Day 68 – Buckingham Palace Road – Ebury Street – Eaton Square

Back again at long last then. For this resumption we’re exploring the (extremely) upmarket and pretty verdant nexus of Belgravia and Pimlico. There are quite a few interesting former residents to check out and plenty of colourful springtime flora to brighten the route.

Starting point today is Victoria Railway Station from where we head south down Wilton Road. Turning left into Gillingham Street we encounter the first of today’s many blue plaques at no. 17, commemorating the writer Joseph Conrad (1857 – 1924). Conrad was born in the Ukraine into a family of Polish land-owning nobility. After being sent to Marseilles as a 16 year-old to take up a career with the French Merchant Navy he enlisted with its British counterpart four years later. At this stage his largely self-taught knowledge of English was still very rudimentary. He began writing his first novel in 1889 but his two most well-known works, Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim, date from the turn of the century by which time he had been forced by ill-health to give up a life at sea. Orson Welles adapted the former for his first screenplay for RKO pictures in 1939 but ended up abandoning it in favour of Citizen Kane; forty years later it became the inspiration for Apocalypse Now. Lord Jim made it to the screen twice, in 1925 and 1965, the second time with Peter O’Toole in lead role.

We return to Wilton Road via Gillingham Row then continue south as far as Longmoore Street which feeds into Vauxhall Bridge Road to the east with the help of Upper Tachbrook Street. Returning west along Warwick Way then north up Guildhouse Street brings us back to Gillingham Street. We double-back up Wilton Road and swing into Bridge Place which runs to the east of the lines running out of Victoria Station. At the junction with Belgrave Road sits the London branch of HM Passport Office, Globe House. This was opened in 2002 and replaced the office on Petty France which had acted as the the London-based passport issuer for fifty years.

Turning right we cross Eccleston Bridge over the railway lines (though Google Maps seems to think this is an underpass).

On the other side is the southern access to Victoria Station reached via the Victoria Place shopping mall which was unsurprisingly quite deserted. It also possesses the most pointless pair of escalators I have seen in a long time (and people were actually using them !)

Beyond the mall we turn north up Buckingham Palace Road and head up to Grosvenor Gardens which runs either side of the eponymous triangular green space. At the southern corner of the gardens is Terminal House with its familiar 1930’s style Portland stone cladding. It was actually built between 1927 and 1930 to a design by architects Yates, Cook and Darbyshire with some assistance from Edwin Lutyens.

The gardens themselves are looking particularly resplendent in the Spring sunshine (far more so than I remember from my time working in the vicinity). They are dedicated to Marshall Ferdinand Foch (1851 – 1929) whose equestrian statue stands adjacent to Buckingham Palace Road. Foch served as Supreme Allied Commander during the First World War. It was Foch who on 11 November 1918 accepted the German request for an armistice. He was in favour of crippling settlement terms that would render Germany unable to pose any future threat to his native France but was overruled by the British and Americans. As the Treaty of Versailles was being signed on 28 June 1919, he declared: “This is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.” His words proved prophetic though, ironically, historians generally consider that the rise of the Nazis and the outbreak of WW2 were in large part attributable to the harshness of the treaty terms rather than their leniency.

Fittingly the mansion blocks on the two prongs of Grosvenor Gardens have a distinctly French appearance. Grosvenor Gardens House (in the background above) was built in 1868 in a French renaissance style by architect Thomas Cundy III and originally known as Belgrave Mansions. The parents of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother had a home there so she may have been born there in 1900, though this is not known definitively. Less uncertain is that David Niven was born there in 1910. In 1878 the proto-venture capitalist and philanthropist William Henry Blackmore killed himself in his study following a disastrous investment in a US railroad. And in 2017 the building featured in a £132-million High Court trial for damages brought against luxury property developers, Christian and Nick Candy (the latter married to Holly Valance) which was eventually resolved in their favour.

The artwork you can see in the slides, comprised of three brightly coloured, chimneyed mini dwellings is by sculptor and designer Richard Woods and entitled Small, Medium and Large. According to Woods the title references the commercial choices we are presented with on a daily basis. He also points out the sculpture’s flirtation with perspective. “It’s large enough that standing at one end of it distorts your point of view. The big house looks small and the small house looks big depending on your perspective.”

