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 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 23 (part 1) – Mayfair – Royal Academy – Piccadilly

Back in Mayfair today and looking at the south west corner of that district which is a triangle with the Royal Academy, the Dorchester hotel and Hyde Parker Corner as its vertices. And as there’s such a wealth of material in this compact area I’m going to split this into two posts again.

N.B Mayfair, unsurprisingly, gets its name from the annual May fair that was held here from the late 17th century (when this was still largely open ground) until the mid 18th century when it was suppressed due to the increasingly lewd and riotous behaviour that became associated with it.

Day 23 Route

Start out from Piccadilly tube station and head west down Piccadilly towards the Royal Academy. On the way is Albany House more commonly known as just “the Albany”. Set back from the street behind a courtyard this probably goes unnoticed by most passers-by (I certainly hadn’t paid it much attention until now). The house was built for Viscount Melbourne in the 1770’s but in 1802 was converted by the architect Henry Holland into 69 bachelor apartments known as “sets”. These sets have had numerous well-known occupants in their time, Lord Byron and William Gladstone amongst them. Officially, women were not even allowed on the premises until the 1880’s. In these more enlightened times, residents no longer need to be bachelors (though children under the age of 14 are not permitted to live there). They still guard their privacy highly though – read more of that here. Nothing on the exterior of the building indicates that this is private residences – that was only made clear to me, in no uncertain terms, by some uniformed flunkey when I approached the entrance.

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Just before we get to the RA pass by the home of the Geological Society and around the courtyard in front of the RA itself, going anti-clockwise, can be found the Royal Astronomical Society, the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

In case you were wondering, the Society of Antiquaries is all about “The encouragement, advancement and furtherance of the study and knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other countries”. And it’s been doing that since 1707.

The Royal Academy itself was established in 1768 by a founding group of 36 artists and architects. These included Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723 -1792) who was its first president and whose statue stands in front of Burlington House where  the RA moved in 1867, having secured an annual rent of £1 for 999 years. The RA is probably best known for its Summer Exhibition which is the largest open submission exhibition in the world and has been running every year since 1769. Any artist can enter and 12,000 submissions are accepted each year (though you’ve missed the deadline for 2016).

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Of course the RA also puts on other exhibitions and the current blockbuster, as you can see above, is Painting the Modern Garden. In its final week this has, inevitably, sucked in every pensioner within a 50-mile radius of London so although I got in free as a guest I gave that one a miss. Had a quick scoot round In the Age of Giorgione but that was pretty rammed with golden-oldies as well; some of whom you can see crowding the lift in the selection below. Amongst these are also today’s selfie-of-the-day and several shots of the fantastic giant ferns that inhabit the Keeper’s House garden.

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After leaving the RA next stop is the Burlington Arcade; built to the order of Lord George Cavendish, younger brother of the 5th Duke of Devonshire, and opened in 1819 “for the sale of jewellery and fancy articles of fashionable demand, for the gratification of the public and to give employment to industrious females”. It also had the collateral effect of preventing the hoi-polloi from throwing their rubbish into the garden of Burlington House. (The Dukes of Devonshire inherited Burlington House in the 1750s and sold it to the British Government for £140,000 in 1854). Random pop culture trivium of the day – The Arcade was used as a location in the first episode of the Danish TV drama Borgen.

Emerge at the other end of the arcade on Burlington Gardens and turn left to reach Old Bond Street. Here’s a quick reminder of what that’s all about :

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Next door to Tiffany’s we find this appropriately large-scale advert for the Moncler fashion-house (and no it’s not the bloke from Poldark). Still can’t work out what the chap in the suit’s got over shoulder.

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At no.44 in a charming shade of lilac is Glyn’s House which dates from 1906 and follows the fashion of that time for reviving the English baroque style of the early 18th century reign of Queen Anne. The naked ladies are perhaps more typically Edwardian though.

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Return to Piccadilly then head north again up Albemarle Street. No. 50 was the home (from 1812 to 2002) of the publishers John Murray founded by the first of seven consecutive eponymous owners in 1768. The firm was responsible for putting the likes of Jane Austen, Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Darwin into print. The imprint still exists but as part of the Hodder & Stoughton business within the Hachette empire to which it was sold by John Murray VII.

Cut through Stafford Street to Dover Street where Victoria Beckham’s London flagship store occupies no. 36.

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Hay Hill links to Berkeley Street where we head south again. On the corner with Stratton Street, site of the Mayfair Hotel, are these rather unstrategically placed old school taxi rank signs and a blue plaque commemorating the bandleader Bert Ambrose (1896 – 1971). A Jewish émigré from Poland, Ambrose enjoyed his greatest success in the thirties and forties and is credited with the discovery of Vera Lynn.

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From Stratton Street turn left down Mayfair Place to return to Berkeley Street. At no.1 Mayfair Place sits Devonshire House which was designed by Thomas Hastings and built in 1926. This was named after the building which it replaced on the site, the home of the Dukes of Devonshire (possession of which meant that weren’t that fussed about keeping Burlington House). The original Devonshire House was sold by the 9th Duke, who was the first to be subject to payment of death duties. It went for £750,000 (not an insubstantial sum in 1920). The purchasers were wealthy industrialists, Shurmer Sibthorpe and Lawrence Harrison, who demolished the mansion to build a hotel and block of flats. When accused of an act of vandalism Sibthorpe, echoing the buildings 18th century critics replied: “Archaeologists have gathered round me and say I am a vandal, but personally I think the place is an eyesore”. The current Devonshire House is now an office block. 

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Head back to Piccadilly along Berkeley Street then west all the way past Green Park tube station to Bolton Street where we turn northward again until we hit Curzon Street. Where this merges into Fitzmaurice Place lies the Landsdowne Club. This private members’ club was created in 1935 and was unusual in admitting both men and women from the outset. Before its opening, White Allom, the firm who were responsible for the fitting out of the great Cunard liners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, were commissioned to refurbish the interior of the building in an Art Deco style many of the features of which endured into the present. The building was originally built in 1761 to a design of Robert Adam as a residence for the 18th century Prime Minister, the Marquess of Bute. Just a couple of years later he sold it to another Prime Minister (in waiting), William Petty 1st Marquess of Landsdowne (1737 -1805) who unlike his predecessor is deemed deserving of a blue plaque. As is Gordon Selfridge (1858 – 1947) who leased the house in the 1920’s and made it famous for the dancing parties he hosted starring his protégés, Hungarian cabaret artistes the Dolly Sisters.

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Moving on we track back down Landsdowne Row then round the southern end of Berkeley Square before continuing west first on Charles Street then Hays Mews. At the end of the latter turning right onto Waverton Street brings us into South Street. At no.38 is the former home and workplace of J. Arthur Rank (1888 – 1972) founder of the Rank Organisation which dominated British Cinema in the 1940s and 50s both on the production and the distribution side of things. The company was responsible for releasing most of the canon of Powell and Pressburger but subsequently became more determinedly commercial in producing Norman Wisdom comedy vehicles and the Doctor… series. (Like Ruby Murray, J. Arthur also has the (even more) dubious honour of being co-opted into the lexicon of Cockney rhyming slang.)

To end this post on a somewhat more edifying note; the corner of South Street and South Audley Street hosts the premises of T. Goode & Sons purveyors of fine porcelain and china tableware since 1827 and possessors of two royal warrants. South Street also features some impressive cut-brick reliefs on several of its buildings.

To be continued…..