24 and the German at 21-23. The Austrians have had their embassy at no.18 since 1866 when it was actually attributable to the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s Foreign Service.

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Turning the corner at the top of the square we pass by the Embassy of Portugal before heading up Wilton Terrace.

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In Wilton Terrace we have the first blue plaque we’ve come across in quite a while – commemorating the residence of Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (1900 – 1979). Earl Mountbatten (born Prince Louis of Battenberg) was an uncle of Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth’s second cousin once removed. During the Second World War he was Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command. In 1947 he became the last Viceroy of India and from 1954 to 59 he served as First Sea Lord of the Admiralty. It is particularly sad therefore that for those of my generation he will probably always be best remembered for the manner of his death – blown up by a Provisional IRA bomb planted in his fishing boat in County Sligo, Ireland.

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Well we’re just about at the end for today and we haven’t had a church yet so for those of you suffering withdrawal symptoms we’re going to finish at St Paul’s Church which we reach by cutting across Wilton Crescent and circling back up into Wilton Place. St Paul’s was consecrated in 1843 and was the first church in London to adopt the principles of the Oxford Movement, the so-called ‘Tractarians’ who wished to restore a sense of Catholic order and spirituality to the Anglican church. Accordingly the building is far more elaborately decorated and replete with Christian imagery and symbolism than your average C of E  parish church. Perhaps unsurprising therefore that former-Catholic, the Revered Richard Coles (of the Communards, Radio 4  and now Strictly Come Dancing fame) was curate here in the mid-2000’s.

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