At the apex of the gardens we head briefly southward on Ebury Street before turning left back to Terminal House then continuing south by was of Phipp’s Mews and Eccleston Place. This brings us out onto leafy Eccleston Street where we take a right turn. As I pass a perambulatory trio of well-heeled ladies of one of them expostulates loudly “Now, can we talk about my bouquet !” I am unable to contextualise this in any way.

From here we head back up Ebury Street then west on Lower Belgrave Street which gets us to the top end of Chester Square. This is the smallest and least grand of the three residential garden squares created by the Grosvenor Family (since 1874 the possessors of the Dukedom of Westminster) in the mid nineteenth century. These things are relative though, a house here will still set you back north of £20m at the very least. Past and present residents include Margaret Thatcher, Roman Abramovich, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful and Nigella Lawson. No. 76 is the residence of the ambassador of Colombia.

At the end of the first of the triptych of gardens that comprise Chester Square we turn right along Belgrave Place to reach Eaton Square. Eaton Square is divided into six separate (private need I add) gardens being intersected laterally by Lyall Street in addition to Belgrave Place and right through middle by the A3217 which leads into Sloane Square. The gardens are all Grade II listed on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. Architect Thomas Cubitt was commissioned by the Grosvenors to oversee the design and building of the surrounding houses which are predominantly three-bay-wide porticoed buildings, joined in regular terraces in a classical style, with four or five main storeys, plus attic and basement and a mews house behind. The first block was laid out in 1827.

A circuit of the uppermost two gardens takes us past the Bolivian Embassy at no.106 which could be said to be punching above its weight (if you were being unkind).

First of several blue plaques is at no. 37 in the south middle section where Neville Chamberlain (1869 – 1940) resided from 1923 to 1935. Chamberlain is, of course, one of the most maligned British politicians of the 20th century on account of his futile and humiliating attempt to reach a peace agreement with Hitler. What history tends to forget that his signing of the Munich agreement in September 1938 and his homecoming declaration of “A Peace For Our Time” was strongly approved of by the British public at the time. What I hadn’t appreciated until I looked into his life was that he actually survived as PM until as late as May 1940 when the failure of a military campaign to get a defensive foothold in Norway led to his downfall. Also unbeknown to me was that he only lived for a further six months after his resignation before succumbing to bowel cancer.

A few doors down, no. 44 was briefly home to Prince Klemens von Metternich (1773 – 1859). Metternich was one of the most influential politicians of nineteenth century Europe, playing a significant part in Austria becoming a major political force on the continent in the first half of that century. As Foreign Minister he led the Austrian delegation at the 1815  Congress of Vienna which redrew the map of Europe following the (initial) defeat of Napoleon (after 6 months of negotiations it was signed nine days before the Battle of Waterloo). In 1821 Metternich was appointed Chancellor of State and devoted the next 27 years to trying to uphold the status quo. In 1848 however he became a casualty of the wave of revolutions that swept through Europe that year. Within the Austro-Hungarian Empire this took the form of a series of nationalist revolts in several of the occupied territories. Metternich went into exile, initially in England, and spent four months in Eaton Square before decamping to Brighton and then to Brussels.

No. 80 on the north-western most section was where the American financier and philanthropist, George Peabody (1795 – 1869) died. We have encountered him many times before on this odyssey in relation to the various Peabody Trust housing estates which still to this day provide affordable housing for Londoners. Born into a poor family, Peabody started out in the dry goods business before moving into banking. He relocated to London in 1837 where he came the pre-eminent American banker in the then capital of world finance, co-founding the firm that eventually became J.P. Morgan. Peabody donated over $8m (equivalent to more than $160m today) to philanthropic causes, mostly during his lifetime.

Let’s have a quick break from the blue plaques to show a couple of shots of these extensive gardens, which on this glorious spring day were being enjoyed by less than half a dozen of the entitled residents across their six separate sections.

The final former resident to namecheck is Vivien Leigh (1913 – 1967) who had a flat at no. 54. Leigh was born Vivian Mary Hartley in British-ruled India. Her initial acting successes came on the stage then in 1937 she got her screen breakthrough starring alongside Laurence Olivier in the historical drama Fire Over England. Their meeting created history of a different kind. In short order Leigh and Olivier moved in together though it wasn’t until early 1940 that their respective original spouses granted them divorces. Prior to that, of course, Vivien had won the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind in the face of the stiffest of competition. She was awarded the best actress Oscar, a feat she repeated with her performance in 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire. She had however already had struggles with her mental health by this time and those struggles worsened during the 1950’s. In 1960 she and Olivier divorced and then in 1967 the chronic tuberculosis, with which she had first been diagnosed on the 1940’s, resurfaced and took her life.

In a strange twist of fate, the same flat in Eaton Square was later occupied by the German-Actress Luise Rainer (1910 – 2014) who had been one of the other actresses in the running for the part of Scarlett O’Hara. Rainer moved to Hollywood in 1935 and despite only making eight films there over a four year period remarkably also won the Best Actress Oscar twice – for The Great Ziegfield (1935) and The Good Earth (1937). The only other actress to have won two Oscars by the age of 30 is Jodie Foster. However, the pressure which accompanied that early success led her to suddenly quit the film business in 1938. She died at no. 44 just 13 days shy of her 105th birthday. (Almost twice the age Vivien Leigh lived to).

Having completed the meanderings in and around Eaton Square we follow Elizabeth Street back to Chester Square. At the southern end stands St Michael’s Church which was built in 1844, contemporaneously with the square itself. The church was designed in the Decorated Gothic style by Thomas Cundy the younger. The War Memorial Chapel at the north east end of the church was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott (the red telephone box man if you were paying attention many moons ago) and completed in 1920.

Having completed a circuit of the lower of the two Chester Square gardens we continue east on Elizabeth Street, home to several upmarket boutiques and eateries as well as Walden Chymist (sic), family-run since 1846. A good day for the statutorily required alfresco dining even if that’s not well represented buy the photo below.

Another stretch of Ebury Street next and the final blue plaque of the day. No. 109 is where Dame Edith Evans (1888 – 1976) lived up until the age of about 14. (A young Noel Coward lived next door at number 111 which his mother ran as a boarding-house). Edith is best known for her stage roles including her seminal performances as Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Altogether now “A h-a-a-a-andbagggg !” She appeared in a handful of silent films during the First World War years but after the last of these in 1917 it was another thirty years before she ventured away from the stage again. In her later years she made eighteen screen outings, a rare example of an actress who enjoyed greater success beyond middle age than before it. Though she will always be associated with playing haughty, aristocratic women those weren’t the roles she especially wanted to be remembered for. When she first read through the role of Lady Bracknell with John Gielgud she commented, “I know those sort of women. They ring the bell and tell you to put a lump of coal on the fire.”

When we reach the intersection with Eccleston Street we turn right and then right again onto the continuation of Eccleston Place. Halfway down here is Eccleston Yards which Google describes as a trendy plaza and which afforded a better shot of some pre-lockdown easing al-fresco dining. Also on this section of Eccleston Place is one of the two branches of LondonCryo which specialises in various types of cryotherapy which apparently involves lowering the skin temperature to c. -110 degrees centigrade for about three minutes. So a quick dip in the sea at Bridlington would probably have the same effect.

We emerge back on to Elizabeth Street opposite Victoria Coach Station, somewhere I was not unfamiliar with in my much younger days. Technically the address is 164 Buckingham Palace Road though the arrival terminal is on Elizabeth Street. The station was opened in 1932 by London Coastal Coaches, a consortium of coach operators. The distinctive Art Deco style was the creation of architects Wallis, Gilbert and Partners. Initially it had space for 76 coaches plus a large booking hall, shops, buffet, restaurant, lounge, bar and administrative offices. Most coach services were suspended during WW2 and the building was requisitioned by the War Office to be returned with the resumption of coach travel in 1946. In 1970 the coach operators’ association which managed the station became a subsidiary of the National Bus Company and in 1988, ownership was transferred to London Transport (Transport for London from 2000 onward). In 2013, the freeholder of the site, Grosvenor Group (which as we’ve already seen owns pretty much everything round these parts), announced that it wished to redevelop the site and relocate the station elsewhere in London. However, a year later the building was Grade II listed by English Heritage so Transport for London will continue to use the site at least until 2023, when several leases expire.

On the opposite (east) side of Buckingham Palace Road the massive office and retail space known as The Hub, which includes one of Google’s London offices, is undergoing a major redevelopment scheduled for completion in 2023. We walk up the road and back down Colonnade Walk which is inside the development. Despite the air of desertion there are still people manning the reception desks in some of the offices.

So we’re just about done. It only remains to cross Elizabeth Bridge to reach the other side of The Hub and head up Bulleid Way, where London’s Green Line Coaches arrive and depart from, to close the circle back to Victoria Train Station.

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.

Covered so far Nov 2017

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.